Summer Reading for Political Philosophy Students?

by Harry on April 19, 2006

A graduate student asked me the other day for some summer reading suggestions; must-read articles in political philosophy from the past 25-30 years. I was a bit shocked at how narrow my list was (though I did leave off a bunch of papers that I knew he’d already read, and that would have broadened my list a bit), and I thought it would be a nice exercise for the political philosophers who read CT; suggest one or two papers from the past 30 years that you think everyone who wants to write a dissertation in the area of political philosophy reasonably broadly conceived should have read. Do not suggest your own papers unless you are dead or plan to be by the summer. I’ll follow up with an eccentrically chosen list of 10 , with the best links I can manage.



Maurice Meilleur 04.19.06 at 10:05 am

Ian Shapiro, “Gross Concepts in Political Argument,” Political Theory 17:1 (February 1989).

Symposium on “The Strange Silence of Political Theory” by Jeffrey Isaac, with comments by William Connolly, Kirstie McClure, Elizabeth Kiss, Michael Gillespie, and Seyla Benhabib, Political Theory 23:4 (November 1995).


Chris Bertram 04.19.06 at 10:16 am

Do you want the obvious ones? Or do you mean papers people think are important but which don’t usually get listed?


alkali 04.19.06 at 10:36 am

CB: As a person with no knowledge of the field beyond a couple courses as an undergraduate, I’d like to know what the “obvious” ones are.


harry b 04.19.06 at 10:37 am

Right, I was thinking that nothing is necessarily obvious (I imagine that CB and I would come up with very close to identical obvious lists, but others might diverge quite a bit).


Chris Bertram 04.19.06 at 10:42 am

OK then … I think there’s no real competition for the following ….

Ronald Dworkin, “What is Equality” (parts 1 and 2) _Philosophy and Public Affairs_ (1981) (now chs 1 and 2 of his _Sovereign Virtue_ .)


Derek Parfit, ‘Equality or Priority?’, The Lindley Lecture, University of Kansas (1991), pp 1- 42 also (the shortened version) “Equality and Priority” _Ratio_ (1997) pp. 202–221, or in Matthew Clayton and Andrew Williams eds. _The Ideal of Equality_ , ch. 5.


OneEyedMan 04.19.06 at 10:45 am

I guess it just sneaks in at 28 years old, but “Home Style: House Members in Their Districts” is an amazing account of how house members really think and act.


Jacob T. Levy 04.19.06 at 10:48 am

Well, 30 years is long enough to include not only the whole liberal-communitarian debate but even early-late Rawls; “equality of what?”; and otherwise a complete course in post-TJ/ASU political philosophy. I think there’s probably more than 10 articles in that span that are must-reads; if not, what have we been up to?

I find it a little harder and more interesting to think in terms of articles that didn’t then get incorporated or expanded into books– so we don’t need to put “political not metaphysical” on the list because we assume the student has already read Political Liberalism in book form, “Where the action is”/ _If you’re an egalitarian,_ etc. But allow in articles that only got incorporated into collected papers volumes, since they’re still articles in that form.

This is haphazard and off the cuff:

Waldron: “When justice replaces affection,” “Rights and minorities,” “Minority cultures”

Taylor, “Atomism,” “Negative Liberty,” “Politics of recognition”

Rawls-Habermas debate in JP

Larmore, “Political liberalism”

Walzer, “Communitarian critique”

Andseron, “Equality”


Simon Cabulea May 04.19.06 at 10:50 am

Offhand, some suggestions:

Elizabeth Anderson, “What is the Point of Equality?” Ethics 109 (2) 1999.

G.A. Cohen, “On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice” Ethics 99 (4), 1989.
——, “Where the Action Is: On the Site of Distributive Justice” Phil & Pub Affairs 26 (1), 1997

Joshua Cohen, “Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy” in Bohman & Rehg, Deliberative Democracy, MIT Press, 1997.
——, “Procedure and Substance in Deliberative Democracy,” in Bohman & Rehg (reading these two papers as twins).

Ronald Dworkin, “Equality of Resources” Phil & Pub Affairs 10 (2) 1981.

John Rawls, “Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical” Phil & Pub Affairs 14 (3) 1985.
——, “The Law of Peoples” Critical Inquiry 20 (1) 1993 (in lieu of the book).

T.M. Scanlon, “Preference and Urgency” J. Phil 72 (19) 1975 (more than 30 years ago, sure, but still worthwhile).
——, “Contractualism and Utilitarianism” in Sen & Williams, Utilitarianism and Beyond, Cambridge, 1982.

Amartya Sen, “Equality of What?” in McMurrin, Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Cambridge, 1980.
——, assorted other pieces on capabilities.

Charles Taylor, “The Politics of Recognition” in Gutmann, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition, Princeton, 1992.

Jeremy Waldron, “Theoretical Foundations of Liberalism” in his Liberal Rights, Cambridge, 1992
——, “Judicial Review and the Conditions of Democracy” J. Pol Phil 6 (4), 1998.


Rob Reich 04.19.06 at 10:54 am

Derek Parfit, ‘Equality and Priority’, Ratio, vol. 10, no. 3 (December, 1997).

Harry Frankfurt, “Equality as a Moral Ideal,” Ethics 98 (1987),

Susan Moller Okin, “Justice and Gender,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 16, no. 1 (1987).

Charles Larmore, “Political Liberalism,” Political Theory, vol. 18, no. 3 (1990).


