What is a good way to learn about political philosophy? Plausibly there is a variety of reasonable answers to this question, depending on what and why one wants to know about the subject, and it is some testament to this that there are excellent introductions that focus on the issues, concepts, and key thinkers in the field.
In our recent book – Introducing Political Philosophy: A Policy-Driven Approach – Will Abel, Elizabeth Kahn, Tom Parr, and I offer an approach that focuses on introducing the subject through the lens of public policy.
More specifically, the book introduces readers to both the methods and views of political philosophers by exploring how they speak to a range of policy debates currently prominent in many states. For example, it explores the notion of freedom by considering whether states should permit physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. It explores the wrongs of discrimination by investigating whether states should authorise the use of affirmative action. It explores justifications for punishment by reflecting on the appropriate length of prison sentences. And it explores the moral values of political community by examining immigration policy.
At the outset, the book details how one aim of political philosophy is to delve into the moral concerns that lie at the heart of these policy issues and employ the tools of philosophical analysis to reason about them. Its opening chapter explains how it is productive to organise the claims of arguments about which policies to adopt into a logical order, then use examples cases – both real and hypothetical – to reflect on the plausibility of their moral claims. It, then, employs these methods to explore fifteen policy areas, in each case arguing for a particular conclusion to demonstrate the use of these skills in action.
We think that there are three merits to introducing political philosophy in this way:
- The focus on policy helps readers to learn about philosophical ideas and methods through their application to political controversies that are likely familiar, maybe even what interested them in the field in the first place.
- The attention to some commonplace methodological tools is a simple way to get to grips with the basic workings of the discipline and provides readers with an insight into one of its most transferrable skills.
- The approach of arguing for a position in each chapter gives an immediate window to how political philosophy can inform political dialogue and acts as a prompt to further debate for both those who might agree with the views we defend and those who wish to challenge them.
More generally, we think that the exchange between public policy and political philosophy makes for exciting terrain and readers may find simply that considering arguments scholars have advanced on these issues makes for an accessible way to see what the subject is all about. There is a list of the chapter titles below and we hope that this will interest some readers. And we very much hope that the way we work through these issues with readers will provide a good way to learn about political philosophy.
- Doing Political Philosophy
- Euthanasia and Freedom
- Hate Speech and Freedom of Expression
- Recreational Drugs and Paternalism
- Affirmative Action and Discrimination
- Schools and Equality of Opportunity
- Basic Income and Distributive Justice
- Parental Leave and Gender Equality
- Minority Exemptions and Multiculturalism
- Judicial Review and Democracy
- Prison Sentences and Punishment
- Intensive Animal Farming and Moral Status
- Environmental Taxes and Intergenerational Justice
- Immigration and the Political Community
- Development Aid and Global Justice
- Humanitarian Intervention and Political Self-Determination