Relation between Political Theory and Political Philosophy

“All political action directs us towards the knowledge of good life or good society. If this directness becomes explicit and men make a direct attempt to acquire the knowledge of good life and good society, political philosophy emerges.”


Political philosophy belongs to the category of normative political theory. Political theory is a tool of investigation and style of enquiry. And, political philosophy stands for the clarification of the results, investigated and enquired by political theory, supported by argumentation.

Political theory and political philosophy are integrally attached to each other. Like a political theorist, the political philosopher seeks explanation or offers one for the complex phenomenon of the state, but his focus is also the enduring elements of political life and he endeavours to suggest how best the purposes of political life are to be realised. The political philosopher is not concerned with a particular issue or problem that confront state and require immediate solution. He wants an enduring solution of the complexities of political life.

Political theory tries to explain, explore and understand the political problems of the society. It also tries to contemplate and speculate about the political issues. And, political philosophy provides the way to do so.

Political theory lays down many political concepts such as the concept of society, authority, social class, justice, liberty and democracy which are highly vague. It is the function of political philosophy clarify these concepts.

Political philosophy and political theory, however, have certain specific distinctions. A political philosopher is considered a political theorist as well, whereas a political theorist may not necessarily be a political philosopher. David Easton is an eminent political theorist, but is not considered a political philosopher. However, Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes are considered to be political philosophers as well as political theorists.

While political philosophy is abstract and speculative, political theory can be both normative and empirical. Arnold Brecht pointed out that philosophical explanations are theories too, but they are non-scientific.

Political philosophers have developed and defended particular conceptions of human nature before going on to explore the implications of their view for political life. But, political theory may be less ambitious, exploring what follows if assumptions are made about that nature.

However, it must be noted that political theory and political philosophy are complementary to each other and cannot be separated from one another. Political theory minus political philosophy will have its meaning distorted. Theory must be supplemented by philosophy.


Anthony Quinton, Political Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1967).

David Miller, Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2003).

D. D. Raphael, Problems of Political Philosophy (Palgrave, 2010).

George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory (Oxford University Press, 1973).

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