Colin Farrelly 04.19.06 at 10:55 am

To limit myself to just 2 readings (and assuming that someone doing a dissertation already has some basic knowledge of the field) I think the following two articles are must reads:

Allen Buchanan, ‘Justice as Reciprocity versus Subject-Centered Justice’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 19(3), 1990: 227-52.

Elizabeth Anderson, ‘What is the Point of Equality?’, Ethics, Vol. 109(2), 1999: 287-337.

Both are excellent articles and they cover two of the most important debates in the past 20 years of political philosophy– Hobbesian contractarianism vs neo-Kantianism; and luck egalitarianism.



Jon Pike 04.19.06 at 11:05 am

If Chris’s two get in, and also Cohen’s ‘Where the action is’ then you really need Frankfurt: Equality as a moral ideal’ Ethics 98, 1987.

But I’m surprised to be the first to suggest I.M.Young ‘Polity and Group difference: a critique of the Ideal of Universal Cititzenship’ Ethics 99, 1989.

Aren’t both of these must-reads, and perhaps must-rejects?


David 04.19.06 at 11:10 am

What amazes me is that everything of significance in political philosophy over the past 30 years was written in English.

Makes me feel good.


SamChevre 04.19.06 at 11:13 am

I’m going to offer a somewhat unqualified opinion, as I am an economist, not a political philosopher–and I’m not an academic.

I think that at least one paper on Public Choice theory would be hugely helpful to anyone looking at political philosophy–“what can be done” is a useful constraint on “what should be done”.


djw 04.19.06 at 11:14 am

As a companion to the previously mentioned Young piece, “The Five Faces of Oppression” The Philosophical Forum 19 270-290 (1988).

(in addition to several others mentioned)


djw 04.19.06 at 11:49 am

Political philosophers think about that all the time, samchevre. Public choice theory might help us do it, but a) it’s not necessary, and b) it’s not the only sort of material that helps us do it.


Decnavda 04.19.06 at 12:08 pm

“Why Sufers Bhould Be Fed” by Phillipe Van Parijis

Actually, I would have suggested Van Parijis’ book, Real Libertarianism: What (If anything) Justifies Capitalism? as well as the forthcoming disertation by Oxford grad student Karl Widerquist, but you asked for articles, and used the word “past”, which would exclude the articles that will come out from chapters of Widerquist’s disertation.


Del Ver 04.19.06 at 12:16 pm

Lyndon LaRouche, The Substance of Morality, Executive Intelligence Review (June 26, 1998) (“At this moment, the world–including the United States itself–is securely embarked on a journey to Hell…”).


SeanD 04.19.06 at 12:50 pm

As a lowly graduate student, I wouldn’t presume to suggest anything specific, but almost none of the ‘must-reads’ mentioned so far involve a) political legitimacy or b) global justice, topics which seem to me (again, from rather limited evidence) to have generated a great deal of recent literature. Any suggestions on the ‘must-reads’ in these areas?


oran 04.19.06 at 1:39 pm

Concerning political legitimacy: A. John Simmons’ “Justification and Legitimacy” comes to mind.


not from here 04.19.06 at 1:42 pm

tis strange. I study political philosophy in France, and aside from Parfit, Rawls and Anderson, I haven’t read a single thing on this list.
So a question out of curiousity. What counts as political philosophy in the states? I’m doing a dissertation on Schmitt and Benjamin – does that get included in the discipline, or do I end up in cultural studies? :)
Nary will the two lanes meet…
(though the Van Parijis BIG stuff looks interesting, thanks for that).


nik 04.19.06 at 1:50 pm

I’ve been really interested by the literature on republicanism and epistemic theories of democracy. Have either of these had much impact on political philosophy as a whole, sufficient to get a paper in the top 10 list? And which paper would get on the list?


Avery 04.19.06 at 1:56 pm

On global justice:
1. Thomas Pogge, “Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty”, in Ethics (1992), reprinted in World Hunger and Human Rights.

On the theory of justice:
2. Iris Marion Young, “Displacing the Distributive Paradigm,” (in her book, Justice and the Politics of Difference)

An extraordinarily deep and challenging paper:
3. Thomas Christiano, “The Incoherence of Hobbesian Justifications of the State,” American Philosophical Quarterly (1994?)

On the moral & theoretic significance of race/gender stratification in society and in the profession:
4. Charles W. Mills, “Do Black Men have a Moral Duty to Marry Black Women?” in Journal of Social Philosophy (1993?) (For a nice overview of the social ontology of race more generally, Mills’s “But What are you Really?”, in his book Blackness Visible, is very good.)


Harry 04.19.06 at 1:56 pm

samchevre, I agree with you. So? Propose something! (A paper; not a book).


ECW 04.19.06 at 2:45 pm

1. These should be read serially, as one piece. Agree or not, they are the touchstone for all following debates about feminist political theory:

“Feminism, Marxism, Method and the State: An Agenda for Theory.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 515(1983): 7.

“Feminism, Marxism, Method and the State: Toward Feminist Jurisprudence.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 635 (1983): 8.

2. Charles Lindblom, “The Market as Prison,” Journal of Politics, 1982. This is a great statement of hte potential tensions between market systems and self-governance, taking both markets and democratic institutions at their best. For grad student summer reading, you can’t beat it.


Jacob T. Levy 04.19.06 at 3:06 pm

What counts as political philosophy in the states? I’m doing a dissertation on Schmitt and Benjamin – does that get included in the discipline, or do I end up in cultural studies? :)

Not necessarily; you might well end up in political theory in a political science department. Schmitt in particular is widely read by those of us in that institutional home– and, as far as I can tell, not at all by the kinds of political philosophers-mostly-in-philosophy-departments we’re mostly discussing in this thread.

