Oakeshottian defence

March 21, 2003

Oliver Letwin's contribution ("Why I... believe philosophy still matters", THES , February 28) shows the dangers of the widespread cynical attitude towards politics in Britain. A Popperian or Confucian philosopher would disagree with Letwin's opening Oakeshottism that "philosophy does not yield a recipe for doing anything, and certainly not for doing politics".

Oakeshott's point is that the widespread view "that ideological principles are prior to politics is mistaken" and that "practice is prior to doctrine".

The destructive attitude to which Letwin refers is in large part due to this misunderstanding. Politics understood as a collection of mere ideologies would lead any honest soul to develop a critical attitude towards politics and an anti-political attitude towards views with which one disagrees.

Geoffrey Parkins

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