The Idea of Order: Contributions to a Philosophy of Politics

Confucian Political Philosophy
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Thus Foucault develops his own view that, if philosophy can play a role in relation to politics by transforming the subject who lives politically, it plays no role within politics. Foucault insists that the idea of philosopher-kings in the Republic is only the idea that those who practice philosophy should be those who exercise political power and not a conflation of philosophical discourse and knowledge with political practice cf.

Foucault sees this conclusion as supported by a careful and faithful translation of the text c-d. Foucault first points out that what the passage describes is not philosophers becoming kings or kings becoming philosophers as our shorthand of 'philosopher-king' suggests , but rather philosophers beginning to rule in cities or current rulers beginning to philosophize in an authentic and genuine manner. To say that rulers will philosophize and philosophers will rule is not to say that philosophizing and ruling will become the same thing.

Great Thinkers: A Guide to the History of Political Philosophy

Yet some translations of the key sentence have it go on to assert precisely such an identity. The Waterfield translation likewise reads: "until political power and philosophy coincide. This literally says something like: "this falls together towards the same. This translation seems possible and can appeal for support to the use of a similar phrase at Theaetetus d to describe the relation that has been demonstrated between the definition of knowledge as perception, the Heraclitean flux theory and Protagorean relativism.

In other words, the identity is not between political power and philosophy, but rather in the subject who exercises both.


This allows Foucault to read the philosopher-king's proposal as preserving the distinctness of political power and philosophy. As he asserts at one point,. But from the fact that he who practices philosophy is he who exercises power and that he who exercises power is also someone who practices philosophy, from this one cannot at all infer that what he knows of philosophy will be the law of his actions and of his political decisions. Philosophy must speak truth in relation to political action, but this does not mean that it should speak truth for political action in the sense of determining how to govern, what laws to adopt, etc.

Philosophy can make someone worthy of ruling, can develop in that person the kind of character we want to see in a ruler id.

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As Foucault states the point more specifically, the ruler must learn through philosophy to govern himself in order to be the kind of person who can justly govern others id. The most important figure in this transition is Socrates who in the Apology, as Foucault points out, describes his divine mission of speaking the truth to his fellow citizens as turning away from politics. Philosophy as such a way of life that is always other cf. If Heidegger conflates philosophy and politics, one could argue that Foucault is no more faithful to Socrates' proposal in making philosophy and politics seemingly irreconcilable.

However one interprets d, and Foucault's reading appears hard to defend, 18 it seems clear that for Socrates the knowledge the philosopher attains as such will be the law of his political actions and decisions. However, Foucault can also be seen as developing a tension between politics and philosophy that has been seen to be already there in Plato's text. Furthermore, if Foucault only reinterprets rather than outright rejects the idea of philosopher-kings, that is because even for him philosophy and politics do not diverge to such an extent that they cease to have anything to do with each other.

If philosophy can never be politics, it nevertheless always exists in an essential relation to politics. After all, Socrates describes his philosophical mission as a great good to the city and thus as a gift of the gods Ap. Philosophy must speak to politics, but always from the outside. Even if philosophers become kings, to be a philosopher is never the same as to be a king. For Foucault, unlike Heidegger, the ideal of the philosopher-king is therefore not the ideal of an identity between philosophy and politics.

Foucault can indeed be said to provide a diagnosis of Heidegger's error when he attributes what he calls "the misfortune and the equivocations in the relations between philosophy and politics" to the fact that philosophy understands itself, or allows itself to be understood, in terms of "coinciding with the contents of a political rationality" Yet, as Foucault continues, this misfortune can also arise when inversely "the contents of a political rationality have sought to justify themselves through making of themselves a philosophical doctrine" id. This is an important point in the context because, if Heidegger was able to identify with National Socialism, this is not only because he saw his philosophy as coinciding with a politics but also because the National Socialists saw their politics as coinciding with a philosophy.

Hitler apparently insisted repeatedly that "Anyone who understands National Socialism only as a political movement knows virtually nothing about it. It is even more than religion; it is the will to a new creation of man" qtd. In emphasizing, and perhaps also exaggerating the difference between philosophy and politics he finds in Plato's text, Foucault can be seen as providing a corrective to Heidegger's reading. We are left, then, with the paradox of an essential relation that can never be an identity.

This of course only takes us back to the problem bequeathed by Socrates. The philosopher is he who should but cannot rule. We will always be ruled by sophists.

Cicero’s Natural Law and Political Philosophy

The task of the philosopher is to challenge such politics by always living an other life. The ultimate explanation of the tension between philosophy and politics can perhaps be found in the very last sentence of Foucault's manuscript for the course: a sentence he did not have time to deliver. What he states there is that truth is always characterized by alterity, that the truth always has the character of being other and that the true life is always an other life: "truth, that is never the same; there can be no truth except in the form of the other world and the other life" In this case the truth could never be institutionalized, could never be expressed in an unchanging set of structures, prescriptions and laws.

