Book Review: Is Political Philosophy Impossible? Thoughts and Behaviour in Normative Political Theory, by Jonathan Floyd

Published date01 February 2020
Date01 February 2020
Subject MatterBook Reviews
126 Political Theory 48(1)
argument for authoritarianism, but it is not itself an argument from authority.)
But the deeper challenge concerns whether Frank’s view is internally stable.
For one thing, if the text really is polyvocal then it is not clear what licenses
Frank to make determinate claims regarding its position on mimēsis—but
these claims are necessary to ground the claim that the text is polyvocal. For
another, if Frank is right that Plato wanted to teach ordinary Athenians to
scrutinize claims to authority by creating texts full of “failures, inconsisten-
cies, and missed opportunities” (16), then it must be said that he was almost
comically naïve about the capabilities of his readers—after all, it seems to
have taken around two and a half millennia for somebody to finally get the
message. If Plato was astute enough to recognize, on the other hand, that
advanced hermeneutical skills would be rare in a society where only elites
received formal education, then the sheer complexity of the communicative
strategy that Frank attributes to him in this boldly transformative book
implies that he must have been writing for a limited audience of “those few
people who are born with the best natures and receive the best education”
(431c). It seems impossible to have it both ways.
Is Political Philosophy Impossible? Thoughts and Behaviour in Normative Political Theory,
by Jonathan Floyd. Cambridge University Press, 2017, 278 pp.
Reviewed by: Burke Hendrix, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0090591719833634
Is normative political theory possible for intellectually limited creatures such
as ourselves? Answering this question requires thinking carefully about what
the term “political theory” entails and about the resources available for the
project that this term demarcates. In his new book, Jonathan Floyd sets out to
provide a definition of political theory that focuses on its ambitions to intel-
lectual persuasiveness and seeks to show why political theory, understood in
what he calls a “mentalist” way, cannot possibly succeed given its methods of
proceeding. Floyd argues instead for a more behaviourally centered vision of
normative analysis.
Floyd’s book sets out to answer—or, perhaps better, to consider how one
might answer—three interlinked questions. These are the Organising
Question (OQ), the Foundational Question (FQ), and the Guiding Question
(GQ) (6–7, 37). The Organising Question is: How should we live? Because
this question does not give enough guidance about the kinds of reasons that

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