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# 2000 University of South Africa

Revised edition 2004


All rights reserved
Printed and published by the
University of south Africa
Muckleneuk, Pretoria
PLC822-N/1/20052008
97575208

3B2

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PLC822N/1/20052008

Contents
Orientation

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Study unit 1
FORMS OF KNOWLEDGE
1.1
Political knowledge
1.2
Political science
1.3
Political philosophy
1.4
Philosophy of science

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2
3
4

Study unit 2
THE ORIGIN AND VALIDITY OF SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE
2.1
The origin and validity of knowledge
2.1.1 The origin of knowledge
2.1.2 The validity of knowledge

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Study unit 3
SCIENTIFIC PROCESSES AND INSTRUMENTS
3.1
Scientific processes and instruments
3.1.1 Concepts
3.1.2 Statements, hypotheses and propositions
3.1.3 Descriptions
3.1.4 Classifications
3.1.5 Generalisations
3.1.6 Approaches
3.1.7 Methods
3.1.8 Models and conceptual frameworks
3.1.9 Paradigms
3.1.10 Explanations
3.1.11 Understanding (verstehen)
3.1.12 Predictions
3.1.13 Theories
3.1.14 Values and intellectual inquiry

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Study unit 4
VIEWS OF SCIENCE
4.1
Modern political studies
4.1.1 Positivism
4.1.2 Karl Popper's critical rationalism
4.1.3 Thomas Kuhn and paradigms
4.1.4 The hermeneutic view of scientific rationality
4.1.5 The Frankfurt School's view of science
4.1.6 Scientific realism and realism in the social sciences

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Summary

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Prescribed book

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Additional reading list

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Orientation
This course comprises an introductory study of scientific and philosophical
knowledge of politics. Scientific and philosophical knowledge of politics differs in
many ways from what is generally known as political knowledge. Whereas politics is
the underlying element in both cases, there are subtle differences that distinguish
political knowledge from scientific and philosophical knowledge. These differences
are examined in the present course, and the nature of scientific and philosophical
knowledge is considered in some depth. Once you have worked through this course
you should have a good idea of what scientific and philosophical knowledge of
politics is; what the requirements and hallmarks of this knowledge is; and how it can
contribute towards a better understanding of political life.
The study guide is divided into four study units that become progressively longer,
moving gradually from simple to more complex perspectives. The first three units are
compiled so that they form a conceptual framework for an approach according to
which Study Unit 4 can be understood. The first three study units are not based on
any specific work and should serve as sufficient background for Study Unit 4. An
additional reading list is nevertheless provided so that you can read more about any
of the matters covered in the first three units if you wish. Study Unit 4 is based on the
following work:
Mouton, J (ed). 1993: Conceptions of social inquiry. Pretoria: HSRC.
It is essential that you buy this prescribed work because it is integral to your study
material, which means that you cannot succeed without it. Each of the study units is
preceded by a set of learning outcomes which you have to achieve by the time you
have worked through the study unit concerned. The self-test questions contained
within the various units will help you to become thoroughly conversant with the
work. In conclusion a general overview (summary) is provided.
We recommend that you read the first three study units attentively before you work
through them and answer the self-test questions. If you want to know more about
particular aspects of the work you should select and consult the relevant sources
given in the additional reading list. Once you feel that you have become duly
conversant with the first three study units you should work through the relevant
chapters of the prescribed work one by one. You should rigorously follow the
guidelines provided for each of the said chapters in the relevant study units. Also
make sure that you are familiar with the influence exerted, both in the past and in the
present, by the relevant perspectives on political science and political philosophy.
Brief notes in this regard are provided after the guidelines concerning each view of
science, which means that you have to answer the questions on each view of science
after working through the chapter in which it is covered.
We do not expect you to have detailed knowledge of each of the selected views of

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science. The object of Study Unit 4 is to ensure that you understand each of the
views of science dealt with. That is to say, you must be able to explain the
assumptions and methods that make each of the views of science unique. You will
also have to be able to indicate the relevance of a given view of science to political
studies.
The prescribed book for this course is:
Mouton, J (ed). 1993: Conceptions of social inquiry. Pretoria: HSRC.
This work is also available in Afrikaans as
Mouton, J (red). 1995: Wetenskapsbeelde in die geesteswetenskappe. Pretoria:
RGN
Finally: the additional reading list provided in the study guide is comprehensive.
You are not expected to study these works in depth. The reading list reflects selected
works that can be consulted if you wish to know more about any of the matters
covered in the course. Most of these works are available in the Unisa library.

GENERAL LEARNING OUTCOMES FOR THE MODULE


After having studied this module you should be able to
. clearly grasp that there are different forms of knowledge involved in the study
politics
. clearly grasp that how knowledge originates and how it is tested for validity
are different but related enterprises
. comprehend that there are many different but related processes and
instruments at work in the scientific enterprise
. explain the differences and implications of the dominant views of science that
influence the discipline of political science

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Study unit 1

Forms of knowledge
OVERVIEW
In Study Unit 1 different forms of knowledge are distinguished from each other.
Political knowledge is usually the body of information and preferences needed by
a political actor to take part in the political process in one way or another. On the
other hand, scientific knowledge of politics is not primarily a matter of
knowledge relating to political action; instead it is aimed at obtaining reliable
information in order to explain and predict political phenomena. On the whole
political philosophy is based on the same principles, except that its object is to
give the widest possible interpretation to political events and processes. In other
words, it goes a step further than political science in that besides concentrating on
objective reality, it also associates abstract ideas with real phenomena. On the whole,
too, political philosophy is intent on appreciating what exists or has already
happened. Philosophy of science concerns itself with the knowledge produced by
political science and political philosophy, and it is interested in the claims made by
scientists and philosophers. There is constant interaction between these forms of
knowledge, and this interaction influences the nature of each of these enterprises.
Simple examples are given to illustrate the differences between the various
knowledge enterprises.

LEARNING OUTCOMES FOR THIS UNIT


After completing this study unit you should be able to
. distinguish between the different forms of knowledge of politics
. define the nature of philosophy of science
. explain how different forms of knowledge relate to each other

1.1 Political knowledge


Political knowledge is knowledge of political life, which assumes different forms
ranging from knowledge of who the leaders of political parties are and how to vote
during an election, to knowledge of the provisions of a country's constitution.
Political knowledge is often characterised by strong convictions about right and
wrong, and by knowledge of how to act to bring about a desired situation or avoid
an undesirable situation. Consequently political knowledge is often coloured by

convictions that are emotionally highly charged. Knowledge of what may be right or
wrong in politics (and adherence to a code of conduct based on such knowledge) is
called political morality. This type of knowledge is distinct from both factual
knowledge and knowledge of how to make something happen or prevent it from
happening. In practice, however, the different forms of political knowledge are used
interactively, that is in relation to each other.
Political knowledge is sometimes also referred to as political ideology. In the
broadest sense a political ideology is a set of values, convictions and strategies
according to which political life has to be understood and changed or maintained.
Conservatism, liberalism and anarchism are examples of political ideologies. In
politics conservatism as a form of political knowledge is an ideology that
presupposes that good can be found in tried and tested experience and that any
deviation from the lessons of history should be treated with great circumspection.
The premise of liberalism is the conviction that the state and government have to
impose only a minimum set of constraints on the freedom of the individual.
Anarchism is a political ideology that proceeds from the premise that the role and
influence of the state and government in public life are redundant.
Political knowledge in all its forms enables people to take political action. In a sense
all political action stems from human decisions and such decisions are influenced by
political knowledge. Political actions fail in some instances and succeed in others.
Political errors are often made for lack of sufficient knowledge and understanding of
a matter. On the other hand successful political actions or policies are often the result
of accurate knowledge of and good insight into a matter.
Political knowledge is a type of practical wisdom derived from experience, which is
why political knowledge does not necessarily require scientific and philosophical
insight. Scientific or philosophical knowledge that supplements political knowledge
is not necessarily a guarantee for virtue or good political action because although it
could enrich political knowledge, it may also be misleading.

1.2 Political science


The study object of political science is politics in the sense of the political knowledge
and action referred to above. Its purpose is not only to study political life in order to
act politically, however. Scientific knowledge may be used for the purposes of
action. Its primary purpose, however, is to understand and explain political life.
Predictions and appreciations concerning political life are intrinsic to gaining
scientific knowledge of it. A variety of cognitive instruments are used to this end,
including descriptions, generalisations, approaches, explanations, models, theories
and value systems.
Just as political knowledge can assume a variety of forms, political science is also a
collective name for different forms of science that study political life. On the one
hand there are different forms of political science that try to emulate the methods of
the natural sciences. These forms of political science proceed from the conviction

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that mainly the observable behaviour of people who act politically should be studied,
and that such behaviour is not necessarily classifiable as good or bad. On the other
hand some forms of political science proceed from the view that elements of political
life that are not observable should also be studied, and that political science may not
stand aloof from that which is good or bad in political life.
On the whole the knowledge produced by political science is logically coherent and
can be tested. In cases where knowledge does not meet these requirements we could
maintain that it has tried but failed to meet them. ``Logical coherence'' means that
facts and claims concerning political life do not contradict each other. The fact that
something can be tested means that in principle scientists should achieve
reproducible results in the sense of arriving at the same observations and
conclusions.
There is no agreement about exactly which aspects of political life should be studied
by political science. Political scientists also disagree in their interpretations or
perceptions of what they study, and these disagreements largely explain why
political science is divided into different orientations. You may find it unsettling that
scientists do not always agree about their priorities or the rules of science, but as you
will see later, such disagreement actually guarantees and acts as the driving force
behind renewal, new insights and fruitful diversity.

1.3 Political philosophy


Like political science, political philosophy also studies political life, but it does this
differently and there are different forms of knowledge and inquiry or traditions in
political philosophy. Political philosophy has a long historical tradition as a form of
reflection on the sense and meaning of political life. Political philosophy has a long
historical tradition that can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle. It can be said that
the object pursued by political philosophy is to use observation and, more
particularly reason, to try and discover the timeless truths of political life.
Unlike political science, political philosophy seeks to view and interpret political life
against the background of life as a whole. On the whole the object of political
philosophy is to explain specific political phenomena in terms of general ideas about
politics. According to political philosophy general ideas or truths concerning politics
are not limited by time or space but tend to expose the essence of political problems
so that reality can be understood and judged accordingly.
A typical example of a problem dealt with by political philosophy is the question
whether there are ideas and truths about justice that could be valid for all political
systems. Do such ideas or truths exist, or are there different truths about justice that
should be valid for different political systems and periods of history?
Like political science, political philosophy is no longer neutral towards the
importance of logical reasoning and observable political reality, but it differs from
political science in that it generally allows more space for rational thought as a

source of knowledge. Whereas political science is mainly interested in the logical


coherence of political life, political philosophy takes the matter a step further by also
connecting it to the world of abstract ideas and then examining this relationship. The
result of this characteristic of political philosophy is that it mainly focuses on the
eternal issues that occur in all walks of political life, such as the nature of authority,
justice, freedom, legitimacy and the like.

1.4 Philosophy of science


Philosophy of science is a form of knowledge that differs from all the other forms of
knowledge we have spoken of so far, and yet it is closely related, and largely owes its
existence, to them. Whereas political science and political philosophy study political
life, the philosophy of science studies political science and political philosophy as
forms of knowledge. In a general sense the philosophy of science concerns itself
with all the sciences that study reality, including the social and natural sciences.
Political science and political philosophy can be classified under the social sciences.
Rather than politics, therefore, philosophy of science studies, among others, the
sciences that study political life.
Philosophy of science developed rapidly towards the end of the 19th century and
exerted a marked influence on the practice of social and natural sciences during the
20th century. One could say that quite a number of social sciences reflect schools of
thought in the philosophy of science that pronounce on how science should be
practised. Some social scientists resisted this trend, arguing that the philosophy of
science has no particular cachet (authority) to prescribe to them how science should
be practised. They contended that social reality should naturally indicate how
sciences should be practised, and that the philosophy of science was alienated from
reality. Despite this criticism, however, philosophy of science exercises a strong
influence on the sciences, including political science. Philosophy of science is
particularly interested in the origin, methods, structure and validity of scientific
knowledge, and debates about this subject matter have exercised a marked influence
on the nature of political science.
Note that none of the forms of knowledge discussed above exist in isolation. There is
constant interaction between all these forms of knowledge and the distinctions made
here are merely analytical. These distinctions help us to understand the nature of the
various forms of knowledge and illustrate the interaction between the different forms
of knowledge.
Philosophy of science
A

Political science,
political philosophy A

Political knowledge
and political action

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SELF-TEST
. What is the difference between political knowledge, scientific
knowledge of politics and knowledge of the science of politics?
. What are the similarities and differences between political science
and political philosophy?
. How do the different forms of knowledge relate to each other?

Study unit 2

The origin and validity of


scientific knowledge
OVERVIEW
Study Unit 2 is concerned with the origin and validity of scientific knowledge. Where
does scientific knowledge come from? Are there methods that can be used to make
discoveries? How do we know when knowledge is valid? How do we know when an
argument is conducted correctly? These are typical questions asked in this study unit
and to which answers are sought.
Scientists and philosophers often claim the distinction that they can produce reliable
knowledge and expose sophistry. This can only be done if there are yardsticks for
reliability and valid argumentation. In the text that follows we shall provide a few
illustrative examples.

