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By examining the thought of four seminal thinkers, Shirley Robin Letwin in The Pursuit of Certainty provides a brilliant record of the gradual change in the English-speaking peoples' understanding of "what sort of activity politics is." As Letwin writes, "the distinctive political issue since the eighteenth century has been whether government should do more or less." Nor, as many historians argue, did this issue arise because of the Industrial Revolution or "new social conditions [that] aggravated the problem of poverty" but, Letwin believes, because of the "profoundly personal reflection" of major thinkers, including Hume, Bentham, Mill, and Webb. David Hume, for example, believed that to "reach for perfection, to seek an ideal, is noble, but dangerous, and is therefore an activity that individuals or voluntary groups may pursue, but governments certainly should not." By the end of the nineteenth century, as Letwin observes, Beatrice Webb came to "equate the triumph of reason over passion with the rule of science over human life." Thus did the "pursuit of certainty" displace the traditional English understanding of the limitations of human nature—hence the necessity of limits to governmental power and programs. Consequently, in our time, "Politics was no longer one of several human activities and at that not a very noble one; it encompassed all of human life" in quest of philosophical "certainty" and social perfection. The Liberty Fund edition is a reprint of the original work published by Oxford in 1965.

Shirley Robin Letwin (1924–1993) was a Professor of Political and Legal Philosophy at Harvard, Cambridge, and the London School of Economics.

Table of Contents

  1. Title Page, Copyright
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  1. Contents
  2. pp. v-vi
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  1. Acknowledgements
  2. pp. vii-viii
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  1. Introduction
  2. pp. ix-xx
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  1. 1. A Man of Moderation
  2. pp. 3-8
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  1. 2. The Kirk
  2. pp. 9-20
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  1. 3. The Combat of Reason and Passion
  2. pp. 21-33
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  1. 4. A New Scene of Thought
  2. pp. 34-53
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  1. 5. Virtue in a Bundle of Perceptions
  2. pp. 54-67
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  1. 6. The Philosophical Enthusiasm Renounced
  2. pp. 68-74
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  1. 7. A Matter of Degree
  2. pp. 75-82
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  1. 8. The Science of Politics
  2. pp. 83-93
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  1. 9. The Proper Political Disposition
  2. pp. 94-113
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  1. 10. The End of Profane Politics
  2. pp. 114-130
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  1. 11. Blackstone's Challenger
  2. pp. 131-141
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  1. 12. Utilitarianism—A System of Tolerance
  2. pp. 142-161
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  1. 13. A Perfect System of Legislation
  2. pp. 162-185
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  1. 14. Gadgets for Happiness
  2. pp. 186-193
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  1. 15. A Modest Utopian
  2. pp. 194-202
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  1. 16. James Mill
  2. pp. 203-215
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  1. 17. The Young Disciple
  2. pp. 216-226
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  1. 18. The Failure of Utilitarianism
  2. pp. 227-239
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  1. 19. Intimations of a New Creed
  2. pp. 240-252
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  1. 20. Many-Sidedness
  2. pp. 253-262
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  1. 21. The Creed of Progress
  2. pp. 263-273
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  1. 22. Radicals in Politics
  2. pp. 274-285
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  1. 23. Sociology
  2. pp. 286-306
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  1. 24. Sociology Applied
  2. pp. 307-316
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  1. 25. Liberty and the Ideal Individual
  2. pp. 317-340
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  1. 26. The Liberal Gentleman
  2. pp. 341-350
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  1. 27. A New Climate of Opinion
  2. pp. 351-374
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  1. 28. The Making of a Socialist
  2. pp. 375-400
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  1. 29. The Apotheosis of Politics
  2. pp. 401-416
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  1. Index
  2. pp. 417-434
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  1. Publication Information
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Additional Information

ISBN
9781614878247
Related ISBN
9780865971950
MARC Record
OCLC
820842886
Pages
454
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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