The Telos of a Politician

July 12, 2012

Chris presents us with a question: what are politicians for? And this, although it may not be obvious, is in fact a very naughty question. We know that Chris knows this is a naughty question because he cites the person I spent yesterday’s post complaining about, Alasdair MacIntyre.

To MacIntyre, everything has a purpose or telos (from Aristotle) in line with a community’s ends. This means each person has a telos too, a purpose which is defined by their membership of that community, and can be understood as the role they play within it. As a result, other members of that community can justly condemn and punish someone for failing to fulfil their role within that community.

What Chris is doing in asking for the purpose of politicians is subtle: it’s to ask you to consider how society should judge its politicians as a whole, rather than as individuals making individual judgements about particular politicians. He wants us to consider the telos of politicians as a class, rather than a given politician in particular. In doing so, you’re thinking like MacIntyre, and less like one of those despicable liberals.

I can’t help but wonder whether Chris is trying out matchstick theory for himself…

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2 Responses to “The Telos of a Politician”

  1. chris said

    I hadn’t realized I was doing that, but you call me well – distilling my f. from some d.p. indeed.
    The problem is that, if you do think like a despicable liberal instead, it’s not obvious that you’d regard politicians in any better light.

    • Adam Bell said

      Oh, absolutely, but your reasons for dislike may differ in significant ways. For example, as a despicable liberal, it’s unlikely that I’ll regard politicians as merely the agents of petite bourgeois values…

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