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[W]hat is the objective basis of politics?

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*** Split from That Kelley Creature - Page 3 ***

Stephen, pardon me but I would like to pursue this political philosophy tangent.  It has occurred to me that a major weakness of political philosophies they they all jump straight to justifying their normative standards and describing how things ought to be rather than first describing and defining objectively what politics is and how it works.  For context, I am recalling from Peikoff's "Unity in Epistemology and Ethics" course the lecture on the "two definitions" problem from where I made the following paraphrasing notes:

Quote

Value

What is the correct definition of 'value'?

Answer A1: From Galt's speech "A value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep." This refers to the goal directed actions of plants, animals and men. Under this definition even the irrational anti-life goals that people pursue such as power, prestige, or any whim qualify as values.

Answer A2: What makes something a value is not merely that someone pursues it but that it supports one's life. Proper values are pro-life.

The apparent paradox is needing to start with the broad definition which opens the door to any goal directed action whatever including destructive acts, only to reach the Objectivist standard of value which then closes the door to destructive acts.

A2 is narrower than A1. A1 is the set, A2 a subset. A2 has built into the answer the Objectivist ethical standard of value.

A1 demarcates a category of behavior that is observable and objective.

Normally later definitions supplant previous definitions but here is a case where it does not. A1 is not offered as an early or temporary definition to be cast aside when the Objectivist conclusions are reached. "A value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep." is the correct permanent definition, edited and refined over years to be deliberately broad.

It is invalid to pick one of these definitions as correct. Both serve a purpose and are permanently necessary. The first, broader definition is a condensation and integration of certain facts of reality. The second definition is an inference from the first and thus cannot replace it {without creating a stolen concept}.

 And later an Ayn Rand story:

Quote

Ayn Rand story

Although LP never asked AR about the "two definitions" problem in general, he did ask her specifically about the definition of virtue. LP asked her why virtues should not be defined as the means and acts to gain and keep rational values.

Ayn Rand responded by asking him to imagine what would happen on that approach. Once having established a particular ethical theory, redefining the general concept so that it only permits your variant is an outrageous violation of objectivity. It would be an attempt to make it impossible to even think about alternatives. Ayn Rand was sensitive to issues of objectivity and was emphatic about never importing your conclusions into the definitions of terms that are condensations of observations. In particular, Ayn Rand was enraged at the suggestion that virtue should only be defined as the pursuit of rational values.

 

"You will encounter two different types of criticism of Objectivism [as a morality] with a life and death difference in terms of the soul, mind, and honesty of your opponent depending on which he offers. One type of criticism is that Objectivism is a wrong morality, an evil morality, a selfish morality, too idealistic a morality, etc. Other things being equal you can deal with a person like that, that is just a disagreement about content and in principle they are still open to go back to reality. But the type of person who will say to you "Objectivism is not a morality at all" is the type of person who is completely closed off to reality and is a pure dogmatist. The type of person who will say Objectivism is not a morality at all is exactly parallel to a Nazi who will define man as a white Aryan. The Nazi will go on to distinguish good and bad among white Aryans but the rest of mankind is regarded as subhuman."

Rand objectively defined value and thus was able to admit many different ethical philosophies for pursuing diverse values did in fact qualify as philosophies.  But what is the objective basis of politics?  If politics starts with individual rights or the collectives of the state or the race then that puts a normative conclusion at the foundation of the field and makes all of the theories unintelligible to each other, and setting up the dogmatism that Rand decried above.

I can't imagine that Rand would have not seen the need for an objective basis of a philosophy of politics but she never found one satisfying enough to put into print.  The only other attempt at an objective basis of politics I know of is the conservative one, where the basic political unit is the family, which then is organized into hierarchical structures of clan, tribe, etc. until the nation level is reached.  At least the causal relations of parents creating and raising children are objective.  

So my question to you Stephen is have you come across any attempts to create an objective basis of a philosophy of politics?

Edited by dream_weaver
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Is politics the process by which it is determined what government will do and/or who will run the government?