LEARNING OUTCOMES FOR THIS UNIT


After completing this study unit you should be able to
. distinguish between questions of origin on the one hand and questions of
validity on the other
. give a brief account of the interaction between these two categories
. indicate the differences between various types of statements
. explain rules for validity for the different types of statements
. demonstrate a few rules for valid argumentation

2.1 The origin and validity of knowledge


One may well ask how scientific knowledge originates or is discovered, as well as
why such knowledge should be valid. Are there rules that can be followed in order to
demonstrate the validity of science? These questions imply a clear distinction
between questions on the origin and questions relating to the validity of scientific
knowledge. Before we attend to each of these questions it is important to understand
that there is constant interaction between the origin of scientific knowledge and the
verification or falsification of such knowledge as valid or invalid. New insight and

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knowledge are constantly subjected to testing, and valid as well as invalid


knowledge are instrumental in the discovery of further new insights and knowledge,
and so on.

2.1.1 The origin of knowledge


We have mentioned that scientific knowledge may arise from reflection, reasoning,
experience and observation. These are called sources of knowledge and we shall
revert to them later in the study guide. The use of these sources of knowledge by
scientists is no guarantee in itself that new discoveries will be made. Discoveries
could quite simply be described as new or unique insights into and perspectives on
how elements of reality and/or abstract ideas relate to each other. There are probably
many such insights that never gain the status of ``discoveries'' because they do not
become known or are not useful or significant. Scientific insights are usually referred
to as discoveries when the scientific community acclaim them and they pass the test
of validity.
Such discoveries are usually stated in a simplified form as hypotheses. A hypothesis
usually takes the form of ``If A (under conditions x, y, z), then B'', which means that if
A is present under certain circumstances (x, y, z), then B will also be present, or it
would be reasonable to expect it to be present. For example: If rural populations are
urbanised under favourable conditions they can be expected to participate in political
life on a larger scale. The question here is: How does a scientist arrive at such an
insight? Are there logical or other procedures, as mentioned earlier, that can motivate
him/her to formulate such a hypothesis? To answer this question we have to ``push
back'' the cognitive process of science and ask at each juncture: ``How do we get to
that?''
The answers to these questions are complicated and the scientist often seems to
make certain assumptions about how the elements of concrete and abstract reality
relate to each other. Assumptions reflect knowledge that is assumed without proof,
and such assumptions are usually based on more profound assumptions of a general
nature. This process of arguing backwards is sometimes called retroduction, but it is
usually brought up short by the problem of infinite regression, which is the process
of reasoning back without arriving at a satisfactory answer because everything
becomes more and more vague and uncertain. We can therefore not fully reconstruct
the rules of argument in order to arrive at the moment of new or unique insight.
We maintain that there is no recipe or set of logical rules for making discoveries. We
can reason from known (explicit) knowledge, but we cannot argue logically
backwards (retroduction) from such knowledge to arrive at the moment of insight
and discovery where unknown (implicit) knowledge becomes known. This does not
mean that logic plays no role in the process; it merely means that such a role cannot
be clearly demonstrated. The structure and process of discoveries remains enigmatic
in many respects. It has been suggested, for example, that the psychology,
psychiatry, history and sociology of science could shed more light on the subject. Or
that the phases of reflection, restlessness and tension that often precede the process

of discovery for well-known scientists should be examined more closely. The role of
subconscious and unconscious thought in the whole process is also not entirely
clear.
There is much more agreement that scientists have to work with a presupposition or
assumption about the nature of reality in this process. The assumption may be made
consciously or unconsciously, but scientific knowledge is impossible without the
assumption that reality conforms to a fixed pattern or order of some sort. Regardless
of the nature of this assumed pattern of orderliness (eg order in social reality or in the
scientist's thinking), it is the assumption that makes generalisation possible. Without
the assumption all our knowledge would merely be a set of unrelated stimuli. The
assumption is therefore critical, and as we will show later, generalisation plays an
important role in the entire scientific process.

2.1.2 The validity of knowledge


Unlike the untestable nature of knowledge that is implied in the process of
origination (eg assumptions), all scientific knowledge that is made explicit or known
is subject to proof of validity. This comprises the activities, rules, procedures and
evidence that come into play when the arguments and public claims made by
scientists are verified or falsified. Validity is one of the principal issues of science
because it is decisive for the ultimate acceptance or rejection of scientific knowledge.
Scientific claims take various forms, such as hypotheses, statements, descriptions,
generalisations, explanations, predictions, theories and evaluations. Logic plays a
crucial role in the entire process of testing. Some philosophers of science contend
that the tests for logical validity are exactly the same for social as well as natural
sciences, while others feel that in this regard there are critical differences between
these two kinds of science.
With regard to tests for validity a clear distinction must be made between the logical
correctness of an argument and the correctness of claims or pronouncements about
reality. The former is referred to as the analytical component while the latter is known
as the synthetic component of science. The synthetic component is divided into (1)
statements of empirical fact and (2) statements that evaluate or judge facts in some
way or other. We distinguish between the two kinds of statement by calling them
synthetic-empirical and synthetic-normative statements respectively. We now have
three categories (analytical, synthetic-empirical and synthetic-normative claims) that
are tested according to different criteria for truth or validity.
We begin with a simple explanation of the analytical component, that is of the logical
correctness of an argument. The argument that all countries that have a presidency
have women in that office; that South Africa has a presidency; and that therefore
South Africa's president is a woman would be logically correct. We could maintain
that the inference is absolutely true despite our certain knowledge that it is factually
not true. In this sense it is important to realise that logical arguments are either
absolutely true or absolutely false; they are not partially true. There are a number of
rules according to which logical forms of argumentation can be tested, namely

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modus ponens, modus tollens, the hypothetical syllogism, the constructive dilemma
and the destructive dilemma.
We explain only two sets of rules. The rules of deduction function in that we replace
the non-logical elements (eg the factual assertions of the statement) with symbols so
that the basic rules of implication of forms of argument are readily understandable.
Modus ponens is one of the best known rules. If q is implied by p and p is true, it
follows that q is also true:
p)q

All countries with presidencies have women as presidents.

South Africa has a president.

South Africa has a woman as president.

The constructive dilemma uses modus ponens to argue that if one of the premises of
a combined set of implications is true, then at least one of the two sets of conclusions
will also be true:
(p)q)^(r)s)

All English-speaking countries have women as presidents.


Democracies are rich countries.

pVr

All English-speaking countries are democracies.

qVs

Women presidents are presidents in rich countries.

As can be clearly seen from the above examples, the logical correctness of an
argument is one thing, but its factual correctness, which cannot be decided by logic,
is another matter. The truth of the analytical component is therefore determined by
logical inference while the empirical or factual truth of claims is determined by direct
or indirect observation of reality. If we were to maintain that Tony Blair is the current
British Prime Minister, or that the Union of South Africa was established in 1910,
then logic cannot help us to determine the truth of these statements (syntheticempirical statements). We would have to resort to observation or the consultation of
historical evidence (indirect observation) to test these claims. It is important in this
regard to remember that, in contrast to the analytical component of knowledge that
can be absolutely true or false, the factual or empirical component of scientific
knowledge can only be maximally true. Observation may be defective or even
incorrect in principle, and future observation would always be able to refute the facts
in principle. On the other hand the synthetic-normative component of science
actually has no truth status. If we were to contend that Tony Blair is a good prime
minister the question arises: How can we establish the truth of ``a good prime
minister''? In this regard we could say that there are no objective criteria against
which the truth of such statements can be tested, and that they actually have minimal
truth status. We shall return to claims of this type and their role and function in
science at a later stage.
It should be clear to you from the above that the question of the validity of scientific
knowledge has different dimensions. Logical or analytical truth differs from synthetic
(empirical and normative) validity, and there is a separate set of rules and procedures

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or considerations that have to be complied with for each of them. We have to


conclude from this that scientific knowledge assumes different forms and that we
have to consider whether we are dealing with logical, empirical or normative claims,
or with combinations of them. We conclude this study unit by pointing out that
although there is agreement about the nature of the above-mentioned rules for
testing for validity, there is no agreement about how they should be applied in
science. These differences lead to divergent ideas of how science is practised and
how philosophy of science evaluates such practices. A case in point is the
differences of opinion on how much weight should be attached to the whole matter
of scientific validity. Another subject for debate is whether scientific claims should be
tested for validity (verification), or whether they should rather be tested for invalidity
(falsification). We shall take a closer look at these issues later in the study guide.
Besides these and other rules concerning formal validity, there are a number of
procedures for the testing of empirical evidence adduced for claims concerning
politics. Political science is not a formalised discipline, and the formal validity of
cognitive structures represents a minor subdivision of the complex issues concerning
validity and truth. These procedures are related to divergent views on the nature of
science and will receive better exposure in the following study units.

SELF-TEST
. What is the difference between questions of origin and validity
respectively?
. What is the relationship between the discovery and the validity of
knowledge?
. What are the different kinds of scientific statements?
. What are the rules for testing the validity of the different types of
statement?
. Explain the rules for valid reasoning in the case of modus ponens
and the constructive dilemma.

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Study unit 3

Scientific processes and


instruments
OVERVIEW
Study Unit 3 provides an overview of selected processes and instruments used in
scientific practice. These instruments and processes, which are the building blocks of
the intellectual process, include concepts, descriptions, generalisations, statements,
hypotheses, models, explanations, predictions, theories and the role of value
judgements. These elements are interrelated and they overlap in places and, both
separately and together, form the process and product of science. The function of the
elements is illustrated with examples where necessary.

LEARNING OUTCOMES FOR THIS UNIT


After completing this study unit you should be able to
. explain each of the scientific processes discussed in the study unit
. briefly indicate how the processes and instruments relate to each other and
often overlap with and imply each other

3.1 Scientific processes and instruments


A variety of intellectual processes and instruments are used in scientific practice to
express scientific knowledge. It is important that we take note of the characteristics
and functions of these processes and instruments because they contribute to our
overall understanding of the concept of science.

3.1.1 Concepts
In everyday language many words have meanings that are not very precise and that
may differ from one user to another. As we know, the meaning of words can change
over time under the influence of factors such as culture, age, income group,
educational level and region. Words that are called concepts in scientific language
are words that represent a specific meaning referring to ideas, aspects of reality or
properties of phenomena. Concepts are often defined to standardise their meaning as

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much as possible and thus place communication between scientists on a sure and
precise footing. One could say that concepts represent the building blocks of
scientific knowledge. Concepts are components of scientific statements, which in
turn are embodied in scientific instruments such as explanations and theories.
Scientists can describe and explain reality, communicate their conception of ideas,
and express their opinion of what they are studying. We distinguish between two
categories of concepts, namely empirical and normative. The general difference
between these categories is that whereas empirical concepts refer to something (a
referent), normative concepts relate to feeling, appreciation or evaluation. Such
concepts as ``election'', ``voting or electoral behaviour'' and ``constitution'' are typical
empirical concepts, while ``justice'', ``the good life'' and ``legitimacy'' are normative
concepts that represent ethical and moral sentiment and conviction. Whereas some
concepts are fairly simple, others are abstract and complex, which makes it difficult
to test statements in which they occur.

3.1.2 Statements, hypotheses and propositions


We referred in passing to scientific statements and hypotheses. Both are known in
scientific language as propositions, but statements are normally seen as distinct
from hypotheses.
Scientific statements are simply assertions about what is studied by science. These
assertions can assume a variety of forms that can be divided roughly into three types
of scientific statements, namely analytical, empirical and normative statements. An
analytical statement says nothing about reality; but is intended to give meaning to a
concept. The statement ``A proportional electoral system is one in which the
percentage of votes attracted by a party guarantees the same percentage of
representatives in parliament'' is a typical analytical statement that says nothing
about reality but does refer to the meaning of a proportional representation system of
voting. The example just used does not maintain that such an electoral system is
used in a particular country. Analytical statements are therefore not tested by looking
for evidence in reality; their truth is embodied in meaning and logical argument. On
the other hand, empirical statements do make assertions about reality. The statement
``South Africa's constitution of 1996 provides for a proportional system for the
election of the National Assembly'' is a typical empirical statement. The truth of such
a statement can only be determined by investigating the empirical circumstances. In
this case the provisions of the Constitution will have to be consulted. By contrast a
typical normative statement is one that pronounces or evaluates reality. The
statement ``South Africa has a good and just electoral system'' is a case in point. On
the whole the truth status of such normative statements is complex because there are
no objective criteria for, or agreement about what is good and equitable. When you
read articles or works on political science you will notice that scientists use the
different kinds of statements in a variety of combinations. What is important, is that a
particular statement should be seen for what it is so that the claim it makes can be
understood.

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Hypotheses are statements that usually express a conjecture. These statements are
based on uncertainty and doubt and are often used to guide scientific inquiry. The
typical structure of hypothetical statements is usually ``If A (under conditions x, y, z),
then B''. The example used earlier is also appropriate here, namely ``If people from
the country become urbanised under favourable economic conditions they can be
expected to become more involved in political life''. If the conjecture or assumption
underlying a hypothesis is confirmed it usually takes the form of a standard empirical
statement or generalisation. Many scientific theories arise from conjecture, an
intuitive sense that something relates to something else. In such cases there is an
underlying hypothesis that is subjected to further study. It is important to realise that
not only valid hypotheses are useful, but that it is equally important to eliminate
erroneous suppositions.

