Professor Jeremy Waldron delivers the inaugural Chichele Lecture
Posted: 16 May 2012
Photo © Greg Smolonski/Photovibe
On Thursday May 3rd Jeremy Waldon, Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory, gave the inaugural Chichele lecture, entitled 'Political Political Theory'.
"Political theorists study (1) political virtue, (2) political processes and institutions, and (3) political ideals (like justice, liberty, and equality). Since the time of Hume, Madison, and Kant, it has been thought that (2) is more important than (1), because maybe we can set up institutions that work for the general good whatever the state of virtue of the people who administer them.
But in the revival of political philosophy heralded by John Rawls's book in 1971, there has been great emphasis on (3) and not nearly enough emphasis on (2). This is particularly true in the UK. Previous holders of the Chichele chair (G.A. Cohen and Isaiah Berlin) focused almost exclusively on (3)-- with Berlin going so far as to announce that political philosophy was really just the study of "the ends of life."
The lecture argues that this way of conceiving the subject-matter of the Chichele chair is at best one-sided. It argues for a reorientation of political theory teaching and scholarship back towards institutions--particularly the detailed theoretical exploration of institutional principles like democracy, representation, bicameralism, the rule of law, the separation of powers, federalism and so on. It argues that these issues they raise important and complex questions of evaluation--including dignitary evaluation -- that may be sold short by the pragmatic emphasis of empirical work. But political theory should respect the empirical study of institutions more than it does, and it should dovetail the normative and evaluative work that political theory involves with the understanding of institutions, processes, and practices that political science generates."
The full lecture can be read here.
Prof Jeremy Waldron is Chichele Professorship of Social and Political Theory