Research: History of Political Thought
Aristotle and the Aristotelian Political Tradition
Is the political thought of Aristotle still relevant today? What could the ideas of an ancient Greek philosopher living over 2,000 years ago possibly have to do with contemporary ethical and political problems? Some commentators insist that Aristotle is no longer relevant. His views are hierarchical, elitist, outmoded. Moreover anybody who attempted to resurrect them, for example Leo Strauss, would inevitably be conservative, or even reactionary, in the present political context. Others , for example Martha Nussbaum and Alasdair MacIntyre disagree with this entirely and defend the view that Aristotelian ideas, suitably interpreted, modified and brought up to date, can address the great issues of today and indeed have some sort of radical potential, as yet unrealized. The work of Tony Burns engages with these questions about the Aristotelian tradition.
Natural Law Theory
The notion of 'natural law' is usually associated with the ideology of classical liberalism and the doctrine of 'natural rights' or 'human rights'. These ideas have been criticized from a variety of different perspectives from the 18th century onwards. Critics include conservative thinkers such as Edmund Burke and G. W. F. Hegel, as well as utilitarian thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham, and Marxists (from Marx himself to Lenin and beyond). An important question is whether these criticisms are decisive. Can the doctrines of natural law and human rights be rescued? Do they have a place today in a political project devoted to the ideal of human emancipation? Please contact Tony Burns if you have an interest in working on questions in natural law theory.
Marx and Marxism
There are many interpretations of Marx and of Marxism, not least those proffered by enthusiasts for the writings of 'the Young Marx', in contrast to those who defend a more 'orthodox' reading of Marx and Marxism, derived largely from the work of Frederick Engels. It is often said that the Young Marx was a humanist, an 'ethical Marxist', and that the mature Marx was far more 'scientistic', and 'determinist' in his basic approach to understanding the world generally, including the natural world, as well as the world of society, politics and history. Central to these debates about the issue of how Marx ought to be read is an assessment of his relationship to the thought of both Hegel and Aristotle. Much recent work on Marxism and ethics has, in particular, focused on the latter rather than the former. Please contact Tony Burns if you have in interest in research into Marxist political theory.
The History of Political Pluralism
The concept of 'pluralism' is employed across a wide spectrum of contemporary political theory; from Rawls' discussion of the 'fact of reasonable pluralism', to multiculturalist accounts of pluralism and group rights, to poststructuralist notions of the politics of difference. This reflects important transformations in western societies over the past half century, and most notably the emergence of second wave feminism, of life style politics, and of the politics of cultural identity. However, there are also longer established traditions of pluralism in Anglo-American political thought: most notably the tradition of pluralism in post-war American political science, and the work of the English political pluralists that flourished around the time of the First World War. Mark Wenman's research traces points of connection between current discussions and earlier renditions of political pluralism, in order to bring greater contextualisation and analytical clarity to contemporary debates.
Theories of individual freedom and autonomy in political thought.
How have ideas connected to individual freedom and autonomy developed and how might they be of use in thinking about contemporary applications of autonomy, for example, in recent feminist approaches to autonomy? Also, how can such theories be used to connect the notion of autonomy to that of identity?
Theories of Property
How has 'property' been conceived historically? What kinds of justifications have been offered for the right to hold property, and are these arguments plausible? What forms has opposition of private property taken? Chris Pierson is working on the history of conceptions of property, and will welcome proposals form students who wish to undertake research in this area.