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Lecture 1

PHLB17H3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Wrington, Political Philosophy, Classical Liberalism

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Prof. Hamish Russel

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What is Political Philosophy?
- Like political scientist, political philosophers write about governments, laws, and structures of powers.
- But political philosophers are concerned with normative questions, not (just) descriptive questions.
o What is justice? liberty? equality? oppression?
o Can our existing political institutions and power structures be defended? If so, how? If not, why
not, and how might we make things better?
- Political philosophy is often radical, calling for major changes to our current political and social
Four Purposes of Political Philosophy
1. Practical debates to examine the issues that divide us and see whether, despite appearances, we can
find some underlying agreement
2. Orientation to help us understand our political institutions, their progress over time, and our place
within them
3. Reconciliation to show us what good is in our existing political institutions, perhaps allowing us to
accept our world rather than merely be resigned to it
4. Aspiration to ask what a just world would be like, and how we can get closer to that ideal in the real
John Locke
- Born 1636 in Wrington, England, to parents of modest means. A family connection secured him an
education at England’s most prestigious schools and colleges.
- Decided to become a doctor. This led him to associate with the empiricists, who believed in scientific
study rather than the authority of ancient texts
- Became the personal physician to the Earl of Shaftesbury, a founder of the Whig movement, which
opposed absolute monarchy. Shaftesbury appointed Locke to secretary of the Board of Trade and
Plantations, and Locke helped to write the constitution for the colonies in the Carolinas.
- Locke fled to the Netherlands in 1683 after he was accused of involvement in a plan to assassinate King
Charles II. He wrote many of his most famous works while in exile.
- He returned to England in 1688, and lived until 1704.
- Locke’s political writings reacted to the events of his day:
o Conflicts between Protestants, Anglicans, and Catholics, leading to the English Civil War.
o The temporary abolishment of absolute monarchy in England under Oliver Cromwell’s
o The return of absolute monarchy and the Anglican Church under James II.
o The Glorious Revolution, which Locke supported, transferring power to William of Orange.
- Locke is perhaps the most famous of the classical liberals.
o His political works had an enormous influence on later political philosophers, especially the
Founding Fathers of the United States.
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