3.1.3 Descriptions
Description is a basic function of science. The process of description leads to
statements that provide an overview of what exists in reality. Although description is
not the only, or the main object of science, it is nevertheless particularly important. If
the facts of a matter are wrong, then explanations of phenomena based on such
erroneous facts will be deficient. It is important to realise that descriptions are rarely
clear and unambiguous they are often interwoven with explanations and laced
with the subjective views of the scientist who produced them. The statement ``There
is a war in progress in the Middle East and the price of oil is rising'' clearly
demonstrates that facts do not speak for themselves. The observer must judge
whether there really is a war, that the price of oil is rising, and that there is a
conjectural relationship between war, the Middle East and price increases.
Descriptions are therefore more than just a clinical account of what exists, or does
not exist.

3.1.4 Classifications
Classification is an instrument that is often used in daily life as well as in science.
Classification consists in grouping together observed phenomena on the grounds of
similarities. Thus reality is simplified by dividing it into a number of manageable
classes or categories. Classification is used, for example, when reference is made to
``the sick'', ``the needy'' and ``the jobless''. One could say that many concepts are
actually classifications, which amount to generalisations. When some of the
characteristics of a class are observed it is reasonable to expect that the remaining
characteristics of the class will also be present. X is observed and it is assumed that it
belongs to the class Y because it bears characteristics A and B. If membership of Y
implies that characteristics C, D and E must be present, then it can be expected or
generalised that these characteristics will also be present because characteristics A
and B have been observed. Under ideal conditions classifications should be exact,
that is the classes should not overlap but should be mutually exclusive. It is
significant that classical thinkers, such as Plato and Aristotle, already developed a
system for the classification of different forms of government, and that some of the

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concepts used in this regard in classical antiquity are still in use in modern political
science and political philosophy.

3.1.5 Generalisations
Generalisations are among the most important instruments of science. They make a
critical contribution to the development and acquisition of new knowledge.
Although generalisations are produced spontaneously, the processes involved in
these productions are complex. Generalisations link concepts with each other and
the distinguishing characteristic of generalisations is that they are not bound by time
or space. If we state that ``Winston Churchill, the former British Prime Minister, was
fond of smoking cigars'', then this statement is a description that clearly refers to a
specific person, period, office, place and a habitual personal indulgence. If we
generalise, however, by saying that ``All prime ministers like to smoke cigars'', then
this statement is not bound by time and place in that it refers to all prime ministers in
the past, present and future. The value of generalisations is that they organise and
extend knowledge derived from experience, but at a price. The generalised
knowledge is always uncertain, and it may be erroneous.
Generalisations are usually based on experience, and although there is no reason
why generalisations cannot also be based on untested knowledge that has yet to
become experiential, this seldom happens. Three general classes of generalisations
are used in science, namely (1) classifications (already referred to), (2) prediction
and (3) theories. Predictions and theories will receive further attention later on in
this study unit.

3.1.6 Approaches
Approaches are sets of preferences according to which scientific phenomena are
studied. Such preferences may relate to the phenomena themselves or to the method
of studying them. Often they also reflect the personal preferences of the researcher
him-/herself. As an intellectual instrument, therefore, an approach is a kind of
perspective held by scientists on reality which is why approaches are sometimes
referred to as theoretical perspectives. There are many approaches in political science
that are also referred to as research traditions or specialised divisions of science.
Approaches that embody preferences concerning scientific subjects include the
power approach, the institutional approach, the group approach and the historical
approach. Scientists who adopt these approaches will respectively focus on political
power, political institutions, political groupings and the historical development of
political phenomena. Approaches that embody preferences concerning how reality
or ideas are studied include the empirical and the philosophical approach. In the
empirical approach the emphasis is on the study of phenomena that can be observed
and tested, while the emphasis in the philosophical approach is on such things as the
logical coherence and acceptability of political ideas. In some instances approaches
involve scientific subjects as well as preferred methods of studying the phenomena
falling under such subjects. The behavioralist approach is an example because the

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emphasis in this case is both on the political behaviour of individuals and groups,
and on the empirical study of these phenomena. Approaches often overlap and some
are not necessarily better than others because each has a specific perspective on
reality and is usually applied for a specific purpose.

3.1.7 Methods
The word ``method'' comes from the classical Greek (meta, hodos) and literally
means ``the way followed''. One could say that scientific method is the way followed
in reasoning. Some philosophers of science rate the importance of this instrument so
highly that they regard it as the essence of science, that is the definitive characteristic
that distinguishes scientific knowledge from other forms of knowledge.
It is important to realise that there is no such thing as ``the scientific method''. A
number of philosophers of science have tried to define the distinctive characteristics
of the scientific method, but these formulations are not universally accepted. Science
uses a number of specific methods, depending on which one is the most suitable for
a particular purpose. In some instances a combination of methods is used. What we
can say is that scientific methods are based on logical argument. There are two forms
of argument, namely inductive and deductive reasoning, although some
philosophers of science do not grant the status of logic to induction. The process and
instrument of generalisation referred to earlier is a good example of inductive
reasoning, which moves from the validity of limited claims to the presupposed
validity of general claims. For example, ``6 out of 10 students at the university who
were asked about it vote for party B, so 60% of all the university's students will in fact
vote for party B''. The leap from the particular to the general derives from
generalisation and projection and is therefore speculative, that is uncertain. The claim
first has to be subjected to testing for validity. Deductive reasoning is most definitely
logical and deductions will be absolutely correct if the factual content of the premise
(basic statement), as well as the combined statements, are correct. For example, ``All
students of the university have the right to vote; John is a student of the university;
he therefore has the right to vote''. Deductive reasoning therefore moves from the
validity of general statements to the validity of particular statements. In contrast to
the inductive form of reasoning, no new knowledge is added in the process; only the
implications of existing knowledge claims are spelled out.
The case study is regarded by some as a scientific method, but its scientific status is
suspect in some circles because findings about one case do not contribute
significantly to general claims. A case study will therefore have to be generalised to
arrive at general statements. Yet case studies are sometimes used as a method to test
existing statements, and some scientists feel that case studies could lead to the
development of new hypotheses in some instances. By contrast the comparative
method is built on a stronger foundation. This method consists in the study of two
or more cases, and if the number of cases is large enough statistical processing of
case data can be used. The so-called experimental method is based on the
comparative method. This method is often used in laboratories. Two identical
experiments with the same variables are set up. The first one is called the control case

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while the second is known as the experimental case. Something is taken away from
or added to the second case and the effect is observed. Because all other factors in
the two cases are identical their influence can be ignored and the difference observed
after adding or taking something away can be attributed to just that. The
experimental method is therefore a method of establishing causality.
In political science as well as other social sciences it is considered unethical to
manipulate people for experimental purposes. However, this does not mean that we
cannot use the logic of the experimental method for comparative purposes. This is
done as follows: two cases with as many broad similarities as possible are selected
despite the presence of lesser differences between them. If investigation reveals other
differences that coincide with the first differences we can say that they explain or
cause the first differences. For example: two developing countries are identical in
almost every respect where socio-economic conditions and political institutions are
concerned, but there is a major difference between them in the level of political
tolerance. We could say with reasonable certainty that the broad correspondences in
the socio-economic and political profile of the two countries' institutions do not
explain this difference (they are similar in kind and can be ignored), but that the
difference is attributable to another variable. If such an explanatory variable is found
that is a covariant of tolerance, for example cultural traditions that advocate
tolerance, then this could be offered as an explanation of the difference. The
comparative method is often used in political science and we could say that it is a
method that tries to explain the difference between similar cases; it is a method that
isolates causes and thereby explains them.
We consider this brief overview of scientific methods sufficient for this course, but
please note that there are many other variations of scientific methods.

3.1.8 Models and conceptual frameworks


Models are used in all sciences. A model is a simplified representation of
something reality or a system of ideas. Such a representation can assume a variety
of forms: it can be graphic, or it can be expressed in symbols or a diagram, or it can be
a small-scale reproduction of reality, for example an architect's model of a house or a
sports complex that has yet to be built. In political science the different phases of
constitutional development through which a state has passed can be represented as
a model (eg a diagram). It simplifies reality and it facilitates understanding because
the essentials are brought out.
Conceptual frameworks are models that utilise concepts. They perform the same
functions as any other kind of model and are often the analytical and descriptive
framework within which theories can be developed. It has been suggested that
models and frameworks contribute to the development of new hypotheses in that the
simplified representation of reality enables the scientist to visualise broad correlations
between phenomena on the grounds of experience, with the result that these
correlations can be tested.

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3.1.9 Paradigms
The concept of a paradigm is used in almost every science, but it has no precise
meaning. In a general sense it refers to a theory that dominates science or an area of
science. A paradigm is therefore a kind of master theory or approach according to
which research and investigations are undertaken because it seems to place the
emphasis on crucial scientific questions. A further characteristic of a paradigm is that
it usually has the loyal and broad support of scientists. When a new paradigm takes
the place of an older one the result is usually a kind of scientific revolution whereby
scientists shift their allegiance and the focus of their work to the new paradigm. Such
a paradigm shift takes place when a new paradigm holds more promise than the old
one if it offers a better approach to the insoluble questions of the older paradigm and
suggests new questions and rules that attract scientists and are acceptable to them.
An early paradigm in the natural sciences, for example, was the assumption that the
earth was the centre of the universe, and that all movements of celestial bodies had
to be explained in terms of this premise. As you know, this understanding or
paradigm fell into discredit quite long ago and was replaced by a series of paradigms
concerning the relationship between space and time. Political science and political
philosophy are not dominated by any particular paradigm. One could say that these
subjects are preparadigmatic or multiparadigmatic enterprises.
The idea of a paradigm preoccupied philosophers of science in various respects and
gave new prominence to the problematics of the development of science. Questions
such as the following arose: Are there grounds to assume that one paradigm explains
reality better than another? What are these grounds? If no such grounds exist, why
do scientists shift their allegiance from one paradigm to another? And so on.
In the next study unit we discuss some of these questions in detail.

3.1.10 Explanations
Explanation is probably the most important object of science. In contrast to
description, which tries to show accurately what exists or has existed, the object of
explanation is to furnish reasons why something a phenomenon, an event or a
human action is what it is. It tries to satisfy the human need to understand. The
human need to understand something is so common that there is no need to
demonstrate it here, although it should be noted that understanding something also
has many meanings. In science explanations are offered in the interest of
understanding.
Before we move to the nature and elements of explanation we need to make a few
remarks about explanation. The first is that most of the instruments and processes
discussed here usually contribute in some way or other to explanation. They play a
supportive role to make explanations possible. In a sense they provide the
background and raw material from which explanations emerge. Often the various
instruments and processes are so closely meshed with each other as to be virtually
indistinguishable. Similarly, explanations also form part of some of the instruments

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and processes. Thus explanations are inseparable from paradigms, predictions and
theories (which we look at below).
Secondly you should note that generalisation is one of the main components of an
explanation. We have already mentioned that generalisations are claims that go
beyond the point to which they have been observed or tested. We have also
explained that they derive from inductive reasoning. In a sense explanations are an
attempt to show that the reasons why an event is what it is are the consequence of
the regularity or symmetry inherent in a generalisation. Because generalisations are in
principle always uncertain it follows that explanations must also be uncertain. We
could say, therefore, that we can never be a hundred percent certain that
explanations are correct because they are based on uncertain generalisations. The
validity of explanations (and therefore their usefulness) is therefore a matter of the
extent to which substantiating or contradictory proof can be found in favour of, or
against, their continued use.
Thirdly there is a further reason why explanations or scientific claims are uncertain or
conditional. In principle only certain (incomplete) reasons or causes can be adduced
to explain events or phenomena. This means simply that all the possible causes for
the explanation cannot be covered practically or intellectually in explanations; there
are usually excluded reasons, or reasons of which the scientist is not aware. For this
reason explanations are based on the assumption that although there are probably
excluded causes for an event, their respective influences on what is being explained
are regarded as equal. This assumption is known as ceteris paribus the influence
of excluded variables is equal. In ordinary conversations you have probably heard
people say that ``all things being equal, we can state that ...''. This is a good example
of what is meant by the assumption of ceteris paribus.
Before we illustrate explanations we can summarise that explanations are the chief
aim of science, that they try to satisfy the human need to understand, and that they
are largely based on generalisations which gives them an element of uncertainty.
What do explanations look like; what are their elements and what are their structural
characteristics? The first example that we demonstrate is one that is sometimes held
up as the ideal form of explanation. It is known as deductive-nomological
explanation (the D-N model). This form of explanation makes use of general laws
or regularities to explain particular phenomena. It has the following elements and
structure:
The D-N model

L1, L2 ... Ln (general laws or generalisations)

Explanans

C1, C2 ... Cn (statement about initial conditions)

Explanans

(statement about the event or phenomenon


to be explained)

Explanandum

In the social sciences, and more particularly political science, there are no universal,

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general laws concerning people's political behaviour. There simply are no


generalisations that reflect this status in political science there are at best law-like
generalisations that reflect tendencies/trends. If we had universal laws we would be
able to illustrate explanation according to the D-N model as follows:
L1, L2 ... Ln (all university lecturers in political science always vote
for liberal political parties)
Explanans
C1, C2 ... Cn (Peter is a university lecturer in political science)
E

(Peter has/will vote for a liberal political party in


the election)

Explanans
Explanandum

In the example above the rules of modus ponens (discussed earlier under the validity
of knowledge) by necessity imply the conclusion. We know from experience,
however, that the generalisation ``all university lecturers in political science always
vote for liberal political parties'' is not a general law; it is easily refuted with
exceptions.
Closely related to this form of explanation is the so-called deductive-statistical
explanation (the D-S model) that has the following elements and structure:
The D-S model

