Louis Pierre Althusser (1918 – 1990) was a French Marxist philosopher. He was born in Algeria and studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he eventually became Professor of Philosophy. Althusser was a longtime member—although sometimes a strong critic—of the French Communist Party. His arguments and theses were set against the threats that he saw attacking the theoretical foundations of Marxism. These included both the influence of empiricism on Marxist theory, and humanist and reformist socialist orientations which manifested as divisions in the European communist parties, as well as the problem of the “cult of personality” and of ideology. Althusser is commonly referred to as a Structural Marxist, although his relationship to other schools of French structuralism is not a simple affiliation and he was critical of many aspects of structuralism.
The Human Condition, first published in 1958, Hannah Arendt’s account of how “human activities” should be and have been understood throughout Western history. Arendt is interested in the vita activa (active life) as contrasted with the vita contemplativa (contemplative life) and concerned that the debate over the relative status of the two has blinded us to important insights about the vita activa and the way in which it has changed since ancient times. She distinguishes three sorts of activity (labor, work, and action) and discusses how they have been affected by changes in Western history.
Politics is a work of political philosophy by Aristotle, a 4th-century BC Greek philosopher. The end of the Nicomachean Ethics declared that the inquiry into ethics necessarily follows into politics, and the two works are frequently considered to be parts of a larger treatise, or perhaps connected lectures, dealing with the “philosophy of human affairs”. The title of the Politics literally means “the things concerning the polis“.
The Second Sex is a 1949 book by the French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir, in which the author discusses the treatment of women throughout history. Beauvoir researched and wrote the book in about 14 months when she was 38 years old. She published it in two volumes, Facts and Myths and Lived Experience. Some chapters first appeared in Les Temps modernes. One of Beauvoir’s best-known books, The Second Sex is often regarded as a major work of feminist philosophy and the starting point of second-wave feminism.
An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation is a book by the English philosopher and legal theorist Jeremy Bentham originally printed in 1780, and first published in 1789. Bentham’s most important theoretical work, it is where he develops his theory of utilitarianism and is the first major book on the topic.
Avram Noam Chomsky (born 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, political activist, and social critic. Sometimes called the father of modern linguistics, Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science.
Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky is a collection of previously unpublished transcripts of seminars, talks, and question-and-answer sessions conducted by Noam Chomsky from 1989 to 1999. The transcripts were compiled and edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel. Mitchell and Schoeffel are public defenders in New York.
Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia is a 1972 book by French authors Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, respectively a philosopher and a psychoanalyst. It is the first volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, the second being A Thousand Plateaus (1980).
Deleuze and Guattari analyse the relationship of desire to reality and to capitalist society in particular; they address human psychology, economics, society, and history. They outline a “materialist psychiatry” modeled on the unconscious in its relationship with society and its productive processes, introduce the concept of “desiring-production” (which inter-relates “desiring machines” and a “body without organs”), offer a critique of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis that focuses on its theory of the Oedipus complex, and re-write Karl Marx’s materialist account of the history of society’s modes of production as a development through “primitive,” “despotic,” and “capitalist” societies, and detail their different organisations of production, “inscription” (which corresponds to Marx’s “distribution” and “exchange”), and consumption. Additionally, they develop a critical practice that they call “schizoanalysis.”
John Dewey (1859 – 1952) was an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Dewey is one of the primary figures associated with the philosophy of pragmatism and is considered one of the fathers of functional psychology. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Dewey as the 93rd most cited psychologist of the 20th century. A well-known public intellectual, he was also a major voice of progressive education and liberalism. Although Dewey is known best for his publications about education, he also wrote about many other topics, including epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, art, logic, social theory, and ethics. He was a major educational reformer for the 20th century.
Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison is a 1975 book by the French philosopher Michel Foucault. It is an analysis of the social and theoretical mechanisms behind the changes that occurred in Western penal systems during the modern age based on historical documents from France. Foucault argues that prison did not become the principal form of punishment just because of the humanitarian concerns of reformists. He traces the cultural shifts that led to the predominance of prison via the body and power. Prison used by the “disciplines” – new technological powers that can also be found, according to Foucault, in places such as schools, hospitals, and military barracks. In a later work, Security, Territory, Population, Foucault admitted that he was somewhat overzealous in his argument that disciplinary power conditions society; he amended and developed his earlier ideas.
