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Review article: trust, prudence and history: John Dunn and the tasks of political theory

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In the process of unravelling the tensions and aporias at the heart of Dunn's work we see very clearly the problems and difficulties that must attend all serious attempts to understand and interpret our political circumstances. As the political thinker to whom Dunn is most indebted and the interpretation of whose thought has been such a consistent feature of his own work, once wrote: ‘when a man by use hath got this faculty of observing and judging of the reasoning and coherence of what he reads and how it proves what it pretends to teach; he is then and not till then in the right way of improving his understanding’. Dunn's persistent search for the appropriate way to structure and conduct the tasks of political theory serves to help us improve our own understanding of what is, after all, one of the most important questions that face any human agent. He helps as well to orient us in the necessarily contested fields of contemporary political theory. It is perhaps a happy irony that someone who emphasizes prudence so much should have been so imprudently, yet so illuminatingly, wide ranging in the reference and variety of his work.

Keywords: John Dunn; Locke; contemporary political theory; prudence; trust

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Bristol.

Publication date: 1995-03-01

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