(That doesn’t answer the “what gets counted” at any interesting level of abstraction.)

(But see also Harry’s previous post, which speaks more directly to the distinction between Anglo-American analytic philosophy of the sort we’re discussing here and what Americans refer to as “continental” theory.)


Duncan Bell 04.19.06 at 3:25 pm

Your student might want to try these for size:

Quentin Skinner, “The Idea of Negative Liberty: Philosophical and Historical Perspectives” in Richard Rorty et al (ed.), Philosophy in History (1984)

Skinner, “The Republican Ideal of Political Liberty” in Bock, Skinner and Viroli (eds.), Machiavelli and Republicanism (1990)

Raymond Geuss, “Nietzsche and Genealogy” in his Morality, Culture, and History: Essays on German Philosophy (1999)

Michel Foucault, “What is Enlightenment” in Paul Rabinow (ed.), The Foucault Reader (1984)


Jonathan Quong 04.19.06 at 3:35 pm

I’ll just mention a few that I haven’t seen listed so far:

T.M. Scanlon, ‘Contractualism and Utilitarianism,’ in Utilitarianism and Beyond (Cambridge University Press, 1982)

Thomas Nagel, ‘Moral Conflict and Political Legitimacy,’ Philosophy & Public Affairs (1987)

Joseph Raz, ‘Facing Diversity: The Case of Epistemic Abstinence,’ Philosophy & Public Affairs (1990)

G.A. Cohen, ‘Freedom and Money,’ available at:

Two explanations. First, I know that the Scanlon piece might be more accurately classified as moral and not political philosophy but I think it’s too important for any political philosophy graduate student to ignore. Second, I know that the Cohen piece, ‘Freedom and Money’ has not been properly published, but it is available and has been for many years and is simply an outstanding example of what analytical political philosophy can accomplish.


Cath 04.19.06 at 3:48 pm

Since I read in this area, would you post a beginners list also? It is difficult to find out the respected, as opposed to the popularized, works. I’m not in the scholastic world.
Thanks Cath


asg 04.19.06 at 3:55 pm

Anthony D’Amato, “On the Connection between Law and Justice” (this is assuming that philosophy of law falls within “political philosophy, broadly conceived”)

David Schmidtz, “How to Deserve” (2002)


Josh 04.19.06 at 5:15 pm

Many potential articles. To cover the Foucault side of things, What is Enlightenment would be a good beginning. Also: Thomas McCarthy, “The Critique of Impure Reason: Foucault and the Frankfurt School,” (Political Theory 18, no. 3 (August 1990): 437-469).

“Liberalism of Fear” by Judith Shklar is very interesting; I believe it can be found in multiple sources, including Political thought and political thinkers / Judith N. Shklar ; edited by Stanley Hoffmann. William Galston’s “Expressive Liberty, Moral Pluralism, Political Pluralism: Three sources of Liberal Theory” provides a good overview of his thought, at least as expressed in his later book Liberal Pluralism; that is in the William and Mary Law Review, number 41, I think.

Moral Conflict and Political Consensus (Ethics 1990) by Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson gives a nice overview of some of the features of their form of deliberative democracy. I second the recommendation of Nagel’s similarly titled “Moral Conflict and POlitical Legitimacy” Jeremy Waldron’s “Theoretical Fondations of Liberalism” is a nice overview of just what the hell a liberal might be. And, to round out a list that could conceivably grow, “Should Political Philosophy be Done Without Metaphysics?” by Jean Hampton.


oneoffmanmental 04.19.06 at 5:30 pm


anthony 04.19.06 at 7:03 pm

Top Ten Queer Theory Papers (if QT is politics)

Morrison, Margaret “Pedagogical Help in Queer Theory” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies – Volume 11, Number 2, 2005, pp. 316-318

R. Wiegman. “”Object Lessons: Men, Masculinity, and the Sign of ‘Women'”.” SIGNS 26:2 (Winter, 2001): 355-388.

Jon Adams (U. Montana), “Critiquing the Cartoon Caricature: Disney, Drag and the Proliferation and Commdification of Queer Negativity” (1995) (Queer Frontiers Conference, U. Southern California)

Jonathan Alexander (U. Southern Colorado), “Hypertext and Queer Theory” (1997) (Texas Tech U.)

Dana HellerAnxieties of Affluence: Movements, Market Sectors, and Lesbian Feminist Generation(s) Surfaces Vol. VII.111 (v.1.0A – 27/06/1997

Getting the Warhol We Deserve Douglas Crimp (here:
Eve Sedgewick “Gosh, Boy George, you must be awfully secure in your masculinity!”

Judith Butler The Uses of Equality. In Diacritics 27/1. Spring 1997, pp. 3-12.

Glenda M. Russell, Subtle Stereotyping: The Media, Homosexuality, and the Priest Sexual Abuse Scandal Ph.D. IGLSS

MV Bladgett Income Inflation: The Myth of Affluence among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Americans Ibid


josh 04.19.06 at 7:17 pm

In response to (part of) nik’s comment 21, I think the exposition of republicanism that’s had the most impact in political theory (and, at least in my neck of the discipline, the impact does seem pretty big) isn’t an article, but rather Philip Pettit’s book on the subject (the second Skinner article mentioned by Duncan Bell is also a place to look, but is I think less widely read among analytical political theorists than Petit’s work). Among *articles* dealing specifically with republicanism, the one that stands out for me is Alan Patten, The Republican Critique of Liberalism, British Journal of Political Science Vol. 26, No. 1 (Jan., 1996), pp. 25-44 (available through JStor); I wouldn’t suggest it for the overall list, but for anyone specifically interested in republicanism I think it’s important.
In response to David (#12) — what about Habermas?


vivian 04.19.06 at 9:10 pm

Why only articles, not chapters of books, or collections? Or ‘selections’ from books, [especially Habermas]?

