ASU A-Z Index
Colleges & Schools
News & Events
Centers & Programs
Alumni and Friends
Support ASU Law
College of Law News
New book by White published by Oxford University Press
Michael J. White
The second edition of
Political Philosophy: A Historical Introduction
Michael J. White
, a professor at the College of Law and philosophy professor at Arizona State University, recently was published by Oxford University Press.
The book’s first edition, published in 2003 by a different press, traced the development of political theory beginning in Greece in the fifth century B.C. through the 18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the 19th century German philosopher Karl Marx. Rousseau’s political philosophy influenced the French revolution as well as modern liberal political theory. Marx’s ideas played a significant role in the development of 20th century socialism and communism. The first edition concluded with consideration of the political theory of John Rawls, a 20th century Harvard philosophy professor who achieved eminence as an exponent of contemporary Western liberal political theory.
Alistair Hannay, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oslo, called the first edition “a masterpiece of clear thinking.
“This well-written text will challenge many to reflect more closely on matters often too quickly decided. The result is more than one might ever have expected of an introductory text of this size; indeed a better introduction to the subject is hard to imagine,” according to Hannay.
White’s new book expands the roadmap to include a chapter on Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, who lived during the first century B.C., on Marsilius of Padua, a 14th century proponent of an entirely secular conception of politics. White also wrote a new chapter on John Stuart Mill, a 19th century social reformer and defender of individual liberty.
“Cicero represented the Stoic tradition in his political thought, and I concluded that he is a very important figure in the transition between the political theory of Greek and Roman antiquity and the emerging Christian political theory,” White said of his decision to include Cicero in the book.
White said the addition of Mill was necessary because of his role as an expositor of a dominant contemporary political problem: that of the proper relation between the autonomous, self-defining individual and the state conceived as a coercive instrument for promoting the common good.
A major theme in the book is both controversial and important, White said. “Political theory ultimately is dependent on our conception of what human life, more generally, is about,” he said. “In other words, political theory relies on what I call a ‘normative anthropology,’ – a conception of what human life is and ought to be all about.”
White claims in his new book that one can’t really understand political philosophy or political theory without consideration of the ethical, metaphysical and theological dimensions of human life.
White was encouraged to write the second edition by
, a longtime colleague at the College of Law and ASU Regents’ Professor of Law, Philosophy & Religious Studies. The book is “a major contribution to the field,” said Murphy.
“There are many analytic philosophical books on political philosophy and many historically oriented books on political philosophy. What is uniquely valuable about White’s book is its brilliant combination of both of these approaches,” Murphy said. “White is an extremely talented philosopher in the analytic tradition but, unlike most people in that tradition, he also possesses strong scholarly expertise in the history of philosophy. Because of this, I cannot think of a better introduction to political philosophy than his new book. It would be a mistake, however, to regard White’s book as simply a textbook, since it is much more than that. Although written in a highly accessible way, it is sophisticated to a degree that will make it a valuable resource even for those who are scholarly specialists in the subject.”
Much of White’s new book is drawn from the teaching and research he has done in the field over the past three decades. The book bridges several historical and philosophical disciplines including some areas of political science, history, sociology and ethics.
“What political theory is really concerned about is the analysis of basic concepts that arise in relation to political institutions, such as justice, rights, duties, the nature of state, and the proper limitations on political authority,” White said. “But human beings are not just citizens of some polity although, indeed, all of us do live in some polity. The question is how the political dimension of our lives fits with other aspects of our lives.”
The book should appeal both to devotees of politics and political theory and to those who don’t care much about everyday politics. “Political theory can show us the limitations of politics,” White said. “Today, especially, we denizens of first-world countries perhaps expect too much from politics. A study like the one I attempt can help us to realize that there are some good reasons why our political aspirations should be more modest.”
The book is available at
Oxford University Press
and other booksellers.