The History of Sexuality is a four-volume study of sexuality in the western world by the French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault, in which the author examines the emergence of “sexuality” as a discursive object and separate sphere of life and argues that the notion that every individual has a sexuality is a relatively recent development in Western societies. The first volume, The Will to Knowledge, was first published in 1976; an English translation appeared in 1978. The Use of Pleasure and The Care of the Self were published in 1984. The fourth volume, Confessions of the Flesh, was published posthumously in 2018.
Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason is a 1964 abridged edition of a 1961 book by the French philosopher Michel Foucault. An English translation of the complete 1961 edition, titled History of Madness, was published in June 2006.
Foucault’s first major book, Madness and Civilization is an examination of the evolving meaning of madness in European culture, law, politics, philosophy and medicine from the Middle Ages to the end of the eighteenth century, and a critique of historical method and the idea of history. It marks a turning in Foucault’s thought away from phenomenology toward structuralism: though he uses the language of phenomenology to describe an evolving experience of the mad as “the other”, he attributes this evolution to the influence of specific powerful social structures.
Escape from Freedom, sometimes known as The Fear of Freedom outside North America, is a book by the Frankfurt-born psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, first published in the United States by Farrar & Rinehart in 1941. In the book, Fromm explores humanity’s shifting relationship with freedom, with particular regard to the personal consequences of its absence. His special emphasis is the psychosocial conditions that facilitated the rise of Nazism.
The Sane Society (1955) by Erich Fromm is a summation of his social and political philosophy wherein he critiques and psychoanalyzes the modern industrial capitalist society and its necessarily alienated, commercialized and conformed citizenry. Rather than explaining pathologies of individuals, he analyzes the pathologies of society contributing to the sickness of individuals. He counters many of Freud’s conclusions and argues from a perspective of Marxist humanism.
The Theory of Communicative Action is a two-volume 1981 book by Jürgen Habermas, in which the author continues his project of finding a way to ground “the social sciences in a theory of language”, which had been set out in On the Logic of the Social Sciences (1967). The two volumes are Reason and the Rationalization of Society, in which Habermas establishes a concept of communicative rationality, and Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, in which Habermas creates the two-level concept of society and lays out the critical theory for modernity. After writing The Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas expanded upon the theory of communicative action by using it as the basis of his theory of morality, democracy, and law. The work has inspired many responses by social theorists and philosophers, and in 1998 was listed by the International Sociological Association as the eighth most important sociological book of the 20th century.
Between Facts and Norms is a 1992 book on deliberative politics by the German political philosopher Jürgen Habermas. The culmination of the project that Habermas began with The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere in 1962, it represents a lifetime of political thought on the nature of democracy and law. Between Facts and Norms offers an original reconstruction of the philosophy of language (drawing on the author’s Theory of Communicative Action, first published in 1981), a theory of jurisprudence, an understanding of constitutional theory, reflections on civil society and democracy, and an attempt to construct a new paradigm of politics that goes beyond, but without discarding, the liberal tradition. At the heart of the book is a reconsideration of the relation between the philosophy of law and political theory.
The Taming of Chance is a 1990 book about the history of probability by the philosopher Ian Hacking, who continues the enquiry into the origins and development of certain characteristic modes of contemporary thought undertaken in such previous works as his best selling Emergence of Probability (1975). Professor Hacking shows how by the late nineteenth century it became possible to think of statistical patterns as explanatory in themselves and to regard the world as not necessarily deterministic in character. Combining detailed scientific historical research with characteristic philosophic breath and verve, The Taming of Chance brings out the relations among philosophy, the physical sciences, mathematics and the development of social institutions, and provides a unique and authoritative analysis of the “probabilization” of the Western world.
Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil—commonly referred to as Leviathan—is a book written by Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and published in 1651 (revised Latin edition 1668). Its name derives from the biblical Leviathan. The work concerns the structure of society and legitimate government, and is regarded as one of the earliest and most influential examples of social contract theory. Leviathan ranks as a classic Western work on statecraft comparable to Machiavelli’s The Prince. Written during the English Civil War (1642–1651), Leviathan argues for a social contract and rule by an absolute sovereign. Hobbes wrote that civil war and the brute situation of a state of nature (“the war of all against all”) could only be avoided by strong, undivided government.
Dialectic of Enlightenment is a work of philosophy and social criticism written by Frankfurt School philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno and first published in 1944. A revised version appeared in 1947. One of the core texts of Critical Theory, Dialectic of Enlightenment explores the socio-psychological status quo that had been responsible for what the Frankfurt School considered the failure of the Age of Enlightenment. Together with The Authoritarian Personality (1950; also co-authored by Adorno) and Frankfurt School member Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man (1964), it has had a major effect on 20th-century philosophy, sociology, culture, and politics, inspiring especially the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s.
The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge is a 1979 book by Jean-François Lyotard, in which Lyotard analyzes the notion of knowledge in postmodern society as the end of ‘grand narratives’ or metanarratives, which he considers a quintessential feature of modernity. Lyotard introduced the term ‘postmodernism’, which was previously only used by art critics, into philosophy and social sciences, with the following observation: “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives”. Originally written as a report on the influence of technology in exact sciences, commissioned by the Conseil des universités du Québec, The Postmodern Condition was influential. Lyotard later admitted that he had a “less than limited” knowledge of the science he was to write about, deeming The Postmodern Condition his worst book.
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money of 1936 is the last and most important book by the English economist John Maynard Keynes. It created a profound shift in economic thought, giving macroeconomics a central place in economic theory and contributing much of its terminology – the “Keynesian Revolution”. It had equally powerful consequences in economic policy, being interpreted as providing theoretical support for government spending in general, and for budgetary deficits, monetary intervention and counter-cyclical policies in particular. It is pervaded with an air of mistrust for the rationality of free-market decision making.
Keynes denied that an economy would automatically adapt to provide full employment even in equilibrium, and believed that the volatile and ungovernable psychology of markets would lead to periodic booms and crises. The General Theory is a sustained attack on the ‘classical’ orthodoxy of its time. It introduced the concepts of the consumption function, the principle of effective demand and liquidity preference, and gave new prominence to the multiplier and the marginal efficiency of capital.
The Letter from Birmingham Jail, also known as the Letter from Birmingham City Jail and The Negro Is Your Brother, is an open letter written on April 16, 1963, by Martin Luther King Jr. The letter defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism. It says that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws and to take direct action rather than waiting potentially forever for justice to come through the courts. Responding to being referred to as an “outsider,” King writes, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. The letter, written during the 1963 Birmingham campaign, was widely published and became an important text for the American Civil Rights Movement.
The Philosophical Notebooks of Lenin were a series of summaries and commentaries on philosophical works by Lenin. Included were works by Aristotle, Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx, and Deborin. Lenin’s notes on dialectics played an influential role in Soviet and Chinese studies on contradiction and the unity of opposites. The Notebooks are often contrasted by scholars with Lenin’s Empiriocriticism. The proper interpretation of the notebooks would play a major role in the Mechanist debate of the 1920s in the USSR and the One Divides Into Two controversy of 1964 in China.
Structural anthropology is a school of anthropology based on Claude Lévi-Strauss’ idea that immutable deep structures exist in all cultures, and consequently, that all cultural practices have homologous counterparts in other cultures, essentially that all cultures are equitable. Lévi-Strauss’ approach arose in large part from dialectics expounded on by Marx and Hegel, though dialectics (as a concept) dates back to Ancient Greek philosophy. Hegel explains that every situation presents two opposing things and their resolution; Fichte had termed these “thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.” Lévi-Strauss argued that cultures also have this structure. He showed, for example, how opposing ideas would fight and were resolved to establish the rules of marriage, mythology and ritual. This approach, he felt, made for fresh new ideas.
