In two earlier essays I’ve speculated on divisions in the study of politics. First the division within social studies between topics that are political and those that are not. I labeled the latter topics apolitical for easier reference. Secondly the division within political studies between scientific and theoretical methods. In this final essay I will discuss philosophy, but this time I will only examine the differences between political theory and political philosophy. A comparison between political philosophy and “apolitical philosophy” would not be meaningful. There is no branch of philosophy dedicated specifically to apolitical phenomena, although many such phenomena are of course occasionally touched upon in philosophy.
In this essay I will discuss Raymond Geuss’ short book Philosophy and Real Politics, where he seeks to define political philosophy as something other than applied ethics. I agree with the basic premise. As useful as theories of justice may be in guiding political debates about right and wrong, there are other philosophical questions in politics which are not ethical. I will not discuss “ethics-first” political philosophy at all in this essay because it lies so far away from political science and political theory. Political philosophy as applied ethics is not of any use when the workings of political systems are to be understood.