Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On Politics and Philosophy and Why My Brain Hurts for Three Hours Twice a Week

I don't really understand why people seem so quick to distinguish politics and philosophy.  This might be because one is my major and one is my minor (and every Tuesday and Thursday, I have two back to back classes in those disciplines), but bear with me for a moment.  While I'm hesitant to draw distinct lines between any two disciplines, I feel like this instance in particular is a mistake.  To make a political decision is to make an inherently moral judgement (I use moral here to mean "related to morality" rather than "good") about the relative worth of the individual or the collective and how we ought to behave with respect to them.

I know some people want to respond that they can come to their decisions about politics or how to act without doing something as "lofty" or "useless" as philosophizing, but that's really not entirely true.  You may not throw around heavy philosophical terms like "utilitarianism," "egoism," "deontology," or "Capital T Truths," but you're unknowingly following them in some capacity.  If you're weighing the relative harms and benefits of a solution with respect to others, you're thinking like a utilitarian.  If you're acting in accordance with the ethical rules you were taught/absorbed from your parents and mentors, you're a virtue ethicist.  All philosophy asks of you is to really consider the implications of how you make those choices -- which is exactly what you have to do in politics.  Different ethical systems of views of human nature lend themselves to different ideas on laws, the structure of government, and the rights of individuals.  The sheer concept of "human rights" is a philosophical speculation.

I think I admire the classical thinkers (and even many moderns) for the fact that they really didn't differentiate the importance of disciplines -- being a philosopher meant living a life where you really thought about things, ranging from who we are and how we should live to physics, math, how we communicate, languages, and yes, even politics.

There's a reason that Plato and Aristotle and Locke and Hobbes and Kant can be applied to ethics and metaphysics and politics as well, and it's because trying to distinguish their ethical ideas from their ideas about those implications for politics and how we should view people would be a mistake.  And one I think it's a shame to make.

Rachel Leigh

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