Could there ever then be a "true politics"?

It is perhaps only in this tension that philosophy and politics are inseparable. Philosophy is inherently practical with regard to the effects it has on the philosopher's character and actions. At issue here is philosophy's relation to the politics of governing a state. As Nightingale observes, "Plato does not, then, oppose the contemplative to the practical life; rather, he differentiates between the philosophical and the political life even as he tries to bring them together in a utopian context" It should also be said that to speak of a tension between philosophy and politics is not to deny that philosophy is inherently political in the specific sense in which Socratic philosophy is presented as political in the Apology and the Gorgias , i.

The tension I speak of here is the tension between philosophy and the specific art of governing a State. But what is then striking is the way in which the Republic emphasizes, or arguably exaggerates, the theoretical character of philosophy and its subsequent opposition to politics at the same time that it argues for bringing the two together in one person.

The reason for this exaggeration, I would suggest, is to prevent us from losing sight of the tension that must persist between philosophy and politics even in their must ideal reconciliation. Andrea Wilson Nightingale also sees here a Platonic position distinct from the position Aristotle will defend in the treatises Zanatta thereby brings the positions of Plato and Aristotle very close indeed, especially since his first point seems besides the point: the separateness or not of the good that is known appears irrelevant to the thesis that philosophers should be kings.

As will appear below, there are significant differences between Plato and Aristotle here and ones that have nothing to do with the 'separation' of Forms which Zanatta appears to overlook, but my argument will agree with his to the extent of making the positions of Plato and Aristotle much closer than they are usually taken to be.

Jowett's Oxford translation does not follow Rackham but is more ambiguous than Simpson: "The remainder of the work is filled up with digressions foreign to the main subject, and with discussions about the education of the guardians. Newman likewise translates: "But for the rest, we find that he has filled the dialogue with extraneous discussions, and with discourse about the education of the guardians"; Newman suggests the extraneous matter could be "the ethical discussions, such as that on justice," Even on this issue, however, the difference is much more ambiguous than at first appears.

Making precisely this point, Foucault cf. III, xiii b In agreement with the argument of this paper, Nightingale nevertheless sees Plato and Aristotle agreeing on the distinction between philosophy and politics: "Like Plato, Aristotle contrasts the philosopher and the politician, and sees them as living different kinds of lives" One thing that distinguishes the later version of the course under discussion is the introduction of political, and specifically National Socialist, rhetoric. We have here a clear reference to Heidegger's disillusionment with National Socialism: it missed, in his view, the realm of essential decision.

This opposition to the politics of the state was at the same time characterized as the true politics of the entire world id.


Political philosophy, also known as political theory, is the study of topics such as politics, liberty, .. As long as the concept of natural order was not introduced, the social sciences could not evolve independently of theistic thinking. Since the .. His most lasting political contribution is in his work on political philosophy. ^ Schall. He was also the prototypical political philosopher whose ideas had a The Best Political Order; The Government of Philosopher Rulers; Politics and the Soul .. believes that once political society is properly ordered, it can contribute to the.

At one point Fest observes: "In this sense Hitler actually had no politics; what he had, rather, was a large, portentous ideal of destiny and the world" Politics , Jowett, B. Politics , Philips Simpson, P.

Introduction to Political Philosophy

Politics , Vol. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Loeb Classical Library. Bobonich, C. Fest, J.

Hitler , Winston R. London: Harcourt, Brace and Company, Course in Le Gouvernement de Soi et des Autres.

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Gonzalez, F. Plato and Heidegger: A Question of Dialogue. Heidegger, M. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, Leroux, G. Platon: La Republique.


Paris: Flammarion, Nightingale, A. Paris: Belles Lettres, While Shun declines to punish his half-brother, he protects both himself and the people of Xiang's new fiefdom. These Shun stories illustrate that an agent's response to a situation in which important values come into conflict need not be a strict choice between honoring one value and wholly denying the other. While some sort of priority might have to be set in the end, there are also ways to acknowledge the value that is subordinated, but how exactly that is to be done seems very much a matter of judgment in the particular p.

The Shun stories are an expression of the Confucian theme that rightness cannot be judged on the basis of exceptionless general principles but is a matter of judgment in the particular situation. In responding to Mozi's criticism that those who are partial to their own will take care only of their own, the Mencian text exemplifies an enduring theme in the Confucian tradition: the modeling of political society after the family. As parent to the people, he will ensure that they have means sufficient to support their own parents, wives, and children, that they will always have sufficient food in good years and in bad years enough to escape starvation.