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THE MEANING OF POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY AND WHAT ‘OUGHT QUESTIONS’ COPTS NEED TO ANSWER IN ORDER TO DEVELOP A POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY THAT MEETS THEIR NEEDS معنى الفلسفة السياسية، وما الأسئلة التي يجب أن يسألها الأقباط لكي يكونوا فلسفة سياسية خاصة بهم تستجيب لإحتياجاتهم

March 6, 2011

Coptic nationalists must know first what political philosophy/theory/thought means before they plunge into the subject matter of it, and then attempt to construct a kind of Coptic political philosophy that can respond to the specific needs of our nation in this juncture of its history.

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online defines political philosophy thus:

“Political philosophy can be defined as philosophical reflection on how best to arrange our collective life – our political institutions and our social practices, such as our economic system and our pattern of family life. Political philosophers seek to establish basic principles that will, for instance, justify a particular form of state, show that individuals have certain inalienable rights, or tell us how a society’s material resources should be shared among its members. This usually involves analysing and interpreting ideas like freedom, justice, authority and democracy and then applying them in a critical way to the social and political institutions that currently exist.”[i]

This makes the definition pretty clear. Political philosophy deals with the sets of ideas, thoughts, theories that deal with how we ought to govern ourselves, and adjust the relationship not only between the members and institutions of our nation, but also between us and other nations and peoples all around us. Political philosophy hence deals with some of the most fundamental questions that perpetually face humanity, such as: what is justice? What is liberty? Why should we obey authority? What is the limit of political obligation? How should we resist oppressors or evil? Is war ever justified? How should we govern ourselves? What are the fundamental freedoms that cannot be taken away from us by any government? How should human beings treat other human beings? How should the wealth of the nation be distributed?

As you can see, political philosophy is concerned with what should be the case, and teaches us to aspire and work towards what ought to be, and not what is prevailing. As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says:

“Political philosophy begins with the question: what ought to be a person’s relationship to society? The subject seeks the application of ethical concepts to the social sphere and thus deals with the variety of forms of government and social existence that people could live in – and in so doing, it also provides a standard by which to analyze and judge existing institutions and relationships.”[ii]

Or as The Penguin Dictionary of Politics puts it:

“(Political theory) tends … to connote a philosophical examination of the meaning and logic of political values, to concern itself with the ‘ought’ questions at the heart of political belief, as, for example, with the perennial topic of the basis of a citizen’s political obligation to obey the state.”[iii]

So what are these ‘ought’ questions that ought to be at the heart of the Copts’ political belief? The list is long, but considering our current national needs one can limit such ‘ought questions’ to the following:

§  How ought we to govern ourselves?

§  How ought the relationship between our Church and Laity to be?

§  How ought the relationship between our institutions and the Coptic public to be?

§  How ought the relationship between each of us as members of our nation to be?

§  How ought our relationship with the Egyptian State to be?

§  How ought the limits of our political obligation towards the Egyptian State to be?

§  How ought our relationship with the Muslims to be?

§  How ought our relationship with the world at large to be?

§  How ought our relationship with the other Christian denominations, including the other non-Chalcedonian churches, to be?

§  How ought our relationship with the churches in Ethiopia and Eretria that follow our Coptic Church to be?

Finding the answers to such ‘ought questions’ will constitute our next task. In the process so many words and phrases will be used in the discussion – listing some of these at this stage may help the reader to understand not just the subject matter of the topic, but its scope; so here they are:

Liberty, justice, injustice, freedom, equality, inequality, natural rights, law, laws, natural law, divine law, human law, civil disobedience, non-violence, violence, coercion, war, just war, pacifism, democracy, human rights, common good, public, autonomy, territorial autonomy, self-government, self-determination, regional self-government, non-territorial autonomy, power-sharing, consociationalism, confessionalism, secession, independence, federalism, nation, nationalism, cultural nationalism, political nationalism, political sciences, politics, state, government, people, consent, sovereignty, authority, constitution, constitutional rights, unitary state, nation-state, multinational-state, imperialism, occupation, invasion, oppression, discrimination, suppression, religious liberty, religious freedom, socialism, capitalism, dictatorship, church, Christianity, clergy, laity, priests, atheism, citizen, citizenship, civilisation, culture, City of God, doctrine of the two swords, communism, conscience, individual, individualism, division of labour, economics, education, family, good, evil, happiness, property, life, institutions, parliament, representation, participation, identity, wealth, employment, social services, charity, cooperation, trade unions, universal suffrage, utilitarianism, moral, immoral, politics, power, reason, religion, republic, party, pluralism, vote, separation of powers, judiciary, executive, legislature, secularism, theocracy, general will, international community, local government, minority, nationalisation, organisation, mobilisation, direct action, political activity, activists, society, taxation, supremacy, dominance, totalitarianism, peace, conscientious objection, conservatism, progressives, labour, class, social contract, divine right, virtue, revolution, uprising, obedience, non-obedience, political obligation, limits of political obligation,  transparency, Islam, Islamism, political Islam, jizia, dhimmitude, humiliation, jihad, holy war, Muslim scholars, Muslim clerics, extremism, fanaticism, terrorism, Caliphate, pan-Islamism, Arabism, non-Muslims, women rights.

[ii] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy IEP (

[iii] The Penguin Dictionary of Politics by David Robertson (1993).

2 Comments leave one →
  1. mindthehat permalink
    January 16, 2012 4:24 pm

    Dear Dioscorus,

    Brilliant work.

    Are you sure that such a huge task can be achieved by one person alone, during one life time? How can any “one” person be saddled with such a heavy burden? I think it will be more achievable if there is a team working on it under your supervision.

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink
      January 16, 2012 6:22 pm

      Thanks, Mindthehat. You are absolutely right – such work needs huge efforts of so many. Hope one day we will be able to do that.

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