One major area of study under the broad umbrella of philosophy is political philosophy. Political philosophy is always searching for a solution to the problems that burden societies of that time. From the Ancient Greeks to the modern day Americans, there are questions that need to be asked and answered as to why laws, and the people who create/enforce them, are a part of society. As well as ways to better the society so that the needs and wants of every individual within it are satisfied.
Political philosophy, like most other areas of philosophy, was first recorded by the Ancient Greeks. This is not to say that they were the first to propose questions and theories based on societal structure and ones place in that society. The ideas would have been floating around through verbal communication, as Plato did not suddenly wake up one day and began to write the Republic. Before Plato there were Pre-Socratic philosophers, such as Anaxagoras that asked questions, stated theories and shared ideas that often came into conflict with political leaders. Which makes sense as what could annoy those who govern more than the suggestion that they might not be as wise as themselves, and the people they governed, imagined With the following that many ancient philosophers attained, those in government would find ways to imprison the philosophers or in Pythagoras??™ case, burn down his institution. This treatment began new political thought such as; What is just and unjust Where is one??™s place in society How is a law justified Returning to Plato??™s book, within it he defended a ???well ordered authoritarian state, presided over by a ???philosopher king??™.??? . However this view was rejected by Plato??™s successor, Aristotle, with his own writing, Politics. Aristotle believed that all constitutions that run a state can be judged true (good) or perverted (bad). A true state is one where they aim for a common good. While a perverted one is where they aim for the good of a select group or those who rule.
After the Greek philosophers came the time of the Roman philosophers, due to Rome??™s conquest of many countries a few hundred years B.C.E. These earl Roman states followed an Aristotle (Greek) way of governing, known as the polis way. Polis meant ???city-state??™ as all the citizens of the state ran all affairs and had their input into societal debates. With the beginnings of Roman Catholicism, the church began to play a key part in politics with its own philosophy on what is morally right and wrong. St. Augustine was a well known philosopher during the 4th century B.C.E., and is still well known for his book The City of God. One of his views was that one was not a member of his/her state, but was either a member of the City of God or the City of Man. His views on complying with laws were straightforward, ???Obey the state until the state requires you to do something which is directly against God??™s law.??? .
Chronologically, the next philosopher who had a major impact on political thought would be Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527). During his time all cities of Italy were run by some form of sovereignty which led to Machiavelli??™s book The Prince. This book outlines the possibility that many ???new princes??™ must step on others or due immoral things so that he may come into power. Which begs the question is the cost of a few immoral actions worth the improvement of a whole society My personal philosophy on this subject would agree in saying that a few immoral actions are worthwhile if the end result is better for everyone as a whole, whether it be a group of people, society or the human race. I justify this by using an example, is it not worth killing one man/woman who is currently and continually killing countless men/women
The social contract is a concept that people have, at some given point in history, agreed to give up some rights to a government or each other and in turn maintain social order. Without the social contract Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) says that there is only the State of Nature, a time when men were always living in fear of other men, and thus never being able to socialize with one another as a fear that the other would not trust the other man. In the Hobbes; writings he described what life would have been like in the State of Nature;
???In such conditions, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth, no Navigation, nor the use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no Instruments of moving and removing things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.???
Similar accounts on the State of Nature have been recorded by John Locke (1632-1704) as well. However Locke??™s version is not as grim and there is a social aspect to the way men/women lived while in the State of Nature. A third philosopher on the subject of the social contract is Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), a man often blamed for starting the French Revolution. His idea is that the social contract began when a General Will came forth ending the State of Nature. This General Will is the will of the majority of a society, even the minorities are apart of the General Will as their, ???reason for joining the new state of the Social Contract in the first place was the possibility of acting with others, not against them.??? . From this I feel that Rousseau is saying that being a part of a society means that everyone within it only strives for the good of the majority. Even if minorities are coerced, it can be justified that their actions are for the good of the General Will, and benefits the new society which the minority agreed to join. I agree that a society will advanced positively as long as the majority or General Will is followed. There will always be minorities that oppose the majorities, and until they become large enough that they start a revolution and become a majority, than their views are only that of their own, and not the General Will??™s.
Currently we see many instances that prove politics have not solved all possible problems that hamper down current societies. Problems such as the treatment of people belonging to minority religions in a country are very apparent in everyday life. Example, a majority of the people may claim that a given religious people should not be granted leaves from work on certain days considered religious only to the minority. From that stems laws or rules that suit those religious needs of only the majority. In a philosophical debate such as this one I would support that all religions stay separate from the governing of a society. However, I may be a minority on that subject, and since I believe that a society should be run based on the majorities ???General Will??™, than my view on that subject would be disregarded. Philosophical debates within politics should always be a part of the governing bodies, as it opens new doors to ways that a society could be run, and if we keep opening these doors than one day we may just walk right into a beautiful utopia for which we all can call home.
???The New Encyclop?dia Britannica, Volume 9, s.v. ???political philosophy???
???J.S. McClelland, History of Western Political Thought (New York: Routledge, 1996), 114
???Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Part 1, Chapter 13)
???The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ???Political philosophy???; available from http://www.iep.utm.edu/p/polphil.htm; Internet; accessed 20 November 2008
??? T.M. Knox, Hegel??™s Philosophy of Right (New York: Clarendon Press, 1967)
??? Bertrand Russell, Wisdom of the West (New York: Crescent Books Inc., 1990)