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Abstract

Explores the foundations of political community as understood in two complementary ways: first, in contemporary normative political and social theory. Second, in the history of politics and in the history of philosophy. Particular attention is given to David Hume, Adam Smith, and Edmund Burke, as well as their relationship to contemporary political philosophers like Bernard Williams, John Rawls, Jeremy Waldron, Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Mills. Using Wittgenstein’s concept of a form of life (lebensform) in the Philosophical Investigations, argues that there is a family within the history of political thought whose members share the understanding that a shared form of life, which develops organically and historically, is a necessary condition for a free society to work well. Examines how political and social obligation, trust and commerce, as well as sympathy and concepts of rights, all require interdependence and shared assumptions and expectations. This family balances the impulses of political realism and political idealism, though is somewhat more anti-idealist than pro-realist. Bottom-up thinking that doesn’t fall in to the trap of idealism or of rationalism, due to a commitment to epistemological limits and the recognition of our finite capacities. In particular, I am interested in how we can combine the seemingly competing forces of culture and tradition (ways we have been doing things, one might say) with the necessary desire for change, reform, and progress. My approach to these questions can help shape the way we think about the size of states, if and when foreign intervention makes sense, the pace of change, and the necessary variety of political and social orders suited to a varying world.

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