David Hume brought history and politics to the realm of ideas

Richard Bourke in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_1880 Apr. 22 17.44Over the past 50 years, the philosopher who’s played the most significant role in the cultural life of the United States isn’t Richard Rorty, Jerry Fodor, or Martha Nussbaum, but rather Immanuel Kant. This is largely because of his impact on postwar trends in moral philosophy. Kant’s influence during this period coincided with the rise of ethics as a dominant concern in political theory. John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, and Thomas Nagel are among the most prominent examples of this widespread tendency. It is possible to exaggerate the novelty of this development; after all, questions of morality have always had a place in reflective debate about politics. Yet the strict subordination of politics to morals in recent decades does represent some kind of departure, or at least a return to a style of Kantian thought that had long been out of favor. Compared with current tendencies in political philosophy, normative inquiry was of marginal importance to the leading political thinkers in the first half of the 20th century, among them Max Weber, Otto Bauer, Michael Oakeshott, John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, Raymond Aron, and Hannah Arendt.

I don’t mean to suggest that these thinkers took no interest in human values. Because politics is a product of the struggle over values, political thinking can hardly avoid such a pivotal issue. But there’s a difference between the study of human preferences and attachments and a preoccupation with an ideal theory of value.

More here.

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