Michael Oakeshottt: Selected Writings
Editor: Noël O’Sullivan, University of Hull
Wendell John Coats Jr. (Connecticut)
Richard Flathman (Johns Hopkins)
Paul Franco (Bowdoin)
Robert Grant (Glasgow)
John Gray (European Institute, LSE)
John Kekes (SUNY, Albany)
Kenneth Minogue (LSE)
Terry Nardin (Wisconsin)
Lord Parekh (Hull)
Patrick Riley (Harvard)
|In this book Andrew Sullivan examines Oakeshott’s transition
from his original emphasis on philosophy as providing what was ultimately
satisfactory in experience to his later emphasis on practical life. This
satisfaction is best achieved by a fusion of the modes of poetry and practice,
leading the author to examine Oakeshott’s view of religious life as the
consummation of practice in its most poetic incarnation. The book also
examines how the conception of practice is applied in Oakeshott’s political
writings, focusing on the notion of civil association.
Andrew Sullivan writes regularly for the New York Times and the Sunday Times. He was previously editor of The New Republic.
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|The work of Michael Oakeshott has retained a striking currency
in philosophical discourse about education. This is hardly surprising in
view of his influence on Paul Hirst and Richard Peters, two philosophers
whose work had an enormous impact on educational thinking and practice
in the English-speaking world. And, although much of the detail in
educational debate may change, the fundamental underlying concerns regarding
the conception of the person, the nature of knowledge and the moral life
and their expression in educational institutions and activities remain
subject of disagreement. In the light of this continuing interest
and of Oakeshott’s extensive writing on so many aspects of education, it
is timely that a book be published on his thinking on the subject.
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|This book addresses a question fundamental for Oakeshott
throughout his life, which is what we are doing when we read and discuss
some memorable work in the history of political thought. The approach the
book takes to Oakeshott’s response to this question is of particular interest
in that it explores in detail extensive notes he made on the beginnings
of political philosophy in ancient Greece in an unpublished set of notebooks
in which he recorded his thoughts on many different subjects throughout
In addition, the book gives contemporary significance to Oakeshott’s interpretation of the history of political thought by using it to confront a series of contemporary challenges to the study of the history of political thought and to the study of the ‘great books.’ In particular, Oakeshott’s distinction between ‘various kinds or levels of political thought’ is carefully analyzed, as is also the extent of his agreement and disagreement with Quentin Skinner.
In the concluding chapter, the author relates Oakeshott’s view
of the nature of the history of political thought to his well-known description
of philosophy as ‘conversation’, describing it as an introduction to that
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|This is the first book-length study to provide a structured
interpretation of the significance of Michael Oakeshott’s critique
of the Enlightenment. By seeing the thinker as a ‘sceptical
idealist’ posing a serious challenge to the intellectual positions
informed by the Enlightenment, this book attempts to resolve some of the
issues debated by Oakeshott scholars.
The author argues that Oakeshott’s famous critique of philosophisme and Rationalism in fact expresses a sense of the crisis of philosophical modernity. Moreover, notwithstanding some recent interpretations, throughout his intellectual career Oakeshott has never altered his analysis of these two themes: philosophy as the persistent re-establishment of completeness by transcending abstractness, and the modes of experience as self-consistent worlds of discourse.
To apply this philosophy in his moral and political writings, Oakeshott has redressed an imbalance in favour of the Enlightenment ethical position — ‘the sovereignty of technique’, ‘demonstrative moral truth’, ’the politics of faith’ and ‘enterprise association’ — by revitalising the importance of ‘traditional knowledge’, ‘conversation’, ‘intimation’, ‘the politics of scepticism’ and ‘civil association’. Oakeshott is neither a doctrinal liberal nor a dogmatic conservative, but a philosophical sceptic.
Moreover, Oakeshott’s contribution to history not only lies in his effort to transcend the Enlightenment historiographical position — by separating the historical from the naturalised conception of History on which so-called ‘scientific history’ rests — but also in his idealistic solution for the ‘temporal dilemma’ and the ‘epistemic tension’ in history that have long bothered philosophers.
