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Political Philosophy on Generalization - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 60
Generalization/Political philosphy/Forbes: [there is a] maturing of the kind of positive science of politics that the partisans of the ‘behavioural’ movement in political science were calling for 50 years ago. The early behaviouralists could provide only vague outlines and very simple examples of the more scientific research that they thought should replace intellectual history and institutional description as the core political science disciplines (e.g. Easton, 1965(1); Easton and Dennis, 1968(2)). Their opponents could reasonably argue that nothing coherent or worthwhile would ever come of their attempts to build ‘empirical theory’. Impatient critics could wave away the whole enterprise, saying that it might serve to show how Catholics voted in Detroit, but not much else (Taylor, 1968(3): 90). Such high-handed dismissals are less effective today, where research workers in the social sciences have access to vast archives of machine readable data from scores of countries, and they routinely employ far more powerful methods of statistical analysis than were generally available even a generation ago. The embarrassingly nebulous grand theories of the recent past – systems theory, structural-functional theory, group theory, and the like – have receded from view. Attention now focuses on demonstrable relationships between measurable variables of obvious importance, such as democracy and war, and their analysis does not stop with the establishment of a few simple correlations.
Cf. >Empirical Laws/Political philosophy
, >Social capital/Putnam, >Social capital/Political philosophy.
Gaus I 61
Problems/Forbes: The difficulty of operationalizing key concepts such as democracy, war, nationalism, and good government is obviously a source of serious problems. Such ‘essentially contested’ political ‘variables’ do not lend themselves to easy quantification, or even identification, for statistical analysis. In addition, a serious, often insurmountable source of difficulties is the complexity of the background conditions that may have to be untangled before any simple causal connections can be shown. A realistic statistical model of the phenomena of interest may involve many variables whose effects rebound on their causes, making statistical estimation extremely difficult. Nonetheless, statistically based causal analysis does not require for its justification that every statistical study make a major contribution to scientific knowledge or that it be beyond reproach. It requires only that there be rigorous ways of testing hypothesized relationships and untangling the webs of conditioning variables in which they are embedded.
>Positive Political Theory/Forbes, >Generality, >Generalizability, >Method.

1. Easton, David (1965) A Systems Analysis of Political Life. New York: Wiley.
2. Easton, David and Jack Dennis (1969) Children in the Political System: Origins of Political Legitimacy. New York: McGraw-Hill.
3. Taylor, Charles (1985 [1968]) ‘Neutrality in political science’. In his Philosophy and the Human Sciences, Philosophical Papers, vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 58–90.

Forbes, H. Donald 2004. „Positive Political Theory“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications.

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Concept/Author], [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] resp. "problem:"/"solution:", "old:"/"new:" and "thesis:" is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Political Philosophy
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004

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