Can a political philosophy be detached from theorizing on the nature of reality and how we acquire that knowledge? For many questions, the answer is yes. For the decision of what form of democracy to choose seems to hinge more on aesthetics and history than metaphysics and epistemology. Amartya Sen’s liberal paradox is purely a formal attack on a particular theory as inconsistent without considering why each principle is desired.
Two branches of political theory, however, require metaphysical theory. They are questions of what counts as a legal entity and causation. Nationalism is an example of this problem. Even if self-determination is accepted as a principle, an account of which nations exist is needed to answer which claims to self-determination are not specious and which are specious fictions meant to divide rather than serve a community. As Stalin would argue in “Marxism and the National Question,” a state needs economic or geographic continuity to be considered a state. He criticizes theorists who would engage in supposing any other criterion, because the separation caused by those criterion hurt the working class, which is the center of Stalin, Lenin and Marx’s theories. Assuming that these fictions of groups of humans exist in Plato’s heaven enables both toxic nationalism and the sense of pride, unity and self-worth that less toxic versions produce, such as that of Jose Vasconcelos, Leon Pinsker and Ahad Haam.
Another aspect where the theory of what exists, known in metaphysics as an ontology, plays a role is in disputing the jurisdiction of a court. This can be seen in the case of Ford Motor Company that is coming up to the Supreme Court. One approach, the one Ford prefers, is to claim that since none of Ford’s actions in Montana produced the case, they should not be held liable. The defense counters with the fact that since Ford’s business in the state is such that a similar incident could transpire directly; they are sufficiently present in the state to fall under its jurisdiction. They are citing the 1944 case of International Shoe vs. State of Washington, to argue that a business cannot be separated from the business and thus the state courts have jurisdiction. This can be seen to as analogous to the nationhood question mentioned above. In International Shoe, the Supreme Court ruled that continual, habitual business transactions carried out within a state suffice to grant jurisdiction.
Ford’s position aligns with classical theories of causation where being a cause means that the effect cannot occur if that cause is removed, keeping all else equal. This was used in the late 19th century to hinder the enforcement of civil rights legislation by requiring proof that race was the cause of the discrimination, not a coincidental feature of the plaintiff. However, as both Kimberle Crenshaw and Brown vs. Board of Education have shown such demonstration is a herculen task. Especially, since as all political scientists, linguists, sociologists and statisticians know, finding means of isolating each factor is nigh impossible, and impossible in jurisprudence.
These are potential means to elliptically inquire into the positions a judicial candidate or political candidate will possess. Such elliptical inquiries would serve to force them to justify their beliefs. Furthermore, many myriad cases will come before the Supreme Court that concern hermeneutics and jurisdiction but do not involve any controversial issues. Asking judges philosophical questions would enable the Senate to be more informed on how the justices will rule on cases beyond the famous ones like Roe and Brown. Metaphysics in politics can also give justifications for certain policies. Although I covered causation and universals here, a major role of the court is deciding the evidence code which leans heavily on semantics and epistemology.