If so, we will need to define "government".  Lots of people will reject Ayn Rand's definition.  Do we then need to come up with a more general and/or vaguer definition of government that will accomodate competing theories?  A first stab at such a definition is "government is the most powerful institution in a society" or, more narrowly, "government is an institution that most people in a society usually obey".  Or would we need to say "usually at least pretend to obey"?

The word "politics" is also used in extended senses such as office politics or church politics.  I am assuming we want to exclude those.

 

 

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4 hours ago, Doug Morris said:

The word "politics" is also used in extended senses such as office politics or church politics.  I am assuming we want to exclude those.

If the philosophy of politics is identical with the philosophy of government then it is a redundant and unnecessary concept.  No, I would include those (office politics or church politics) and in fact the whole of economics in a broad definition of politics.  And to parallel what Rand did with the definition of value (making it so broad as to include the activities of plants and animals) I wonder if it could and should also be inclusive of some of the activities of certain species of animals, hive organized ants, termites and bees, herd animals, wolf packs and of course the troops of primates.

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Grames, thanks for bringing up this interesting topic, and in light of your two block-quotes.

We have recently had an opening glance into Aristotle's Politics from Eiuol. I'll try to look into some pertinent books before long on your topic. One thing I'd say in advance, however, is that a general definition of politics should, because of modern anthropology, be broad enough to include not only the wide variety of governments, but the predecessors of any government in the central organization of deliberate force: in chiefdoms and, before that, in autonomous tribes. I'd suggest a most general formula by now must encompass all those three and each in all their varieties, at least all the ones we know to have come about in human history and pre-history so far.

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A few things to keep in mind as pertinent to the discussion, either as limiting or informing factors to consider:

 

1.  Metaphysical status of the "individual" versus metaphysical status of a "society" or "collective" (just a group of those individuals).

2.  The distinction between the metaphysically given and the manmade, more precisely, "free-will" of the individual (the way things are in current or past societies are manmade in the sense that they were/are chosen).

3.  Natural philosophy or special sciences (e.g. economics, social sciences) properly deal with what IS, i.e. description, Ethics and insofar as Politics derives from it, and as a branch of Philosophy, is an investigation into "prescription", what  should one do (Ethics), or what kind of society (its nature, attributes and properties) one should try to bring about to live in (Politics), given the nature of Man, the metaphysical significance of the individual, and in consequence of free-will and Ethics (objective morality).  Politics as a branch of philosophy and not special sciences, although informed with descrive knowledges, is itself prescriptive.

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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There is a contemporary broad use of “political” surrounding our usual core notion of the political given as the first definition in American Heritage: “Of, pertaining to, or dealing with the study, structure, or affairs of government, politics, or the state.” The broader, surrounding usage came up in a book I am presently reading:

“Like other Nietzschean avant-garde circles, George’s circle*  regarded itself as fundamentally apolitical and was quite indifferent, if not actively hostile, to political parties. Yet their aesthetic impulse towards transformation and national renewal was political in the broadest sense. Like other Nietzschean radicalisms it lacked a formal programme, leaving the nature of that renewal vague. The circle encompassed people ranging from a future leader of the German resistance to nazism, Count von Stauffenberg, to anti-Semites like Ludwig Klages . . . and those like Ernst Bertram who were attracted to nazism. The circle was, as Lepenies points out, ‘capable not only of political manoeuverability but also of reversionism: . . . George was as right to emphasize his distance from Wilhelmine Germany as Rudolf Borchardt was to emphasize the acceptance of the George circle by the Prussian state’.” (p. 76 of Aschheim’s The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany)

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Agreeing with Grames, politics should not be synonymous with government. Aristotle had the right idea beginning his thinking about politics as an investigation into the way humans organize themselves, and the way that those forms of organization lead to (or detract from) living life in the most complete sense. Broadly speaking, he considered that many species of animals organize themselves according to what they need to acquire food, and thoroughly investigated the organizational structure of beehives. In other words, organizational structure is grounded in biology, and that structure is what the actions of individuals move towards ultimately. The difference from animals though is primarily the city. Maybe not necessarily city as we think it, but as the primary political unit with an upper limit to the size of the population.

