Philosophy has been of interest to scholars in public administration (PA) for as long as the field has existed, whether in its predisciplinary forms, for example, in Plato’s thoughts on the ideal form of government found in The Republic, or in its recent disciplinary forms exemplified in debates about the relevance of philosophical pragmatism found in the Disputatio Sine Fine section of Administration & Society. Philosophical issues are relevant to PA at several key points: questions about what constitutes the proper object of study and the nature of the things investigated (ontology) and questions of what counts as knowledge and evidence (epistemology) have clear implications for PA as a field of inquiry; questions about what types of moral decisions are permissible or defensible (ethics) is central to PA as a scholarly study and practice; and questions around what forms of governance are appropriate, legitimate, or best (political philosophy) have long been the domain of PA both in academia and practice. However, various assumptions in PA scholarship, characterized as philosophy per se, often remain latent, unexamined, and uncritically accepted. Edoardo Ongaro is unsatisfied with the lack of philosophical scholarship in PA and seeks to patch this lacuna with Philosophy and Public Administration: An Introduction (PPA). PPA provides a very broad examination of various traditions of thought across metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and political philosophy. His main contribution seems to be within the latter two. Ontological (metaphysical) issues tend to be the least important to PA as a practice, and Ongaro does not dwell too long on this branch. Conversely, he also does not dwell on skeptical arguments against ontology or epistemology wholesale. Epistemology is more common in the extant PA literature, concerned, as it often is, with the philosophical foundations of scientific activity in PA. Other books, for example, Raadschelders’ (2011),Public Administration: The Interdisciplinary Study of Government or Riccucci’s (2010)Public Administration: Traditions of Inquiry and Philosophies of Knowledge, provide more extensive examinations of epistemic issues relevant to PA as a science. While Ongaro does examine these issues, the contribution of PPA resides in its application of concepts from ethics and political philosophy to PA in theory and practice, in addition to its use as a reference for ideas across philosophy. The title of this book review is “Philosophy for Public Administration” because Ongaro shows how philosophy might shine light on central problems in PA, both in theory and practice. In this sense, it presents philosophy as a conceptual toolkit for scholars or practitioners in PA. The book is suitable to the former and could be useful to doctoral students and to scholars concerned with analysis of the conceptual foundations of the field. The book provides an inventory of key ideas applicable to PA that could serve as a useful reference, for example, John Rawls’ Theory of Justice, Utilitarian arguments about the greatest good, or Kant’s categorical imperative. PPA is also informative with respect to other ancient and classic works, such as Plato’s The Republic, Thomas Moore’s Utopia, and Machiavelli’s The Prince. This proves useful since many doctoral students or scholars in PA have not necessarily read these works. By examining how philosophers have addressed philosophical questions in the past, we might clarify our own conceptions, illuminate alternatives, and avoid common pitfalls for the advancement of PA. Ongaro introduces philosophy to PA and establishes its relevance with a reference to Pollitt’s (2013) observation on the distinction between universal meanings and observable behaviors, for example, the distinction between the theoretical propositions of TQM and the instantiation of TQM within any single hospital or vehicle assembly plant. Using this observation, Ongaro argues that philosophy is a method of inquiry that both propels the intellectual life of PA forward and which can be harnessed for further enriching the field. To make philosophy relevant to PA, Ongaro first provides an overview of various traditions across its different branches. PPA covers a vast conceptual landscape, including pre-Socratic philosophy; Aristotle and Plato; Medieval philosophy; Renaissance and Enlightenment philosophy; early-modern and modern philosophers, such as Kant, Hegel, Gramsci, Marx, and Nietzsche; 19th and 20th century philosophy of science, such as Comte and Popper; and ideas from phenomenology, existentialism, structuralism, and a smattering of additional “isms.” Ongaro often uses the works of key philosophers rather than relying on secondary source interpretations, which permits a greater characterization of the classic ideas than other similar books that rely on mostly secondary interpretations of the key ideas. Ongaro also seeks to demonstrate how these ideas apply to or appear in the PA discourse more explicitly, for example, how Kantian thought arises in the public governance literature; or how relativism, postmodernism, and social constructivism arise in the literature on representative democracy and legitimacy; how phenomenology, and specifically its realist variant, might assist with epistemological debates in PA; how various conceptions of time are employed in PA research; or how NPM’s focus on satisfaction represents a utilitarian approach to ethics while the Pubic Values school represents a common good approach, and the New Public Administration reflects a Rawlsian approach to justice. These early chapters are useful in illuminating how philosophy permeates many aspects of the PA literature, and if the aim were simply this then the book succeeds. But it is not totally clear from these chapters how philosophy as a method of inquiry might be leveraged to assist the future development of the field. The sixth chapter of the book is where the more innovative contributions of PPA shine through. Here Ongaro features three works: Lorenzetti’s artistic masterpiece, Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government, a series of frescoes in the City Hall in Siena, Italy; Machiavelli’s The Prince; and Thomas Moore’s Utopia. Here, Ongaro is primarily concerned with the examination of ethical and political philosophy in PA, which often seem absent from the mainstream PA discourse because academics tend to strive for objectivity and practitioners tend to strive for neutrality. Ongaro shows how traditions of thought within these two branches of philosophy are important to the development of PA as a coherent discipline. Lorenzetti is instrumental in demonstrating the importance of virtue in PA, which is examined at length, pointing toward the extent to which