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Title: Political theory, public opinion and real politics
Author: Baderin, Alice
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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If we are interested in questions about how we ought to organize our political lives, what kind of weight, if any, should we give to evidence about what people actually think? The thesis explores this question about the role of public opinion in normative political theory. First, I disentangle a number of distinct justifications for taking account of public opinion. Specifically, the thesis evaluates four views of the status of public opinion: as an epistemic resource; a feasibility constraint; a means of democratizing political theory; or constitutive of moral and political ideals. I defend the epistemic argument, outlining two forms in which popular attitudes represent a valuable epistemic resource. The thesis criticizes the feasibility and democratic accounts of the role of public opinion as these are presented in the existing literature, but suggests more convincing ways of reconstructing these arguments. Finally, I reject the view that public opinion constitutes the ideal of justice, arguing that such an account is subject to a fundamental tension. As well as clarifying the status of popular attitudes, the thesis addresses the methodological difficulties that arise when we seek to bring public opinion to bear on ideas from political theory, whose meaning and status in everyday political thought and discourse is often limited or uncertain. I outline two approaches to integrating normative theory with the investigation of popular attitudes that mitigate the methodological problems that often confront such projects. The second major aim is to situate the question of the role of public opinion in the context of wider debates about the aims and methods of contemporary political theory. In particular, I address recent demands for greater ‘realism’ in political theory, distinguishing two main strands of realist critique and drawing out their contrasting implications for the role of public opinion.
Supervisor: Swift, Adam Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Philosophy ; Political science ; Ethics (Moral philosophy) ; Social justice ; Political theory ; public opinion