300 pages £30/$49.90, 0907845_223 (hbk.) January 2003
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|This book challenges the common view that Michael Oakeshott
was mainly important as a political philosopher by offering the first comprehensive
study of his ideas on history. It argues that Oakeshott’s writings on the
philosophy of history mark him out as the most successful of the philosophers
who attempted to establish historical study as an autonomous form of thought
during the twentieth century. It also contends that his work on the history
of political thought is best seen in the context of debates over the origins
of the liberal state. For the first time, extensive use has been made of
unpublished material in the collection of Oakeshott’s papers at the LSE,
resulting in an intellectual biography that should be of interest both
to first-time students and those already familiar with his published works.
300 pages £30/$49.90, 0907845_290 (hbk.) January 2003
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|Although Oakeshott’s philosophy has received considerable
attention, the vision which underlies it has been almost completely ignored.
This vision, which is rooted in the intellectual debates of his epoch,
cements his ideas into a coherent whole and provides a compelling defence
The main feature of Oakeshott’s vision of modernity is seen here as radical plurality resulting from ‘fragmentation’ of experience and society. On the level of experience, modernity denies the existence of the hierarchical medieval scheme and argues that there exist independent ways of understanding our world, such as science and history, which cannot be reduced to each other. On the level of society, modernity finds expression in liberal doctrine, according to which society is an aggregate of individuals each pursuing his or her own choices. For Oakeshott, to be modern means not only to recognise this condition of radical plurality but also to learn to appreciate and enjoy it.
Oakeshott did not think that it was possible to find a comprehensive philosophical justification for modernity, therefore the only way to preserve modern civilisation seemed to be an appeal to sentiment. As a consequence he was a passionate defender of liberal education as the best way to underwrite the ‘conversation of mankind.’
Efraim Podoksik received his BA and MA from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his MPhil and PhD from Cambridge University. He is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science of Bilkent University where he teaches history of political thought.
|Michael Oakeshott is widely recognised to be one of the
most original political philosophers of the twentieth century. He also
developed a very influential interpretation of the ideas of the great seventeenth
century philosopher Thomas Hobbes. While many commentators have noted the
importance of Hobbes for understanding Oakeshott’s thought itself, this
is the first book to provide a systematic interpretation of Oakeshott’s
philosophy by paying close attention to all facets of Oakeshott’s reading
On the surface, Oakeshott, the philosophical idealist and critic of rationalism in politics, would seem to have little in common with Hobbes, who is often regarded as a classic materialist and rationalist philosopher. This work shows, however, that despite appearances, there are many basic affinities between the two thinkers and that Oakeshott brought to the surface aspects of Hobbes’s thought that had previously been overlooked by Hobbes scholars.
The development of Oakeshott’s own theory is shown to mirror changes in his reading of Hobbes and many of the distinctive features of Oakeshott’s thought including the modal and sceptical conception of human knowledge, the ‘morality of individuality’, the theory of civil association, and the critique of rationalism all find a fascinating focal point in his writings on Hobbes. Some attention is also paid to Oakeshott’s religious ideas, indicating what they share with Hobbes’s philosophy of religion. The book situates Oakeshott’s reading in relation to some other important twentieth century interpretations of Hobbes and examines its significance for broader debates in political theory and the history of ideas.
Ian Tregenza holds a BA from Macquarie University, and a PhD from the University of New South Wales, Sydney. He has published articles and reviews in various journals including History of Political Thought, Contemporary Political Theory and The European Legacy. He has taught at various Sydney universities and currently lectures in political theory at the University of New South Wales.
|This book examines Oakeshott’s political philosophy within
the context of his more general conception of philosophical understanding.
The book stresses the underlying continuity of his major writings on the
subject and takes seriously the implications of understanding the world
in terms of modality. The book suggests strongly that Oakeshott’s philosophy
of political activity cannot be reduced to a branch of conservatism, liberalism,
or postmodernism or a theory or set of doctrines which fit neatly into
any conventional school, like that of Idealism or Skepticism. Rather, Oakeshott’s
philosophy of political activity is a provocation to all of the currently
dominant schools of political theory and political practice. It questions
their presuppositions and exposes as ambiguous, arbitrary, or confused
all of the supposed certainties which they take for granted. It does all
this by offering profound insights into the character and limits of both
political activity and political theory in the modern world.