For SamChevre, perhaps (the book) Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory Donald Green and Ian Shapiro It comes in fairly self-contained chapters, and there are not too many books with footnotes that are laugh-out-loud dry wit.

I second anything by A. John Simmons and much by Alan Buchanan especially for foundations of the recent global justice work. Add in something by Martha Nussbaum, but I’m not sure which would be best.

Finally, too old by about 13 years but a slim book containing three essays, long out of print but brilliant A Critique of Pure Tolerance by Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore, Herbert Marcuse. Should be required reading for early grad students because the first two essays raise so many of the questions of the citizenship/legitimacy and communitarian debates of the 1990-2000’s, and then give much better answers than many more current works.


washerdreyer 04.20.06 at 1:00 am

I don’t have anything like the credentials to think that I’ll be able to make a worthwhile addition here, and I only know his work in book form, but I’m surprised by the absence of anything by Will Kymlicka (or for that matter anything else which I recognize as dealing with debates on citizenship/nationalism/multiculturalism).


Ben 04.20.06 at 5:12 am

I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to claim these are ‘must reads’, but some articles I’ve enjoyed (more or less off the top of my head, but copied from my thesis bibliography/undergrad reading list:

D. Parfit (1991) ‘Equality of Priority?’ in (1997) Ratio (new series) 10:3 or A. Williams and M. Clayton (eds.) (2000) The Ideal of Equality

R. Dworkin (1981) ‘What is Equality?’ Parts 1 (welfare) and 2 (resources) Philosophy and Public Affairs 10 (reprinted as chs. 1-2 of his (2000) Sovereign Virtue)

D. Estlund (1997) ‘Beyond Fairness and Deliberation: The Epistemic Dimension of Democratic Authority’ in J. Bohman and W. Rehg (eds.) (1997) Deliberative Democracy: Essays on reason and politics

J. Waldron (1990) ‘Rights and Majorities: Rousseau Revisited’ in J. Waldron (1993) Liberal Rights: Collected Papers 1981–1991 and in J. Chapman and A. Wertheimer (eds.) (1990) NOMOS XXXII: Majorities and minorities

R. Dworkin ‘Do we have a Right to Pornography?’ in his (1977) A Matter of Principle. Mostly reprinted in J. Waldron (ed) (1984) Theories of Rights as ‘Rights as Trumps’

G. Klosko (1987) ‘Presumptive Benefit, Fairness, and Political Obligation’ Philosophy & Public Affairs 16:3

N. Fraser (1995) ‘From Redistribution to Recognition?’ in New Left Review 212 ( or her (1997) Justice Interruptus or A. Phillips (1998) Feminism and Politics

F. M. Kamm (1985) ‘Equal Treatment and Equal Chances’ Philosophy & Public Affairs 14:2 177-194

B. Chapman (1998) ‘More Easily Done than Said: Rules, Reason and Rational Social Choice’ Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 18 293-330

S. Freeman (1994) ‘Utilitarianism, Deontology, and the Priority of Right’ Philosophy and Public Affairs 23:4 313-349


Chris 04.20.06 at 6:18 am

Robert Nozick (1998) ‘Why do intellectuals oppose capitalism?’ Cato Policy Report Vol XX No 1


Jimmy Doyle 04.20.06 at 6:21 am

Bernard Williams also has a paper called “The Liberalism of Fear,” partly in honour of Shklar, in his posthumously-published collection In the Beginning Was the Deed — along with many other outstanding papers in (loosely speaking) political philosophy.

G A Cohen’s “Robert Nozick and Wilt Chamberlain” (Erkenntnis 11) was an object-lesson in how to shift the argumentative centre of gravity for me as a graduate student.


Rob 04.20.06 at 7:33 am

‘Facts and Principles’, G. Cohen, ‘Philosophy and Public Affairs’, Vol. 31, No. 3, 2003,
pp. 211-245

‘Liberalism, Liberty, and Neutrality’, P. De Marneffe, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 19, No. 3, 1990, pp. 253-274

The first because it will be, and the second because it ought to be.


Thom Brooks 04.20.06 at 7:34 am

While I agree about the importance re: Rawls, Scanlon, etc (who I would vote for as well), I’ve noticed a couple curious absences:

H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law, 2d Edition (with postscript). 1994

Joseph Raz, The Authority of Law: Essays on Law & Morality. 1979

Joseph Raz, The Morality of Freedom. 1986

R.A. Duff, Trials & Punishments. 1986

Dudley Knowles, Hegel and the Philosophy of Right. 2002.

Martha C. Nussbaum, Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach

Leif Wenar, “Human Rights” Phil & Pub Aff 2005

Leif Wenar, “The Unity of Rawls’s Work” Journal of Moral Philosophy 2004

Douglas Husak, “Why Punish the Deserving?” Nous 1992


Jacob T. Levy 04.20.06 at 8:03 am

I’m surprised by the absence of anything by Will Kymlicka

It’s the book-article thing. While Kymlicka’s written plenty of articles, typically they’re pieces of books that come out very soon thereafter, and the books are taken as the standard statement of the argument. Most of the items on the list are remembered more as articles than as components of books.

I’m not sure that any of Kymlicka’s most interesting or important arguments have first appeared as high-profile articles in prominent journals.


