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Western Political Thought : Introduction

political science

Western political thought is generally about the Western countries problems at that time present in that countries. Different Scholars of Western countries has given their ideas To to solve the problems at that time.

Q. How thought is defined in political science?


In general sense thought represent the ideas of prominent philosophers however in specific sense thought represent the foundation of the subject.

Foundation – It includes basic concept, terminologies and perspective. It is a base over which all the aspect of subject are built.

Q. What is the source to study thought?

We studies thought through classics.

Classics – Classics are authority texts. They are the reference works or book, their importance lies in the fact that the issues discussed, ideas proposed are relevant even for our times.

Classics continue to be important because Western political thought is intellectual tradition. Intellectual tradition respects the evolution of political thought over centuries through dialogue among scholars.

Q. How to define theory and what are different types of theories in the discipline?

Purpose of theory is the explanation of phenomena. In political science there are two types of theories.

  1. Philosophical theories.
  2. Scientific theories

Though there are scientific theories but a very few in number. Subject is dominated by philosophical theories even subject originated as a branch of moral philosophy means ethics. Initially scholarship have not made any difference in politics and ethics.

Q. What is the subject matter of Ethics?

Subject matter of ethics is understanding the meaning of good life. As per earlier scholars, the two questions are inseparable.

  1. what is a good life ?
  2. what is a good good political life?
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Philosophical theories have revolved around the idea of justice.

Q. What is philosophy?

Philosophy –— Philo + Sofia ( Sofia means knowledge and Philo means love )

Philosophy is search for ultimate truth or knowledge. In philosophy ideas it’s seen as the source of knowledge hence the method of philosophy is logic and not experimentation.

Comparison between Thought and Theory

Theory is more generalized where as thought is specific ( Specific to a thinker). Theory will include the logical analysis of the ideas of various thinkers to arrive at some generic ideas.

Philosophy vs Ideology

Philosophy is meant for intellectuals where as ideology is meant for masses. It is a necessity of democratic politics it is needed for mobilization of people.

Q. What does the term Political science denotes?

At the simplest level we can define political science as the systematic study of politics.

According to GarnerPolitical science begins and ends with the state.” Thus State is the core area of analysis.

Q. What all come under the State?

According to Plato (known as the father of Political science) all spheres of life come within the purview of State.

Personal sphere – Family, Marriage etc.

Public sphere – Economy, Education, Media etc. Excluding family and other social institution

However Aristotle known as father of Political Science. He is also known as greatest disciple of Plato as well as the greatest critique of Plato. It was Aristotle who made distinct between personal and public sphere. In present times the scope of the subject has become comprehensive

Personal sphere

Family-family to be under the authority of Master.

Master-conventionally speaking men . Thus family represent patriarchal authority.

Public sphere

Excluding family and other social institution. According to Aristotle Public School year is to be under the authority of statesman. Thus, State will deal with public sphere only. It was the influence of the Aristotle that political science made limited to the study of only public sphere.

However Feminist Scholars question the artificial separation between personal and political. Hence in present time the scope of the subject has become comprehensive. Earlier the study of the family came under the discipline of sociology. Sociology however it is included within the scope of political science too.

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Q. Why study of classics is a challenging task?

Classics are termed as Classics because they are certain text which can be considered as a ‘class apart'. Classic cannot be studied like ordinary books are fiction are nonfiction, they require special skill.

Q. Why it’s challenging to understand classics?

  • Political issues are too complex to be understood by ordinary person.
  • It reflect the phenomena of reflect to power, number of times there is a fear about the way Government and majority May react to it. Hence they often use coded language and it is is left on the wisdom of the readers.
  • Classics contain two sets of ideas. one, that is concerned with the problem of their times. Second, that is concerned with permanent issues. In social science, the technique of interpretation of texts is called as Hermeneutics.

Idea of hermeneutics comes from the mythological figure Hermenes — supposed to be messenger of God giving message of God in coded language. It is up to the wisdom of readers to understand the true meaning.

Q. What method or approaches had been adopted for the interpretation of classics?

1. textualist approach

Scholars- Leo Strauss, Plamanatz

The only way to understand the text is through the text itself. Means we should try to make sense by reading the text. In case it is difficult to understand then we should give multiple readings. It is also said that we can go through the various works of The Scholars to make sense in case, it’s difficult to understand by reading the text alone.

According to the supporters of the Textualist approach-

  • Political ideas can be understood in their own right they are not dependent on circumstances.
  • If if we will use contextual method it will undermine the significance of the text.
  • History itself is too vast and complicated, History writings have not been free from biasness, hence there are greater chances of misunderstandings.

The main challenge using Textualist approach comes in the sense that person should have good command over philosophy to understand the text in a literal sense.

2. Contextualist approach

Scholars- Sabine

  • In order to understand the text we have to go beyond text understanding context (social political economic circumstances).
  • According to ‘Sabine’ political philosophy is very much the part of politics. According to him crisis period in the history have led to the emergence of these classics. These are creative responses of The Scholars to find the solution.
  • Even if these Text our intellectual response to the problems of their times yet it does not undermine the eternal significance of the text. Many problems in politics are common to all ages and all places for example corruption.
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Thus, ever contextual approach does not undermine the significance of classics. Textualist challenge the contextual approach because in that sense text become free floating –means will keep on changing.

In response contextualist suggest both politics and political philosophy is the journey without destination.

3. Interpretative approach

Scholar- Quentin Skinner, Pocock

They support contextualist approach but there is a need to modify the manner in which countextualist have been studying the text.

‘Skinner’ has criticized textualist approach, he points towards the three limitation of textualist approach-

  • Myth of foundationalism.
  • Problem of coherence.
  • The problem of prolepsis.
Myth of foundationalism

Textualist believe there is some foundational meaning of any term or concept. However meaning of not fixed they are floating.

Myth of coherence

Wrong assumption to believe that a single author will reflect similar ideas in all of his writings.

Myth of prolepsis

According to Skinner, at time analysts make certain assumption about the writing of the philosopher and tend to interpret in that light. for example – Karl Popper assume that Plato himself wanted to be the philosopher king and interpreted all of its ideas in accordance to his point of view.

Thus, Skinner had shown the problems in textualist approach however he suggests that contextualist approach needs to be modified. Besides knowing this circumstances it is also essential to understand linguistic context. It means language itself is evolving. It is not necessary that the way we use a particular term has similar meaning when a particular author has written. Thus knowledge of linguistic history is also needed.

views of derrida

Derrida has given the approach of deconstruction. He also gives a concept of double reading. Salient ideas of Derrida are-

  • There can be multiple interpretations of the text.
  • Author does not have control over the text

According to Derrida , we are accustomed to look the meaning in binary terms good bad day night however there are multiple meanings in continuum. He suggest to to adopt the method of dual readings. First read from the perspective of author and then read from your own perspective.

Inshort the text have multiple meanings meanings are neither in the text as textualist think meanings are also not in the context as contextualist think, meaning are inside the person reading the things.

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