Political theory: An overview


‘By political thcory," ]0hn Plamcnatz wrote, "I d0 not mean explanations of how governments function; I mean systematic thinking about the purposes of govcrnmcnt."l Political theory is a normative disciplinc, designed t0 let us evaluate rather than explain; in this it resembles moral or ethical theory. What distinguishes it among normative disciplines is that it is designed to facilitate in particular the evaluation of government or, if that is something more general, the statc.2 We are to identify the purposes of govcrnmcnt—morc strictly, the proper purposes of govcmmcnt—s0 that we can decide on the best political arrangements for society. I work with Plamcnatz’s definition in this book. The readings 0{Tcrcd here are all in one way or another relevant to the normative analysis of the state. I stress this point at the outset as readers interested in explanatory political thcory—thc sort of theory that ideally informs empirical research on the statc—may otherwise bc disappointed with what I provide. If such readers know at the beginning what they are getting, than they will have no reason later to complain. Indeed they may even bc pleasantly surprised, when they discover that normative political theory, as the essays in this volume represent it—pa.rticula.rly..



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Philip Pettit
Australian National University

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