Term Paper for Political Science

Topics: Political science, Political philosophy, Social sciences Pages: 11 (3768 words) Published: March 17, 2012
A. Introduction
The study of the state, government, and politics. The idea that the study of politics should be ‘scientific’ has excited controversy for centuries. What is at stake is the nature of our political knowledge, but the content of the argument has varied enormously. For example, 1741 when Hume published his essay, ‘That Politics May Be Reduced to a Science’, his concerns were very different from those of people who have sought to reduce politics to a science in the twentieth century. Although concerned to some degree to imitate the paradigm of Newtonian physics, Hume's main objective was to show that some constitutions necessarily worked better than others and that politics was not just a question of personalities. Thus one of his main targets was the famous couplet in Alexander Pope's Essay on Man: ‘For forms of government let fools contest, | Whate'er is best administer'd is best.’

B. The Problem
In 1968, the eminent political scientist David Easton wrote: "Political Science in mid-twentieth century is a discipline in search of its identity. Through the efforts to solve this identity crisis it has begun to show evidence of emerging as an autonomous and independent discipline with a systematic structure of its own." However, the search for identity has been characteristic of political science from its inception on the American scene. Initially, the discipline was confronted with the task of demarcating its intellectual boundaries and severing its organizational ties from other academic fields, particularly history. Subsequently, debate arose over goals, methods, and appropriate subject matter as political scientists tried to resolve the often conflicting objectives of its four main scholarly traditions: (1) legalism, or constitutionalism; (2) activism and reform; (3) philosophy, or the history of political ideas; and (4) science. By the late twentieth century, the discipline had evolved through four periods outlined by Albert Somit and Joseph Tanenhaus in their informative work The Development of American Political Science: From Burgess to Behavioralism (1967). The four periods are the formative (1880–1903), the emergent (1903–1921), the middle years (1921–1945), and disciplinary maturity (1945–1990).

It follows from this Kantian conception of the basis of science that there can only be one science, which is physics. This science applies just as much to people, who are physical beings, as it does to asteroids: like the theistic God, Kantian physics is unique or it is not itself. Biology, chemistry, engineering et al. are forms of physics, related and reducible to the fundamental constituents of the universe. The social studies are not, according to critics of political science, and become merely narrow and sterile if they attempt to ape the methods and assumptions of the natural sciences. The understanding we seek of human beings must appreciate their individual uniqueness and freedom of will; understanding people is based on our ability to see events from their point of view, the kind of insight that Weber called verstehen. In short, the distinction between science and non-science, in its most significant sense, is a distinction between the natural sciences and the humanities; the two are fundamentally different and politics is a human discipline.

However, there are a number of objections to this harsh dichotomy between politics and science. Semantically, it might be said, this account reads too much into the concept of science which, etymologically, indicates only a concern with knowledge in virtually any sense. Wissenschaft in German, scienza in Italian, and science in French do not raise the profound philosophical questions which have been attached to the English word science. There are also many contemporary philosophers who seek to undermine the scientific nature of natural science. Inspired, particularly, by Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) they argue that science...
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