Political philosophy, or political theory, is the study of topics such as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why (or even if) they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it should take and why, what the law needed for society, and what duties of citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever.
Political philosophy is considered by some to be a sub-discipline of political science; however, the name generally attributed to this form of political enquiry is political theory, a discipline which has a closer methodology to the theoretical fields in the social sciences (like economic theory) than to philosophical argumentation (like that of moral philosophy or aesthetics).
- Is the ordinary person incompetent? No judgment is more decisive for one's political philosophy. It was perhaps the single most important difference in judgment between Plato and Aristotle.
- Robert A. Dahl, After the Revolution? (1970; 1990), p. 26
- Ask me if you choose if a Cynic shall engage in the administration of the State. O fool, seek you a nobler administration that that in which he is engaged? Ask you if a man shall come forward in the Athenian assembly and talk about revenue and supplies, when his business is to converse with all men, Athenians, Corinthians, and Romans alike, not about supplies, not about revenue, nor yet peace and war, but about Happiness and Misery, Prosperity and Adversity, Slavery and Freedom? Ask you whether a man shall engage in the administration of the State who has engaged in such an Administration as this? Ask me too if he shall govern; and again I will answer, Fool, what greater government shall he hold than he holds already?
- Epictetus, Golden Sayings, 117.
- A major danger in using highly abstractive methods in political philosophy is that one will succeed merely in generalizing one’s own local prejudices and repackaging them as demands of reason. The study of history can help to counteract this natural human bias.
- Raymond Geuss, “Neither History Nor Praxis,” Outside Ethics (Princeton: 2005), pp. 38-39
- In attempting to teach the prince how to achieve, maintain, and expand power, Machiavelli made his fundamental and celebrated distinction between "the effective truth of things" and the "imaginary republics and monarchies that have never been seen nor have been known to exist." The implication was that moral and political philosophers had hitherto talked exclusively about the latter and had failed to provide guidance to the real world in which the prince must operate. This demand for a scientific, positive approach was extended only later from the prince to the individual, from the nature of the state to human nature. Machiavelli probably sensed that a realistic theory of the state required a knowledge of human nature, but his remarks on that subject, while invariably acute, are scattered and unsystematic.
- Albert O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests (1977), p. 12-13
- The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.
- John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Ch. 24 "Concluding Notes" p. 383-384
- Some anarchists have claimed not merely that we would be better off without a state, but that any state necessarily violates people's moral rights and hence is intrinsically immoral. Our starting point then, though nonpolitical, is by intention far from nonmoral. Moral philosophy sets the background for, and boundaries of, political philosophy. What persons may and may not do to one another limits what they may do through the apparatus of a state, or do to establish such an apparatus.
- If I were to attempt to put my political philosophy tonight into a single phrase, it would be this: Trust the people. Trust their good sense, their decency, their fortitude, their faith. Trust them with the facts. Trust them with the great decisions. And fix as our guiding star the passion to create a society where people can fulfill their own best selves—where no American is held down by race or color, by worldly condition or social status, from gaining what his character earns him as an American citizen, as a human being and as a child of God.
- Adlai Stevenson, speech at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, September 13, 1956. Stevenson, The New America, ed. Seymour E. Harris, Jr., p. 13–14 (1971).
- The founder of modern political philosophy is Machiavelli. He tried to effect, and he did effect, a break with the whole tradition of political philosophy. He compared his achievement to that of men like Columbus. He claimed to have discovered a new moral continent. His claim is well founded; his political teaching is "wholly new." The only question is whether the new continent is fit for human habitation.
- Leo Strauss, "What is Political Philosophy?", published in What is Political Philosophy? And Other Studies (1959)