Bob Nichols's Reviews > Moral Principles in Political Philosophy

Moral Principles in Political Philosophy by Felix Oppenheim
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Mar 25, 2012

liked it

Oppenheim's book classifies the various forms of political theory. He has a name for each classification and it's easy to get lost.

There are two other flaws to this book. "Are there universal principles by which to assess the truth of any judgment of political morality? he asks. "If there are, we would have to subscribe to whichever principle turns out to be true, regardless of our subjective preferences. This is the wrong question to ask. His focus is on universal principles when the real question is why one would follow such principles. Why should or would one set subjective preference aside? Oppenheim assumes mind is, or can be, (or ought to be?) in charge of the animal spirit, but for every Kantian-like assertion that we should treat others as "Ends," the equally valid question is why, and the answers to that question will come up short because they are not lodged in what makes us tick.

A solid political ethic can be derived from self interest by stressing (a) the need of each to be free to pursue what gives them pleasure,(b) its corollary that it's in one's rational self interest to respect the needs of others (i.e., the Hobbesian observation that political order is preferable to a war of all against all) and therefore the principle is supported by motivation, and (c) that respect for the interests of others can be supplemented by social sympathies that transcend more self-interested calculations.

Oppenheim cannot go this way because he's stuck. One cannot logically derive an ought from is, he says. The fact that we do pursue our self-interest doesn't mean we ought to. So he's critical of one theorist who argues that the proper End of human kind is survival (and by extension, personal well-being). To this Oppenheim says that the fact that "man" wants to survive "does not entail that man ought to aim at his own survival." Logically, that might be true, but wanting to survive is about as good as it gets and it seems to me that Oppenheim removes himself from relevance by his strict adherence to the "can't derive values from fact" theory.

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Moral Principles in Political Philosophy.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.