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Paradoxes of Political Ethics


  • Page extent: 296 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.61 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521873550)

How do the hard facts of political responsibility shape and constrain the demands of ethical life? That question lies at the heart of the problem of 'dirty hands' in public life. Those who exercise political power often feel they must act in ways that would otherwise be considered immoral: indeed, paradoxically, they sometimes feel that it would be immoral of them not to perform or condone such acts as killing or lying. John Parrish offers a wide-ranging account of how this important philosophical problem emerged and developed, tracing it - and its proposed solutions - from ancient Greece through the Enlightenment. His central argument is that many of our most familiar concepts and institutions - from Augustine's interiorised ethics, to Hobbes's sovereign state, to Adam Smith's 'invisible hand', understanding of the modern commercial economy - were designed partly as responses to the ethical problem of dirty hands in public life.

• A comprehensive book-length exploration of the history of philosophical reflection on the 'dirty hands' problem • Offers an innovative historical approach to an important contemporary issue • Addresses an unusually wide range of key texts in the history of political theory


Introduction; 1. For the sake of the city; 2. Two cities and two loves; 3. Renaissance dilemmas; 4. Hobbes's choice; 5. Dirty hands commercialised; 6. How dirty hands become invisible: Adam Smith's solution; Conclusion.


Review of the hardback: 'Good books on the history of political thought achieve two things. They enhance our understanding of how certain political concepts developed through a historical period and they uncover lessons in the histories of the concepts they study for how we understand politics today. Professor John M. Parrish's book, while devoting most of its attention to the former task, also offers a good deal of the latter.' Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

'An unusual and highly erudite book about the history of getting one's hands dirty in public life.… The author urges us to call into question the variety of more excuses offered for public conduct and to compel our representatives to answer themselves - a bold and surely justified demand.' Network Review

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