Embodying Justice in Ancient Egypt: The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant as a Classic of Political Philosophy

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 21 (3):421-442 (2013)
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This article is an introduction to an ancient Egyptian text called The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant and an argument that it ought to be seen as a classic of political philosophy. After contextualizing the tale as part of a tradition of moral and political philosophy in ancient Egypt, I explore the methods by which the text defines the proper roles of political authority and contrast its approach to justifying political authority with the argument from the state of nature so common in modern Western political philosophy. I claim that the tale's argument from dysfunction anticipates the move in contemporary Western political philosophy towards privileging non-ideal over ideal theory. I discuss challenges in translating the key term in the tale ? ma'at ? in light of the fact that it can be taken to mean ?justice? and/or ?truth?. Finally, I discuss how the irony at the heart of its narrative can lead us to interpret the tale as having either conservative or revolutionary implications for the political system it depicts



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Chike Jeffers
Dalhousie University