I don't think that the basic political unit can be the family. Organizational structures of animals usually need something larger, otherwise they don't serve the necessary biological function. Humans are the same. Even more, it's quite natural for families to create a greater level of organization to attain more human needs, eventually settling down at the level of the city. Family might be a basic part, but the primary unit of analysis should be the city. This is the level where we know if the objective purpose of social organization is being met. Any smaller, we have an incomplete way of living out human life. Any larger, and it becomes chaotic. Cities can combine for coordinated action, but these combinations don't have the same level of integrated lives across the population - the level of integration where culture can grow from sharing meals, living in the same ecological environments, communicating the same words or related ideas, and observing others live their lives.

Edited by Eiuol
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Similar to "society" the most basic political unit has to be two people.
The objective basis of politics is going to contain "methods by which people attempt to get along".

Ultimately it's about "law and order" meanings the rules of conduct and the way they are attained or enforced.

What is the purpose of governance?

You can't divorce governance from the purpose of governance. There has to be a point to it.

So, what's in it for me is relevant, and inevitably makes it normative.
As in what type of governance would be good for me in the long run influences "what should be".

If the consensus is that it has to be scientific, it seems that the answers we come up with are going to be utilitarian, as in what benefits the majority. Democracy becomes very attractive and is good until it becomes bad.

Let us say 1000 people land on an island. What system of governance "should" they choose?

What they will choose is based on their back ground, if most come from a monarchy (that met their needs for the most part), they will want an arbitrary strongman that they can support. If most have come from a rights respecting system (like a modern western nation), they will want that.

So the actual makeup of the population muddies the water when coming up with what should be because it includes "what can we handle". After the fall of the Soviet Union, there was an opportunity for Liberty, but they could not handle it. Similarly Liberating Iraq or Afghanistan did not happen.

There is a strong argument that many cultures "objectively" can't handle rights based governance, so then, what "should" governance look like in those cases?

One obfuscated element is the idea that governance is to minimize conflict, but it goes too far since non violent competition is necessary. One can easily make the case that economic competition has to be freely exercised but many unfortunately disagree.

Ultimately, the apparent purpose of government at a minimum, is "the method of minimizing violence".

As Objectivists or even Libertarians, eliminating initiation of force covers that purpose of governance.

But to determine "good governance" is slippery because many dysfunctional systems can have "enough" of a benefit to have support. Even in our system, one could say we have a "participatory fascist system" that is well tolerated and functional in many cases.

But back to an objective basis. If you requested a survey of political systems, then you could go from how animals piss to indicate their territories to a constitution that respects individual rights.

There is a continuum of "government of friends", i.e. functional anarchy to Somalia type gang warfare or any civil war.

Therefore, after the survey, even within this Objective basis, you are inevitably inviting the normative i.e. a preference for a system.

It starts with two people, and how they get along.

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5 minutes ago, The Laws of Biology said:

Imagine that a freshman student majoring in Physics at a university approached one of his professors and asked, "Sir, what is the objective basis for Physics?"

Physics has achieved much more in the way of clarity and consensus than politics has.

It would be perfectly legitimate to ask "What is a good definition of physics?"

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1 hour ago, Easy Truth said:

If the consensus is that it has to be scientific, it seems that the answers we come up with are going to be utilitarian, as in what benefits the majority. 

First, application of science to politics does not logically and necessarily lead to utilitarian type systems.  Certainly not any application of science in the context of Objectivist Ethics.

Second, this answer is not consistent with Objectivist Ethics, so whether or not anyone believes "science" implies it, it cannot be proper.  I for one do not believe science is inherently anti-life or evil, so I conclude utilitarianism is simply not what science implies when applied to find solutions consistent with Objectivist Ethics.

 

IMHO, a group of 1000 people, who set out to form a society with politics consistent with Objective Ethics, would not, even using science, conclude "utilitarian" or "greatest benefits to majority" are correct systems, not by any stretch.

Any form, of 51% can eat the other 49% is not consistent with Objectivist ethics... and nothing in science could validate or prescribe anything of the sort.