Publication: June 2004
|This book presents a comprehensive study of Oakeshott’s
conception of political activity. The author first examines Oakeshott in
the contexts of liberal, conservative and Idealist thought, and then presents
a detailed interpretation of the change in his conception of politics in
the context of British postwar political thought. It is argued that Oakeshott’s
conception of political activity shifted from a near contempt of politics
towards the applauding of politics as a deliberative and reflective activity.
The development is disclosed by examining the change in his key concepts,
such as authority and tradition. Accordingly, some rather unexpected aspects
of Oakeshott’s thought, such as his close relationship to the linguistic
turn, appear. The author argues that although Oakeshott cannot exactly
be classified as belonging to that group of political philosophers for
whom politics represents a superior human activity, his later work presents
an important and original view of politics as an art of contingency.
Publication: June 2004
|Much of the scholarly attention attracted by Michael Oakeshott’s
writings has focused upon his philosophical characterisation of the relations
that constitute moral association in the modern world. A less noticed,
but equally significant, aspect of Oakeshott’s moral philosophy is his
account of the type of person (or persona) required to enter into and enjoy
moral association. Oakeshott’s best known characterisation of the persona
best suited to moral association occurs in his identification of a ‘morality
of the individual’. The book argues that Oakeshott’s characterisations
of religious and poetic experience provide a more detailed account of the
type of persona that emerged in response to what it perceived as an invitation
to participate in moral association in the modern world.
190 pages £30/$40 0907845_622 (hbk.), November 2005
Editor: David Boucher, Cardiff University
W.H. Dray (Ottowa)
Gary Browning (Oxford Brookes)
Bruce Haddock (Cardiff)
Rex Martin (Kansas)
Guido Vanheeswijck (Antwerp)
James Connelly (Hull)
Jan van der Dussen (Open University, Netherlands)
|This book argues that R.G. Collingwood’s philosophy is best
understood as a diagnosis of and response to a crisis of Western civilisation.
The various and complementary aspects of the crisis of civilisation are
explored and Collingwood is demonstrated to be working in the traditions
of Romanticism and ‘historicism’.
On these subjects, the theories of Collingwood and Ortega y Gasset are contrasted with those of Nietzsche and Weber.
|This book argues that R.G. Collingwood developed a complete
and coherent political philosophy of civilization. In making this case
it also demonstrates that Collingwood's philosophical work comprises a
unity in which, although there was development, there is no fundamental
discontinuity between his earlier and later writings. A philosophy of civilization
must situate its subject matter within the full context of human experience
and therefore Collingwood's political philosophy of civilization must be
situated within the context of his whole philosophy. The book presents
the case that Collingwood developed a coherent philosophy of politics and
civilization, that this had its roots in both the early and the later work;
and that his overall philosophical approach comprises a generally consistent
and integrated whole.
360 pages £30/$49.90, 0907845_312 (hbk.) July 2003
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|R.G. Collingwood’s philosophy of history reflected his historical
practices and his moral philosophy. Reflection on historical practice
provided Collingwood with a theory of knowledge; his moral philosophy provided
him with a theory of the object of history. Moral philosophy animated Collingwood's
philosophy of history with a purpose: the philosophy of history was to
provide the grounds for a rational faith in the possibility of solving
human problems. The relevance of Collingwood's thought to contemporary
understandings of history and action lies in his desire to restore and
deepen modern faith in reason, progress, civility and the malleability
of human institutions. This study shows how Collingwood’s concepts of action
and history developed together, and how they illuminate his understanding
of modern historical consciousness and civilization.
250 pages £30/$49.90, 0907845_576 (hbk.) February 2004
|R.G. Collingwood’s name is familiar to historians and history
educators around the world. Few, however, have charted the depths of his
reflections on what it means to be educated in history. In this book Marnie
Hughes-Warrington begins with the facet of Collingwood’s work best known
to teachers—re-enactment—and locates it in historically-informed discussions
on empathy, imagination and history education. Revealed are dynamic concepts
of the a priori imagination and education that tend towards reflection
on the presuppositions that shape our own and others’ forms of life.
242 pages £30/$49.90, 0907845_614 (hbk.) December 2003
260 pages £30/$49.90 1-84540-008-9 (hbk.) 2008 (postponed)
Editor: Peter Nicholson, University of York (retd.)
