What is philosophy… and particularly political philosophy? Philosophy is a broad or specific study of areas concerned with existence, values, ethics, knowledge and reason. The word philosophy is rooted in the Greek word philosophia which literally meant ‘the love of knowledge’ So questioning human existence is one example: Does God really exists etc. Important as well are questions about what we know and what we can know; both constitute the area of philosophy known as epistemology (the theory of knowledge) Ethics is also a part of philosophy dealing with human conduct. What responsibilities do we have to ourselves as well as others? The study of political philosophy asks questions surrounding a just society and or state. David Rafael defines political philosophy as a doctrine or ideology setting up norms or ideal standards for the society. He claims that the ideal philosophy tells us what we ought to be or to do. In this regard political philosophy differs from political science. Political science seeks to explain facts as instances of general laws, but political philosophy is more idealistic. Hence;
•philosophy- what ought to be done (idealist)
•science- what actually happens/ based on facts (more realist) In studying philosophy, a central feature or one can say is the most dominant feature is the Western Civilization. Western civilization should not be confused as a geographical concept. As noted by Ebenstein and Ebenstein (2000) “Its birthplace is the Mediterranean ¬ Greece, Palestine and Italy. From there it spread through Europe and the Middle East. A penetration into Asia and Africa lasted for several centuries.” Importantly, the spread of the west should not be confused with mere colonial expansion. It’s broader than that. It is the way of thought, Language yes, but religion, ethics, morals, ideas of life and livelihood are only some of the broader areas that the “West” embodies. E.g. Less than two hundred and fifty years old, the United States is now the centre of gravity of western civilization in terms of economics, politics, culture and military power.
In antiquity, Athens, Jerusalem and Rome were the leading points. During the Dark Ages, Byzantium was the most important site of cultural, literal, and administrative leadership. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Paris was the undisputed cultural capital of the West. In the nineteenth century, London inherited that place. New York became the leading artistic, scientific and intellectual clearing-house in the world during the twentieth century, and its place in the year 2000 is being taken, in terms of cultural influence by Los Angeles demonstrating the geographical mobility of western civilization.
Western political thought (Philosophy)
The tradition is generally associated with historical Greek cultures. In the early days Greece was a divided polis (city-state) which was constantly at war: an example is the Peloponnesian War between the democratic Athens and the Authoritarian Sparta. The Greek World view; intellectual culture and political practice spread as a result of colonial expansion. It spread further when Europe colonized the rest of the world. The Greeks idea of democracy and of course its political traditions spread to other areas with the rise of Macedonia whose leader at the time was Alexander the Great and he was taught by Aristotle. Alexander the great formed an empire that encompassed a federation of Greek states. It included Egypt, parts of India and other territories which we know now as Uzbekistan. The western traditions in Political Philosophy became more dominant in the European conquest, its creation of the plantation system, the dominance of African labour and eventual colonial subjugation of the non-European world. So here we are: how do we identify the defining features of Western Political thought? Ebenstein says that we have to find the things that are so central to the society and strip them away and see if the society exists without them. The Roots of the West are as follows:
•the Greeks concept of Reason
•two, the Jewish belief in one God (monotheism)
•and three, the Christian conception of love.
In the Great Political Thinkers (Ebenstein and Ebenstein, 2000) •Rationality: “The belief and use of reason are not inventions of the 20th century. However they argued that the Greeks invented rationality. They noted that Greeks did not start from scratch, as various Oriental people influenced them but they noted that Greek civilizations has it imprinted itself on the rest of the world, was Originally, the Greeks were not derived from earlier people in the direct way the rest of the world barrowed the ideas from the Greeks. The supreme Greek ideal was to think clearly.
•Monotheism (belief in one God) is the second root of the West, with the resulting concepts of brotherhood of mankind (all men and women being children of the same Father) and one of one world ruled by a higher law which is above human whim and arbitrariness. It could be argued that other societies came close to the concept of “one God” before the Jews did; but the Jews were the first to build their whole life around their belief in God, and to base their thoughts, ethics, laws and government on this belief. •Love (Christian conception) is the third root of the West. Christianity incorporated Greek rationalism and absorbed Jewish monotheistic ethics, and added a new dimension that went beyond both: the principle of love as the basis of people’s relation with God, and more importantly, each other.
Here, the point can be made that Greek thought and life put a great value on “sympathy” (a Greek word meaning “to feel with”) and friendship, the latter considered by Aristotle, for example, to be the basis of all social and political organizations. The Greeks were intensely interested in love; Plato’s dialogue Symposium is one of the great conversations on love in world Literature. Yet love in Symposium is primarily the mutual embrace of two souls soaring together to the heights of perfection in life of reason. On a lower level, love was seen by the Greeks as a fierce demon, something approaching madness. Similarly, classical Jewish thought emphasizes compassion and charity, and admonishes its adherents to “love thy neighbour as thyself”. But neither the Greek nor the Jewish conception of love has the unconditional, universal character of Christian love. In Christian thought, love is not in the periphery of life, in the rare moments of ecstasy, but in the centre of life: Love is life itself.
QUESTION 1 (This question is only for discussion in the first tutorial and will not be accepted as coursework).
What is the meaning of epistemology, ontology, and agency? How do you define and identify yourself? What are the sources of ideas and meanings you have been using to define and identify yourself? What are the epistemological bases of your personhood? Why do you believe what you believe? What beliefs, what set of ideas have shaped your concept of self and who you are and are becoming?