Only those who practice structural analysis are aware of what they are actually trying to do: that is, to reunite perspectives that the “narrow” scientific outlook of recent centuries believed to be mutually exclusive: sensibility and intellect, quality and quantity, the concrete and the geometrical, or as we say today, the “etic” and the “emic.” Culture, he claimed, has to take into account both life and death and needs to have a way of mediating between the two. Mythology (see his several-volume Mythologies) unites opposites in diverse ways.
The Savage Mind is a 1962 work of structural anthropology by Claude Lévi-Strauss. Lévi-Strauss makes clear that “la pensée sauvage” refers not to the discrete mind of any particular type of human, but rather to ‘untamed’ human thought: “In this book it is neither the mind of savages nor that of primitive or archaic humanity, but rather mind in its untamed state as distinct from mind cultivated or domesticated for the purpose of yielding a return.”
Savage thought, Lévi-Strauss argues, continually gathers and applies structures wherever they can be used. If scientific thought is represented by the engineer who asks a question and tries to design an optimal or complete solution, savage thought resembles the bricoleur, who constructs things using whatever materials are at hand.
One of Lévi-Strauss’s many examples is the relationship between two Australian groups, the Aranda and the Arabanna. The Aranda have a complex system for intermarriages that divides all people into two groups and then four stages within each group. The system specifies where the children will live and how they will marry. The Arabanna use a different system for marriages, but somehow use the Aranda’s marriage system for determining the sex and affiliation of reincarnated spirits. The structure has been borrowed and transposed, appropriated because of its ability to generate a certain economy independently of its substrate.
Two Treatises of Government (or Two Treatises of Government: In the Former, The False Principles, and Foundation of Sir Robert Filmer, and His Followers, Are Detected and Overthrown. The Latter Is an Essay Concerning The True Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government) is a work of political philosophy published anonymously in 1689 by John Locke. The First Treatise attacks patriarchalism in the form of sentence-by-sentence refutation of Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha, while the Second Treatise outlines Locke’s ideas for a more civilized society based on natural rights and contract theory.
The Prince is a 16th-century political treatise by the Italian diplomat and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli. From correspondence a version appears to have been distributed in 1513, using a Latin title, De Principatibus (Of Principalities). However, the printed version was not published until 1532, five years after Machiavelli’s death. This was done with the permission of the Medici pope Clement VII, but long before then, in fact, since the first appearance of The Prince in manuscript controversy had swirled about his writings.
Although The Prince was written as if it were a traditional work in the mirrors for princes style, it is generally agreed that it was especially innovative. This is only partly because it was written in the vernacular Italian rather than Latin, a practice which had become increasingly popular since the publication of Dante’s Divine Comedy and other works of Renaissance literature. The Prince is sometimes claimed to be one of the first works of modern philosophy, especially modern political philosophy, in which the effective truth is taken to be more important than any abstract ideal. It was also in direct conflict with the dominant Catholic and scholastic doctrines of the time concerning politics and ethics.
Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary. Marx’s theories about society, economics and politics – collectively understood as Marxism – hold that human societies develop through class struggle. In capitalism, this manifests itself in the conflict between the ruling classes (known as the bourgeoisie) that control the means of production and the working classes (known as the proletariat) that enable these means by selling their labour power in return for wages.
Employing a critical approach known as historical materialism, Marx predicted that, like previous socio-economic systems, capitalism produced internal tensions which would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system: socialism. For Marx, class antagonisms under capitalism, owing in part to its instability and crisis-prone nature, would eventuate the working class’ development of class consciousness, leading to their conquest of political power and eventually the establishment of a classless, communist society constituted by a free association of producers. Marx actively pressed for its implementation, arguing that the working class should carry out organised revolutionary action to topple capitalism and bring about socio-economic emancipation.
Das Kapital, also known as Capital: Critique of Political Economy (1867–1883) by Karl Marx is a foundational theoretical text in materialist philosophy, economics and politics. Marx aimed to reveal the economic patterns underpinning the capitalist mode of production, in contrast to classical political economists such as Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill. Marx did not live to publish the planned second and third parts, but they were both completed from his notes and published after his death by his colleague Friedrich Engels. Das Kapital is the most cited book in the social sciences published before 1950.
