At the Limits of Political Philosophy

At the Limits of Political Philosophy: From "Brilliant Errors" to Things of Uncommon Importance

James V. Schall
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    At the Limits of Political Philosophy
    Book Description:

    James V. Schall presents, in a convincing and articulate manner, the revelational contribution to political philosophy, particularly that which comes out of the Roman Catholic tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1824-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    At the Limits of Political Philosophy begins, as does politics itself for most of us, with those imperfect and dire conditions of human existence unsettlingly familiar to all actual human beings: with death, evil, suffering, injustices, even—dare we say it?—hell, as it presents the problem of freely chosen wrongs and their punishment. We are intellectually provoked, however, not only by our tragic experiences but also by what is most delightful and happy about our lot. Our world includes both of these realities. Such common experience of our kind, sometimes glorious, sometimes sad, oftentimes evil, cannot but stimulate in...

  5. PART I: The Stages of Political Philosophy
    • ONE The Intellectual Horizons of Political Philosophy
      (pp. 17-32)

      This book is addressed without apology to Plato’s “potential philosophers”: to contemporary students, of whatever age or level, who are awakening in their very souls to the call of higher things. By being perplexed over the things that are, by passionately desiring to know how things really exist, by searching for guidance to questions that are not often or fully broached in the university or in think-tanks or media or even in ordinary life, such students become alive to what they have not previously encountered or what they have been unable to explain. Perceptive students notice the lack of a...

    • TWO The Sequence of Political Philosophy
      (pp. 33-48)

      Political philosophy must explain itself, its concerns. The political realm must let what is not political exist in its own right if what is not political is to flourish. The understanding that nonpolitical things exist is the prerequisite for understanding the things that are political. Otherwise, what is not political will not be allowed presence within the realm of the polity. The common good of the polity allows private and transcendent goods to exist. The polity recognizes that these goods are also its own good, though not its own competence.

      The basic questions of political philosophy are these:

      a. What...

    • THREE Modernity
      (pp. 49-68)

      No one likes to be called “anti-modern” or out-of-date, even if he is. To be up-to-date, however, is often to be out-of-date, and what is called “modern” is more and more a product of past ages. This is why we hear talk of the “post-modern” and even the “post-post modern world,” even though the premises that ground these later theories are themselves firmly rooted in modernity itself. The nineteenth-century theory of progress was largely crippled by the reality of World War I. That is, things were evidently not getting better and better. Political philosophy should discuss at least with itself...

  6. PART II: The Grounds of Political Realism
    • FOUR Evil and Political Realism
      (pp. 71-88)

      These blunt observations of Samuel Johnson about original sin or the Fall, as it is sometimes known, are directed to the religious doctrine that addresses the enigmatic nature and unsettling constancy of human evils in history.² Johnson did not begin with a theological theory to conclude from it the fact that corruption existed among men. Rather, he began from “evident” and “confessed” facts about which everyone knew. G. K. Chesterton had said something similar, namely, that original sin was the one dogma the truth of which we did not need to “prove.” All anyone needed to do was to go...

    • FIVE Regarding the Inattentiveness to Hell in Political Philosophy
      (pp. 89-102)

      The preceding chapter on evil, the following chapter on death, and the present chapter on hell seem, at first sight, peculiarly odd in a reflection on political philosophy. Yet, as I have suggested, they lie at the natural origins of the “brilliant errors” that have so agitated the history of political philosophy. None of these topics is normally treated in any significant manner in political philosophy. Each looks to a different side of the unpleasant aspects of the human condition, however much each is related to man’s being in the world. In revelation, hell and death are seen to be...

    • SIX Dwellers in an Unfortified City: Death and Political Philosophy
      (pp. 103-120)

      Eventually, virtue and friendship, happiness and salvation must be accounted for in political philosophy. Before treating these central subjects, however, it has been necessary first to see the “brilliant errors” in which political things have been propounded. In addition, the natural context of those errors, the perplexing realities of evil and hell needed to be understood to see how these issues do bring us to the heart of basic issues in human dignity and worth.

      Human death is a third of these dire issues that begin with enigmas and realities in the human lives in any polity but whose understanding...