SamChevre 04.20.06 at 8:09 am

Thanks Harry for letting me propose a couple of papers. Note that these are somewhat economics-heavy, due to my background—there may be papers on related subjects that are in more political-philosophy language. Also, they are slightly older than requested—but everything newer assumes you are fairly familiar with these papers. These are book chapters, but each stands quite well on its own. As a non-academic, I don’t have easy access to most papers and journal articles.

James Buchanan, The Publicness of Political Decisions.
Available here
From The Demand and Supply of Public Goods, 1968

James Buchanan, Pressure Groups, Special Interests, and the Constitution
Available here
From The Calculus of Consent, 1962

And Vivian, I agree with you—if you want a thorough grounding in Public Choice Theory, you need to read at least three books, of which Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory is one. The other two would be the reply to Pathologies…, The Rational Choice Controversy, and the path-breaking The Calculus of Consent.


Bill Gardner 04.20.06 at 8:30 am

Nothing to contribute, but I want to thank Harry and the commenters for these suggestions. We tourists need a copy of Fodors (I already have the bad clothes…). Perhaps one of the sociologists or John Q or John H could generate a list?


micah 04.20.06 at 9:19 am

I think we’ve covered nearly everything in Waldron’s Liberal Rights, but two more from him:

1. ‘Locke, Toleration, and the Rationality of Persecution,’ reprinted in Liberal Rights (1993), is probably the best article on the subject in the last 30 years (Waldron’s recents efforts notwithstanding).

2. ‘What Plato Would Allow,’ in NOMOS XXXVII: Theory and Practice (1995)


M Cholbi 04.20.06 at 9:20 am

Going back a little further, one that always blows me away: David Gauthier, “The social contract as ideology,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 6:130-164.


htothem 04.20.06 at 9:53 am

I studied political theory at two Straussian departments and never ran into any of these articles. Not a single one. Life is short, too short to read Derek Parfit, whoever that is.


Jacob T. Levy 04.20.06 at 9:57 am

To return to an old theme: I note that most of the commentors have taken seriously Harry’s specification of “political philosophy,” and that a similar list that was specified as “political theory” would have, e.g., a lot less Cohen and a lot less PPA, to say nothing of the other inclusions it might have.


GKurtz 04.20.06 at 10:36 am

Jacob Levy (and others) raise an important & interesting point, I think. Here’s a request to Harry (or other CT’ers) – let’s have thread for a list of political theory readings, and see what the differences are between this list and that.


Matt 04.20.06 at 10:38 am

In addition to Elizabeth Anderson’s excellent article I’d add:
Samuel Scheffler, _What is Egalitarianism?_, PPA Vol. 31, winter 2003. (It’s similar to Anderson’s view in some ways, but has the virtue of being much shorter.)

Samuel Freeman, “Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View”, PPA 2001 Vol. 30, spring (Excellent for showing how libertarianism differs from liberalism, and how the former isn’t an attractive view.)

Norman Daniels, “Rawls’s Complex Egalitarianism”, in the _Cambridge Companion to Rawls_, as perhaps the clearest account of “democratic egalitarianism”. It also makes quite a nice contribution to the destruction of G.A. Cohen’s view of egalitarianism and mis-reading of the difference principle, though of course Cohen’s view is perhaps the most completely refuted view in political philosophy today, so there are lots of places to look for that.


Chris Henrichsen 04.20.06 at 12:07 pm

As a political theorist within poli sci, I lean strongly towards what has been described as “political philosophy.” This is largely because my research and reading deals mostly with Rawls and related issues. While I teach full-time, I am also an early doctoral student. This may not relate to the original question (which has been helpful), but should a Rawlsian flee poli-sci for philosophy?


Decnavda 04.20.06 at 12:11 pm

Does Freeman’s article critique all libertarianism, or just right-libertarianism? If it includes left-libertarianism, I may need to read it as a way to test my own views, especially if adresses Van Parijis, and not just the deontologists such as Hillel Stiener.

If it only critiques right-libertarianism, I can skip it, as I am secure in my understanding of the flaws of that ideology.


Kieran Healy 04.20.06 at 12:45 pm

let’s have thread for a list of political theory readings, and see what the differences are between this list and that.

The relevant differences between political theorists and political philosophers are summarized here, with sociologists and economists thrown in as a bonus.


Matt 04.20.06 at 12:52 pm

Freeman only directly addresses right-libertarianism in his paper. I don’t know enough about left-libertarianism to say how far it applies. What little I’ve read of left-libertarianism has made me think it’s too utipian for me to spend the time to become familiar with it- life’s too short to spend time on views you think are hopeless, after all. But, to the extent that the differences between left and right libertarianism turn on how to interpret a core idea of self-ownership his argument probably applies to both, since the argument is partly that self-ownership isn’t a founding idea of liberalism and is quite distinct from the sorts of ideas at work in liberalism, both classic and high. But, again, I don’t know enough about left libertarianism to say how far this applies.


