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Branch of philosophy that analyzes the state and related concepts such as political obligation, law, social justice, and constitution. The first major work of political philosophy in the Western tradition was Plato's Republic. Aristotle's Politics is a detailed empirical study of political institutions. The Roman tradition is best exemplified by Cicero and Polybius. St. Augustine's City of God began the tradition of Christian political thinking, which was developed by Thomas Aquinas. Niccolò Machiavelli studied the nature and limits of political power. Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan (1651) raised the problem of political obligation in its modern form. Hobbes was followed by John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the exposition of a social-contract theory. G.W.F. Hegel's understanding of historical development in terms of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis stimulated Karl Marx's dialectical materialism. John Stuart Mill developed Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian theory of law and political institutions, so as to reconcile them with individual liberty. In the 20th century John Dewey sought to counteract the dehumanizing aspects of modern capitalist society through a freer form of education. Until the end of the Cold War, the field of political philosophy was characterized by a division between Marxists and more traditional liberal thinkers, as well as by disagreements between left- and right-leaning liberals, such as John Rawls and Robert Nozick (1938–2002), respectively. From the 1970s, feminist political philosophy drew attention to the apparent gendered nature of many concepts and problems in Western political philosophy, especially autonomy, rights, liberty, and the public-private distinction.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on political philosophy, visit Britannica.com.
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