Monday, October 4, 2010

Political Philosophy: First-Order Activity and Second-Order Activity

I had this view before about political philosophy, but I did not know how it was actually explained in an academic, theoretical way. That is, I always objected to the idea of studying ideas, political thoughts, theories, etc. in a purely academic, scholarly way to see if they have logical consistencies, to see how they evolved throughout the history, etc. This is not to say that I undervalued the studies, attempts which dealt with political philosophy/theory from this point of view. However, I found it definitely more exciting and perhaps even more important to read and study the writings of previous political philosophers and contemplate about them to develop my own ideas and thoughts about the problems, issues and questions of myself, my life, of the society, the world and the time I live in.

Today, while reading a book on political theory, Political Thinkers: From Socrates to the Present, I had the chance to find the "academic" discussion behind these ideas. Firstly the book reminds the reader of the distinction between the first-order activity of political philosophizing and the second-order activity of studying what political philosophers write. In that respect, what I like more is actually the first-order activity of political philosopizing. The book writes that David Easton attacked at the second-order activity by saying that the scholars of his time "simply reiterated the meanings, logical consistency and historical development of political ideas instead of analyzing and producing new value theories."

Further, he criticized historians of political thought for being "preoccupied with the narration of the intellectual events of the past, and suggested that the modern political theorist should use the history of values in order to discover the variety of moral outlooks with the hope that this would aim him in the construction of his own political synthesis or image of a good political life."

So, how this first-order activity of political philosophizing can be practiced? It is argued that "a reflection on past thinkers provides a prolegomena to actual theorizing. This is not intended in the simplistic sense of continueing a timeless conversation, nor of drawing simple lessons or arguments from past political thinkers. Rather it embodies a recognition that first-order political theorizing cannot emerge from nowhere, but instead is a constructive enterprise that involves building, expanding, and developing the vocabularies that are inherent in great political texts."