Conventional Realism and Political InquiryChanneling Wittgenstein

Conventional Realism and Political InquiryChanneling Wittgenstein

John G. Gunnell

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226661278

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book is an exploration of the relationship between philosophy and various forms of political inquiry and is specifically and primarily devoted to advancing an argument for conventional realism. The thesis is that everything we designate as “real,” whether natural or social, is rendered conventionally. This entails a rejection of the widely accepted distinction between what is natural and what is conventional as a way of demarcating natural science and social science. The argument is presented in an opposition to the deep-seated influence of representational philosophy on political science and political theory and particularly to the claim that the mind is the source and repository of meaning, that language is primarily a vehicle of thought and a means of communication, and that reality resides in some physical or metaphysical realm that stands behind our discursive practices. Both mentalism and realism have been embraced by political theorists in a perennial search for a foundation of epistemic authority as a means of gaining practical purpose. Although this is not principally a book about Ludwig Wittgenstein, the argument for conventional realism and the critique of mentalism and traditional realism are viewed as entailments of his work and of others who embraced his conception of philosophy as an interpretive endeavor and a form of social inquiry rather than undertaking the construction of a metaphysical “super-order.” In a brief conclusion, the book discusses the normative implications of conventional realism.