Ethics, morality and the case for realist political theory

Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 20 (3):278-295 (2017)
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A common trait of all realistic political theories is the rejection of a conception of political theory as applied moral philosophy and an attempt to preserve some form of distinctively political thinking. Yet the reasons for favouring such an account of political theory can vary, a point that has often been overlooked in recent discussions by realism’s friends and critics alike. While a picture of realism as first-and-foremost an attempt to develop a more practical political theory which does not reduce morality to politics is often cited, in this paper we present an alternative understanding in which the motivation to embrace realism is grounded in a set of critiques of or attitudes towards moral philosophy which then feed into a series of political positions. Political realism, on this account, is driven by a set of philosophical concerns about the nature of ethics and the place of ethical thinking in our lives. This impulse is precisely what motivated Bernard Williams and Raymond Geuss to their versions of distinctively realist political thought and is important to emphasise because it demonstrates that realism does not set politics against ethics (a misunderstanding typically endorsed by realism’s critics) but is rather an attempt to philosophise about politics without relying on understandings of morality which we have little reason to endorse.



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Citations of this work

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References found in this work

Ideal vs. Non‐ideal Theory: A Conceptual Map.Laura Valentini - 2012 - Philosophy Compass 7 (9):654-664.
Philosophy and Real Politics.Raymond Geuss - 2008 - Princeton University Press.
Realism in political theory.William A. Galston - 2010 - European Journal of Political Theory 9 (4):385-411.
Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline.Bernard Williams - 2006 - Princeton: Princeton University Press.
A World Without Why.Raymond Geuss - 2014 - London: Princeton University Press.

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