As the Planet Lost Its Orbit: The Myth of the Death of Political Philosophy

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  • The death of political philosophy is a label applied to various debates in the mid-twentieth century. Those debates, however, only have the appearance of a singular, cohesive argument about the state of the art. Upon closer investigation, despite the fact that its interlocutors used similar language in their proclamations and protestations, its participants were not referring to the same discipline — let alone the same 'death' thereof. John Rawls' A Theory of Justice is widely credited as having renewed political philosophy, either reversing a decline in the tradition that had begun as far back as Machiavelli or altogether reviving a project that seemed untenable in post-war anglophone scholarship. Yet what was revived by Rawls' defense of modern liberalism is differs from the discipline that came before, solidifying an academic conception of political philosophy that was suitable for institutionalization in liberal democracies. Rawls' importance in Western political thought is undeniable, but it does not automatically follow that he resolved all of the many deaths of political philosophy of the preceding decades. This dissertation is both a contribution to the disciplinary history of political philosophy as a sub-field of anglophone political science and an investigation into the death of political philosophy as both a series of debates and as a theoretical concept. Although those debates are largely understood as resolved and widely considered to be irrelevant to contemporary political philosophy, this project shows otherwise. The death of political philosophy should be understood as a key moment in the development of the discipline as distinct from 'proper' political philosophy. While this does not uniquely emerge in the twentieth century, academic political philosophy does take on a new life in post-war anglophone institutions. Investigating the death thesis provides insight into contemporary assumptions about the shape and scope of the discipline — and its implications for the practice of political philosophy. As such, this project is also a critique of the contemporary discipline that has the appearance of an ossified body of knowledge which seems divorced from the active enterprise of political philosophy and pedagogy — albeit a hopeful critique that offers possible avenues for renewal.

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  • Copyright © 2020 the author(s). Theses may be used for non-commercial research, educational, or related academic purposes only. Such uses include personal study, research, scholarship, and teaching. Theses may only be shared by linking to Carleton University Institutional Repository and no part may be used without proper attribution to the author. No part may be used for commercial purposes directly or indirectly via a for-profit platform; no adaptation or derivative works are permitted without consent from the copyright owner.
Date Created
  • 2020


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