Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Agents of Change

Agents of Change

Political Philosophy in Practice

Ben Laurence

ISBN 9780674258419

Publication date: 11/30/2021

Request exam copy

An incisive argument for the relevance of political philosophy and its possibility of effecting change.

The appeal of political philosophy is that it will answer questions about justice for the sake of political action. But contemporary political philosophy struggles to live up to this promise. Since the death of John Rawls, political philosophers have become absorbed in methodological debates, leading to an impasse between two unattractive tendencies: utopians argue that philosophy should focus uncompromisingly on abstract questions of justice, while pragmatists argue that we should concern ourselves only with local efforts to ameliorate injustice. Agents of Change shows a way forward.

Ben Laurence argues that we can combine utopian justice and the pragmatic response to injustice in a political philosophy that unifies theory and practice in pursuit of change. Political philosophy, on this view, is not a purely normative theory disconnected from practice. Rather, political philosophy is itself a practice—an exercise of practical reason issuing in action. Laurence contends that this exercise begins in ordinary life with the confrontation with injustice. Philosophy draws ideas about justice from this encounter to be pursued through political action. Laurence shows that the task of political philosophy is not complete until it asks the question “What is to be done?” and deliberates actionable answers.

Praise

  • Agents of Change is an engaging and original contribution to contemporary debate in the methodology of political philosophy.

    —Saranga Sudarshan, Philosophical Quarterly

Author

  • Ben Laurence is Associate Instructional Professor in the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago and a member of the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights. His work appears in numerous journals, as well as the collections Essays on Anscombe’s “Intention” and Practical Normativity.

Book Details

  • 272 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

Recommendations