L1, L2 ... Ln (statistical law or generalisation; probabilistic


and therefore not universal)
C1, C2 ... Cn (statement about initial conditions)
(probably one of the cases to which L refers)

Explanans
Explanans
Explanandum

For lack of generalisations with the status of universal laws the D-S model makes use
of statistical or probabilistic generalisations. These are generalisations that express
tendencies or probabilities in quantified form. An example of such a statistical
generalisation is ``more than 60% of all voters in the RSA will vote for the ANC'',
while ``the chances that rain will fall in Pretoria today are 0,9%'' is an example of a
probabilistic generalisation. Both of these types of statements reflect tendencies.
We can illustrate the DS model with the following imaginary example:
L1, L2 ... Ln ([L1] 60% of all people have brown eyes
[L2] 30% of all persons with brown eyes
have to wear glasses)
C1, C2 ... Cn (1 000 people work at the university)
E

Explanans
Explanans

(18% [180] of the people with brown eyes who work


at the university will have to wear glasses)
Explanandum

The explanandum above arises because the product of the two statistical
generalisations combines with the initial conditions under which they occur (60% of
30% of 1 000). In contrast to the D-N model, the explanandum is not the necessary

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consequence of the explanans it is at best a probable consequence of it. A


statistical or probabilistic generalisation (or a combination of such statements)
cannot therefore, according to the rules of modus ponens, lead to a conclusion that is
necessarily correct.
The two models of explanation illustrated above are formalised deductive models;
they use logical transformation rules to produce conclusions. Although explanations
of this type are powerful, they are generally not applied in political science. Only a
small part of the explanations and theories in political science are based on
formalised arguments, while the vast majority of explanations are based on common
tendency statements, which are generalisations that are not universal or quantified.
They merely reflect tendencies that vary from weak to strong. ``Proportional electoral
systems tend to promote the development of multiparty systems'' is a typical
tendency statement. A large number of variations of such statements/generalisations
exist according to which explanations are offered in political science. The general
structure of these explanations is basically the same as that of the two models
discussed above, except that they are not formalised and/or purely deductive. As in
the models above, these explanations also attempt to show causes or reasons for
events, actions and phenomena.
The following are a few examples of explanations in this regard (cf. van Dyke, 1960):
. Explanation in terms of reasons. Explanation in terms of reasons becomes
possible when political actions take place and the actors themselves (or
commentators who are familiar with the events) give credible or plausible reasons
for the behaviour. The reasons stated are usually personal or individual and have to
be consistent with the so-called ``logic of the situation'', which means that the
action or behaviour explained must be consistent with normal, conventional and
predictable behaviour according to the stated reasons. If so, then the reasons can
be adduced as the explanans of the action, that is the explanandum in order to
produce an explanation. If a person says that he has voted for the governing party
because he is satisfied on all counts with the government's policies, then such
pronouncement can be adduced as a satisfactory reason for the action.
Explanation in terms of reasons is therefore mostly personal, and as should be clear
from the explanation, it also has psychological overtones.
. Explanation in terms of motives, attitudes, beliefs/principles and
tendencies. When actions are inconsistent with the so-called ``logic of the
situation'' and normal, conventional behaviour patterns, then explanation in terms
of reasons is inadequate, in which case the underlying motives, attitudes, beliefs,
principles and tendencies of the actors will be investigated with a view to shed
light on the behaviour to be explained. In this sense motives, attitudes, beliefs,
principles and tendencies are similar to reasons, but they reflect more basic
elements that can shed light on the behaviour and actions concerned. Quite often
motives are accompanied by a particular aim or goal that underlies the action, and
knowledge of this aim should make the explanation more complete. When a
political assassination occurs and the murderer says that he killed the leader
because he did not like his face it would be an unsatisfactory explanation. In this

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example knowledge of motives, attitudes, beliefs, principles and tendencies


present in the actor will probably make it possible to give a much more credible
explanation for the murder.
Explanation in terms of causes. This kind of explanation differs from the first
two because it emphasises explanation in terms of general political phenomena. In
contrast to the more personal and psychological content of the explanans, general
preceding phenomena are presented as the cause or causes of the phenomenon
being explained. This type of explanation is sometimes also associated with
genetic or historical explanation; certain developments/phenomena/events lead to
a particular event. Because several items can be involved in the explanans here, the
problem of specifying the relative importance of the various items arises. If we
were to investigate the causes of a war, for example, we would probably be able to
provide a considerable number of such causes. The question, however, is which of
the causes was/were necessary or sufficient to cause a war. In this respect it is
usually accepted that a necessary cause is indispensable for something to happen,
but that it is not sufficient in itself to cause something; additional or secondary
causes also have to be considered. A necessary cause is therefore actually like a
catalyst in that it sets the effect of the other causes in motion and causes a
consequence. A large proportion of explanations in political science are based on
this type of explanation.
Explanation in terms of end states. This is another psychological type of
explanation, which does not attempt to explain behaviour in terms of reasons or
motives, but rather in terms of so-called end states, such as the satisfaction of
needs, the reduction of tension or the need for self-sufficiency. These end states
are often not the aims of action, but byproducts that may result from action.
Although explanations of this kind may be useful, they are not generally applied in
political science.
Explanation in terms of function. Functional explanation attempts to illustrate
the function(s) of a component of a system (eg the political system). This type of
explanation became popular in political science during the 1960s when the focus
in the social sciences shifted to the analysis of social and political systems. This
approach and its accompanying functional explanations initially came from the
natural sciences, and especially the biological sciences. The object of these
explanations is to show the extent to which a subordinate part of a larger system
does, or does not, contribute to the maintenance of the system as a whole. In this
regard there is usually a complex network of relations between the elements of
systems, and the functions of one component is often functional in relation to
certain parts of the system and, at the same time, dysfunctional in relation to other
parts of the system. A functional analysis of the role of political parties in a political
system would, for example, investigate the extent to which parties articulate (make
known) and aggregate (put together and arrange in order of priority) party
interests.
Teleological explanation. Freely translated the Greek word telos means the end
state of something. According to Aristotle, if a stone rolls down a mountain it is
closer to its telos. Teleological explanation explains events in terms of an end state,
something that is presumed to be at the end of history or an era. This type of

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explanation is often used in political philosophy, particularly in cases where a


specific pattern or meaning is attributed to history. In teleological explanations the
telos whatever it may be is the explanans for that which is happening and
has to be explained.

3.1.11 Understanding (verstehen)


So far we have used the concept of understanding quite a few times. We must point
out to you, however, that in some philosophical circles the concept of understanding
(verstehen) has a meaning and value all its own. In this regard not all scientists and
philosophers feel that the object of intellectual inquiry is to explain or predict events.
For this group of scientists and philosophers the chief aim of the human sciences in
particular is to satisfy the need to understand, to serve the quest for meaning that can
be attributed to events and writings. Explanation (as discussed above) is inadequate
and even meaningless as a means to understanding the true meaning of something; it
is indicative of the sterile relationship between variables; and it says little or nothing
about the meaning and value of what is studied. Many methods and procedures have
been developed to deal with understanding as a means to achieve the scientific/
philosophical goal of establishing meaning. The best known set of procedures
developed for this purpose is known as the hermeneutic method to which we shall
pay further attention later in this course. You must know, however, that
understanding as an instrument and process of science differs greatly in this regard
from explanation.

3.1.12 Predictions
On the whole prediction has the same elements and structure as explanation. In other
words, it also makes use of an explanans to produce the explanandum, the only
exception being that the event has yet to happen. However, there is a further
important difference between explanation and prediction. In explanation it is
assumed that there is a causality between phenomena. In prediction it is often
assumed that there is covariation between phenomena. Whereas explanation argues
that if X and Y (necessary and sufficient conditions) are present the consequence
will be Z, prediction argues that if A and B are present the presence of C can be
expected. This difference is important in the sense that covariation does not presume
a causal relation between phenomena. If we were to predict that South Africa will
hold another general election when the Jacaranda trees have flowered five times the
prediction could be quite accurate. However, if we were to interfere with the
flowering of the trees the election would still take place. A covariation link is
therefore not as strong as causality.
Some predictions do assume causality, and on the whole such predictions are
essentially pronouncements about the future. For example, if we were to predict that
the governing party will lose the election if income tax is increased to 60% and the
prediction is borne out by events, then we could argue that there is a causal relation
between the level of taxation and the popularity of a government.

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Although political science cannot make predictions with the same accuracy as some
of the natural sciences, it nevertheless plays an important part in political science.
Prediction about the outcome of elections is a well-known example, but predictions
also play an important part in other areas such as policy studies. The assumption of
ceteris paribus, which is invariably made for explanations, is also made for
predictions.

3.1.13 Theories
Theories are undoubtedly the crucial cognitive instrument in science. In many
respects all the instruments and processes discussed before are present in theories.
One could say that the scientific process culminates in theories, which are the most
sophisticated and all-embracing cognitive instruments produced in any science.
Theories are basically the same as, and structurally identical to, explanations and
predictions which function on the basis of causality. Theories mostly consist of a
collection of descriptions, explanations and predictions (and sometimes evaluations
too) that are used to express an all-embracing perspective on, and an explanation
and evaluation of, phenomena. In very elementary terms we can define theory as a
set of propositions comprising at least two variables and in which the rules of
interaction between the variables are specified under certain circumstances. In
scientific practice, however, theories are rarely so simplistic and may consist of series
of propositions and arguments that link a variety of variables. Theory is always based
on the assumption that variables are linked to each other in some kind of causal
relationship. Besides making the assumption of causality possible, it also creates the
possibility in principle of acting in terms of theories. When it is possible to
manipulate so-called independent variables it can be expected with a reasonable
degree of certainty that independent variables will be produced. The causality of
elementary theory is exploited if ministers of agriculture and water affairs formulate a
policy to build dams (independent variable) to prevent floods, increase agricultural
production by means of irrigation, and create job opportunities (dependent
variables).
Theories can be classified in terms of different elements, functions and
characteristics. On the whole, however, all theories have an explanans and an
explanandum as in the case of explanations. In fact, explanations form part of
theories and it is not always possible to maintain that explanation becomes theory at
some stage. The subjective difference between the two categories is probably that
theories are more comprehensive than loose standing explanations. The explanans is
usually applied to demonstrate the validity or otherwise of a scientific puzzle,
assumption or hypothesis. As with explanations, the explanans comprises laws of a
universal or statistical nature, or tendency statements, as well as the initial conditions
under which they operate. Together these elements form the independent variables
of the theory, which in turn explain the explanandum or the dependent variable(s) of
the theory. The former are sometimes referred to as the premises of a theory, while
the latter are also known as the theorems of the theory. The importance of initial
conditions for the explanans is often not fully appreciated. It has the same value as

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laws or tendency statements. The law of gravity does not have the same effect on the
moon as on the earth, and by the same token statements about political trends in the
RSA will probably lead to different conclusions if they are qualified by the initial
conditions in Iraq or China.
Differences between theories can be based on a number of criteria. Some of the
important criteria are (1) the level of generality of the theory; (2) the degree of
formalisation of a theory; (3) the extent to which a theory can be tested empirically
and according to logic; and (4) the extent to which a theory has been verified or has
resisted attempts at refutation.
The level of generality of a theory refers, among other things, to the extent or
scope of a theory. The generality of a theory increases with the proportion of reality it
explains. For example, if we compare a theory that explains the operation of a
political system with a theory of individual voting behaviour, then the former is the
more general of the two. In this regard the general theory will also use concepts of a
more general nature that are also more difficult to test. It is more difficult to obtain
concrete evidence for general and abstract concepts than for specific and concrete
concepts. This problem represents one of the interesting dilemmas of empirical
science, which is that science is naturally inclined to generate general explanations
while at the same time the rule obtains that the difficulty of testing a theory
empirically increases with the degree of its generality. If we could develop a theory
that explains the development of all political parties it would be infinitely more
valuable than a theory that explains the development of a single political party. At the
same time, however, it is almost impossible to find validating tests for all political
parties, and the chances of obtaining evidence that refutes a theory improve as its
degree of generality increases. Particularly since the 1950s, political science has
shown increasing consciousness of the role that theory should play in the discipline.
Various efforts have been made to formulate general theories of political life and
political systems. These efforts were not successful, and it would be correct to
maintain that recent decades have been characterised to a large extent by theoretical
diversity that contributes from various angles towards explaining the complex
phenomena of political life. The search for a general theory of politics has certainly
not been abandoned, but it has also definitely slipped from the position of
prominence that it occupied some decades ago.
It has been mentioned with regard to the degree of formalisation of political
theory that there are no general laws in political science. Without such
generalisations no strict deductive inferences can be drawn and so-called pyramidal
theories (deductive theories) are not possible. The degree of formalisation occurring
in some areas of political theory, for example exchange theory and the theory of
rational choice, is mainly on an analytical level. This formalisation usually becomes
diluted when the premises and theorems are given empirical content. The greater part
of political theory is therefore not formalised, with the result that in this regard
reference is made to factor theories rather than pyramidal theories. Factor theories
make use of a number of factors in the explanans to produce the explanandum. For
example A, B, C, D and E lead to X (given ceteris paribus and initial conditions)