The Communist Manifesto (originally Manifesto of the Communist Party) is an 1848 political pamphlet by the German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Commissioned by the Communist League and originally published in London just as the Revolutions of 1848 began to erupt, the Manifesto was later recognised as one of the world’s most influential political documents. It presents an analytical approach to the class struggle (historical and then-present) and the conflicts of capitalism and the capitalist mode of production, rather than a prediction of communism’s potential future forms.
The Communist Manifesto summarises Marx and Engels’ theories concerning the nature of society and politics, namely that in their own words, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. It also briefly features their ideas for how the capitalist society of the time would eventually be replaced by socialism. Near the end of the Manifesto, the authors call for “forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions”, which served as the justification for all communist revolutions around the world. In 2013, The Communist Manifesto was registered to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme with Capital, Volume I.
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (also referred to as The Paris Manuscripts) are a series of notes written between April and August 1844 by Karl Marx. Not published by Marx during his lifetime, they were first released in 1932 by researchers in the Soviet Union. The notebooks are an early expression of Marx’s analysis of economics, chiefly Adam Smith, and critique of the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel. The notebooks cover a wide range of topics including private property, communism, and money. They are best known for their early expression of Marx’s argument that the conditions of modern industrial societies result in the estrangement (or alienation) of wage-workers from their own work, their own products, and in turn from themselves and from each other.
Because the 1844 manuscripts show Marx’s thought at the time of its early genesis, their publication, in English not until 1959, has profoundly affected recent scholarship on Marx and Marxism, particularly regarding the relation of Marxism to earlier work in German Idealism. The young Marx had been relatively ignored until recently, because his early works were considered more “philosophical” and by some as not “scientific” enough, that is, “economic” as in Das Kapital. However, Marxist humanists regard this book as one of the most important texts by Marx and crucial for understanding his entire thought, and Marxians also refer to it.
The German Ideology is a set of manuscripts written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels around April or early May 1846. Marx and Engels did not find a publisher, but the work was later retrieved and published for the first time in 1932 by David Riazanov through the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow. The multi-part book consists of many satirically written polemics against Bruno Bauer, other Young Hegelians, and Max Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own (1844). Part I, however, is a work of exposition giving the appearance of being the work for which the “Theses on Feuerbach” served as an outline. The work is a restatement of the theory of history Marx was beginning to call the “materialist conception of history”.
Since its first publication, Marxist scholars have found the work particularly valuable since it is perhaps the most comprehensive statement of Marx’s theory of history stated at such length and detail. Although recent research for the new Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) indicates that much of the ‘system’ in it was created afterwards by the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow in the 1930’s.
On Liberty is a philosophical work by the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, originally intended as a short essay. The work, published in 1859, applies Mill’s ethical system of utilitarianism to society and the state. Mill attempts to establish standards for the relationship between authority and liberty. He emphasizes the importance of individuality, which he conceived as a prerequisite to the higher pleasures—the summum bonum of utilitarianism. Furthermore, Mill criticizes the errors of past attempts to defend individuality where, for example, democratic ideals resulted in the “tyranny of the majority”. Among the standards established in this work are Mill’s three basic liberties of individuals, his three legitimate objections to government intervention, and his two maxims regarding the relationship of the individual to society.
On Liberty was a greatly influential and well-received work, although it did not go without criticism. Some attacked it for its apparent discontinuity with Utilitarianism, while others criticized its vagueness. The ideas presented in On Liberty have remained the basis of much liberal political thought. It has remained in print continuously since its initial publication. To this day, a copy of On Liberty is passed to the president of the British Liberal Democrats as a symbol of office. A copy of the same book is also presented to and then held by the president of the Liberal Party as a symbol of office.
Mill’s marriage to his wife Harriet Taylor Mill greatly influenced the concepts in On Liberty, which was largely finished prior to her death, and published shortly after she died.
The Subjection of Women is an essay by English philosopher, political economist and civil servant John Stuart Mill published in 1869, with ideas he developed jointly with his wife Harriet Taylor Mill. Mill submitted the finished manuscript of their collaborative work On Liberty (1859) soon after her untimely death in late 1858, and then continued work on The Subjection of Women until its completion in 1861. At the time of its publication, the essay’s argument for equality between the sexes was an affront to European conventional norms regarding the status of men and women.
Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parlament of England is a 1644 prose polemic by the English poet, scholar, and polemical author John Milton opposing licensing and censorship. Areopagitica is among history’s most influential and impassioned philosophical defences of the principle of a right to freedom of speech and expression. Many of its expressed principles have formed the basis for modern justifications.
Areopagitica was published at the height of the English Civil War. It takes its title in part from Areopagitikos, a speech written by Athenian orator Isocrates in the 4th century BC. (The Areopagus is a hill in Athens, the site of real and legendary tribunals, and was the name of a council whose power Isocrates hoped to restore.) Some argue that it is more importantly also a reference to the defense that St Paul made before the Areopagus in Athens against charges of promulgating foreign gods and strange teachings, as recorded in Acts 17:18–34.
The Spirit of the Laws (also sometimes translated The Spirit of Laws) is a treatise on political theory, as well as a pioneering work in comparative law, published in 1748 by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu. Originally published anonymously, partly because Montesquieu’s works were subject to censorship, its influence outside France was aided by its rapid translation into other languages. In 1750 Thomas Nugent published the first English translation. In 1751 the Roman Catholic Church added The Spirit of Laws to its Index Librorum Prohibitorum (“List of Prohibited Books”). Yet Montesquieu’s treatise had an enormous influence on the work of many others, most notably: Catherine the Great, who produced Nakaz (Instruction); the Founding Fathers of the United States Constitution; and Alexis de Tocqueville, who applied Montesquieu’s methods to a study of American society, in Democracy in America.
Montesquieu spent around twenty-one years researching and writing The Spirit of Laws, covering a huge range of topics including law, social life and the study of anthropology, and providing more than 3,000 commendations. In this treatise Montesquieu argued that political institutions needed, for their success, to reflect the social and geographical aspects of the particular community. He pleaded for a constitutional system of government with separation of powers, the preservation of legality and civil liberties, and the end of slavery.
Anarchy, State, and Utopia is a 1974 book by the American political philosopher Robert Nozick. It won the 1975 US National Book Award in category Philosophy and Religion, has been translated into 11 languages, and was named one of the “100 most influential books since the war” (1945–1995) by the UK Times Literary Supplement.
In opposition to A Theory of Justice (1971) by John Rawls, and in debate with Michael Walzer, Nozick argues in favor of a minimal state, “limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on.” When a state takes on more responsibilities than these, Nozick argues, rights will be violated. To support the idea of the minimal state, Nozick presents an argument that illustrates how the minimalist state arises naturally from anarchy and how any expansion of state power past this minimalist threshold is unjustified.
The Laws is Plato’s last and longest dialogue. The conversation depicted in the work’s twelve books begins with the question of who is given the credit for establishing a civilization’s laws. Its musings on the ethics of government and law have established it as a classic of political philosophy alongside Plato’s more widely read Republic.
Scholars generally agree that Plato wrote this dialogue as an older man, having failed in his effort in Syracuse on the island of Sicily to guide a tyrant’s rule, instead having been thrown in prison. These events are alluded to in the Seventh Letter. The text is noteworthy as Plato’s only undisputed dialogue not to feature Socrates.
The Republic is a Socratic dialogue, written by Plato around 380 BC, concerning justice, the order and character of the just city-state, and the just man. It is Plato’s best-known work and has proven to be one of the world’s most influential works of philosophy and political theory, both intellectually and historically.
In the dialogue, Socrates discusses with various Athenians and foreigners about the meaning of justice and whether the just man is happier than the unjust man. They consider the natures of existing regimes and then propose a series of different, hypothetical cities in comparison, culminating in Kallipolis, a city-state ruled by a philosopher king. They also discuss the theory of forms, the immortality of the soul, and the role of the philosopher and of poetry in society. The dialogue’s setting seems to be during the Peloponnesian War.