G.F. Gaus (Tulane)
John Morrow (Auckland)
Lord Plant (King’s College, London)
Avital Simhony (Arizona State)
Geoffrey Thomas (Birkbeck)
Andrew Vincent (Sheffield)
|This book uncovers the philosophical foundations of a tradition
of ethical socialism best represented in the work of R.H. Tawney, tracing
its roots back to the work of T.H. Green. Green and his colleagues developed
a philosophy that rejected the atomistic individualism and empiricist assumptions
that underpinned classical liberalism and helped to found a new political
ideology based around four notions: the common good; a positive view of
freedom; equality of opportunity; and an expanded role for the state. The
book shows how Tawney adopted the key features of the idealists’ philosophical
settlement and used them to help shape his own notions of true freedom
and equality, thereby establishing a tradition of thought which remains
relevant in British politics today.
Matt Carter was General Secretary of the Labour Party from 2004-2005.
230 pages £30/$49.90, 0907845_320 (hbk.) March 2003
|This study of T. H. Green views his philosophical opus through
his public life and political commitments, and it uses biography as a lens
through which to examine Victorian political culture and its moral climate.
The book deals with the political and religious history of Victorian Britain
in examining the basis of Green’s Liberal partisanship. It demonstrates
how his main ethical and political conceptions—his idea of “self-realisation”
and his theory of individuality within community—were informed by evangelical
theology, popular Protestantism and an idea of the English national consciousness
as formed by religious conflict. While the significance of Kantian
and Hegelian elements in Green’s thought is acknowledged, it is argued
that “indigenous” qualities of Green’s teachings resonated with values
shared alike by elite and rank-and-file Liberals during the mid and late
Victorian era. In examining Green’s beliefs about the historical
evolution of English liberty, his championing of (Liberal) Nonconformity
and Nonconformist causes and his approval of religious bases of community,
this study analyzes the ripening of a Greenian moment and traces Green’s
influence on Liberal, quasi-socialist and Conservative social reform down
to the 1920s. The lasting impact of Green’s teachings on British
and Western political philosophy, apparent in the current vogue for communitarianism
in liberal theory, indicates limitations of the “secularization thesis”
still tacitly accepted by historians of Western political thought.
300 pages £30/$49.90, 0907845_541 (hbk.) June 2004
|In this new and entirely revised edition of his study of
Green’s theory of positive freedom, Ben Wempe argues that the far-reaching
and beneficial influence of Green’s political doctrine, on public policy
as well as in the field of political theory, was founded on a misinterpretation
of his philosophical stand, since the metaphysical basis on which Green
argued for his political position was largely neglected. The book discusses
Green’s philosophical development and examines an important, hitherto underrated,
influence that went into the formation of his philosophical opinions. It
then considers Green’s metaphysics and describes how some omissions from
the concise version of his metaphysical doctrine, as it is found in his
published works, may be remedied by reference to Green’s unpublished material.
300 pages £30/$40 0907845_584 (hbk.) November 2004
|The central concern of this book is to demonstrate how Puritanism
was a theme which ran through all Green’s biography and political philosophy.
It thereby reveals how Green’s connections with Evangelicalism and his
known affinities with religious dissent came from his way of conceiving
Puritanism. In Green’s eyes, its anti-formalist viewpoint made Puritanism
the most suitable tool for avoiding the drawbacks of democracy. The key
objective of the book is to illustrate how the philosophy elaborated by
Green aimed to encapsulate the best of Puritanism whilst eschewing the
dangerous abstractions of both Puritan philosophy and German idealism.
It follows that Green’s conception of positive and negative freedom, and
his vision of political obligation, stemmed from his effort to revive the
Puritan heritage rather than from an ambiguous flirtation with idealism.
The book purports to show how the influence of Puritanism in Green’s political thought is an element which can help to integrate the literature in the area, contributing to a better comprehension of a philosopher who, despite being unanimously considered as the founder of the so-called Oxford idealist school, had a very difficult and sometimes obscure connection with idealism. It has been widely argued that Green’s relationship with idealism seemed to be infected by a religious germ which, because it was unrelated to German idealism, gave it a bad taste. This study aims to encourage further investigation into the nature and propagation of that germ in the British idealist School.
300 pages £30/$40 1-84540-038-0 (hbk.) September 2005