A Companion to Michael Oakeshott
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Penn State University Press
Table of Contents
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The editors would like to thank Bowdoin College for its generosity in supporting the production of this book. We would also like to thank Rory Brinkmann for indexing the book, Shannon Selin for proofreading it, and David Hardwick ...
List of Abbreviations
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It is now more than twenty years since Michael Oakeshott died on December 18, 1990. In that year the first book-length studies of the whole compass of his thought appeared: Paul Franco’s The Political Philosophy of Michael Oakeshott and Robert Grant’s Oakeshott. Since then there has been a veritable flood of scholarship, consisting of dozens of monographs and many more dozens of ...
Chapter 1: The Pursuit of Intimacy, or Rationalism in Love
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In what follows I refer to Michael Oakeshott by his first name, as I also do to those connected with him. This is partly to avoid the confusion of shared surnames, though I did actually come myself to address him by his first name. My main topic will be his love life, which is not the same as his sex life, though the two are obviously connected. And perhaps both are, more distantly, with his work. ...
PART I: The Conversation of Mankind
Chapter 2: The Victim of Thought: The Idealist Inheritance
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Michael Oakeshott’s indebtedness to philosophical idealism has been touched on by many commentators as incidental to their main concerns, and his relative silence after World War II compared with his defiant proclamations of loyalty before it gave rise to suspicions that he was no longer as committed to its tenets as he once was or that if there were remnants of idealism ...
Chapter 3: Philosophy and Its Moods: Oakeshott on the Practice of Philosophy
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Among nonacademic intellectuals and political theorists, Michael Oakeshott is known primarily as a conservative political thinker who produced a series of essays in the 1950s critical of “rationalist” or “ideological” politics.1 Others who have read more deeply in Oakeshott’s corpus are aware of his contributions to the philosophy of history and of his considerable achievement as a ...
Chapter 4: Michael Oakeshott’s Philosophy of History
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“Determinatio negatio est,” says Spinoza: to specify the nature of anything is also illuminatingly to say what it is not.1 This remark, whatever its general force, applies exactly to Michael Oakeshott’s philosophy of history. Oakeshott is a polemicist, a prince of skeptics, throughout his writings on the nature of history. To be sure, his position can be characterized positively: he is a constructionist. ...
Chapter 5: Radical Temporality and the Modern Moral Imagination: Two Themes in the Thought of Michael Oakeshott
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My intention is to reflect on two themes that run through the whole of Oakeshott’s thought: first, the radical temporality of the human condition and, second, the character of modernity’s response to radical temporality. The first is, for Oakeshott, universal in experience to all times and places; the second is peculiar to a development in the modern West that, Oakeshott suggests, ...
Chapter 6: The Religious Sensibility of Michael Oakeshott
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I have often thought that one of the best introductions to the philosophy of Michael Oakeshott is a children’s book by Arnold Lobel. Grasshopper on the Road describes the journey of a remarkably even-tempered grasshopper who meets various other insects on his way down a pleasant country lane. Each of these insects displays some modern pathology. Grasshopper first encounters ...
Chapter 7: Whatever It Turns Out To Be: Oakeshott on Aesthetic Experience
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Orbaneja, a fictional painter from a real town, is criticized by Don Quixote for painting so badly that he produces only “whatever emerges,” so that he must append a sign to his work. He paints a cockerel “so unlike a real cockerel that he had to write in capital letters by its side: ‘This is a cockerel.’” Cervantes uses the tale twice in the second part of ...
Chapter 8: Un Début dans la Vie Humaine: Michael Oakeshott on Education
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Michael Oakeshott’s writings on education form one of the most attractive aspects of his philosophy and have duly garnered considerable attention.1 They evoke an ideal of liberal learning for its own sake, freed from the narrowing necessities of practical life and social purpose. This ideal is summed up in Oakeshott’s famous image of the university as a “conversation” between ...
PART II: Political Philosophy
Chapter 9: Michael Oakeshott on the History of Political Thought
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My concern is twofold. First, I outline what I take Oakeshott to have meant by the phrase “the history of political thought,” and then I consider some criticisms from Oakeshott’s perspective of the theory and practice of Quentin Skinner, the leading figure in the so-called Cambridge School of historians of political thought.1 Oakeshott was impressed by his work. But there are ...
Chapter 10: Oakeshott and Hobbes
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Even those who know only a little about Michael Oakeshott know that he had a strong and abiding interest in the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. His edition of Leviathan (1946) became the standard edition for several generations of students, and his substantial introduction to that volume, which was reissued in a revised version in 1975, remains one of the classic texts ...
Chapter 11: The Fate of Rationalism in Oakeshott’s Thought
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Michael Oakeshott is perhaps best known as the foe of a political vice called “rationalism,” and it is a vice because, in believing that all knowledge is technical, it fails to recognize the crucial role of what Oakeshott calls “practical knowledge.” The famous distinction between technical and practical knowledge, however, obscures the sheer complexity of Oakeshott’s understanding ...
Chapter 12: Oakeshott and Hayek: Situating the Mind
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It’s a hazardous enterprise contrasting two figures such as Friedrich August von Hayek (1899–1992) and Michael Joseph Oakeshott (1901–1990)––similarities are often superficially drawn; divisions tend to be overstated.1 But if one understands both men to be centrally concerned with the social nature of mind and with the distributed nature of knowledge, then this confluence of ...
Chapter 13: Oakeshott as Conservative
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The identification of Michael Oakeshott with conservatism is fraught with debate. To be sure, some analysts consider Oakeshott to be the modern incarnation of Burke. Moreover, during the closing decades of the twentieth century, conservative thinkers in the United Kingdom made the greatest claims to Oakeshott. Yet different features of Oakeshott’s thought have made it possible ...
Chapter 14: Oakeshott on Civil Association
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The distinctive achievement of Western political thought since the seventeenth century is the ideal of the limited state. Despite extensive theorizing about this ideal, however, there has always been profound disagreement about its precise nature and implications. The full extent of this disagreement has been especially evident during the decades since World War II, in ...
Chapter 15: Oakeshott on Law
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To write about law in relationship to Michael Oakeshott’s ideas generally, or his thoughts on politics in particular, presents a complicated task, not because law is an obscure concept in Oakeshott and not because it is a topic about which he has written little. In fact, Oakeshott wrote about law and jurisprudence at the beginning of his life as a publishing scholar and was still writing ...
Notes on Contributors
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Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2012