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Obama has a car czar, a food czar, a bank bailout czar, a poverty czar, bird flu czar, a czar czar... he has 37 czars in all. Interestingly enough, he doesn't have a philosophy czar. Perhaps you think that a rather funny concept. After all, who needs a philosophy czar? But why is it that philosophy doesn't play a more important role in politics? Certainly, the parties have their agendas, but those aren't the same as their philosophies. When politicians are debating laws and regulations, wouldn't it help resolve differences if they could point to the philosophical principles they are supporting? Water and oil don't mix, but why is that also true of politics and philosophy? Why does politics ignore philosophy?


As a former cabinet minister, I know all too well that philosophy and politics don't mix much. Governments have chief economists and chief medical officers, but not chief philosophers. Of course, philosophy is not an applied discipline, like economics or medicine. But many contemporary political problems, from the legitimacy of torture to affirmative action, are initially philosophical problems. This invites us to think more deeply about the limited philosophical bent to our politics. As Sandel argues, political philosophy cannot "resolve disagreements once and for all. But it can give shape to the arguments we have, and bring moral clarity to the alternatives we confront." The great debates in political theory over the past 40 years - between the liberal John Rawls, the libertarian Robert Nozick and communitarians such as Sandel himself - have followed the same furrows as our politics: income distribution, rights and responsibilities, identity and tolerance. But it's as if the two professions have ploughed the same field while ignoring each other.

...politicians need not have a policy for everything and - radically - that government need not be unified on every issue. Where one answer cannot be found - either intellectually, or because no solution commands consensus - it may be because it simply doesn't exist. Sometimes the government should let people decide: instead of imposing answers from the top, they should work harder to let citizens devise their own answers from the bottom. This philosophical bias may be especially useful at a time of public spending restraint, suggesting that wise governments should increase spending on areas where there is agreement about their public value, such as education, and reduce it in contested areas such as industrial subsidies, leaving companies and individuals to make their own decisions with their money...

Clarifying the theory which lies behind our instincts and traditions helps us both to avoid dead ends and to decide the most promising paths on which to embark. In particular, it suggests that centre-left parties must develop a more ambitious idea of equality. Rather than focusing on equality of income or utility, we should think about what Sen calls people's capabilities: their effective freedom to achieve the goals they choose.

Sen and Sensibility. Politicians would have a better chance of solving the great problems of the day - from unemployment to education and immigration if they read more philosophy


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Feb 2, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=455

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