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Title: Spinoza's Political Realism
Authors: Field, Sandra
Advisors: Pettit, Philip
Contributors: Politics Department
Keywords: democracy
Subjects: Political Science
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: In this dissertation, I argue that Benedict de Spinoza advocates a distinctive realist approach to political theory. Spinoza rejects the political theory of all previous philosophers as utopian fantasy that could never have practical application. However, it has been less clear what precisely he means by practicality, and correspondingly, what precisely his non-utopian alternative might be. I argue that Spinozist realism offers a normative vision of social life supported by an account of the conditions under which the desired sociable conduct can sustainably be brought about. It is thus a species of normative political philosophy, but one which imposes a restriction on permissible ideals: it admits only those ideals that are possible, in the sense that their enduring functioning is sociologically plausible, given what we know about the determinate causes of human behaviour. In practice, this means that political theory needs to be concerned with the concrete economic, political, and cultural incentives and pressures on citizenly sociability, rather than simply defining and calling for that sociability and condemning its absence. Indeed, Spinoza lives up to this requirement by offering detailed institutional proposals for free political orders. In this way, Spinoza's realism links up with an older republican tradition which identifies good political orders and laws as the cause of citizenly virtue, and explains citizens' corruption not as sin, but as the result of poor institutional design. Through detailed engagement with the arguments of Spinoza's texts and those of his contemporary Thomas Hobbes, I demonstrate that Spinozist realism excludes both certain authoritarian ideals of politics and certain radical liberatory ideals. What emerges is a realism which is not bound to cynicism or to a pessimistic view of human nature; rather, it is keenly interested in the complex pathways by which a better or worse human nature is brought about.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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