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without formalising the relationship between the various factors as well as their
interaction with X. The relative influence of the various factors, as well as their
interaction with X, is usually specified but not deductively formalised, given the
absence of general laws and the resultant inability to make use of modus ponens. An
example of a factor-theoretical explanation would be one that reflects Britain's
declaration of war against Germany in 1939. We know that there is a general
tendency (we could formulate a tendency statement) that a country will defend itself
when its sovereignty is threatened. We also know that Britain's declaration of war
was not based on a single incident, but on a series of incidents and events. A factor
theory could try to isolate these factors, specify their relative importance and offer
them collectively as grounds for the declaration of war. Such a theory would also be
able to suggest, for example, the factor that was essential (necessary) in the whole
process, and which factors as a whole embodied sufficient grounds for the
declaration of war.
The extent to which theories can be tested empirically and in terms of
logic is a vital component to which we have already paid some attention in the
above discussion of validity. It goes without saying that correct inferences drawn
from an empirically defective generalisation cannot produce an empirically correct
conclusion and that the same is true of erroneous inferences drawn from an
empirically correct generalisation. The elements of a theory must be amenable to
testing if the theory is to have scientific status. For lack of formalised theories social
and political sciences often rely on the ``logic of the situation'' referred to above. A
case in point could be an assertion that the fierce dog bit the man, rather than that
the friendly dog bit the man. There is no formal logic that makes the action inevitable,
but there is an intuitive understanding that the bite would be the result of aggression
rather than friendliness. As regards amenability to empirical testing the requirement is
that theories should contain statements (with concepts) for which empirical
referents exist that can demonstrate the validity or invalidity of the theory. Theories
containing such statements as ``a political system tends towards equilibrium'', or ``it
will rain in future'' are very difficult, if not impossible, to test empirically. As regards
amenability to logical and empirical testing, there are major differences between
alternative theories applied in political science. Quite often this element of theories is
also a criterion against which the relative success of a theory can be determined.
The extent to which a theory has tested positively, or has withstood
refutation, is closely related to the elements discussed above. The extent to which a
theory is successful in this regard is indicative of the degree of its corroboration and
its acceptability. In essence the matter at issue here is the evaluation of theories; or
alternatively it is the question: ``How can theories be evaluated with a view to
separating the better ones from the rest?'' Criteria applied here are the explanatory
capacity of a theory, its usefulness for a particular discipline, and the aesthetic and
psychological satisfaction a theory provides to a scientist and a subject. On the
whole a theory that can explain a wide variety of phenomena is better than one with
a narrow explanatory base. A deductive theory is also more powerful than a nondeductive theory. A theory that is refutable is better than one that is difficult or
impossible to test. On the other hand a theory that explains a significant number of

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phenomena non-deductively is preferable to a formal deductive theory that can only


explain trivial phenomena. The power of a theory does not necessarily depend on the
ability to explain and predict. There are many theories that can explain but not
predict. For example, the theory of evolution provides acceptable explanations for
the development of existing species of animals and plants; but they cannot predict
further evolution successfully. Prediction is therefore a useful subsidiary function of a
theory, but the importance of this function must not be equated with the explanatory
capacity of a theory. Usefulness relates to the assistance provided by a theory
towards the discovery of new areas of inquiry, new generalisations, new theories,
new insights, and so on. The practical use made of the causal relations suggested by
a theory may also reflect on its usefulness. A theory that offers a poor explanation
may still be quite valuable, which means that a theory with a high heuristic and
suggestive value is preferable to one with a narrow formal explanatory capacity and
little heuristic value. Thus the systems theory in political science has high heuristic
value but little explanatory and predictive value. Theories can also be evaluated
according to the psychological and aesthetic satisfaction they provide to the
practitioners of a subject. This is a somewhat subjective criterion, and our knowledge
about humanity is not sufficient at this stage to enable us to specify exactly why an
informed practitioner would regard a theory as aesthetically satisfactory (elegant).
Nevertheless this criterion should not be discounted. We could point to a number of
theories in political science (or in other sciences) that have considerable attraction
for scientists although they do not necessarily guarantee good explanations or
predictions. In many ways such theories assume the status of paradigms, and as
explained earlier, according to the theory of paradigms there are a considerable
number of irrational and subjective factors at work in science.

3.1.14 Values and intellectual inquiry


You have probably noticed from our discussion so far that there is no single correct
perception of the nature of intellectual inquiry. We pointed out initially that there are
two general approaches to intellectual inquiry into politics, namely political science
and political philosophy. We also noted that there are different so-called master
theories or paradigms that enjoy considerable popularity, or that coexist, from time to
time, and that there are many approaches that scientists can adopt. Thus there are
different views within the bounds of political science and political philosophy about
what these disciplines should look like. We shall take further cognisance of these
differences at a later stage, but here we first want to point out an important difference
between political science and political philosophy. This difference emanates from the
place, role and status of values or value judgements in intellectual inquiry.
In everyday life people, groups, political parties, leaders and states often differ
vehemently from each other about what is valuable in political life. It should therefore
come as no surprise to you that scientists and philosophers also differ about this
issue. Some approaches in science proceed from the view that science should stay
well away from the area of value judgements, while others feel that intellectuals have
an inescapable responsibility to evaluate and judge political life. In addition there are

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clashing views on the question whether values can be handled scientifically, that is
whether they should be allowed into the scientific process and product at all. The
heart of this matter is not whether science or philosophy is capable of studying
values. Nor is the question whether science or philosophy are valuable in their own
right. Rather the specific issue here is whether values may be used within these
enterprises to evaluate political reality, the subject matter of political studies.
One way of explaining this matter is to note the difference between facts and values,
which respectively form the basis of what are also called empirical or normative
inquiry. In this regard reference is sometimes made to the fact/value dichotomy or
opposition according to which facts are as it were the reality reflected in scientific
statements. Tests can be conducted to determine whether such claims are in fact
what they profess to be. Where the finding is in the affirmative it is claimed in some
circles that facts can be objective, and other scientists could serve as referees to
pronounce on whether they are right. On the other hand there are values according
to which factual conditions can be evaluated, for example by pronouncing them to
be good or bad, desirable or undesirable. In this regard values belong to the category
of knowledge that derives from people's ability to establish preferences. Thus it is
held in some circles that such knowledge is subjective in that the correctness,
appropriateness or validity of it cannot be verified it is intrinsic to the individual
scientist. In simple terms we could say that factual or empirical knowledge is
dominated by the nature of the object of study (objectivity) while the nature of the
investigator's preferences (subjectivity) dominates the object of knowledge in the
case of value-laden investigation. ``The National Assembly in South Africa has 400
members'' is an example of a so-called objective fact, while ``The 400-strong
National Assembly of South Africa is unnecessarily large and a waste of public
funds'' is an example of a so-called subjective value judgement.
The place of values as perceived in terms of political philosophy goes directly against
the assumptions of political science. In terms of the former the distinction between
``is'' and ``ought'' studies is false. ``Is'' studies (or empirical investigation) deals with
what exists or has existed, while ``ought'' studies have the additional aim of
pronouncing on what has taken place, what currently exists, or what ought to exist
or not exist. It is a fact, however, that most political scientists not only make the
distinction mentioned, but also seek to banish all ``ought'' studies concerning
ultimate values from the field of political science because their methods cannot
accommodate such studies. The underlying assumptions in this regard are that the
methods used in the exact and natural sciences are inherently valuable and
successful, and that all other (non-exact) sciences can produce comparable results
by following the example of the exact and natural sciences and by accepting their
methods as a model for their own enterprise. It is also assumed that the methods of
the exact or natural sciences set a standard for theoretical relevance in general.
According to political philosophy this assumption is very dangerous because by this
token theoretical relevance is rendered subordinate to methods that destroy the
meaning of science (science as a true reflection of the structure of reality). According
to philosophers the result of the assumptions made about the ``is'' or the ``facts'' of
politics are elevated to the status of science regardless of theoretical relevance. The

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philosophers maintain that large amounts of irrelevant knowledge have been


accumulated. They emphasise that so-called value-free enquiry is impossible
because values always influence researchers' choice of subjects and problems as
well as their selection of methods and facts, something that the researcher neither
can nor should avoid.
In view of the differences dealt with here concerning the place, role and status of
values and value judgements in intellectual inquiry we can distinguish between three
broad categories of inquiry, namely:
Value-laden science, for example political philosophy. The coherence and
coexistence of facts and values, of ``is'' and ``ought'', is not a problem here, but an
inevitability. It is argued from this perspective that intellectual inquiry is (and must be)
always a matter of evaluation; hence the unproblematic coexistence of science/
philosophy and value judgements. ``To know is to select'', and according to this view
the same applies for the empirical and social sciences. Their value-free status is only
apparent and actually serves as a disguise for all kinds of value judgements. Valueladen investigation prefers value judgements to be stated and defended openly as
scientific/philosophical value judgements. Value-free science cannot help to solve the
crises of modern times and are coresponsible for the derailment of their subject matter,
namely the political process. According to this view science may not merely explain
what exists and why it exists, but must also pronounce a value judgement on it.
Value-free science, for example behavioralist political science. The premise here is
the logical divide between facts and values, between ``is'' and ``ought''. There is no
way to reason with the aid of logic from what is to what should be. Value-free
practice means denial of the possibility that science is at all capable of, or entitled to
pronounce on values of the highest order. Although value-free science would admit
that problem statements, hypotheses and investigative strategies and techniques are
tainted with values, the argument remains that results should be as free as possible
from value judgements. Results therefore reflect the nature of the object and not the
preferences of the subject. This approach proceeds from the conviction that
scientists are not qualified to judge what is good or evil, desirable or undesirable, and
that it would be presumptuous to assume that scientists have privileged access to
these issues and their solutions.
Scientific value relativism (also called value-relative science, for example the
post-behavioralists and policy studies). Scientific value relativism as it developed in
political science in the late 1950s proceeds from the assumption that there is a
distinction and coherence between science and value judgements. On the one hand,
therefore, it acknowledges that there are value judgements behind the scientific
enterprise while it insists, on the other hand, that the results of scientific inquiry
should be value-free. The logical divide between ``is'' and ``ought'' is therefore
recognised as in the case of value-free science. To argue with the aid of logic from an
existing to a desired situation is therefore not possible. Scientific value relativism
does find it acceptable, however, to argue from an existing to a desired situation if
principles, norms and subjective convictions are applied in terms of which the
existing as well as the desired situation can be assessed. Science can therefore

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appeal for more democracies if such criteria as freedom and equality are brought into
the argument. Scientific value relativism can be summarised by saying that it can
pronounce on appropriate means or instruments if a goal or objective is given. It
cannot demonstrate the desirability of the goal itself, however, unless that is done in
terms of a higher goal, and so on.
According to this view the question whether something is valuable can only be
answered scientifically with reference to (a) a goal or objective in which the
something would, or would not, play a useful, instrumental or valuable role if the
goal or objective concerned were achieved, or (b) the ideas held by the individual or
a group of persons on what is valuable, or not. It is therefore impossible to determine
scientifically what objectives or goals are valuable in themselves without referring to
(a) the value they have for the pursuit of other goals or objectives, or (b) the ideas
someone has about ultimate goals or objectives.
Thus, by asking the following types of questions, the value-relative investigator will
be able to contribute scientifically to value judgements (cf. Brecht, 1959):
(1) What direct objectives are actually pursued by people at a given time and in a
particular context?
(2) What underlying objectives do people pursue indirectly?
(3) Does the same person pursue contradictory or mutually exclusive goals at the
same time or at different times?
(4) What factors motivate people to pursue a particular goal?
(5) How can people be influenced to pursue or abandon a particular goal?
(6) How (im)possible or (im)probable is it to achieve a particular goal by way of a
particular means?
(7) Are there other means of achieving the same goal faster, more completely and
more cheaply?
(8) What are the likely consequences of and risks involved in using chosen or
alternative means?
(9) How can the choice of means be influenced?
(10) What is the function of the said choices in social life?

FEEDBACK ON UNITS 1, 2 and 3


The instruments and processes of science explained very briefly above can be
seen as building blocks and components of a larger structure. The
characteristics and function of each of them must be understood in order to
understand how the item concerned fits into the larger whole.
As you surely noticed, in some cases there is considerable interdependence and
even overlapping between the various items. Theory as process and product of
science requires, for example, that a multiplicity of the items under discussion
be incorporated. Among other things, theories presuppose the use of concepts,
for example in statements (hypotheses, propositions, premises, theorems, and
so on). At the same time theories imply descriptions, generalisations and
explanations. And so on.

30

Given this background you are advised not to see the items explained in this
study unit in isolation. Rather try to understand how the various items relate to
each other. As you will notice in the next study unit, scientists and philosophers
use these ``building blocks'' and ``components'' to establish the various forms of
science and philosophy. You will soon notice, too, that there is no
homogeneous or monolithic conception of science and philosophy.

SELF-TEST
. Explain each of the scientific processes and instruments discussed in
the study unit.
. Explain briefly how the various processes and instruments relate to
each other and how they overlap and imply each other.

