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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: April 2017

2 - Modern Political Philosophy and Prehistoric Anthropology: Some Preliminary Issues


Because this book involves two very different academic disciplines, political philosophy and anthropology, some background about the relevant topics in each one is helpful. In this chapter, Section 1 introduces the relevant political theory. Section 2 discusses some of the anthropological methods and conceptual issues involved in the examination of the evidence relevant to these philosophical arguments. Section 3 discusses how the state and the state of nature are defined in relation to each other. Section 4 addresses some responses this book is likely to receive. Section 5 discusses the relationship between this book and modern indigenous peoples.


Normative political philosophy (which we use synonymously with normative political theory) addresses questions such as, what principles of justice should guide political policy, and what those principles imply for the world today. This section discusses a little bit about the methodology of political philosophy in general. We also discuss two prominent schools of thought that play large roles in this discussion and show that this book presents a similar criticism of both schools of thought. Finally, this section shows how these two schools of thought make similar comparisons between contemporary society and the state of nature.

A. How Do You Do Political Philosophy?

The methodology of normative political philosophy is simple: the construction of argument, informed by past argument, with reference to empirical evidence only as needed. All arguments begin with premises— unsupported claims that the author asks readers to accept as given. Any effective argument employs premises readers have good reason to believe in the effort to convince them of a conclusion they might otherwise doubt. Doubtful premises have little or no ability to make a conclusion less doubtful (Cohen 1995: 112).

The need for unsupported assumptions is not a weakness of the discipline. All arguments in all fields on all issues begin with premises. Each philosopher cites previous work on the same issue to further it, to criticize it, and/or to avoid reiterating it. Theorists who start with obviously weak premises are attacked or ignored. Over time, premises that are recognized to be weak must eventually be supported by better evidence or they fall out of the discussion.