both scholars and practitioners have relied on theories of good governance, supported by various collections of virtues and threatened by various vices. Ongaro shows how virtue is deeply intertwined with classic texts on government in his examination of Machiavelli’s The Prince but also illustrates how Machiavelli advanced a realism about human nature and a reconceptualization of the virtues of governance around the more unsavory aspects of this nature. In this way, Machiavelli successfully combines elements of virtue ethics and political realism, while simultaneously illuminating a path toward the development of political science by specifying the role of chance and fortune. Ongaro also provides an intriguing analysis and application of Thomas Moore’s Utopia, suggesting a much stronger connection between theory in PA to utopian and dystopian ideas than the extant discourse might suggest. He points out how Weber’s classic term “ideal type” represents a form of utopian thinking, and the ubiquity of terms like “best practices” are also reflective of utopian ideals. Ongaro provides interesting and useful distinctions between scholar-made and practitioner-made utopias, where, for example, the spread of the term, “smart city” might be explicable as a type of practitioner-made utopia. The slogan of “governance without government” also reflects utopian/dystopian quality. Similarly, the desire to unite scholars and practitioners through practical research might be viewed as a type of scholar-made utopia. Ongaro suggests that more research should be conducted so that we might further understand the nature of our own idealistic utopias/dystopias. PPA concludes with a brief weaving together of the philosophical territory using Raadschelders’ (2011) framework of wisdom, experience, knowledge, and interpretive traditions in PA. Ongaro suggests that much is currently left on the table within the wisdom tradition, which could benefit PA by broadening restrictive notions of science in American literature to the German sense of Wissenschaft as a branch of knowledge. But the issue always seems to turn on how to establish criteria for evaluating research where the study object is ambiguous or unobservable. This is where philosophy, as a mode of analysis, hopefully provides a method of inquiry that employs logic and safeguards against fallacies, tautology, and triviality. The biggest limitation with PPA is the very broad approach taken in the first five chapters of the book. While this approach makes the book useful as a reference to many different ideas, it also makes the treatment of any individual idea somewhat surface level. At the same time, PPA also has important oversights. Recent philosophy of PA has recently seen the emergence of pragmatism as an organizing concept for PA (Ansell 2011; Shields 2008). There is no mention of the near decade long debate about pragmatism in the Disputatio Fine Sine section of Administration & Society (e.g., Whetsell and Shields 2011). Further, the examination of ontology fails to shift toward a more specific examination of the nature of the things investigated in PA. For example, what is the nature of the public? Ongaro’s explanation of the neo-positivists’ (logical positivists) abandonment of foundationalism toward conventionalism is an important observation that isn’t sufficiently noted in many of the articles that discuss positivism. But the term “conventionalism” is very ambiguous and often assumes that truth is whatever prevailing social conventions dictate. The intermediate step from foundationalism to a coherence theory of justification (e.g., logical/mathematical coherence) places some boundaries on the move.1 Given the breadth of PPA, it cannot help but avoid a deeper examination of more recent moves in philosophy of science, and in certain respects this oversight leads to the perpetuation of the common attribution of the scientific activities of PA, generally, as belonging to positivism. More interestingly, Ongaro alludes to an alternative to the traditional foil of positivism in his discussion of phenomenology, specifically in its realist variant. He suggests that attention to phenomenology often focuses on its idealist stream to the detriment of the realist stream, which might cohere better with the scientific and practitioner elements of PA. This provides opportunities for further examination in the future. The greater contribution is in PPA’s examination of ethical and political philosophy and their application to core questions in PA, such as the influence of utilitarianism in the economics-oriented PA literature, the potential contribution of virtue ethics toward illuminating debates in governance, or the influence of political realism and utopian idealism in the design and management of the administrative state. Finally, PPA provides an examination of the question of whether and how philosophy, more generally, might be applied to illuminate the intellectual space and enrich the discourse for PA. References Ansell , Christopher . 2011 . Pragmatist democracy: Evolutionary learning as public philosophy . New York : Oxford Univ. Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Haack , Susan . 1995 . Evidence and inquiry . Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers . Pollitt , Christopher , ed. 2013 . Context in public policy and management: The missing link? Cheltanham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing . Raadschelders , Jos C. N . 2011 . Public administration: The interdisciplinary study of government . New York: Oxford Univ. Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Riccucci , Norma M . 2010 . Public administration: Traditions of inquiry and philosophies of knowledge . Washington, DC: Georgetown Univ. Press . Shields , Patricia M . 2008 . Rediscovering the taproot: Is classical pragmatism the route to renew public administration ? Public Administration Review 68 : 205 – 21 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Whetsell , Travis A. , and Patricia M. Shields . 2011 . Reconciling the varieties of pragmatism in public administration . Administration & Society , 43 : 474 – 83 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Whetsell , Travis A. , and Patricia M. Shields . 2015 . The dynamics of positivism in the study of public administration: A brief intellectual history and reappraisal . Administration & Society , 47 : 416 – 46 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Footnotes 1 See Whetsell and Shields (2015) and Haack’s (1995)Evidence & Inquiry for a detailed treatment of these terms. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Public Management Research Association. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 16, 2018
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