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Study unit 4

Views of science
OVERVIEW
The diversified nature of modern political science and political philosophy is briefly
discussed by way of introduction in Study Unit 4. The emphasis here is on the fact
that there is no consensus about how the science and philosophy of politics should
be practised. The study unit also shows that political studies are not isolated from the
influences of other social sciences and the philosophy of science. In fact, political
studies are in many ways a reflection of broad intellectual orientations that influence
social inquiry as a whole.
Political science and political philosophy are cognitive enterprises that are
distinguishable in terms of intellectual game rules when compared to everyday
knowledge of politics. These intellectual game rules are not so rigid, however, that
they result in uniformity. To illustrate this point a number of views of science will
now be discussed with reference to the prescribed textbook. This will serve to
demonstrate the open and dynamic nature of science and philosophy. Views of
science that come under scrutiny are positivism, Karl Popper's critical rationalism,
Thomas Kuhn and paradigms, the hermeneutic view of scientific rationality, the
Frankfurt School's view of science and scientific realism, and realism in the social
sciences.
In conclusion a summary perspective is offered.

LEARNING OUTCOMES FOR THIS UNIT


After completing this study unit you should be able to
. explain the basic characteristics of each of the various scientific views that are
discussed
. briefly explain on which grounds the various views differ from each other
As explained in the general overview, this study unit is based on your prescribed
work. It is compulsory that you obtain this work and study it for the purposes of the
present study unit (and therefore for the course as a whole). (See details of the
prescribed work in the preface to this study guide.)
Now that you are confident that you have mastered the first three units you should
study the selected chapters in the prescribed book one by one. Adhere throughout

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your study to the guidelines provided in this study unit for each of the selected
chapters of your prescribed book. Also make sure that you are familiar with the
influence exerted by the view concerned on political science and political
philosophy. Brief notes on each of the selected views of science are provided after
the guidelines, which means that after the discussion relating to each of the selected
chapters you have to answer the questions on the view of science dealt with in that
chapter before you go on.
You are not expected to have detailed knowledge of each of the views of science.
Rather the object of this study unit is for you to know and understand the
distinguishing characteristics of each of the views of science covered, that is, you
must be able to explain the objectives, assumptions and methods that make each
view of science unique. You must also be able to explain very briefly what the
relevance of a particular view of science is for political studies.

4.1 Modern political studies


The systematic study of the state and related political issues has a long history that
can be traced back at least to the classical philosophers of ancient Greece. Since the
late 19th century departments of political studies have been established on an
expansive scale at American and European universities, and during the 20th century
a large number of perspectives, orientations and conceptions developed on how the
state and political issues should be studied scientifically and philosophically. These
views relate to both what should be studied and how it should be studied. We
could say that political science and philosophy orientated themselves according to a
range of political questions as they arose. Developments in the natural and social
sciences, as in philosophy of science influenced the systematic study of politics
because these enterprises do not exist in isolation. Put differently, the interaction
between political influences and the influences of the sciences and the philosophy of
science gave modern political studies their unique and diversified character.
Some of these factors can be mentioned in passing. The period extending
approximately from 1870 to 1914 was characterised by the focus placed by political
scientists on the form of democratic development then current in the USA and
European states. Little attention was paid to European colonies and political research
concentrated mainly on a comparative study of government institutions in the USA
and in European states. At the end of World War I the naive faith prevailing till that
time in the inevitable development of democracy was destroyed and the whole
matter was taken under review. For the first time a new and unique form of
government developed in the then USSR, namely that of totalitarianism. The
formation of the League of Nations, the rise of National Socialism in Germany,
Fascism in Italy, World War II, the founding of the United Nations, the emergence of
the USSR as a superpower, and the advent of the Cold War are all examples of
political developments that preoccupied political scientists and political philosophers
during the first half of the 20th century. You will notice that the philosophy of Karl

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Popper's so-called open society (see later in this study unit) was a direct reaction to
these developments.
In the same way the scope of the subject matter of political science was widened
immeasurably by the independence of a large number of former European colonies.
There were a large number of new states with unique development problems that
emphasised the need for a comparative understanding of diversity. The struggle
waged for enhanced civil rights since the 1960s in the USA is a further good example
of the dramatic influence of political developments on political science. In the wake
of these developments the conventional perception of a value-free political science
was sharply criticised with the charge that political scientists who did not pronounce
on injustice had to assume coresponsibility for political injustice. Post-behavioralist
science as well as the critical theory of the Frankfurt School were intellectual
reactions to crucial political issues.
Besides the abovementioned political factors intellectual orientations, that is
philosophical and scientific trends, also exerted an important influence on political
science and political philosophy. Some of these trends naturally exerted a greater
influence than others. The interaction between these influences and political factors
on the one hand, and political science and philosophy on the other are complicated
and no attempt will be made in this study unit to analyse them systematically. Not to
sow confusion, but to give you an idea of the extent of these influences, it should be
noted that the following intellectual trends had a greater or lesser influence on
political studies over the past 100 years: Positivism and logical positivism, empiricism
and logical empiricism, rationalism, critical rationalism, phenomenology, relativism,
existentialism, critical theory, Marxism, deconstructivism, realism, modernism and
post-modernism.
It would be correct to say that at the beginning of the 21st century political science
and philosophy are characterised by a rich diversity of views of science, some of
which will be discussed in this study unit. After providing guidelines for the study of
each view of science, the impact on and relevance for political science of the view
concerned will be supplemented by brief notes in each case.

4.1.1 Positivism

LEARNING ACTIVITY
Study chapter 1 in your prescribed book in accordance with the
following guidelines.

Guidelines
. Note that positivism is characterised by three underlying premises, namely:
(1) that laws and scientific knowledge are based on an empirical source of

34

.
.
.

knowledge, that is on impressions that are derived from observable phenomena


and have to be tested or verified in the light of experience; (2) that the natural and
human sciences should be studied according to the same method, also known as
methodological naturalism, and (3) faith in the progress of human (scientific)
reasoning, with the result that people will establish a new and better social order.
Acquaint yourself with the three phases in the development of knowledge and
society distinguished by Auguste Comte, namely the theological phase, the
metaphysical phase and, finally, the scientific phase. This understanding of the
phases of development of human society emanates from (3) above, that is belief in
the progress of human reason and the establishment of a new social order.
Take note of Emile Durkheim's efforts to understand social and political
phenomena in factual and objective terms, and also of his efforts to place the
positivistic image or view of science on an empirically oriented research footing.
Inform yourself about the Viennese Circle's (1) verifiability criterion; (2) insistence on the use of the deductive-nomological explanation model; and (3) perception of the structure of scientific theories.
Thoroughly familiarise yourself with the important influence of the positivistic
(logical empiricist) view of science on both the natural and the social sciences,
particularly during the period from the establishment of the Circle until the 1960s.
Scientists whose work was guided by this perception were commonly referred to
as the neobehaviorists (behavioralists in political science) and they often made use
of quantification.

FEEDBACK
Impact on and relevance for political studies
During the first decade of the 20th century positivism and logical positivism
gave rise to behaviorism in political studies via psychology. This approach,
which was adopted in studying government processes according to the
stimulus-response model (S-R model) in psychology, was expanded later to
account for the organism's influence in the equation. This expansion resulted in
the use of the stimulus-response-feedback (S-O-R) model which laid the
foundation for what became behavioralism. The demands of natural science as
they pertain to empiricism are also present in this form of political science
(which gained special popularity during the 1950s), and it is further
characterised by its insistence on the use of scientific methods and the
verifiability of findings. The behavioralist insistence on testing as a criterion for
validity, that is on verifiability, was subjected to strong pressure as the critical
rationalism of Karl Popper gained ground with its insistence on another kind of
test, namely falsification.
The influence of this view of science on political science is profound, and much
of the research still in progress is based on positivist premises. The influence of
this view of science began to decline in the 1960s when political developments
in the USA (eg the civil-rights movement) as well as revival in alternative forms
of philosophical thought drew the criticism that positivists' view of science

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helps to maintain the existing social order. We can say that positivism has
assumed a ``softer'' form as regards methodological demands, and that this
forms the basis of the LP/E approach, which is a generic concept that embodies
empirical approaches and generally assumes logical positivist methods of
argument and verification.

SELF-TEST
. Briefly explain the underlying premises of positivism.
. Briefly discuss Auguste Comte's three phases in the development of
knowledge and society.
. Explain the Vienna Circle's (1) verifiability criterion; (2) its
insistence on the use and characteristics of the deductivenomological explanation model; and (3) its view of the structure of
scientific theories.
. How do you see the influence of positivism on the philosophy of
science?

4.1.2 Karl Popper's critical rationalism

LEARNING ACTIVITY
Study chapter 2 of your prescribed book in accordance with the
following guidelines.

Guidelines
. Popper's thinking involves a number of elements, including notions of logic,
science and epistemology, as well as conceptions of social and political
development and his normative political theory (philosophy). These elements are
not independent of each other, but are based on and linked together by his notions
of critical rationalism. You should try to identify this underlying systemic unity in
his thinking, and to understand each of the elements in terms of his particular
critical rationalism, which is therefore the cornerstone of his thinking.
. Popper's critical rationalism (his philosophy of science) has two facets: his
criterion of demarcation between science and non-science on the one hand, and
his notions about ontological pluralism (his three worlds) on the other.
. Make sure that you fully understand what Popper regards as science and nonscience respectively, as well as what his criterion of demarcation between the two
is. The tests to which theories are subjected to try and falsify them are important,
and you must know the relevant procedures. In this regard it is important that you
also understand how his concepts of highly corroborated (thorougly tested) and

36

.
.

verisimilitude (truthfulness) fit into the falsification procedures. After working


through this section it should be clear to you that although Popper also makes use
of the D-N method his approach differs radically from the positivist insistence on
verification (the search for confirming evidence).
With regard to Popper's ontological pluralism you will notice that he distinguishes
three worlds, namely Worlds 1, 2 en 3. Popper's conceptions of the evolution of
knowledge and objectivity are embodied in the interaction between these three
worlds.
Remember that the criterion of demarcation together with ontological pluralism
constitute Popper's critical rationalism.
When applied to the social sciences we find that Popper's critical rationalism
induces the following characteristics in the social sciences: (1) methodological
unity the social sciences use essentially the same logic and methods as the
natural sciences; (2) methodological individualism individuals and not
society as a whole must be studied; (3) anti-psychologism avoidance of the
use of psychological laws in terms of which people can be manipulated at the cost
of their freedom; (4) anti-conspiracy theory the influence of conspiracies to
manipulate people are exaggerated; (5) the use of models in the rational
reconstruction of reality deviation from rational behaviour can be explained in
terms of such models; and (6) objectivity the view that scientists should try
to refute suppositions and not strip themselves of all values.
The remaining part of the chapter deals with Popper's notions of historical
development and his so-called open society, as well as criticism provoked by
Popper's ideas. Note here the reasons why he rejected historicism and the fact that
closed societies are based on this kind of thinking. According to Popper enemies
of the open society (Plato, Hegel and Marx) claim that they discovered historical
laws, and according to Popper action in terms of such knowledge is utopian
engineering resulting, among other things, in totalitarian political systems. Instead
he advocates his piecemeal social engineering according to which political
anomalies are removed one by one.
Acquaint yourself thoroughly about criticism against Popper's thinking. You will
probably have to review the material on his thinking after working through the
chapters on Kuhn and the Frankfurt School.
FEEDBACK
Impact on and relevance for political studies
Popper had a major influence on political science as well as political
philosophy. In political science he provided an alternative for verification,
namely falsification. Many practitioners do not understand the difference
between these two forms of testing, however, nor do they realise the important
implications each of them has for knowledge claims. He attracts less criticism
from antibehavioralist scientists than from positivists since he did not advocate
value-free science. His defence of democracy (open society) is one of the most
influential intellectual undertakings in this regard, and its importance must not
be underestimated. During the 1960s his philosophy of science as well as his

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political philosophy gave rise to important controversies with Kuhn and others
on the one hand, and with Marcuse and others (Frankfurt School) on the other
hand. As a philosopher of science and politics Popper is among the most
influential thinkers of the 20th century.

SELF-TEST
. How would you explain Popper's critical rationalism?
. Briefly explain Popper's ontological pluralism, that is his three
worlds.
. What does Popper mean by his concept of verisimilitude?
. What does Popper mean by his concept of a highly corroborated
theory?
. What do Popper's falsification procedures entail?
. On what grounds does Popper reject historicism?
. How does Popper see the social sciences?
. Explain very briefly what Popper means by his concept of an open
society.

4.1.3 Thomas Kuhn and paradigms

LEARNING ACTIVITY
Study chapter 3 of your prescribed book in accordance with the
following guidelines.

