Michael Walzer is one of America's leading political philosophers. He is a professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey and editor of Dissent, a left-wing quarterly of politics and culture. He has written on a wide range of topics, including just and unjust wars, nationalism, ethnicity, economic justice, social criticism, radicalism, tolerance, and political obligation. He is also a contributing editor to The New Republic and a member of the editorial board of Philosophy & Public Affairs. To date he has written 27 books and has published over 300 articles, essays, and book reviews. He is a member of several philosophical organizations including the American Philosophical Society.
Question: Why does philosophy matter in a modern world?
Michael Walzer: Well, we try to, at our best I think, we try to take the moral intuitions of ordinary people, the sense of right and wrong that prevails in our society, and we try to give it a systematic form and to test its internal tensions and possible contradictions and to apply it to difficult cases and then to suggest revisions as the cases required revision. And that kind of work, I think, even if it is carried out at a very high level of abstraction as it often is in academic philosophy, that kind of work tends over time to interact with the more ordinary moral conversation of humankind and to have some impact I think.