Jonathan Floyd’s book ‘Is political philosophy impossible?’, published in 2017, is trying to break the current, mainstream mentalist deadlock within political philosophy by offering a normative behaviourist approach. No, am not going to tell you now what are these things, as I will deal with Floyd’s study in a series of posts (just like I did with Nussbaum’s First capability). Floyd’s approach is relevant enough for Open Lifespan to criticise it and use its concept, and frame our topic within its thoroughly argumented, well defined and conveniently narrow world.
The book’s starting point is a criticism of ways political philosophy can be defined to make way for Floyds’ own convincing suggestion to define the same topic with 3 well-formed questions. Today I only care about the ways of definitions he offers as mainstream starting points to make a critical remark about another approach missing from this inventory. This is the approach that opens the door for Open Lifespan and Green political philosophy to qualify as political theories.
The first way is that political philosophy is defined either with an abstract concept like justice, power or authority as its main gravitational point.
The second way to define it is to put a concrete institution like state, government, constitution into focus. This one can be widened into a general notion of politics or public affairs.
Floyd notes, through citing examples (I’m going to spare you from those examples by now), that this concept/institution distinction became blurred and sometimes it’s hard to tell a vague, timeless concept from an empirically sourced abstraction.
And as a residual, there are multi-problem approaches as well. With an elegant cut Floyd disqualifies all 3 ways of approaching the subject of political philosophy:
‘We should despair at all the conceptual, institutional, and hybrid multi-problem approaches considered so far. Why? Because (1) single-concept and single-institution approaches seem excessively narrow, exclusion what we want to include (into political philosophy proper, Attila’s comment), whilst (2) multi-problem approaches seem to lack coherence, including disparate items of no clear connection’.p33 Jonathan Floyd: Is Political Philosophy Impossible?, CUP, 2017
Now Floyds’ main worry is to be able to preserve political philosophy as one, unified subject and reserve a distinct territory for this lore. Hence he’s trying to find a way that provides the most fitting scope for existing political philosophy (texts).
I have no such worry, but I also think the 2 concept/institution distinction (and the leftover hybrid, multi-problem, the miscellaneous bits generated during the slicing) is not enough to slice the cake of political philosophy, exhaustively. I think there’s one more slice of political philosophy and that is focused on what I call single trend approaches.
Trends, mind or matter you, not concepts or institutions.
A trend here being a process that becomes ‘more and more explicit’ through time and affects humans.
A trend that becomes important enough for humankind, through its unfolding in time, that it triggers a political representation that might lead to ‘complete candidate’ political philosophies.
These trend-based approaches then offer a test for every other kind of political philosophy, be it dominated by a single concept or lone institution, namely the test is to include/frame that particular trend with the concepts, methods and lingo of those particular philosophies.
Examples, you ask? Can you think of one, yourself?
A trend like global warming or life expectancy. And behind them the concepts of environmental crisis and human longevity. These concepts are empirically derived enough so cannot be easily accused of empty abstractness.
I’d like to argue that single trends like these can find their expression within political philosophy and emerge defying the simple concept/institution distinction. They also do not fit multi-problem approaches as their central idea is to focus on a single trend and re-arrange all other problems in the light of that trend.
So I’d like to propose that these single trend approaches should qualify as genuine political theories as well, thereby weakening Floyd’s initial diagnosis on traditional ways of defining the subject matter of political philosophy. It does not weaken though his offered solution to the definition problem, but more on that later.
Take Green political philosophy or Ecological Thought first. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy does even have an article called Green political philosophy. The surprise is that it is not a singular philosophy but a plural as there are different green political philosophies.
‘Indeed there is, at present, no definitive ‘green political philosophy’ as such. The environmental or green movement is diverse and disparate, and appears in different shades of green. These range from ‘light green’ conservationists to ‘dark green’ deep ecologists, from ecofeminists to social ecologists, from the militant ecoteurs of Earth First!, to the low-keyed gradualists of the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy. These groups differ not only over strategy and tactics, but also over fundamental philosophy as well.’Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Green political philosophy
Please note that the diversity of green approaches within political philosophy does not mean their compass is not directed towards a single trend.
So perhaps the Floyd-ian counterargument could be this: the people developing these philosophies already made up their mind in terms of some genuine (genuine=texts Floyd deals with as academic political philosopher) political philosophy. And this means they rely on single concept or single institution approaches, the genuine ones.
But all these compatibility checks do not change the focus on the single trend, rather it show the pervasiveness of such trends. So a green political philosopher can be a hardcore leftist with equality as their main mantra, still the arguments coming from the ‘greenness’ will take higher stand than the arguments focusing on equality. But they certainly add more shades of colours to it.
My job here is not to prove the all-pervasive nature of green political thought capable to include all relevant political texts we, or Floyd and others within academia, would like to include, or exclude some other studies in the lack of it qualifying as ‘political’ in a well-defined sense.
What I really want to claim here is that the Open Lifespan philosophy I’ve been actively working on in this book blog, is also an attempt to formulate a single-trend political philosophy with longevity in its focus.
Quick reminder: Here we consider Open Life as a possible world (or society to be closer to the lingo of political theory), where people can choose Open Lifespan, an open-ended, indefinitely long healthy lifespan. Open Lifespan is achieved via Open Healthspan Technologies developed and accessible enough that all people can choose to go through continuous interventions to counteract the biological aging process and have a fixed, small but nonzero mortality rate due to external causes of death.
Earlier I have formulated several arguments why this upper limit possible world should be the central possible world of political and moral philosophy, please as a pointer see this post linking to at least 3 other posts to make the case. Alternatively please see other posts related to political philosophy and political theory.
I would also like to claim, that unlike green philosophy and ecological thought, this philosophical project is new. The reason for this ‘newness’ is that only now have we reached enough and comprehensive scientific understanding of biological aging to be able to develop biomedical technologies to counteract it. So proper philosophical reflection starts now. Hence Floyd could not consider it at all when thinking about setting up his diagnosis of political philosophy and providing his careful critics of the different off-the-shelf variants. This lack of focus on this scenario on part of academic philosophers is the opportunity for me to develop this philosophy now. This lack of focus cannot be hold against those philosophers, after all they are not biologists by training, like me, focusing on aging as a scientist too.
There’s another potential reason Floyd could not have possibly realised the philosophical opportunity on thinking about longevity in the context of political philosophy. This can be phrased as another counter-argument saying Open Lifespan is just a political vision (utopia).
Here is the relevant quote from the book:
‘I mean to rule out from the beginning is political visions whose attraction relies, for instance, on human beings gaining power of telepathy, or losing the capacity for speech, or becoming immortal …p39 Jonathan Floyd: Is Political Philosophy Impossible?, CUP, 2017
The answer is that Floyd is obviously caught up in what I have called the Immortality Trap. Like many other smart people he has not realised that living indefinitely longer yet still being mortal is the only possible scenario we must think about seriously. Thinking about living forever, being immortal, defying death, perpetual live, blah-blah-blah, every which way is just simply not a possible scenario, so should not be on the agenda. Please see my Yuval Noah Harari piece to see this issue exposed in the writing of a historian turned popular philosopher.
I’m finishing here the first written encounter with Floyd’s exciting book. It is phrased as a criticism but really the meat of what I have to say in the context of this study is going to be more positive. I actually found Floyd’s suggestion on the 3 default questions every political philosophy should answer very convincing. But am not 100% sure yet it is entirely meaningful, to hijack Floyd’s default terminology. But I’m determined to find out in subsequent posts.