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Cover Political Thinkers

28. Nietzsche  

Nathan Widder

This chapter examines Friedrich Nietzsche's political philosophy, first by focusing on his claim that the ‘death of God’ inaugurates modern nihilism. It then explains Nietzsche's significance for political theory by situating him, on the one hand, against the Platonist and Christian traditions that dominate political philosophy and, on the other hand, with contemporary attempts to develop a new political theory of difference. The chapter also considers Nietzsche's genealogical method and proceeds by analysing the three essays of On the Genealogy of Morals, along with his views on good and bad, good and evil, slave morality, the ascetic ideal, and the nihilism of modern secularism. Finally, it reviews contemporary interpretations of Nietzsche's relation and relevance to political theory and how his philosophy has inspired a broader set of trends that has come to be known as ‘the ontological turn in political theory’.


Cover Contemporary Political Philosophy

2. Utilitarianism  

This chapter examines the practical implications of utilitarianism as a political morality. It first considers two features of utilitarianism that make it an attractive theory of political morality. First, the goal being promoted by utilitarians does not depend on the existence of God, or a soul, or any other dubious metaphysical entity. The second attraction is utilitarianism’s ‘consequentialism’. The chapter proceeds by breaking utilitarianism into two parts: an account of human welfare, or ‘utility’, and an instruction to maximize utility, giving equal weight to each person’s utility. It also discusses the two main arguments for viewing utility maximization as the standard of moral rightness: equal consideration of interests, and teleological utilitarianism. Finally, it evaluates utilitarians’ claim that every source of happiness, or every kind of preference, should be given the same weight, if it yields equal utility. The chapter argues that utilitarianism is inadequate as an account of equal consideration.