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Politics and Morality

ISBN: 978-0-7456-2968-1
168 pages
November 2009, Polity
Politics and Morality  (0745629687) cover image
Public disenchantment with politics has become a key feature of the world in which we live. Politicians are increasingly viewed with suspicion and distrust, and electoral turnout in many modern democracies continues to fall. But are we right to display such contempt towards our elected representatives? Can politicians be morally good or is politics destined to involve dirty hands or the loss of integrity, as many modern philosophers claim? In this book, Susan Mendus seeks to address these important questions to assess whether this apparent tension between morality and politics is real and, if so, why.

Beginning with an account of integrity as involving a willingness to stand by ones most fundamental moral commitments, the author discusses three reasons for thinking that politics undermines integrity and is incompatible with morality. These are: the relationship between politics and utilitarian calculation; the possibility that the realm of politics is a separate realm of value; and the difficulty of reconciling the demands of different social roles. She concludes that, in the modern world, we all risk losing our integrity. To that extent, we are all politicians. Moreover, we have reason to be glad that politicians are not always morally good.

Written with verve and clarity, this book provides students and general readers an accessible guide to the philosophical debates about the complex relationship between politics and morality in the contemporary world.

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Acknowledgements vii

Introduction 1

1 Integrity 14

2 Political Integrity 37

3 Integrity and Utilitarianism 57

4 Integrity and Pluralism 78

5 Integrity and Social Roles 96

Notes 123

References 125

Index 128

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Susan Mendus is Professor of Political Philosophy and a member of the Morrell Centre for Toleration at the University of York.
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  • exciting new addition to the highly respected Themes for the 21st century series which looks at the tension between politics and morality
  • written by an author who is highly respected and well known internationally for her work in this area
  • assesses whether the apparent tension between morality and politics is real and, if so, why
  • controversially argues that we have reason to be glad that politicians are not always morally good
  • written with verve and clarity for students and general readers
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    "A very good introductory text and ought to be compulsory reading for undergraduates working in political philosophy and ethics."
    Res Publica

    "An elegant, insightful and incisive essay."
    Journal of Applied Philosophy

    "Sue Mendus's examination of integrity in public life deftly combines rigourous philosophical arguments and astute empirical examples. This book is characteristically lively and very interesting: a must-read for anyone interested in the relationship between politics and morality in general, and the problem of dirty hands in particular."
    Cecile Fabre, University of Edinburgh

    "It is all too easy to view politics as a dirty business that so corrupts the men and women who engage in it that those who are not lacking in moral integrity when they start out soon become so. In her careful study, Mendus explores the very real tensions that exist between personal morality and the public moral duties of politics. In the process, she shows how the conventional cynicism about political life is often misplaced - an attitude corrosive of the morality internal to politics itself."
    Richard Bellamy, University College, London

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