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  • Aristotle taught that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun and all the stars and planets orbited the earth. That legacy of Aristotle was carried forward for about a thousand years. Galileo was almost executed for disputing it.
  • Aristotle also taught that the philosophical system held by the ruling class in each nation determined the fate of the nation. (Aristotle had no interest or concern regarding belief systems of the non-aristocrats, since he taught that most men were "natural slaves" and their role was simply to be tools and instruments to serve the aristocrats, who were the only people who really mattered. This ancient Greek social system was recently depicted in the "Hunger Games" movies.)
  • While Aristotle's earth-centric view of the cosmos has been left behind for several hundred years now, due to data and theories that are part of modern science, Aristotle's antique philosophy-centric theory of the history of human civilization remains dominant and popular.
  • According to Aristotle's philosophy-centric theory of the history of human civilization, the reason for all the great evils of the Communist regimes was (and still is, in the case of Cuba and a few other places) bad philosophy, and the reason for all the great evils of Nazi Germany was bad philosophy, and even the explanation of Putin's recent invasion of Ukraine is chalked up to bad philosophy of Russia's ruling clique (and/or, some might say, the bad philosophy of the leaders of NATO). 
  • According to Aristotle's philosophy-centric theory of the history of human civilization, the USA has had such a remarkable history of general prosperity and liberty because the U.S. Founding Fathers developed, fostered, and implemented a superior political and ethical philosophy, drawing from Aristotle, Locke, Adam Smith, etc..
  • And so, many people today, who feel that the traditional prosperity and liberty is jeopardized by unAmerican philosophies gaining a foothold in the USA, are interested in developing, fostering, spreading, and implementing the philosophy that will make America great again. 
  • Archimedes, an ancient Greek philosopher who was born a little after Aristotle, said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”
  • Many today assume that philosophy is the lever by which to move culture, economics, politics, war and peace, and everything. And they act on this assumption, and become activists in the cause of philosophy or in the cause of a particular philosophical system that they have been convinced is the final and salvific philosophy of humankind. 
  • The problem, as seen by some, is that Aristotle and all the ancient Greeks had a terribly foreshortened view of the history of human civilization. They imagined human history to be only a few thousand years old. 
  • But since around the time of Darwin, and with ever more clarity since then, we now are able to know that the history of human civilization begins between 3 and 4 billion years ago on the earth. That's because we humans are in one continuous lineage going back to the very earliest life forms on earth, which may have been similar to today's bacteria. Bacteria are our ancestor. We have the same basic DNA as bacteria and all biological beings.
  • Yet, philosophy only goes back around 8 or 10 thousand years. 
  • For most of the history of life on earth, life has not been guided or controlled by philosophy.
  • Well, by what then was life guided or controlled for all those billions of years?
  • Beginning in 1859, Charles Darwin explained that life (all life, including human life) was always and only under the control of the Laws of Biology. These laws are encoded into our DNA and the DNA of every biological being. 
  • The Laws of Biology, as discovered and explained by Darwin and by many other scientists since Darwin, is the objective basis for everything pertaining to life (including politics, religion, philosophy, culture, arts, poetics, etc.)
  • But just as in Galileo's day the ruling class was not ready to accept the debunking of Aristotle's earth-centric view of the cosmos, so most of society today is not yet ready to accept the debunking, by Darwin, Einstein, and other scientists, of Aristotle's philosophy-centric view of human history. 
  • But some people have already set aside the antique, obsolete, pre-scientific theories of the past, and maybe more will do so in the future. 
  • But wait! What will become of humankind if humankind no longer believes in the ancient myths?
  • I recall the strenuous objections that the character John (from the "Savage Lands") expresses to the World Controller, Mustapha Mond, in Huxley's novel "Brave New World." John finds the de-mythologized, science-based new civlization of that novel to be unbearable. In the end, John kills himself. 
  • Perhaps our rulers will have to follow the example of Dr. Zauis in the 1968 film “Planet of the Apes,” and keep certain scientific and historical information away from the masses, and even away from most of the rulers, in order to preserve human civilization. But is it too later for that? Is the cat already out of the bag?
Edited by The Laws of Biology
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25 minutes ago, Doug Morris said:

we need philosophy.  If we don't have an explicit philosophy, we'll have an implicit one.

