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Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy

Karl Widerquist, Grant S. McCall

eBook (ePub) i
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How modern philosophers use and perpetuate myths about prehistory

The state of nature, the origin of property, the origin of government, the primordial nature of inequality and war – why do political philosophers talk so much about the Stone Age? And are they talking about a Stone Age that really happened, or is it just a convenient thought experiment to illustrate their points?

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  1. Introduction
  2. Modern political philosophy and prehistoric anthropology: Some preliminary issues
  3. The Hobbesian hypothesis: How a colonial prejudice became an essential premise in most popular justification of government sovereignty
  4. Locke employs the Hobbesian hypothesis: How very much the same colonial prejudice became an essential premise in the most popular justification of private property rights
  5. The Hobbesian hypothesis in seventeenth century political theory
  6. The Hobbesian hypothesis in nineteenth century political theory
  7. The Hobbesian Hypothesis in Contemporary Political Theory
  8. The Violence Hypothesis in Anthropology
  9. Nasty & Brutish? Evidence for and against the violence hypothesis
  10. Are you better off now that you were 12,000 years ago? An empirical assessment of the Hobbesian Hypothesis
  11. Implications: What’s left of contractarianism and propertarianism without the Hobbesian hypothesis?


Online Appendix:

  • Appendix to Chapter 2
  • Appendix to Chapter 5
  • Appendix to Chapter 6
  • Appendix to Chapter 7
  • Appendix to Chapter 8

About the Author

Karl Widerquist is Associate Professor of political philosophy at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University. He is co-editor of Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research (with Yannick Vanderborght, Jose Noguera, and Jurgen De Wispelaere, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), Exporting the Alaska Model: Adapting the Permanent Fund Dividend for Reform around the World (with Michael W. Howard, Palgrave-MacMillan, 2012), The Ethics and Economics of the Basic Income Guarantee (with Michael Anthony Lewis and Steven Pressman, Ashgate, 2005) and co-author of Economics for Social Workers: The Application of Economic Theory to Social Policy and the Human Services (with Michael Anthony Lewis, Columbia University Press, 2002). He was a founding editor of the journal Basic Income Studies, and he has published dozens of scholarly articles.

Grant S. McCall is Assistant Professor in Anthropology at Tulane University. He is editor of Pushing the Envelope: Experimental Directions in the Archaeology of Lithic Technology (Nova Science Publishers, 2011).


Does it matter that so much political theory—both contractarian and libertarian—quietly presupposes claims about stateless human societies that are not in fact true? Widerquist and McCall argue that it does, taking us on a tour of the relevant anthropological literature and spelling out the implications for political philosophy in a book that is as lucid and illuminatingly instructive as it is enjoyable.

- Christopher Brooke, University of Cambridge

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