Guidelines
. In studying Kuhn's thought you must realise before all else that he developed his
ideas about paradigms primarily with regard to the history and sociology of the
development of the natural sciences. He was not primarily interested in the logic of
science, or interested in the social sciences. However, he did comment on aspects
of this logic after his work met with such a wide reaction.
. The chapter covers Kuhn's work in four broad themes, namely: (1) Kuhn's initial
(1962) view of paradigms; (2) the controversies caused by his work and the
views of his major critics; (3) his stance of 1970, and (4) Kuhn's influence on the
social and human sciences.
. Note the meaning of and difference between normal and revolutionary science as
treated in the first theme. Acquaint yourself with the components and functions of
paradigms and pay attention to the role of puzzles and anomalies in paradigm
substitution.
. In the second theme you should pay special attention to problems relating to the
concept of a paradigm, and also to those concerning objectivity. Kuhn's ideas have

38

marked overtones of relativism, which militates against the conventional


perception of scientific rationalism.
. The third theme deals with Kuhn's reaction to his critics, and here you must
acquaint yourself with the view of paradigms as disciplinary matrices, and about
the use of paradigms as model solutions.
. The last theme deals with the significance of Kuhn's contribution to the social and
human sciences. The heuristic value of the concept of a paradigm for the said
sciences, and the implied criticism of positivism and its influence on the
emergence of realism are important here.
FEEDBACK
Impact on and relevance for political studies
As in many other sciences, Kuhn's thinking provoked a debate in political
science about such questions as whether political science possesses a
paradigm, whether it is in a preparadigmatic phase, or whether it is a
multiparadigmatic science. Initially Kuhn's work was embraced with great
enthusiasm by the proponents of behavioralism who felt that it offered an
explanation for the phenomenon that political scientists fail to understand each
other. They maintained that scientists work within the confines of particular
paradigms, and that so political science would remain underdeveloped if they
continued doing so. Many behavioralists maintain that political science entered
a revolutionary phase during the 1960s as a result of the emergence of a more
scientific (behavioralist) paradigm.
Opponents of behavioralism (including political philosophers) reacted to this view
by charging that according to their interpretation of Kuhn normal science is the
equivalent of scientific dogmatism or tyranny with which they refused to associate
themselves. Consequently they much rather preferred a multiparadig-matic
scientific enterprise. They also tried to capitalise on the non-rational and relativistic
implications of Kuhn's ideas of scientific progress. As you know, Kuhn argues that
the preference of one paradigm over another is not a rational act, but that it
resembles an act of faith. According to the opponents of behavioralism this was an
indication that Kuhn's natural sciences were just as subjective and normative as the
behavioralists' caricature of traditional political philosophy. Besides the fact that
behavioralist epistemology is in agreement with that of the natural sciences, the
preference of one paradigm over another is therefore not a rational choice but a
matter of personal values and existential choice.
Popper's followers and people who had a behavioralistic understanding of
science reacted to the above criticisms. They observed that Kuhn exaggerated
the distinction between revolutionary science and normal science beyond all
measure, and that although the origin of paradigms was attributable to creative
impulses, it could not be denied that they were ultimately subject to rigorous
tests that were at least logical. According to this charge, therefore, Kuhn did
not take sufficient account of the difference between the processes of discovery
and validity in science. The real essence of science was therefore not the
psychology of the paradigm innovator, but the public procedures of evaluation.
Objective evaluation standards could therefore be applied to compensate for the

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subjective origin of scientific knowledge, thus the argument of behavioralists


and Popper's followers.

SELF-TEST
. What is meant by `'normal science'' and ``revolutionary'' science
respectively?
. What does a paradigm consist of, and what are the role and
functions of a paradigm?
. How can paradigms be explained as disciplinary matrices?
. How can paradigms play the part of model solutions?
. There is an element of relativism in Kuhn's perception of science
how would you explain this briefly?
. How would you briefly assess the influence of Kuhn's perception of
science?

4.1.4 The hermeneutic view of scientific rationality

LEARNING ACTIVITY
Study chapter 6 of your prescribed book in accordance with the
following guidelines.

Guidelines
. Note by way of introduction what the origin of the concept of hermeneutics is
(Hermes messenger of the Greek gods), and that a number of related meanings
are attached to the concept, each focusing on a different aspect, namely: (1) it is a
theory for all lingual (linguistic) understanding; (2) it is a methodology that
underlies all the human sciences; (3) it is a phenomenology of the process of
tradition; (4) it is a theory of the processes of understanding and how they relate
to the interpretation of texts; and (5) it is a constructive philosophical
conversation. This chapter deals consecutively with each of these views and
attends in each case to the problem of hermeneutics as a scientific method, and to
how the problem of objectivity and truth is seen.
. Schleiermacher is associated with the first view above. Note that at the
beginning of the 19th century the method of interpreting texts had not been
systematised yet. Schleiermacher drew attention to active as well as passive
misunderstanding, the former being where the meaning of words is not
understood, while the latter occurs when something of the interpreter's experience
is read into a text. An interpreter can only understand a text fully if he/she puts

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him-/herself in the place of the author, which implies both grammatical and
psychological considerations. In this way, according to Schleiermacher, a
universally valid and objective reconstruction of meaning can be achieved. Take
note of his assertion that important genial texts need genial interpreters. These
elements form the basis of Schleiermacher's well-known hermeneutic circle
parts can only be understood in terms of the whole and the whole is made up of
parts. Make sure that you know what is meant by grammatical interpretation on the
one hand and technical interpretation on the other. For Schleiermacher the use of
these procedures represents scientific rationality a well as objectivity, and the
meaning of texts can be revealed and understood in this way. The true meaning is
always the author's meaning, and hermeneutics can reveal it.
. We associate Dilthey with the second view given above. The summary at the end
of this section is important. On the whole Dilthey's work, which is largely
incomplete, was an attempt to construct an independent epistemological theory
for the human sciences. In the process he involved hermeneutics as a foundation
and a method that makes these sciences independent of the explanatory methods
of the natural sciences. Dilthey went further than Schleiermacher in that instead of
confining hermeneutics to a search for textual meaning and the analysis of oral
communication, he wanted to extend it to encompass culture and human life as a
whole. Note Dilthey's view that the use of hermeneutics broadens and enriches the
user's experience and thereby gives it a kind of universality. You are not expected
to study the deeper, underlying tensions in Dilthey's work, as long as you are
aware of them.
. Gadamer represents the third view. His concern is that in a technological society
the legitimacy of the method of natural science will be extended to justify attempts
to study and understand art, politics, morality and history according to this
method. The natural and human sciences are different because the attitude of the
respective practitioners towards their subject matter is different. Outdated theories
are not used in current research in the natural sciences, but in the human sciences
the echoes of major achievements of the past are constantly detectable in current
research. Research in the human sciences is therefore also a means of transmitting
a tradition. Gadamer therefore believes that the human sciences belong to history
and self-understanding depends on our place in the mainstream of history. Unlike
the natural sciences where the objects belong to science and are subjected to its
methods, in the human sciences we belong to history, with the result that we
cannot apply an objectified method to our objects of study.
Note that Gadamer's views as stated here form the background for his rationality
without a method. Gadamer replaces the subject-object relation of methodological
rationality with another form of rationality without method, namely the interaction
between subject and object. His hermeneutic rationality, which clearly deviates
considerably from that of Schleiermacher, even as it does from Dilthey's more
method-based hermeneutics, has three characteristics, namely: (1) the dialogic
logic of interpretation; (2) tradition as play; and (3) the objectivity of language.
The dialogic logic of interpretation is based on Plato's view of dialogue and has no
fixed, exact rules. The subjective opinions of both parties engaging in dialogue

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(text and interpreter) are transcended in the process the parties rise above such
considerations. Every interpretation is a further realisation of potential meaning
and as such represents the ``historical life'' of the ``tradition'' that is ``open'' in this
radical sense there is no absolute or context-free truth in this ongoing process.
Note Gadamer's view that dialogic interpretation is like a game: as interpreters we
do not play the game, rather the game plays with us as participants in the
transmission of the tradition. Gadamer's objectivity of language is a complex
matter and it would be sufficient if you understood that, in the whole process of
interpretation of texts and culture, language is an instrument or medium through
which different worlds (eg the Greek and Roman worlds) can ``talk'' to each other,
an instrument that can be used to reduce the relativism of these alternative worlds.
. Hermeneutics as a theory of the processes of understanding and its relationship
with the interpretation of texts is associated with the views of Ricoeur. After
studying this section it would be sufficient for you to be conversant with the views
of Ricoeur concerning the further development of hermeneutics as indicated
below:
Ricoeur is uncomfortable with the hold of tradition, according to Gadamer, on the
interpretation process. He wants to escape from this captivity and feels that there is
merit in the more method-based hermeneutics of Schleiermacher and Dilthey. The
procedures he developed are collectively known as structural analysis. Ricoeur
expands the previous views of hermeneutic rationality according to which its
main aim is to seek meaning by adding two elements, namely that meaning
should be supplemented by placing explanation, and ultimately understanding, on
a ``hermeneutic arc''. For Ricoeur explanation is not explanation as conceived in
the context of natural science, however, but rather the confirmation of original
conjectures about the meaning of a text which becomes clearer (or less clear) as
the interpretation process continues.
It is particularly important to note Ricoeur's view that there is a significant
correspondence between the characteristics of a text and those of human action.
Meaningful human action transcends (survives) the transitory historical situation
in which it occurs, and by this means human actions, like texts, become
``documents'' attesting to such action. Ricoeur believes on the grounds of these
correspondences that structural analysis can also be used to analyse, and in this
process, to understand and explain human action.
. The view that hermeneutics is a constructive philosophical dialogue is associated
with the work of Rorty. After reading through this section it would be sufficient if
you understood his view of hermeneutics in terms of the following points:
Rorty revolted against the philosophical tradition that originated during the
Enlightenment of the 18th century. According to him the influence of Descartes,
and more particularly that of Locke, was responsible for the fact that philosophy
today no longer studies human problems but is primarily concerned with the
problem of knowledge. Philosophy's obsession with epistemology loses
something of Kuhn's paradigm and, according to Rorty, there are many indications
that something new, something else, is required. First of all philosophy as it stands
must be deconstructed and its preoccupation with problems relating to knowledge

42

and truth must be discarded. To be rational, according to Rorty, is to shun


epistemological theory. The vocabulary of modern philosophy must be discarded
and instead, in its post-philosophical perception of philosophy, the enterprise of
philosophy must become a constructive dialogue between different views of
everyday aspects of culture. By this means the philosopher will become a
practitioner of pragmatic hermeneutics, assuming a facilitator's role in the process.
Such a philosopher would be an informed layperson like the Sophists of ancient
Greece, rather than a person who has mastered the vocabulary of modern
epistemology. Rorty maintains that, as explained above, it is much more important
for the philosopher to do or make, rather than to invent, prove the truth of, or
discover something.
Merely note the problems emanating from Rorty's perception of hermeneutics,
which mainly relate to how communication between a multiplicity of perspectives
can be achieved without a common language in which to communicate about the
matter.
. A summary of the various views pertaining to hermeneutics is given at the end of
the chapter under review here. You should read through this summary and glean
supplementary guidelines for the study of this chapter from it.

FEEDBACK
Impact on and relevance for political studies
Hermeneutic rationality is particularly important for political inquiry. This is
especially the case for scientists and, more particularly, philosophers who are
convinced that the model to which the natural sciences conform is unsuitable
for the human sciences. By implication the issue for such scientists and
philosophers is understanding rather than so-called mechanical and causal
explanatory models. What is the meaning of an event, say that of Socrates
swallowing the poison from the cup? What is the meaning of an era in history,
for example the Roman age, or colonialism? What is the meaning of political
ideas pondered through the ages by great thinkers, for example justice, freedom
and equality? These are the kind of questions that interest some intellectuals;
they are not questions that probe the causes of something, an event or a
condition.
The presupposition underlying questions such as these, as well as this view of
intellectual inquiry, is that for the human sciences, including political science
and political philosophy, the value of history, including the intellectual history
of humanity, is different from the value it has for the natural sciences (cf
positivism). Since the model of natural science therefore has no authority to ask
questions of this sort, political philosophers in particular resort to such things as
the rationality of hermeneutic inquiry. This is particularly the case with the
transmission of tradition; the tradition of the ``dialogue'' conducted by thinkers
through the ages. Every addition, or meaningful addition, to the dialogue is
based on the collective insight, or errors, of the past. How the text of earlier

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thinkers should be tied in with their context, and how the resultant meaning
should be reconciled with the current political context to produce new text, is
fundamental to understanding. In this way alone can meaning be obtained,
whereas meaning cannot be produced by the model of the natural sciences.
Prominent examples of political philosophers who worked in this tradition
during the 20th century include such figures as Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin and
Hannah Arend.
Note in this regard that there are fundamental differences among political
philosophers where the concept of hermeneutic rationality is applied in a
general sense, that is where it goes beyond the meaning embodied in texts, for
example the meaning that may be inherent in history. For such philosophers as
Hegel and Marx, to mention only two, there is a reason or meaning or
inevitability behind the course of events. By contrast the critical rationalism of
philosophers of history such as Ranke and Popper would deny the existence of
such meaning in history, which is naturally in contrast to hermeneutic rationality
such as that of Gadamer.

Unlike analytical political philosophy, knowledge of hermeneutic rationality seems to


be an indispensable aid to the search of so-called substantive political philosophy for
the meaning inherent in texts, cultural actions and history.

SELF-TEST
. Write brief explanatory notes about the meaning of hermeneutics as:
(1)
(2)
(3)
(4)

a theory for all lingual (linguistic) understanding


a methodology on which all the human sciences are based
a phenomenology of the process of tradition
a theory of the processes of understanding and how they relate
to the interpretation of texts
(5) a constructive philosophical dialogue
. Write an essay in which you explain hermeneutics as a form of
scientific rationality.

4.1.5 The Frankfurt School's view of science

LEARNING ACTIVITY
Study chapter 7 of your prescribed book in accordance with the
following guidelines.