  • That is unquestionably true. It can be readily observed. Very nearly every human being engages in philosophizing, particularly when they are suffering, afraid, or frustrated. 
  • But what is disputable, I think, is whether philosophy is the decisive factor, or any factor at all, in the fate or outcomes of nations or individuals.
  • And, along the same lines, there are psychologists (e.g., Dr. Jordan Peterson) who argue that humans need religion, God (or gods), and religious faith in some supernatural life or realm.
  • These psychologists argue that humans evolved naturally and biologically to operate according to religious conceptions. They do not argue that God, gods, or the supernatural realm actually exist. They argue that in the history of evoluion of life on earth, the hominids that developed and practiced religion prevailed over and drove to extinction the hominids that did not develop and practice religion (or who developed a less functional religion).
  • Notice during the Cold War, the U.S. Government added "In God We Trust" to our money, and then we ended up winning the Cold War. These psychologists would say that this isn't because some deity helped the Christian West, but because religion is more functional than atheism or agnosticism.
Edited by The Laws of Biology
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25 minutes ago, The Laws of Biology said:

Many today assume that philosophy is the lever by which to move culture, economics, politics, war and peace, and everything. And they act on this assumption, and become activists in the cause of philosophy or in the cause of a particular philosophical system that they have been convinced is the final and salvific philosophy of humankind. 

It is not so much a lever by which to move culture, economics, war and peace, and everything.

Rands observation was that reason and morality were the [tools] that shape history. Philosophy is not a lever to "foist" on others into line. Philosophy is absorbed from the prevailing philosophical winds, so to speak. Most do not explicitly identify their own philosophy.

Even Objectivism is not a "lever" to move the world. It holds that morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live. When this becomes the status quo, the political climate to do so will be back in the hands of a pro-American philosophy. In this sense, Objectivism is about freeing you to identify your own values and practice the virtues geared toward achieving them.

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1 hour ago, The Laws of Biology said:

the fate or outcomes of nations or individuals.

This is determined in complicated ways.  But philosophy has a big effect, especially in the long run.

1 hour ago, The Laws of Biology said:

the hominids that developed and practiced religion prevailed over and drove to extinction the hominids that did not develop and practice religion (or who developed a less functional religion).

To the extent that this is true, it is because religion is a primitive form of philosophy, and a primitive form of philosophy that is not too destructive tends to win over a purely implicit philosophy.

1 hour ago, The Laws of Biology said:

religion is more functional than atheism

This depends on what sort of atheism and what goes with it.  Stalin's atheism and what he had along with it was horribly disfunctional, and Khrushchev's and Brezhnev's were only a little better.  An atheist who embraces a morality of self-sacrifice is little different from a "mainstream" Christian.  An atheist who has little to offer beyond rejecting religion will be left floundering.

 

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2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

First, application of science to politics does not logically and necessarily lead to utilitarian type systems. 

True, "not necessarily". The problem I have seen is that people push the idea that "science" can determine ethics while it's really the domain of philosophy. And in that sense I would argue that Objectivist Ethics is NOT scientific but rather philosophical as it should be.

Keep in mind was was simply observing descriptively/objectively how the current thought process I see in discussion groups outside Objectivist circles. I am not advocating utilitarianism but I see it as been the predominant attack on Objectivism in general.

2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Any form, of 51% can eat the other 49% is not consistent with Objectivist ethics... and nothing in science could validate or prescribe anything of the sort.

You'd be surprised at some of the arguments I have heard. Primarily by people who say that without safety, there are no "rights". As in it's empirically demonstrable and then the conclusion is that authoritarianism is in fact necessary.


 

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41 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

The problem I have seen is that people push the idea that "science" can determine ethics while it's really the domain of philosophy

Yes, but the use of 'science' here might be misleading. What they mean is that ethics is an offshoot or sub-topic of something else, such as biology.

Every science, from logic to music theory, serves some biological purpose. This does not make physics or mathematics a sub-topic of biology.

A science is categorized as philosophical if it's required by life in some fundamental way. For example, living in general requires distinguishing truth from falsehood (epistemology) and the beneficial from the destructive (ethics and politics).

