The Limits of Political Theory

The Limits of Political Theory –

Oakeshott’s Philosophy of Civil Associationt

By Kenneth B. McIntyre

Imprint Academic – £30.00

For Oakeshott, theorizing, unlike other types of experience, is ‘’experience without presupposition, arrest, or modification.’’ The logic of philosophical activity entails a philosophical experience which is complete and, because of this completeness, which is the criterion by which other types of experience are judged. This concept of philosophical activity as critical experience without arrest of partiality not only entails the investigation of the nature of philosophical understanding, but also the exploration and critique of worlds of experience which fall short of this criterion.

(‘Theorizing, Theorems and Modality’)

Like most things in life, there are several ways of looking at, understanding and seeing things. Remember the brilliant Robin Williams character in Dead Poets Society? He, who stood on a desk in front of his students to merely point out how different the world looked from up on high?

Likewise, if not more so, very much the same invariably applies to the theorizing of philosophy – an overtly fluidic undertaking if ever was one – and once as much is fully accepted unto the pantheon of philosophical understanding, then the reading of such a book as this, becomes a whole lot more tenable.

I use the words ‘’reading of such a book as this,’’ simply because throughout, Kenneth B. McIntyre both reiterates and substantiates the countless possibilities of Michael Oakeshott’s deft/dense thinking so as to occasionally be caught up in quintessential confusion.

That’s not to say The Limits of Political Theory – Oakeshott’s Philosophy of Civil Associationt harbours any wayward wrongness (it absolutely does not); it’s to say many of the writing(s) could have been put forward in a far more linear, if not concise persuasion. Especially given that literally, the second line into this book, McIntyre already writes: […] his ideas have been relatively neglected, and, when studied, they have often been misunderstood. Indeed, the general misunderstanding of his work is one of the main reasons that it has been neglected.’’

Were it not for overt cumbersomeness, that can so easily be deeply entrenched within philosophical argument, the above opening gambit – while obviously correct – could so easily have been written in such a way as more people would not have to struggle or grapple with: ‘’theorizing, unlike other types of experience, is ‘’experience without presupposition, arrest, or modification.’’

Theorizing, after all, is an open and individual and experience; and while not necessarily a ‘’presupposition’’ (well, it isn’t), ‘modification’ can come into play at random and at will.

And perhaps it should?

Is this not what philosophy is all about?

I personally believe Oakshott himself would agree, even if these 192 pages (excluding Bibliography and Index) are just a little too serpentine for their own good.

That said, once one has deconstructed (much of) the writing, there is without doubt, plenty to be gleaned.

David Marx

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