44

Guidelines
. Note that this view on the social sciences (Germany, 1923) was generated by the
aim to investigate the social relevance of Marx. The School moved to the USA
before WWII and afterwards some of its thinkers moved back to Germany.
Horkheimer, Marcuse, Adorno and Habermas were among its most prominent
members. The School's views created the intellectual climate in which student
uprisings took place in Europe and the USA during the late 1960s.
. Acquaint yourself with this Neo-Marxist school's dispute with positivism. Its basic
bone of contention is that so-called value-free science disguises social problems,
promotes repression and robs people of their freedom.
. The emphasis of critical theory on understanding society is important. Experience
of society does not necessarily correspond with how it is conceived, and the
dialectic relation between the two elements is important. Positivism could give
expression to the rationality of production processes, but it veils the resultant
dehumanisation. Theory can only pronounce significantly on the individual's
experience of society and understanding of it if there is dialectical interaction
between such experience and understanding. Neo-Marxists believe that
objectivity is an impossibility, that it is inhuman.
. The objections of critical theory to so-called traditional theory (positivist theory)
are very important. As you know, explanations in terms of critical theory fall under
the rubric of generalisations. An individual, a social fact, is therefore part of a
general class, with the resut that the uniqueness of both scientific understanding
and individual interests are equalised, and the common interest is always more
important than individual interests. Thus, according to critical theory, facts,
understanding and individuals are reduced to a state of faceless equality.
. According to critical theory the Enlightenment of the 18th century is fatal for social
science because during this period people systematically discovered natural laws
and could therefore control reality, which meant that people and social facts were
reified, turned into meaningless entities that could be manipulated. The
destruction and misery of World War II, and what happened at Auschwitz, is just
one example of the results of misconstruing the role and function of science, and
positivism could only be a helpless onlooker that had to accept coresponsibility for
what happened.
. Make sure that you understand fully why Neo-Marxism rose up against the onedimensionality (according to Marcuse) of late capitalist society. Just as the results
of an opinion poll reflect only one facet of society without taking account of the
underlying structural coherence of interests, so those in power entrench their
position by making use of a single dimension. This is done by generalising
ownership by subjecting the lower classes under the guise of serving common
interests. A positivist science can only report this situation, unlike critical theory
which can reflect the matter in its true colours.
. Like Marx, critical theory not only wants to understand society, but it also wants to
change it. In contrast to Marx, Neo-Marxism does not want to change everything
according to a blueprint, but wants to change society from the bottom up and from
the inside out by means of a self-conscious involvement with the historical

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process. As a form of therapy, critical theory does not want to focus on human
relations as a whole but merely on what is bad in human relations. In this regard
special care must be taken to ensure that a matter does not become an exemplar of
the general conception of that matter (as indicated above).
. In judging critical theory you must be aware of the emphasis placed by this view of
science on individuality, and of the criticism that it is self-defeating.
FEEDBACK
Impact on and relevance for political studies
Critical theory is an excellent example of a view of science that illustrates the
interaction between politics, science and philosophy. Within political science it
is one of the most important alternative perspectives on how to study politics
and how not to study it. In diametric opposition to the behavioralist approach, it
offered an acceptable alternative to the sterile and status quo-oriented
positivism for many scientists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In contrast to
analytical political philosophy, it offered a value-laden and more human form of
scientific practice to many researchers. As such it is also one of the best-known
examples of the so-called post-behaviorist movement whose members believed
that political studies should be politically relevant rather than methodologically
precise. The sensitivity to contemporary problems that was induced by critical
theory in the area of political studies had an enriching and far-reaching effect on
research about politics. The increasing popularity of policy studies since this
period is partly attributable to the influence of critical theory. Although the
popularity and authority of Marxist-oriented research waned since the fall of the
Berlin wall and the demise of the USSR, the legacy of critical theory remains an
important alternative to the positivist form of scientific practice.

SELF-TEST
. Briefly outline the origin of the Frankfurt School.
. What is meant by the following statement: Critical theory
emphasises society and the individual as well as the dialectics
between the understanding and experience of society?
. What are the objections of critical theory to positivism, including
traditional theory and the influence of the Enlightenment?
. How does critical theory want to transform society?
. Explain briefly what critical theory means by one-dimensionality.
. How would you rate the influence of critical theory?

46

4.1.6 Scientific realism and realism in the social sciences

LEARNING ACTIVITY
Study chapter 10 of your prescribed book in accordance with the
following guidelines.

Guidelines
. The rise of scientific realism is largely attributable to the effect on positivism of
such thinkers as Kuhn and Feyerabend (cf chapter 3 above). These thinkers
emphasised relativism and the historical and sociological character of scientific
knowledge. In fact, the development of scientific realism, particularly during the
1970s, was a direct reaction to these views. Whereas realism in the natural
sciences differs from realism in the social sciences, there are nevertheless
similarities between them that can serve as sound reasons for placing the two
kinds of realism in the same category. Putnam is probably the best-known
exponent of the realistic view that developed in the natural siences since the
1970s.
. On the whole realism takes the view that scientists can make predictions with
increasing accuracy, and that scientific theories can explain observable
phenomena better. According to realism the obvious reason for these empirical
successes is that science is producing an increasing number of valid models of the
world. Reality exists without depending on theories, but because of the extent to
which theories accord with reality, ideals such as objectivity and truth need not be
relinquished.
. The realism of Keat and Urry is important in the social sciences. According to these
two thinkers the object of positivism as applied in the social sciences is to explain
and make predictions about social reality, and not to dig below the surface of, or
go beyond the observable. Accordingly, the inclusion or use of theoretical terms
(eg the concept of equilibrium) is a necessary evil. The meaning of such terms is
derived from their relationship with other concepts in the theory. They are used
instrumentally and not referentially. Realism shows some correspondences with,
but also some important differences from, this positivistic view. These
correspondences and differences relate mainly to explanation. Realism does not
want to show that an event is the specific consequence of a general law; rather it
wants to show the interrelationship between facts, to which end it must also be
postulated that there is an underlying and imperceptible structure of which the
observable is merely a manifestation. Realism therefore differs from positivism in
that explanation is essentially a search for deep underlying structures. Retroductive
reasoning (the opposite of inductive reasoning) is sometimes used in this
situation.
. Note the two examples used by Keat and Urry to illustrate the aforementioned
difference from positivism. The first example is Chomsky's criticism of De
Saussure's view of linguistic theory. According to Chomsky syntax as a structure is

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derived from a deeper and more fundamental structure. If this structure were to
change and the rules of association between deep structure and syntax could be
understood, then, and only then, the phenomenon could be adequately explained.
The second example relates to Marx's criticism of the capitalism of the late 18th
and early 19th century. By itself a mere study of the role, value and function of
commodities in society is not sufficient to enable explanation to penetrate to the
true underlying structure. The surface structure as represented by commodities can
only be understood if the true relationship between capital and labour and how it
relates to the role and value of commodities is understood. Appearance and reality
therefore differ but are also closely meshed. This example illustrates the opposition
of realism to both the positivist and the phenomenological views of science. On
the one hand the observability of facts is shown to be inadequate while on the
other hand it is quite possible that participants in an economic system may be
labouring under a false impression (consciousness) of that which they are
experiencing.
. The principles of this scientific realism were developed by Bhaskar. The summary
in your prescribed book is fairly complex, and you are advised to read it, but to
study the principles of scientific realism as developed by Bhaskar mainly with
reference to the following points:
In brief, scientific realism rejects methodological individualism. This view, which
was popular in the 1960s, is based on the premise that individuals should be
studied in order to understand the whole. Bhaskar proposes the alternative view
that social forms (structures) are essential for deliberate (individual) action.
Societies are not created by people because they precede the existence of
individual persons. People act according to social structures that already exist, but
that could be transformed by people in the process of their actions. Social
structures or forms therefore provide the necessary conditions for deliberate
human action, and such action is at the same time an essential condition for the
existence of society.
Where natural sciences are concerned, social structures differ from natural
structures in the sense that they do not exist in isolation from the activities that
they regulate. Unlike natural structures, social structures are not independent of
the perceptions of what their role or activities are. Moreover, the existence of social
structures is rather transitory and, unlike the trends they may reflect, they are not
universal.
This view of society mainly has two implications. In the first place (and
specifically owing to the changeability of social structures) the development and
replacement of theories in the social sciences must be directed to explanation
rather than prediction (unlike the situation in the natural sciences). The second
implication is that the social sciences themselves form part of their own field of
study. Not only are the social sciences themselves affected by social
developments, but the opposite influence may also take place there is a kind of
symbiosis that does not exist in the case of natural sciences (cf the relation
between political and economic developments and how these influenced, for
example, Marx's thinking and the rise of critical theory).
Bhaskar noted that positivism denied, or at least underrated the causality and

48

interdependence between the social sciences and the reality of social phenomena.
This very relationship is the reason why the social sciences will always be
incomplete by definition, and why no definite patterns can be discerned in the
historical evolution of both society and science. Human actions can transform
societies but are at the same time embedded in the specific structures and forms
that are not only transitory, but also unique in every society.
In scientific realism theory construction begins with real definitions, which
contrasts with the use of nominalistic definitions that attribute meaning according
to need. Real definitions seek to penetrate to the essential nature of social
structures and forms, which are in turn dependent on activities in fact they are a
set of relations that are a precondition for the formulation of hypotheses. In this
regard the relations are in fact understanding of social phenomena, which accords
with Marx's view that they are a function of productions.
. The elements of scientific realism should be recognisable to you from a reading of
Bhaskar's own view (the quotation before the closing remarks of the chapter).
. It would be to your advantage to read about the problems with and criticism of
scientific realism that are discussed at the conclusion of this chapter.
FEEDBACK
Impact on and relevance for political studies
Scientific realism is a very specific view of science that implies certain
presuppositions about society and the relation between social structures and
human actions. In political studies it offers an alternative for those who are
disappointed with positivism but not entirely alienated from and skeptical
towards it. The relativistic overtones in scientific realism are not quite the same
as those in Kuhn's view of science. Scientific realism offers a perspective that is
specifically oriented towards society and the researcher. The fact that modern
societies and their attendant political systems have been subject to major
structural changes since the 1980s (cf globalisation) makes scientific realism an
attractive intellectual perspective according to which changing but deliberate
human actions can be understood. At the same time the events of the past two
decades, for example the fall of the Berlin wall and the demise of the USSR,
have demonstrated the impossibility of prediction. To date scientific realism has
not acquired the status and following in political studies of other views of
science covered here. Nevertheless it holds much promise for empirical
researchers who are not preoccupied by philosophical contemplation but are
committed to tracking down the underlying motivations for human actions and
the relationship between these and society.

SELF-TEST
. Write a short essay sketching the main characteristics of scientific
realism and showing how it differs from positivism and the natural
sciences.

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Note: You will not be examined on the next chapters of your prescribed book, so we
do not expect you to study them in depth, but it is advisable that you read through
these chapters in order to broaden your background for the chapters that you do
have to study.

Peter Winch's view of social science and how it relates to


philosophy chapter 4
Phenomenology and human science chapter 5
Habermas' theory of science chapter 8
Althusser's epistemological argument chapter 9
Deconstruction chapter 11

Summary
In this course we introduced you to different forms of knowledge. We began by
taking a brief look at the nature of political knowledge, its general underlying
objectives, and its characteristics. We then moved to scientific and philosophical
knowledge of politics. These two forms of knowledge are not only different from
political knowledge, but despite similarities there are qualitative differences between
them too. We then moved to knowledge of the philosophy of science and pointed
out that this form or category of knowledge is mainly concerned with the cognitive
enterprise itself and relates more indirectly to social reality. In the process we moved
from simple to more complex concepts, and finally, in the last study unit we focused
on a number of alternative views of science. We pointed out at every juncture that all
the forms of knowledge considered are directly or indirectly related to each other,
and that they are not isolated from developments (political, economic etc.) that take
place in the everyday world.
The following conclusions can be drawn from that which you have studied in this
course. First of all the model of the natural sciences cannot be ignored. It is
prescriptive for some philosophies of science, and the logic and methods of the
model become an example to follow in the hope that successes comparable to those
of the natural sciences will be achieved. For other philosophies of science this model
is in fact a demonstration of how social reality should not be approached and
studied, and equally convincing reasons for this viewpoint are adduced by its
proponents. Secondly the various views of science differ on a number of points,
including the following: (1) assumptions about the nature and structure of reality;
(2) divergent views on what the objectives of science and philosophy should be;
(3) divergent views on what aspects of reality should be studied; (4) differences of
opinion about the most suitable methods for the study of social reality;
(5) alternative procedures that must be used to test theories; and (6) divergent
opinions on what the appropriate relationship between subject (researcher) and
object (social and political reality) should be.

50

The debate within philosophy of science has important implications for practitioners
of science and philosophy. On the one hand it must not lead to a situation where
practitioners develop a fascination for this debate and become oversensitive to the
latest ``fashionable'' views on knowledge. The result of such a disposition would not
only be that researchers will be alienated from their true objects of study (social and
political reality), but that in the process they will unconsciously transfer the
objectives for what they are doing (explaining and understanding reality) to a debate
about the nature of epistemology. On the other hand practitioners should also not be
intimidated by the fact that there is such a multiplicity of alternative views of science.
Researchers should therefore not close their minds to existing alternative forms of
knowledge, that is to what the assumptions, objectives and methods of different
views are.
Researchers should position themselves somewhere between the extremes of these
two views and should decide for themselves what the most appropriate relationship
is between what is studied and how it should be studied. This is a matter that
every researcher should clear up to his/her own satisfaction. If the present course has
steered you in that direction and has helped you towards finding a place in this
matter that you can live with, then it has achieved its goal.

Prescribed book
Mouton, J (ed). 1993. Conceptions of social inquiry. Pretoria: HSRC.
The work is also available in Afrikaans as
Mouton, J (red). 1995: Wetenskapsbeelde in die geesteswetenskappe. Pretoria:
RGN.

51

PLC822-N/1

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