Decnavda 04.20.06 at 2:15 pm

Thanks. Sounds like I do need to search it out and read it, as self-ownership, or least some version of it, is at the core of left-libertarianism as well. If hopeless utopianism is your objection to reading left-libertarianism, I would suggest reading Van Parijis and keeping an eye out for the upcoming work of Karl Widerquist. Their works are no more utopian than, say, John Rawls’. (Although I am interested in what meets your criteria in political philosophy for NOT being hopelessly utopian. Has any actual society attempted to build itaelf on Rawls’ principles? Does any appear likely to in the forseeable future?)


josh 04.20.06 at 2:19 pm

The distinction between political theorists and political philosophers as provided by Kieran seems to flounder when one encounters Straussians (who, however, are tough to deal with, since they often talk about what they’re doing as ‘political philosophy’ rather than ‘political theory’, but are almost never to be found in, or taken seriously by those who inhabit, philosophy departments… And while we’re on the subject of Straussianism: different strokes for different folks, I suppose, but you don’t know what you’re missing, htothem.)
While valid, I think that the distinction between political philosophy/political theory shouldn’t be pushed too far. I’m in a poli sci department, and my own work falls squarely in ‘political theory’; but many of my colleagues work on the issues, and focus on the articles and arguments, that have come up here — and a number of these articles and authors are important to my own work. (It’s also worth pointing out that while many of the pieces suggested here fall under ‘political philosophy’, there are a number that don’t). I think that ‘political theory’ often encompasses ‘political philosophy’; my impression is that ‘political philosophy’ is somewhat narrower (so that, for instance, I’d read, and do read, a certain amount of work done by ‘political philosophers’, but most political philosophers wouldn’t read the sort of work I do).
One area of difference in approach between theorists/philosophers, though, which I think partially explains the emphasis of the suggestions so far, is that it seems that political philosophers (like analytical philosophers more generally) are more article-centric — articles tend to carry greater weight, and more work tends to be presented in the form of articles — than political theorists, who (while they certainly publish articles, since one has to, really) tend to rely more on books to present their work. Articles seem to very often have a great impact in political philosophy, while this is less the case in political theory. So that, even as a ‘theorist’, if I were to think about the most important articles of the past three decades, I imagine that a lot of what I’d think of would count as ‘political philosophy’. But maybe someone (such as Jacob Levy?) can suggest a list of significant articles that fall squarely and incontestably under the ‘theory’ heading, and so prove me wrong?


Maurice Meilleur 04.20.06 at 2:51 pm

For all I know, not being a philosopher — narrowly understood as a scholar with a PhD in philosophy — the distinction between political philosophy and political theory may be completely unproblematic for philosophers. From the point of view of those in American political science, though, making that distinction has at least since the time of the behavioralists (late 1940s-late 1960s) been an institutional-political move. It was a way to distinguish those who did “science” (the theorists) from those who didn’t (the philosophers) — used that way by behavioralists and those who took their places as the dominant forces in political science, the quantitative-empiricists and the rational-choice/formal theorists, and also by those like Leo Strauss and Sheldon Wolin who wanted nothing to do with science.

For most working in political inquiry outside those camps, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to distinguish between political theory and philosophy, nor any obvious distinguishing characteristics that aren’t controversial or ambiguous. For myself, I use the terms interchangeably to describe my scholarship.


Maurice Meilleur 04.20.06 at 2:59 pm

Josh, it looks like a posted over you and stepped on your point.


djw 04.20.06 at 4:21 pm

I tend to agree with Josh and Maurice on the theory/philosophy distinction. A few possible entries for “theory not philosophy” articles of significance:

Haraway, “Cyborg Manifesto”

Wolin, “Fugitive Democracy”

DiStefano, “Autonomy in Light of Difference”

Honig, “Ruth, the Model Emigree: Mourning and the Symbolic Politics of Immigration”

Isaac, “Oases in the Desert: Hannah Arendt on Democratic Politics”

etc. It seems to me the theory/philosophy divide doesn’t map neatly onto disciplinary boundaries, although theorist-not-philosophers don’t tend to be found in research oriented philosophy departments too much.

Identification tests for theorist-not-philosophers: When assessing major figures in the discipline, they tend to think Arendt and Wolin are in the same league as Rawls. They probably don’t read Cohen.

For philosophers-not-theorists: They are prone to complain that half the stuff in Political Theory is nonsense these days.


josh 04.20.06 at 5:23 pm

To continue my flogging of the (perhaps dead, perhaps not) horse of theorists vs. philosophers (using the terms as they now tend to get used — which, as Maurice djw point out, is somewhat different from the way they were used in relation to the struggles over political science — that is, ‘theorist’ used to mean more pro-behaviouralists and ‘philosopher’ more anti-, while now ‘theorists’ tend to have more time for those very anti-behaviouralists who used to be called ‘philosophers’, such as Strauss or Wolin or Arendt or Oakeshott): when I was at Oxford I’d tend to label any grad student working with Jerry Cohen or Joseph Raz as a political philosopher, and any grad student working with David Miller or Michael Freeden as a political theorist (people who were working with Adam Swift presented a bit of a problem).
More seriously, I just think that political theory is a much broader, less unified thing than political philosophy; the very question with which Harry began — what articles would one recommend to *any* student writing a disseration on *any* topic in political philosophy — seems to me very difficult to ‘translate’ into political theory — if someone asked me such a question, I’d reply by asking what sort of political theory the student was interested in (historical, analytical, textual, empirically-informed, policy-oriented, or some combination; Continental/post modern, or Anglo-American? And so on), before being able to come up with suggestions for any article or book that was essential. Political philosophers seem to be able to agree on a fairly unified and small set of recent authors who are indispensable; I don’t think you could get any two theorists from different camps to do so. My impression is that political philosophers agree more on the nature and proper way to approach what they’re doing, and so share more common ground in what they’d need or want to read — but this, of course, is the perspective of an outsider.


djw 04.20.06 at 6:16 pm

Josh, I think that’s right. I don’t feel at all good about my list of theory articles. I wouldn’t actually suggest every theorist should read them. All philosophers, however (and at least most theorists) should definitely read Anderson’s Equality article, as well as Dworkin, Parfit, and a few others discussed above.

