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Political Realism, Commerce and Moral Psychology

Ze'ev Emmerich

Keywords: the realistic spirit; abstractionists; contextualists; differential justice; commerce; emotivism writ large; oblivious emotivism; economy of sentiments

What marks the difference between modern and non-modern political philosophy? Such a question could be understood in two ways. On the one hand, it could be understood as a question concerning formal differences between modern and pre/non-modern modes of philosophising. On the other hand, it could be understood as a question about the changing nature of the object of the philosophical enterprise, namely a question concerning the historical differences between modern and pre-modern (domestic as well as international) politics. Contemporary political philosophy has focused primarily on meeting the first, formal, challenge. By failing to take proper account of the effects that major historical developments—especially the rise of commercial society and global market economy—have had on the character of political life, much of contemporary political theory tend to view its enterprise as essentially an extension to or an application of ethics. What is needed instead is a 'political economy'. Political philosophy must rise to this challenge if it wishes to help us contend with our present predicament. The final part of the article outlines a realist, non-moralistic, political philosophy which takes account of the interplay between human 'sentiments' and 'reason' in a commercial world order.

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