Philosophy, "The Federalist" and the Constitution

Philosophy, "The Federalist" and the Constitution

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In 1787, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison wrote The Federalist to rally support for the ratification of the Constitution of the United States. In spite of the pragmatic intentions of the authors, they often implicitly expressed themselves in philosophical language, drawing from the major philosophers of their day, notably Locke and Hume. Here, Morton White presents the first synoptic view of the major philosopical ideas in The Federalist. Using the tools of philosophy and intellectual history, he examines the theories and disciplines used in different degrees by the founding fathers in deference of the Constitution.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 288 pages
  • 160 x 250mm | 625.95g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195039114
  • 9780195039115

Review Text

An exploration of the metaphysical, moral, epistemological, psychological, theological, and technological aspects of The Federalist Papers. White (Philosophy/Princeton), author of Social Thought in America and The Philosophy of the American Revolution (to which this is a sequel of sorts), takes on a tall order here. The Federalist, written by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay (together known as Publius), was, after all, inspired by a practical purpose - that is, to get the new Constitution ratified. Previous authors on the subject, such as Charles Beard, have assumed almost an anti-intellectualism on Publius' part. As Beard wrote: they "were not closet philosophers. They were not dust sifters engaged in dissecting the ideas of other dust sifters." White, however, presumes to sift the dust of The Federalist, of which there is much. For a while, as White writes, it was obvious that Publius "were neither moral philosophers nor followers of moral philosophers." Still, they frequently used philosophical terms - reason, human nature, experience, truth, duty, good, passion, and interest, for example. In a nutshell, White sees The Federalist as "a philosophical hybrid, an offspring of Lockean rationalism in morals and Humeian empiricism in politics." Publius may have had a pragmatic intent - to ratify the Constitution - but that, in itself, "involved the acceptance of a moral statement about the entire mode of government." Heavy going at times, but there are some occasional new insights. (Kirkus Reviews)
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