Featured Review: Homage to Political Philosophy: The Good Society from Plato to the Present

James Flynn’s valuable introduction to political philosophy has already received a wealth of critical praise. Charles Murray, Fellow of the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of The Bell Curve (1994), called it “a book that makes political philosophy come alive”:

It mixes passages from classical texts with problems posed by today’s headlines. It describes complex positions more accessibly than the original thinkers did. Opinionated and unabashedly personal, it also betrays an astonishing erudition that underwrites the breezy prose.

Harvard University professor and author of the hugely popular study The Better Angels of our Nature (2011), Steven Pinker, was also full of praise for the book:

Often the best way to learn about a difficult subject is to see it through the eyes of an expert who is both opinionated and respectful of the ideas he opposes. James Flynn does not hide his commitment to a scientific humanism, but he does not caricature or belittle the alternatives. Whether they agree or disagree, students and intellectually curious readers will learn much from his clear and tough-minded examination of the great ideas on how we should give meaning to our lives.

9781527514157Homage to Political Philosophy addresses philosophers from Plato to Rawls and Nozick, with each thinker treated as exploring perennial problems including ethical truth, free will, the common good, whether God exists, and whether the market can be humanized. In a new review in Paradigm Explorer, a tri-annual publication of the Scientific and Medical Network, the scope and purpose of the book is further lauded:


Subtitled ‘the good society from Plato to the present’, this book does not simply take a chronological approach, but intersperses detailed treatment of key Western thinkers with analysis of central themes such as men and women, the existence of God, free will and free speech, slavery and race. Assumptions about these topics have changed over time while formulations are historically influenced and contextualised in contemporary life. Politics is seen within the framework of a thinker’s metaphysics, epistemology and ethics, and the author applies the same criteria to his own humanistic views. The approach is analytical, enabling readers to grasp and engage with the original arguments put forward and to appreciate how we must urgently recover a vision of the common good, especially as ‘the market has replaced justice as the ordering principle of society’. Flynn has a very good chapter on humanising the market, identifying five great tensions – justice, self-realisation, fellow feeling, that between private endeavour and the common good, and between power and morality. He sets out an agenda for moral debate, and takes the strong view that our humane ideals define who we are and that these can be freely chosen and maintained with integrity. For him, this has also meant criticising excessive moralistic intervention in American foreign policy after having arrived at the conclusion that ‘the main role of patriotism is to rationalise militarism.’ This is a rigorous and vigorous set of reflections and call to individual political action.

Professor James Flynn has published 17 books and 123 scholarly papers, addressing the fundamental problems of philosophy with an emphasis on how to defend humane ideals. He is also well known for the “Flynn Effect”, the fact that the 20th century saw massive IQ gains, which had implications for group differences in IQ. He is a prominent opponent of those who argue that there is a genetic gap between the races or between the genders. The Royal Society of New Zealand awarded him its Aronui Medal for research of outstanding merit in the humanities, and the International Society for Intelligence Research awarded him its Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also been profiled in Scientific American. Joshua Aronson (New York University), recipient of the Scientific Impact Award, noted that “He is a rare treasure in academia, the professor whose courses you took no matter what the topic.”

To purchase your copy of the text or to read an extract from it, please click here. Our heartfelt thanks go to The Scientific and Medical Network for allowing us to reprint the review.

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