The Statesman, also known by its Latin title, Politicus, is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato. The text depicts a conversation among Socrates, the mathematician Theodorus, another person named Socrates (referred to as “Socrates the Younger”), and an unnamed philosopher from Elea referred to as “the Stranger”. It is ostensibly an attempt to arrive at a definition of “statesman” as opposed to “sophist” or “philosopher” and is presented as following the action of the Sophist.
The Sophist had begun with the question of whether the sophist, statesman, and philosopher were one or three, leading the Eleatic Stranger to argue that they were three but that this could only be ascertained through full accounts of each. But though Plato has his characters give accounts of the sophist and statesman in their respective dialogues, it is most likely that he never wrote a dialogue about the philosopher.
The Open Society and Its Enemies is a work on political philosophy by the philosopher Karl Popper, in which the author presents a “defence of the open society against its enemies”, and offers a critique of theories of teleological historicism, according to which history unfolds inexorably according to universal laws. Popper indicts Plato, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Karl Marx as totalitarian for relying on historicism to underpin their political philosophies, though his interpretations of all three philosophers have been criticized.
A Theory of Justice is a 1971 work of political philosophy and ethics by John Rawls, in which the author addresses the problem of distributive justice (the socially just distribution of goods in a society).
The theory utilises an updated form of Kantian philosophy and a variant form of conventional social contract theory. The “veil of ignorance” is a method of determining the morality of political issues proposed in Rawls’ “original position” political philosophy. It is based upon the following thought experiment: people making political decisions imagine that they know nothing about the particular talents, abilities, tastes, social class, and positions they will have within a social order.
When such parties are selecting the principles for the distribution of rights, positions, and resources in the society in which they will live, this “veil of ignorance” prevents them from knowing who will receive a given distribution of rights, positions, and resources in that society. For example, for a proposed society in which 50% of the population is kept in slavery, it follows that on entering the new society there is a 50% likelihood that the participant would be a slave. The idea is that parties subject to the veil of ignorance will make choices based upon moral considerations since they will not be able to make choices based on their own self- or class-interest.
Emile, or On Education is a treatise on the nature of education and on the nature of man written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who considered it to be the “best and most important” of all his writings. Due to a section of the book entitled “Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar“, Emile was banned in Paris and Geneva and was publicly burned in 1762, the year of its first publication. During the French Revolution, Emile served as the inspiration for what became a new national system of education.
The work tackles fundamental political and philosophical questions about the relationship between the individual and society—how, in particular, the individual might retain what Rousseau saw as innate human goodness while remaining part of a corrupting collectivity. Rousseau seeks to describe a system of education that would enable the natural man he identifies in The Social Contract (1762) to survive a corrupt society. He employs the novelistic device of Emile and his tutor to illustrate how such an ideal citizen might be educated. Emile is scarcely a detailed parenting guide but it does contain some specific advice on raising children. It is regarded by some as the first philosophy of education in Western culture to have a serious claim to completeness, as well as being one of the first Bildungsroman novels.
Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men, also commonly known as the “Second Discourse“, is a work by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau first exposes in this work his conception of a human state of nature, broadly believed to be a hypothetical thought exercise and of human perfectibility, an early idea of progress. He then explains the way, according to him, people may have established civil society, which leads him to present private property as the original source and basis of all inequality.
The Social Contract, originally published as On the Social Contract; or, Principles of Political Rights by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is a 1762 book in which Rousseau theorized about the best way to establish a political community in the face of the problems of commercial society, which he had already identified in his Discourse on Inequality (1754).
The Social Contract helped inspire political reforms or revolutions in Europe, especially in France. The Social Contract argued against the idea that monarchs were divinely empowered to legislate. Rousseau asserts that only the people, who are sovereign, have that all-powerful right.
Free Thought and Official Propaganda is a speech (and subsequent publication) delivered in 1922 by Bertrand Russell on the importance of unrestricted freedom of expression in society, and the problem of the state and political class interfering in this through control of education, fines, economic leverage, and distortion of evidence.