  7. PART III: At the Limits of Political Philosophy
    • SEVEN The Death of Christ and the Death of Socrates
      (pp. 123-144)

      The first two parts of this book set down the context in which political philosophy arises, its historical setting and the “the grounds of political realism,” those naturally perplexing issues of evil, punishment, and death that are found in every human life and every human polity. The following two parts deal not with those darker and unsettling realities of human life, but how these issue into some sort of higher resolution, a resolution that the accurate reflection on these questions seems to have suggested.

      Moreover, it is not merely the more disturbing sides of human life that lead to questions...

    • EIGHT Happiness and Salvation
      (pp. 145-160)

      In this chapter and the one following, I will continue to discuss the relation of questions in Greek philosophy and in revelation. The context will be a clarification of a curious incompleteness (or, better, an openness) in finite things even when they are doing what is proper to them. This incompleteness is provocative. We cannot leave it alone. In Aristotle’s Ethics, the end and purpose of all human activity, including virtue and friendship, is called “happiness.” In the revelational tradition we read of “eternal happiness,” but it is described as “salvation.”

      Since both words, happiness and salvation, describe that for...

    • NINE Virtue and Vice: The Rule of the Self over the Self
      (pp. 161-184)

      The classical authors provided adequate yet somehow insufficient definitions of what was meant by human virtue. They asked: What is virtue? Is it its own reward? Does it lead beyond itself by being itself—to happiness, say, or even salvation? The clearest and most authoritative discussion of human virtue and vice is found in Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics, though one cannot forget either Plato or Cicero, Augustine or Aquinas. Aristotle simply said that happiness is acting virtuously. St. Thomas added that virtue was the “ultimate potency,” by which he meant that virtue is the actualization of all the capacities given...

  8. PART IV: Political Philosophy and the Things of Uncommon Importance
    • TEN Theology, Science, and Political Philosophy
      (pp. 187-201)

      In Part IV of this book, I want to continue the approach of Part III: not the “brilliant errors,” but those intellectual and practical issues that leave us open to the higher things, leave us open by being themselves. In this book, classical ethical and political philosophy, particularly through Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, have presented and deepened reflection on certain perennial questions that arise in normal living, questions that themselves are the signs of intellectual life, itself occasioned by human wonder and perplexity.

      Part IV, then, begins with science, which in the modern world has seemed to present...

    • ELEVEN Truth, Liberty, and Law
      (pp. 202-217)

      In 1778, Boswell recorded this first conversation with Samuel Johnson on the relation between truth, virtue, and society. In the second conversation, Johnson suggested that the lawyer could and should be honorable. It is in these relationships that the contrast between an autonomous modernity and a philosophic order based in a reality open to man but not made by him can be seen most clearly. The “web of communication,” as Johnson called it, that holds society together is manifested in law, and its result should be a liberty based on virtue, truth, and honesty. The multiplication of falsehood must result...

    • TWELVE Friendship and Political Philosophy
      (pp. 218-238)

      Nothing is more surprising in the Ethics of Aristotle than the two books (Books VIII and IX; also, St. Thomas’s Commentary) that the Philosopher devotes to friendship. Though we can speak of a “virtue” of friendship, friendship is not strictly speaking a specific virtue. Rather it presupposes the discourse on the virtues that we have examined. Likewise, the discussion of friendship has to do with Aquinas’s deliberations on law; friendship, he says surprisingly, is law’s end or purpose. It is the condition of the flourishing of the virtues, the relationship in which they are most real. Friendship can be based...

  9. Conclusion “To Those That Study Politicks”
    (pp. 239-250)

    This book is a discourse in political philosophy. It is addressed, in Johnson’s words, “to those that study politicks.” The uniqueness of this discourse at the limits of political philosophy, its specific emphasis, is found in the particular way that certain basic questions in political philosophy, questions uncommonly important in themselves, lead to answers that are not specifically political. Strong souls recognize that such questions do exist even in ourselves. This higher side of political philosophy, both in academic courses and in the literature in the field, is frequently neglected or treated with a certain cautious embarrassment, if not methodological...

    (pp. 251-264)
    (pp. 265-267)
    (pp. 268-272)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)