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PPE Talk: “Political Philosophy is Not Applied Ethics”

December 1, 2022 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

“Political Philosophy is Not Applied Ethics”

Kirun Sankaran

So-called “political realists” adopt the slogan “political philosophy is not applied ethics,” but it’s not always clear why political philosophy is not applied ethics. I propose a novel way of understanding this distinction between political philosophy and applied ethics. I argue that applied ethics embraces a distinctive methodology with a distinct model of the relationship between agents, situations, and interesting normative features. To show this, I argue that a conception of power, exemplified by Philip Pettit’s idea of “domination”, is characteristic of the “ethics-first” approach, in that it concentrates on characteristics of single agents or small groups and incorporates an assumption that they operate in exogenously fixed, parametric choice situations with determinate outcomes. And in attempting to answer distinctly political questions, the “ethics-first” approach retains the same set of modeling assumptions–for example, assuming from the outset (rather than as a result of analysis) that governments and corporations are “group agents”. And these prevent it from adequately coming to grips with interesting normative and conceptual features of politics. To argue this, I canvas some other ways of thinking about power from the state-building literature in political science, and show how they violate the background assumptions of the ethics-first approach, and thus why the methodology of applied ethics is inappropriate for analyzing them.

Pizza will be provided!


December 1, 2022
5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
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