Political Arguments: Politics and Ethics

A. C. Ewing

Nobody who reads this article is likely to need convincing that there are bad political arguments. But, however many of them are bad, unless there are also some good ones, we can do nothing by reason in politics, there is no possibility of settling disputes rationally or in any other way except by fighting and there could be no ground either why we fight for any one cause rather than any other or why we should fight rather than make peace or vice versa. But surprisingly little has been said by philosophers about this important type of argument. However, this omission is less surprising and less harmful than it might appear at first sight because all thoroughgoing political arguments are, I think, at bottom arguments as to what ought to be done and therefore ethical arguments in a wide sense of the word, and philosophers have certainly said a good deal about ethical arguments. However, it is well worth while treating political arguments separately, especially in these very political days, and considering their particular character. By political arguments I mean, not the abstract arguments of books on political philosophy, but the everyday concrete political arguments of the platform, the press and the meal-time conversation. What is their logical nature in so far as they are not mere fallacies or unsupported assertions, and can the philosopher qua philosopher say anything that will help in such discussions and contribute towards the replacement of bad arguments by good, a most desirable consummation and one the achievement of which in all countries would certainly have prevented the present war?