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Civil association and international society: Michael Oakeshott's political philosophy of international relations

Orsi, Davide 2014. Civil association and international society: Michael Oakeshott's political philosophy of international relations. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis contends that Oakeshott’s political philosophy contributes to constructivism in International Relations by identifying the moral foundations of international society and law. The epistemological basis of this contribution is a methodological holism that is defended through arguments developed within British Absolute idealism. The opposition between concrete and abstract concepts grounds a theory in which knowledge is conditional because it is constructed on certain assumptions or postulates. Philosophy identifies and interrogates the postulates, exposes their limited value and maintains the logical autonomy of the various forms of knowledge, from a universal point of view. The concepts of tradition and moral practice are central in Oakeshott’s political philosophy, and indicate a theory of normativity in which moral reasoning and political activity are a form of argumentative discourse constructed by starting from the assumptions shared within a certain community. In this light, Oakeshott is compared to the exponents of the English School and to constructivism because of his definition of an interpretative approach, in which world politics is a normative engagement and the role of theory is to consider its presuppositions as well as its universal meaning. Moreover, it is shown that he offers a comprehensive theory of the evolution of international society and of the role of war that is consistent with his broader political philosophy. The theory of ‘civil association’ is the ground for an understanding of international society as an association between states constituted by the recognition of moral constraints on the actions of states. These constraints are institutionalised in customary international law, which is understood as a moral practice. Therefore, international society is grounded on an evolving morality resulting from the historical conduct of states. As such, Oakeshott’s political philosophy provides an understanding of international relations that is distinct from both Realism and Universalism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Department of Politics and International Relations (POLIR)
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Funders: Arts & Humanities Research Council
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2016 23:52

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