What is Political Philosophy?



Political philosophy is a branch of learning which is primarily concerned with moral and substantive dimensions of politics. Political philosophy is the rational synthesis of political speculations, maxims and postulates, norms, opinions, information and generalisations into coherent knowledge. Political philosophy may also be defined as the investigation of moral principles and values of politics.

Political philosophy, again, is the systematic elaboration of the consequences for politics of suggested resolutions of philosophical dilemmas. It includes a rational critique of all types of theoretical generalisations, propositions and speculations regarding the political universe which has been or are held in the different civilisations.

Political philosophy is a very broad subject. To better understand what political philosophy is, it is desirable to look into the various components of political philosophy.

One major component of political philosophy is the historical study of the evolution of the fundamental concepts, methods and theoretical propositions relating to the political world as found in the writings of philosophers and thinkers of the past. It is necessary for the illumination of modern mind that the vast storehouse of knowledge and insights contained in the great writings of the past are explored and studied. An awareness of the evolution of political tradition, both in its methodological and substantive aspects is essential for the fertilisation of human mind. In these sense, the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Kautilya etc. should continue to form a permanent part of political education.

Another component of political philosophy is the study of political norms, values and ideals. Human is essentially a moral and spiritual subject. Human beings have moral and spiritual capability, sensibility and aspirations. Political philosophy assumes that through training and culture, it is possible for all civilised and cultured humans to make further evolutionary endeavours towards the realisation of moral and spiritual teleologies. This will integrate political philosophy with the theme and purpose of human civilisation as a whole.

The third component of political philosophy is the study of the foundations of political ideas, theories and ideologies. These foundations are the metaphysical, the sociological and the economic dimensions. One’s dominant notions regarding God, soul, cosmology, the value and the destiny of the human-self, retribution and transmigration, and determinism directly or indirectly influence one’s political views. The metaphysical assumptions have a considerably influential role in the formation and acceptance of political theories. On the other hand, it is in the socio-economic context that political activities take place. The situational matrix of political action is mainly composed of social and economic sectors, and hence political philosophy must study the sociological and economic dimensions of political notions.

The fourth and last component of political philosophy is the systematisation of the results of empirical political theories. It has two dimensions. First, it attempts the harmonisation of the conclusions of empirical research. In this, the propositions of scientific political theory will be sought to be arranged in terms of their inclusiveness and mutual congruence. Second, the conclusions will be further sought to be synthesised to the extent possible, withe the body of knowledge obtained in the other three sectors of political philosophy.

These components of political philosophy are the roots of analysing and synthesising the political activities and purifying politics.


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

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

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