I’d have thought of David Miller as a real boundary crossing figure here. At least one of his students, whose name slipped my mind (he wrote a book that contained a very nice discussion of essentially contested concepts about 10 years ago) came across as rather clearly a political philosopher to me. I see how Miller can be read as a theorist, but I suppose since the most philosophy-esque and least theory-ish chapter of my dissertation is on David Miller, I see him as more of a philosopher. Not compared to Cohen and Raz, of course.


Ben 04.21.06 at 5:14 am

I’m one of Miller’s supervisees and I certainly self-identify as a philosopher (though I’m not saying I’d call him or all his students that). You can check my suggested readings (comment 36, above) and see. Incidentally, had we been asked for political theory articles, my list wouldn’t have been any different…


Panda 04.21.06 at 7:16 am

Matt and Decnavda,

If you’re looking for criticism specifically of left-libertarianism, I suggest:

Fried, B. H. (2004). “Left-Libertarianism: A Review Essay.” Philosophy and Public Affairs. 32 (1).

And the reply by:

Vallentyne, P., H. Steiner and M. Otsuka (2005). “Why Left-Libertarianism is Not Incoherent, Indeterminate, or Irrelevant.” Philosophy and Public Affairs. 33 (2): 201-215.

The Anderson article Matt mentioned touches on at least one left-libertarian, Van Parijs. As much as I think she misses the point of PVP and others, I have to admit she has a point. I’ll have to look at the Freeman article.

For an interesting criticism that can be applied to both left- and right-libertarianism, see:

Kagan, S. (1994). “The Argument From Liberty.” In Harm’s Way: Essays in Honor of Joel Feinberg. J. L. Coleman and A. Buchanan, Eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 16-41.

In this article, Kagan talks as if right-libertarianism is the only kind of libertarianism. I’ve so far looked at it as a criticism of right-libertarianism without worrying too much about its potential application to left-libertarianism. But I’m aware that I should think about it more broadly.


Anon. E. Mouse 04.21.06 at 10:48 am

With all due respect to professor Levy, isn’t it time to break free of the “political theory” vs. “political philosophy” lines?

Fact: several people whose articles are listed above as essentials for political philosophy work in poli sci departments. (Ian Shapiro and Joshua Cohen come immediately to mind. Not listed: anything by Phillip Pettit or Jon Elster, both additional obvious crossover theory/philosopy people.)

Fact: There’s a lot of departments where the political theory people and the political philosophy people work closely together.

I’m starting a doctoral program in theory this fall, and it irks me no end that the price I have to pay for being in a department where I can learn things like statistics, game theory, and, you know, empirical reality, is that I’ll have to fight the impulse to ghettoize me with the likes of Strauss whenever I try to do serious political philosophy-type work.


Martin James 04.21.06 at 11:44 am

Out of a general curiousity about contrarians, are any of these articles opposed to or sceptical of equality, democracy and human rights?


om 04.21.06 at 12:53 pm

Raz and Frankfurt think that equality is an empty – i.e., not intrinsically important – ideal. Raz thinks that’s true about the ideal of equality in general. Frankfurt (in his paper mentioned above) talks mainly about economic equality (or, perhaps more broadly, equality of well-being). I’m not sure whether he wants to extend his criticism to equality in general, as Raz does.


djw 04.21.06 at 1:44 pm

mouse, I’m with you. I’m interested in the distinction as an sociological phenomenon within academia, both as perceived and practiced.

I think Pettit gets left out of this discussion for the same reason Kymlicka does–he is more book oriented.

Good point on Elster: The Market and the Forum is an important article, and one could make a strong case for inclusion. I’m sure he’s written other important stuff, I don’t really keep up with his work.


harry b 04.21.06 at 3:25 pm

On my top 10 would be a piece by Dick Arneson expressing opposition to the idea of democracy. A bunch of the above express some sort of scepticism about human rights. Many about equality. But none, I’d guess, about all three!


Jacob T. Levy 04.21.06 at 8:12 pm

With all due respect to professor Levy, isn’t it time to break free of the “political theory” vs. “political philosophy” lines?

With all due respect to rhetorical flourishes, either it was always time, or it still isn’t! What’s suddenly new to make it time?

I agree that the rough methodological or tempermental theory-philosophy distinction doesn’t perfectly track poli sci/ philosophy appointments. It does so particularly badly for people with British or British-derived (i.e. Australian) training– Waldron, Pettit. And there important ways in which normative, non-intellectual-historical, Anglo-American theorists have more in common with philosophers than they have in common with even their colleagues in political theory, to say nothing of their colleagues in political science.

But I don’t think that means the distinction does no work. I’m at a conference now where the distinction is resurfacing in spades– what arguments, and what kinds of arguments, seem important and compelling to people does depend on something like a theory-philosophy distinction. Even among non-intellectual-historian, non-continental, normative people, there remains a real difference between people who are likely to be persuaded by G.A. Cohen’s rigor and those who are likely to be drawn in by Michael Walzer’s richness, those who are likely to find Parfit or Putnam important and those who are likely to find Kateb or Shklar important, those who are drawn to ethics or metaethics as a court of appeal and those who are drawn to social science as a court of appeal, those worried about agent-neutrality and those worried about decision procedures.

The ASPLP remains committed to three-discipline parity among legal folks, political philosophers, and political theorists– and I remain struck by the wisdom of that, conference after conference, even though the conferences tend to attract people who cross boundaries and appointments.

