Activism and Objectivity in Political Philosophy

Michael Frazer

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There are two starkly opposed views on the proper relationship between academic research and political activism. The first argues that, like civil servants, scholars must remain politically neutral. The second argues that academics can and should also be political activists. Given that normative political theory necessarily takes positions on political matters—and hence cannot qualify as neutral—it might seem that political theorists must side with the scholar-activists in this dispute. This paper argues that such a conclusion is mistaken, and that political theory at its best embodies an ethos that is different from those typically advocated by either scholar-activists or scholar-“neutralists.” Normative political theory cannot be neutral and need not be impartial, but it should be objective, at least in one important sense of the term. This form of objectivity involves an openness to “inconvenient” considerations and skepticism toward wishful thinking. I conclude that scholars, activists, and scholar-activists alike would all benefit from this ethos of objectivity.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages36
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020
Event2020 European Consortium for Political Research General Conference - Online
Duration: 24 Aug 202028 Aug 2020


Conference2020 European Consortium for Political Research General Conference
Abbreviated titleECPR 2020
Internet address

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