This book, originally entitled Why Men Fight, is generally seen as the fullest expression of Russell’s political philosophy. Russell argues that after the experience of the Great War the individualistic approach of traditional liberalism had reached its limits. Political theory must be based on the motivating forces of creativity and impulse, rather than on competition. Both are best fostered in the family, in education, and in religion – each of which Russell proceeds to discuss. The ideas expressed in Principles of Social Reconstruction have greatly contributed to Russell’s fame as a social critic and anti-war activist. Neither his ideas nor his language have lost their force and topicality over the years.
Anti-Semite and Jew: Reflections on the Jewish Question is an essay about antisemitism written by Jean-Paul Sartre shortly after the liberation of Paris from German occupation in 1944. The first part of the essay, “The Portrait of the Antisemite“, was published in December 1945 in Les Temps modernes. The full text was then published in 1946.
The essay deals with antisemitism and how Jews react to it. More broadly, the book tries to explain the etiology of hate by analyzing antisemitic hate. According to Sartre, antisemitism (and hate more broadly) is, among other things, a way by which the middle-class lay claim to the nation in which they reside, and an oversimplified conception of the world in which the antisemite sees “not a conflict of interests but the damage an evil power causes society.”
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, generally referred to by its shortened title The Wealth of Nations, is the magnum opus of the Scottish economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith. First published in 1776, the book offers one of the world’s first collected descriptions of what builds nations’ wealth and is today a fundamental work in classical economics. By reflecting upon the economics at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the book touches upon such broad topics as the division of labour, productivity, and free markets.
Resistance to Civil Government (Civil Disobedience) is an essay by American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau that was first published in 1849. In it, Thoreau argues that individuals should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences and that they have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice. Thoreau was motivated in part by his disgust with slavery and the Mexican–American War (1846–1848).
Leon Trotsky (1879 – 1940) was a Russian revolutionary, Marxist theorist, and Soviet politician whose particular strain of Marxist thought is known as Trotskyism, a major school of Marxist thought that opposes the theories of Stalinism. He was written out of the history books under Stalin and was one of the few Soviet political figures who was not rehabilitated by the government under Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s.
The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899), by Thorstein Veblen, is a treatise on economics and a detailed, social critique of conspicuous consumption, as a function of social class and of consumerism, derived from the social stratification of people and the division of labour, which are the social institutions of the feudal period (9th–15th centuries) that have continued to the modern era.
That the contemporary lords of the manor, the businessmen who own the means of production, have employed themselves in the economically unproductive practices of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure, which are useless activities that contribute neither to the economy nor to the material production of the useful goods and services required for the functioning of society; while it is the middle class and the working class who are usefully employed in the industrialised, productive occupations that support the whole of society.
Conducted in the late 19th century, Veblen’s socio-economic analyses of the business cycles and the consequent price politics of the U.S. economy, and of the emergent division of labour, by technocratic speciality – scientist, engineer, technologist, et al. – proved to be accurate, sociological predictions of the economic structure of an industrial society.
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is a book written by Max Weber, a German sociologist, economist, and politician. Begun as a series of essays, the original German text was composed in 1904 and 1905, and was translated into English for the first time by American sociologist Talcott Parsons in 1930. It is considered a founding text in economic sociology and sociology in general.
In the book, Weber wrote that capitalism in Northern Europe evolved when the Protestant (particularly Calvinist) ethic influenced large numbers of people to engage in work in the secular world, developing their own enterprises and engaging in trade and the accumulation of wealth for investment. In other words, the Protestant work ethic was an important force behind the unplanned and uncoordinated emergence of modern capitalism. In his book, apart from Calvinists, Weber also discusses Lutherans (especially Pietists, but also notes differences between traditional Lutherans and Calvinists), Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, and Moravians (specifically referring to the Herrnhut-based community under Count von Zinzendorf’s spiritual lead).
In 1998, the International Sociological Association listed this work as the fourth most important sociological book of the 20th century. It is the 8th most cited book in the social sciences published before 1950.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792), written by the 18th-century British proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. In it, Wollstonecraft responds to those educational and political theorists of the 18th century who did not believe women should have an education. She argues that women ought to have an education commensurate with their position in society, claiming that women are essential to the nation because they educate its children and because they could be “companions” to their husbands, rather than mere wives. Instead of viewing women as ornaments to society or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintains that they are human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men.