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Political philosophy studies the nature, origin and purpose of government.


The are many forms of government. In a monarchy supreme power is placed in a single person. In
an oligarchy, power is placed in the hands of a few people. In an aristocracy rule is placed in the
hands of the best qualified people. In a timocracy the power is placed in the hands of the wealthy.
In a democracy power is placed in the hands of the people. Which of the above forms is the best?
The answer to this question depends on how you view the purpose of a government.


This political philosophy was proposed by Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher (1588-1679).
It was further developed by John Locke (1632-1704) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). It
was an attempt to answer the question concerning the origin of government. The social contract
concept was an attempt to challenge the divine right of kings philosophy which was used by
monarchs of the time.

According to this philosophy people in a society made a contract with each other or with a ruler
to guarantee them certain needs such as peace, safety and justice. If the ruler did not meet his part
of the contract, then the people had a right to select a new ruler. This is the basic philosophy that
a democracy is based on.


This philosophy goes as far back as ancient Greece. It is the view that there is a higher law to
which specific written laws of a government must be compared. This higher law or natural law,
was universally valid and thus applied to all governments. The natural law was known by the use
of human reasoning.


One of the purposes of government is to administer justice among the people. But what is justice?
One recent philosopher who has written a very influential book is John Rawls, who wrote A
Theory of Justice in 1971. Rawls proposed a theory of what is called "distributive justice". There
were three principles that determined justice:

The Principle of Greatest Equal Liberty: Each person is to have an equal rig
to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a
similar system of liberty for all.

The Difference Principle: Inequalities should benefit the least well off in

The Principle of Fair Equality of Opportunity: Positions to which inequality

are attached should be open to all.

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