Philosophy Word of the Day – Augustine’s Political and Social Philosophy

Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on...

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“St. Augustine (C.E. 354-430), originally named Aurelius Augustinus, was the Catholic bishop of Hippo in northern Africa.  He was a skilled Roman-trained rhetorician, a prolific writer (who produced more than 110 works over a 30-year period), and by wide acclamation, the first Christian philosopher.  Writing from a unique background and vantage point as a keen observer of society before the fall of the Roman Empire, Augustine’s views on political and social philosophy constitute an important intellectual bridge between late antiquity and the emerging medieval world.  Because of the scope and quantity of his work, many scholars consider him to have been the most influential Western philosopher.

“Although Augustine certainly would not have thought of himself as a political or social philosopher per se, the record of his thoughts on such themes as the nature of human society, justice, the nature and role of the state, the relationship between church and state, just and unjust war, and peace all have played their part in the shaping of Western civilization. There is much in his work that anticipates major themes in the writings of moderns like Machiavelli, Luther, Calvin and, in particular, Hobbes.” (continue article)

—J. Mark Mattox at The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Moral Character

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Questions about moral character have recently come to occupy a central place in philosophical discussion. Part of the explanation for this development can be traced to the publication in 1958 of G. E. M. Anscombe’s seminal article “Modern Moral Philosophy.” In that paper Anscombe argued that Kantianism and utilitarianism, the two major traditions in western moral philosophy, mistakenly placed the foundation for morality in legalistic notions such as duty and obligation. To do ethics properly, Anscombe argued, one must start with what it is for a human being to flourish or live well. That meant returning to some questions that mattered deeply to the ancient Greek moralists. These questions focused on the nature of “virtue” (or what we might think of as admirable moral character), of how one becomes virtuous (is it taught? does it arise naturally? are we responsible for its development?), and of what relationships and institutions may be necessary to make becoming virtuous possible.

Answers to these ancient questions emerge today in various areas of philosophy, including ethics (especially virtue ethics), feminist ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of education, and philosophy of literature. Interest in virtue and character was also indirectly the result of a more practical turn in political philosophy, inspired by the publication of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in 1971. In Part III of A Theory of Justice, Rawls provided a picture of how individuals might be brought up in a just state to develop the virtues expected of good citizens. Although his interest was not in moral education per se, his discussion of the nature and development of what he called self-respect stimulated other philosophers to explore the psychological foundations of virtue and the contributions made by friendship, family, community, and meaningful work to good moral character. (continue article)

— Marcia Homiak in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day — John Locke’s Political Philosophy

John Locke, by Herman Verelst (died 1690). See...

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“John Locke (1632–1704) is among the most influential political philosophers of the modern period. In the Two Treatises of Government, he defended the claim that men are by nature free and equal against claims that God had made all people naturally subject to a monarch. He argued that people have rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and property, that have a foundation independent of the laws of any particular society. Locke used the claim that men are naturally free and equal as part of the justification for understanding legitimate political government as the result of a social contract where people in the state of nature conditionally transfer some of their rights to the government in order to better insure the stable, comfortable enjoyment of their lives, liberty, and property.

“Since governments exist by the consent of the people in order to protect the rights of the people and promote the public good, governments that fail to do so can be resisted and replaced with new governments. Locke is thus also important for his defense of the right of revolution. Locke also defends the principle of majority rule and the separation of legislative and executive powers. In the Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke denied that coercion should be used to bring people to (what the ruler believes is) the true religion and also denied that churches should have any coercive power over their members. Locke elaborated on these themes in his later political writings, such as the Second Letter on Toleration and Third Letter on Toleration.” (continue article)

— Alex Tuckness in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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New Philosophy Course on iTunes

This is a nice addition to the philosophy audio and video resources I recently listed.  As far as I know, it’s the only complete Introduction to Philosophy course from a university available online.  The course is taught by Dr. Daniel Kaufman at Missouri State University.  It seems only to be available through iTunes University.

One more course that didn’t make the previous list is Introduction to Political Philosophy by Dr. Steven B. Smith at Yale.  The lectures are available in both video (QuickTime) and audio formats (mp3).

Happy watching and/or listening!

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Philosophy Word of the Day – John Rawls (1921-2002 )

American political philosopher. As presented in A Theory of Justice (1971) {at Amazon.com}, Rawls’s concept of “justice as fairness” offers a non-historical or hypothetical variation on the social contract theory, in which rational agents make social decisions from behind a “veil of ignorance” that prevents them from knowing in advance what status they will hold.

According to Rawls, this method will produce a society where individual liberties are maximized for all citizens and social inequality is justifiable only under conditions that would be beneficial for its least-favored members. Further exposition of this theory, along with a restatement of Rawls’s opposition to utilitarianism and an examination of political pluralism, appear in Political Liberalism (1993) {at Amazon.com}. Two Concepts of Rules (1955) is an early statement of Rawls’s basic principles.

Recommended Reading: John Rawls, Collected Papers, ed. by Samuel Freeman (Harvard, 2001) {at Amazon.com}; John Rawls, The Law of Peoples (Harvard, 2001) {at Amazon.com}; Chandran Kukathas and Philip Pettit, Rawls: A Theory of Justice and Its Critics (Stanford, 1991) {at Amazon.com}; and Reading Rawls: Critical Studies on Rawls on Rawls ‘A Theory of Justice’, ed. by Norman Daniels (Stanford, 1989) {at Amazon.com}.

(Via Philosophy Pages)

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