From Was to Ought? A Philosophical Study in Historical Lessons


Principal Investigator: Jonathan Floyd

This project is an appraisal of the significance of history for political philosophy. Although it is broadly agreed that historians identify, understand and, where appropriate, explain particular facts regarding past human endeavours, whilst political philosophers devise principles according to which of those endeavours might be governed in the future, there exists substantial disagreement regarding just what impact the former enquiry ought to have upon the latter. The project’s objective is to provide a clear answer to the question at the heart of that disagreement, namely, what role, if any, should historical facts play in the formation of normative political principles? Doing so will require both (1) a categorical assessment of those arguments published over the last thirty years, the common accusation of which is that contemporary political philosophy adheres to too ‘ahistorical’ a methodology, and (2) a reappraisal in the light of that assessment of some fairly well-seasoned philosophical separations, including facts from values, facts from principles, and ‘ideal’ from ‘non-ideal’ theory.


British Academy


BA Postdoctoral Fellowship

Project Start / End

Sep 2010 - Aug 2014

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