What's the purpose of politics?

What do political philosophies aim for?
Why do people believe in political philosophies?

  • 1
    To decide who gets what, when, and how. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Lasswell
    – user4894
    Jan 12, 2017 at 18:27
  • Politics, from two Greek words. "Poly," meaning "many," and "tics" meaning "blood sucking leeches!"
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 13, 2017 at 1:47
  • Politics currently have the primary purpose of controlling/formatting the masses.
    – Overmind
    Mar 25, 2019 at 8:02

3 Answers 3


Politics from Greek: πολιτικός politikos, definition "of, for, or relating to citizens".

See Aristotle's Politics, 1252a1:

Every state is as we see a sort of partnership, and every partnership is formed with a view to some good (since all the actions of all mankind are done with a view to what they think to be good). It is therefore evident that, while all partnerships aim at some good the partnership that is the most supreme of all and includes all the others does so most of all, and aims at the most supreme of all goods; and this is the partnership entitled the state, the political association.

In a nutshell, politics is the art (technique, science, philosophy) of managing the "sort of partnership" humans live in.

  • Is it not contradictory though that there exists so many views on politics? I also am a bit skeptical of the usage of the word "citizens", because it implies a hierarchical social order?
    – mavavilj
    Jan 12, 2017 at 10:58
  • 2
    @mavavilj - you can rephrase it using a more "geenric" word, but the issue does not change. As long as we have human beings "living together", we need "tools" to manage their "interactions". Jan 12, 2017 at 11:06
  • @mavavilj: do you have examples of human societies without a 'hierarchical social order' or just 'social order'? Jan 12, 2017 at 16:28

I will address questions relating only the latter two in this post ("What do political philosophies aim for?", and "Why do people believe in political philosophies?" which I interpret as "What is the use of political philosophy for the general public". The first question has its own big philosophical answers (through the perfectionism vs. neutralism debate).

The aim of political philosophers

The aim of political philosophy is to have clear understanding of words that occur frequently in the political society. These are some such words: legitimacy, authority, coercion, power and force. Political philosophers want to understand what these words mean, and when they settle with the meaning of the words, they want to know what can be entailed from their conceptions of the words. The reason that political philosophy generates so many contradicting theories is that they understand the words differently. Even when they share the meaning, they deduce different ideas form the shared meaning.

Take the word 'authority' for example. What image does the word conjure up in you mind? A bank robber that wields a gun and you do what he says under duress; or, the benevolent yet stoic father whose sole concern is the well-being of his son? The first image was that of Hobbes; the latter, that of Locke. These paradigm images of authority have produced many irreconcilable, conflicting theories of political philosophy.

Even when they share the same image, political philosophers deduce different conclusions. Hobbesians (Robert Ladenson) and anarchists (John Simmons) share the bank-robber image of authority. Naturally they think the authority of the government is founded on brute de facto military and police force. To them there is no moral distinction among authority, coercion, power and force. The government and its laws have no moral power over us. That is, it is unlike morality and moral laws that do have moral power over us, and we feel certain sense of duty to obey them. People under the political authority obey laws out of prudence and fear of punishment.

Hobbesians and anarchists however disagree on the right of the government to make laws and punish law-violators (This right is called the right to rule, which many, but not unanimously, equate with legitimacy). Hobbesians think all governments are legitimate since consent from the peoples was given (The Hobbes’ social contract). Anarchists however argue that the consent was not given, thus concluding that all governments are illegitimate.

Similarly, both Locke and Socrates share the image of the good father for authority. So both agree that, just as we have the moral duty to obey the commands of our fathers, we have the duty to obey the laws of our governments. A disobedient citizen amounts to an insolent child. The two however disagree on the extent of obedience. To Locke, the duty of obedience is presumptive. When the gov passes bad laws (and harm the people continuously, instead of benefiting them), people have the right to revolt. Not to Socrates, and you know how he ended his life.

The use of political philosophy

To almost all people, important words relating to political philosophy conjure up some images in their mind. But they do not have the luxury of (home work) time to think about whether the images they associate with the word are tenable, or what further ideas would follow from the images they hold. They might be persuaded to change their images once they realize that their images lead to a conclusion that they do not accept. Political philosophers do this homework so that you have resources to address clear and imminent policy questions arising from the sheer fact that we all are political animals.


What do political philosophies aim for?

Political philosophy is encompassed by Critical Theory.


Core concepts are: (1) That critical social theory should be directed at the totality of society in its historical specificity (i.e. how it came to be configured at a specific point in time), and (2) That critical theory should improve understanding of society by integrating all the major social sciences, including geography, economics, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, and psychology.

This version of "critical" theory derives from Kant's (18th-century) and Marx's (19th-century) use of the term "critique", as in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and Marx's concept that his work Das Kapital (Capital) forms a "critique of political economy." For Kant's transcendental idealism, "critique" means examining and establishing the limits of the validity of a faculty, type, or body of knowledge, especially through accounting for the limitations imposed by the fundamental, irreducible concepts in use in that knowledge system.

  • This doesn't answer the question. Jan 20, 2017 at 1:10
  • I believe it answers the question "What do political philosophies aim for?" in that in encompassing political philosophy "critical theory should improve understanding of society by integrating all the major social sciences". It explains to everyone what is going on so they can see what to do next. Not just managing the polis, as Mauro writes, but elucidating its nature and its place in the world. Jan 20, 2017 at 9:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .