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Engagement with the the fundamentals of political philosophy is an essential step toward being able to think critically about the power structures in place and make your voice heard as a citizen. Professor Tamar Gendler begins with the question of why human beings should cooperate, then looks at the different answers that arise from two very different perspectives: Hobbes’ theory of self-interest versus the social contract theory of Rousseau and Locke. Next, she shows how, with Marx’s communism, political philosophy evolved to the point at which it had the power to overturn established hierarchies and dominate the international politics of the twentieth century.
Dr. Tamar Gendler is a leading philosophy scholar. Her primary areas of study are the Philosophy of Psychology, Epistemology and Metaphysics. Professor Gendler’s work has earned her many fellowships from such foundations such as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Science Foundation. Her 2008 essay entitled “Alief and Belief” was selected by the Philosopher’s Annual as one of the best articles published in Philosophy in 2008. In 2010, she became the first woman to Chair the Department of Philosophy at Yale. Dr. Gendler has taught philosophy and cognitive science at Yale since 2006.
My name is Tamar Gendler. I’m professor of philosophy and cognitive science and chair of the philosophy department at Yale University.
So philosophy comes from the Greek term meaning love of wisdom; philo, love; sophos, wisdom and every culture from time immemorial has had a philosophical tradition. There are philosophical traditions in western culture that have their roots in ancient Greece. There are philosophical traditions in eastern culture, great Chinese and Indian philosophical traditions. There are philosophical traditions in Africa. There are philosophical traditions in native cultures throughout the world. What philosophy does in every society of which it is a part is asks the question why, why are things that way they are and should they be that way.
The western philosophical tradition to which my comments today will be restricted can be divided into two main segments. On the one hand it has a descriptive component, which asks about how things are and how we know that and on the other hand it has a normative component, a component which asks about how things ought to be. So into the first category fall questions like what is the fundamental nature of reality, does God exist, do we have free will. Those branches of philosophy are known as metaphysics, fundamental questions about what there is, and epistemology, fundamental questions about how we know things.
On the other side of the divide are the questions that I’ve called normative questions, questions about values and that segment of philosophy has three main parts. One of them, aesthetics is concerned with the question what is beautiful and what makes it so. The second part of that division of philosophy, moral philosophy asks the question what is morally right or good and the third part of that division of philosophy, political philosophy asks the question how should societies be structured in order to allow human flourishing and what makes societal structures legitimate
Perhaps the most accessible and exciting part of philosophy for people who have never encountered the discipline before is political philosophy, which asks questions that we as citizens of a democracy need to ask ourselves in order to be responsible participants in our joint governance, questions like what is the best way for society to be structured in order to allow people to flourish, questions like what is the appropriate division of rights and responsibilities in a society, questions like how should the legitimate concerns of liberty on the one hand and equality on the other be balanced and for those of you who are interested in studying a subject that has practical import it may be worth realizing that political philosophy brought you the world as you know it today. Political philosophy brought the world Greek democracy. It brought us the Magna Carta. It brought us the French Revolution and the American Revolution. It brought us communism. It brought us the Civil Rights Movement. It brought us feminism…
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