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How Should We Categorize Approaches to the History of Political Thought?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 December 2020

Abstract

This paper proposes a new framework for categorizing approaches to the history of political thought. Previous categorizations exclude much research; political theory, if included, is often caricatured. And previous categorizations are one-dimensional, presenting different approaches as alternatives. My framework is two-dimensional, distinguishing six kinds of end (two empirical, four theoretical) and six kinds of means. Importantly, these choices are not alternatives: studies may have more than one end and typically use several means. Studies with different ends often use some of the same means. And all studies straddle the supposed empirical/theoretical “divide.” Quentin Skinner himself expertly combines empirical and theoretical analysis—yet the latter is often overlooked, not least because of Skinner's own methodological pronouncements. This highlights a curious disjuncture in methodological writings, between what they say we do, and what we should do. What we should do is much broader than existing categorizations imply.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of University of Notre Dame.

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Footnotes

For comments and criticisms on previous versions of this article, I am grateful to my anonymous reviewers and to Ruth Abbey, the editor of this journal.

References

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41 Martinich, Two Gods of Leviathan, 11–12.

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43 See Blau, “Interpreting Texts,” 251–57, on empirical and systematic reconstruction.

44 Blau, “History of Political Thought as Detective-Work,” 1179; Blau, “Interpreting Texts,” 244–45, 258, 260, 264.

45 Blau, “Interpreting Texts,” 260; see also Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hegel's Dialectic: Five Hermeneutical Studies, trans. Christopher Smith (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976), 9.

46 Blau, “Interpreting Texts,” 258.

47 Ibid., 251

48 Blau, “History of Political Thought as Detective-Work,” 1189–93.

49 I thank Maurizio Viroli for helping me to see these other categories.

50 Adrian Blau, “Methodologies of Interpreting Hobbes: Historical and Philosophical,” in Interpreting Hobbes's Political Philosophy, ed. S. A. Lloyd (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 11.

51 Devin Stauffer, Hobbes's Kingdom of Light: A Study of the Foundations of Modern Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018), 7–9.

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53 Rosenblatt, Rousseau and Geneva, 255–56; Blau, “Interpreting Texts,” 247–48.

54 A. John Simmons, The Lockean Theory of Rights (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).

55 Blau, “Interpreting Texts,” 254–56.

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57 Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations: Philosophy of Science and Its Implications for the Study of World Politics (London: Routledge, 2011), 35–36, 115–41.

58 Adrian Blau, “Meanings and Understandings in the History of Ideas,” Journal of the Philosophy of History 14, no. 2 (2020): 239–47.

59 Frederick Neuhouser, Rousseau's Critique of Inequality: Reconstructing the “Second Discourse” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 14–15.

60 Quentin Skinner, “Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas,” History and Theory 8, no. 1 (1969): 8.

61 Adrian Blau, “Extended Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas,” History and Theory 58, no. 3 (2019): 350–51.

62 Skinner, “Meaning and Understanding,” 16–22.

63 E.g., Joshua Cohen, Rousseau: A Free Community of Equals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 6.

64 See, e.g., Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family (New York: Basic Books, 1989), 10–13, 44–60, 80–87, 90–97.

65 Rousseau, Social Contract, 3.15, p. 113.

66 E.g., Rosenblatt, Rousseau and Geneva, 247–58.

67 Blau, “Meanings and Understandings,” 244–47.

68 See also Blau, “Extended Meaning,” 353–54.

69 Quentin Skinner, Hobbes and Republican Liberty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), ix.

70 Ibid., 216.

71 E.g., Quentin Skinner, “The Paradoxes of Political Liberty,” in Liberty, ed. David Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 204–5; Quentin Skinner, Liberty before Liberalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 101–20.

72 Skinner, Hobbes and Republican Liberty, 23.

73 Ibid., 45.

74 Ibid., 24.

75 Ibid., 112–15.

76 Ibid., 129–31.

77 Ibid., 128; see also 150.

78 Ibid., 132–38; quotation at 132.

79 Ibid., 116–23.

80 Ibid., 112–15.

81 Blau, “Interpreting Texts,” 252–56; Blau, “Extended Meaning,” 352–58; Blau, “Methodologies of Interpreting Hobbes”; Blau, “Textual Context.”

82 Skinner, Hobbes and Republican Liberty, 23.

83 Ibid., 34–37, 41–47, 50–55.

84 Ibid., 37–41, 47–50; see also 21–23, 25–34, and 56–81 for other contextual comparisons.

85 Ibid., 90.

86 Ibid., 90–107.

87 Ibid., 107–15.

88 Ibid., 132–38; 162–73.

89 Ibid., 138–62; 173–77.

90 Jeffrey Green, “Political Theory as Both Philosophy and History: A Defense against Methodological Militancy,” Annual Review of Political Science 18 (2015): 435; emphasis removed.

91 Ibid., 435–36.

92 For a critique of Skinner's philosophical analysis, see Douglass, Robin, “Thomas Hobbes's Changing Account of Liberty and Challenge to Republicanism,” History of Political Thought 36, no. 2 (2015): 281–309Google Scholar.

93 Skinner, Hobbes and Republican Liberty, xvi.

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