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4 hours ago, The Laws of Biology said:

[Aimless rant]

Honestly, most of that is a strange rant about Aristotle that doesn't have to do with the topic. The only thing possibly relevant is your second bullet. But Aristotle didn't make claims about a philosophy-centric theory of human history... 
 

7 hours ago, Doug Morris said:

Can a college campus be a city?  Can a city include surrounding countryside?

Sure. I mean, the word city isn't the important point here, I was just explaining Aristotle's thinking. Given the forms of organization these days, we could also have things like corporations, campuses, where we can easily find several thousand people interacting. The countryside could count, if those people interact with city goers on a regular basis. What I'm getting at is that the primary unit of consideration for politics is the level of the city, and anything equivalent to that. 

6 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

Similar to "society" the most basic political unit has to be two people.

Basic doesn't have to mean reduction to the smallest level. Or rather, basic can be the most simple unit, but this doesn't mean that the minimal unit is the primary consideration. Neurons are the most basic aspect of cognition, but the primary consideration of cognition is not neurons. Instead, it is a complex interaction among neurons, or the way many neurons operate together. In other words, the primary consideration of a subject is whatever system is present, at least when it involves multiple individual things. Politics should be the same, with the primary unit being some system of people. 2 people coming across each other is not really a systematic interaction of people.

 

6 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

What is the purpose of governance?

Governance is not really the question or purpose of politics if it is to mean how people operate within society or ought to operate within society. Families are a kind of political unit, and they have rules of some kind, but this isn't exactly governance. Tribes are a political unit, but law is not part of how they operate exactly. 

Edited by Eiuol
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1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

Governance is not really the question or purpose of politics

True, politics goes beyond how a particular society governs itself. Regarding family and governance being unrelated, I disagree very strongly. In fact, the way a family governs itself influences how people think of a government. This creates the tendency for people to push the idea that if we all treated everyone as family, then we wouldn't have any problems.

Politics as a body of knowledge has to be concerned about "how to have functional or peaceful resolution to conflict". Otherwise, what is it concerning? If it were a study of how people interact, then wouldn't sociology take care of that?

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2 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Every science, from logic to music theory, serves some biological purpose. This does not make physics or mathematics a sub-topic of biology.

A science is categorized as philosophical if it's required by life in some fundamental way. For example, living in general requires distinguishing truth from falsehood (epistemology) and the beneficial from the destructive (ethics and politics).

Yes, but doesn't that confuse the delineation between science and philosophy? As in, saying that "biological purpose" is not a philosophical position but rather a scientific one?

I would argue that I don't have to know the science behind biology, other than life exists and the fact that I am alive to come to the ethical conclusions that are necessary.

Unless you are saying that knowing that life exists and knowing something about it's nature inherently is scientific.

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21 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

In fact, the way a family governs itself influences how people think of a government.

I didn't say they are unrelated, I said it isn't exactly governance. No one is commanded by the dictates of law in a family, and law is far more broadly applied than the norms in a family. 

27 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

Politics as a body of knowledge has to be concerned about "how to have functional or peaceful resolution to conflict".

That's the thing under contention. It's not a good way of thinking to begin with normative standards of the subject already formed. Just as the field of ethics includes proper systems of morality as well as improper systems of morality, politics should include anything that is political. We can't just assume that peaceful resolution is the purpose of political philosophy, at least not before you even decide the primary unit of consideration. After all, we could say that peaceful resolution is detrimental to the health and longevity of a population because it encourages passivity. Or perhaps the purpose is merely to maximize individual control over populations as if the population is a slave to yourself. Sociology is a closely related field, but politics would go more into group decision-making and and into forming rules. In one way, sociology includes all aspects of socialization, while politics has to include the process of governance and/or enforcing norms. 

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47 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

Yes, but doesn't that confuse the delineation between science and philosophy?

Even if the specialized sciences depend for their discoveries on philosophical knowledge (such as the laws of deduction and induction), the latter is still classified as one of the sciences.

Rand defined philosophy as "the science that studies the fundamental aspects of the nature of existence".

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