“Time to break free?” I don’t feel chained down by the distinction– it’s not as though I don’t read work by political philosophers or hope that they’ll read mine. It’s not even the kind of distinction that’s administratively relevant, since the hiring units are different departments. If you feel chained down by the distinction, and are eager to free yourself from some imagined Straussian taint, call yourself a philosopher (and see whether philosophers will recognize you as such, since you’ll have sacrificed graduate training in the philosophy core for graduate training in empirical fields). I draw the distinction mainly to provide advice about choosing graduate programs, but am also recurrently struck by it in research-academic life.


Thom Brooks 04.22.06 at 7:16 am

How about this for a controversial take on the difference between political philosophy and political theory: political philosophers are clearly dominant. I suppose the distinction is nothing more than political philosophers work in philosophy departments and political theorists in government/political science/politics departments. It might be true that theorists are surrounded by colleagues who do fieldwork (which may/may not impact work) and philosophers by colleagues who are more sophistocated in their use of concepts (more sophistocated than, say, those working on US politics is all I mean to imply here and not that metaphysics is more sophistocated than ethics, etc-all of which may/may not impact work). As someone with a Ph.D. in Philosophy at a Politics department, it is true that many of my very clever colleagues simply don’t do work at the level of abstraction that political theorists/philosophers are inclined to do–nor are they interested in changing their ways. I sometimes despair and wish there was a metaphysician in the department, but this is it.

The real distinction seems to be the fact that all of us–whomever we are–tend to read political philosophers more often and more seriously than political theorists on average. We all know major stars in political science: David Miller, GA Cohen, Michael Sandel, Joshua Cohen, and Ian Shapiro all come to mind. In addition, we all know major stars that have moved from philosophy to politics, such as FM Kamm, Philip Pettit, Thomas Pogge, and very minor paricles of moondust like me. But the overwhelming vast majority of names on this list from Arneson to Nagel, Rawls to Scanlon, Nussbaum to Estlund and beyond are all in philosophy departments.

I don’t take this to mean that political philosophers are necessarily better than political theorists, but the major stars in that space we share seem clearly to be in philosophy departments far more often than in political science depts. Perhaps having colleagues working in different areas in philosophy rather than social science helps, rather than hinders. I have no idea. Yet, I can’t see why else this is true.


Thom Brooks 04.22.06 at 9:36 am

I’ll simply add a tag to my last post: a further difference might be that political theorists share greater concerns with the history of political thought than most political philosophers. I have tried to change our Politics programme, but in essence we offer 7 modules pertaining to the history of political thought and only 2-3 on contemporary political philosophy.


Anon E. Mouse 04.22.06 at 10:12 am

Jacob — I’m going to take your rhetorical response to my rhetorical flourish (guilty as charged) seriously, and say that what makes it time is the intellectual developments in both fields are bringing them ever closer together. At least, that’s my impression.

In theory, it seems to me that there’s less and less Strauss-type work done (I always want to spit after I say “Strauss”) and more people doing work in things like democratic theory, theories of justice, etc. Rawls probably gets taught as much in poli sci departments as in philosophy.

In philosophy, there’s an active move toward empiricism (although I don’t know whether it’s hit political philosophy yet): there’s the experimental philosophy group, there’s the big pile of philosophy of mind work that is based in actual neuroscience…

So it seems like there ought to be a track one can take where one can get the best of both worlds: the argumentative rigor of philosophy, with the powerful techniciques and empirical grounding of poli sci.

How can anyone do democratic theory, for example, without being able to use both rigorous ethical/legitimacy arguments (philosophy) and game/social choice theory (poli sci)?

It’s very odd to me that the philosophers seem to consider their graduate training far more critical and unsubstitutable than the political scientists. There are innumerable people appointed in political science departments (and not just for “theory”) whose graduate training is in philosophy, economics, law, etc. Yet I can think of two prominent people who hold [cross-]appointments in philosophy departments whose major training is elsewhere: Sen and Dworkin. Why is this? Is poli sci graduate training trivial, the sort of thing you can pick up by osmosis, while philosophy graduate training is a mystical initiation into the ranks of the illuminated?

I’m descending into rhetorical flourishes again (hopefully that’ll make this comment, ahem, richer) so it’s probably time to stop. But surely you see my point.


htothem 04.22.06 at 10:32 am

For those who have jstor this quick review by Harvey Mansfield gives a nice overview of the history of political theory in the U.S.

For those who don’t the basic idea seems to be that political theory came to the U.S. as a Hegelian history of the concept of the state (Staatslehre) and turned into the history of political philosophy.


harry b 04.22.06 at 3:15 pm

anon — here’s a conjecture. Political theory is simply less tightly connected to the rest of political science than political philosophy is to the rest of philosophy. So philosophers regard the training in the rest of philosophy more important than the poli scientists regard training in the rest of poli sci. In general, philosophy is a pretty coehsive discipline, with common methods and a common understanding of what fits where. Political Science is…diffuse, to say the least.

That said, the best young political philosopher on the market this year has a quite unrelated PhD, and was appointed into a highly analytic Philosophy department. So he’ll be another exception.


Anon E. Mouse 04.22.06 at 10:33 pm

Harry — who’s that? What was his PhD? Us young’uns need role models…


Anon E. Mouse 04.22.06 at 10:34 pm

Harry — who’s that? What was his PhD? Us young’uns need role models…

(sorry if this posts twice, I got a bizarre error message the first try)


djw 04.23.06 at 2:46 am

I’m guessing it’s that economist who wrote that great critique of Nagel? AJ Julius?


djw 04.23.06 at 2:48 am

Not that Nagel’s 2005 PPA piece requires an utterly brilliant mind to undermine it. It’s just particularly compelling to anyone following the discussion.

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