The Nature of Political Theory

(vip2019) #1
6 The Nature of Political Theory

older classical sense of foundational metaphysics (as comprehensive and perfection-
ist). Neo-Kantian types of constructivism are still universally foundational—however,
it is an immanent foundation. It still encompasses morality and politics at a fun-
damental level. Thus, for neo-Kantians, one cannot contradict reason unless one
has absolutely- and immanently-presupposed reason. Of course, neo-Kantians (like
twentieth-century phenomenologists) would tend to eschew the title ‘metaphysical’
or ‘foundational’. Yet the possessors of reason still defer to the foundations immanent
in reason, dialogue, or action. The inferences from these foundations are regarded
as inescapable. Such immanent foundations also allow systematic inferences and
deductions to be made, which explain and account for a vast range of other state-
ments. However, it is still a thinned down, more abstemious and bleached foundation,
compared to its comprehensive cousin.
The third sense of foundationalism is the logical use. Rational argument needs
a formal structure; part of that structure requires some class of statements, which
are fundamentalto that structure. All rational argument and thought therefore
involves fundamental presuppositions. Logical foundationalism implies therefore
just this: that all human thought begins somewhere and foundational analysis is
the examination and comparison of these ‘starting points’. Logical priority, in order
of assumptions, is therefore the mark of this concept of foundationalism. This is
one reading of Collingwood’s notion of metaphysics as the historical science of abso-
lute presuppositions. For Collingwood, every statement we make, even the most
mundane, is an answer to a question and every question is premised on a presup-
position. Relative presuppositions involve answers to particular questions and involve
further presuppositions, relative to other questions. Such relative presuppositions can
be verified or tested. Absolute presuppositions, however, cannot be verified and they
are always absolutely prior to any question to which they are related. Absolute pre-
suppositions are neither true nor false, since they are absolutely presupposed. Some
assumptions are absolutely fundamental or absolutely foundational, in the sense that
they are relative ‘to all questions to which it is related as a presupposition, never as an
answer’ (Collingwood 1969: 31). Foundational statements or propositions therefore
convey what is absolutely presupposed in any discourse. Metaphysics is therefore the
science of absolute presuppositions. Without entering into the complex minutiae of
Collingwood’s thought, this might be described as alogicalrendering of metaphysics,
namely to say anything significant you must make background assumptions.
The third sense therefore suggests that logically we must begin our thinking with
some form of foundation. In this sense, all political theory is rooted in some form of
foundation and to study theory is to be made aware of these foundations. It therefore
indicates where we begin our thinking. Critics might still argue that analysing any
such foundation is just too abstract and waste of time. However, as C. S. Peirce noted,
the complaint that the study of metaphysical foundations is too abstract, is in itself
ridiculous, since all the natural sciences (and many social sciences for that matter) are
farmoreabstract and remote than metaphysics. Equally, it is nonsensical to say that
the objects of foundational metaphysics are not observable or easily studied. Most
objects in the sciences (and social sciences) cannot be directly or easily observed.

Free download pdf