Is political science a science?


Is political science a science?

 We need to know the subject matter of science. 

What is science?

Science is a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws. Science therefore collects or gathers facts and links them together in their causal sequence with the objective of drawing valid inferences. A scientific knowledge is therefore based on reason and evidence, as well as conclusions that are verifiable, communicable and can be replicated across national frontiers.

 Any scientific discipline must therefore possess the following characteristics:

• The possibility of a consistent, concise and connected formulation.

• The capacity to generalize and make predictions.

• The possibility of verification of the data as well as the generalizations.

• An agreement on methods, and

• The adequate training of those who are engaged in scientific work

Comparative Politics, one of the major branches of Political Science is a field of study where the five (5) listed above characteristics of a science discipline best apply; the other three branches are Political Theory, Public administration and International Relations. For example, in Comparative Politics there is what is called some minimal scientific requirements for any comparative analysis. They include definition of terms and accurate description of the subject matter of study, formulation of hypothesis in form of a causal relationship (if A, then B), acceptance, rejection or modification of hypothesis when tested with available data. When a hypothesis is accepted a grand theory of politics may be developed that can be used for either a single country or cross-country study.

The scientific approach in Political Science therefore refers to the methods being employed by the practitioners of the discipline. It should be noted that the methodology which a Political Scientist adopts, and the basic assumptions he makes will, to some extent, influence the image he has of his discipline. This is because “scope” and “method” cannot be completely divorced - they are intertwined. Methodology can and should be studied in its own right but in addition, it ought to be considered as an important influence on the scope of Political Science, especially as methodology indicates, not what the discipline is but, to some extent, what Political Science can and cannot do.

Nature of political science

Political science is a social science discipline because it deals with human beings. It is different from the natural or physical sciences, which deal with matters, atoms and molecules. Unlike the natural sciences like physics, chemistry and biology where the laws governing them are uniform, exact and certain; this is not so in the social sciences like Politics, Economics, Geography and Sociology whose central theme is human beings.

For these reasons the premises or assumptions of Political Science are weak, its conclusions at best, tentative, and at worst, dubious. In spite of these limitations what qualifies Political Science as a Social Science discipline is its reliance on scientific methods of research.

By relating political concepts, testing and using of hypothesis to make forecast or predict future phenomenon, which can be generalized across nations, subject to some environmental variables. Political Science relies on knowledge gained from other disciplines like Economics, Sociology, Geography, History etc. to build hypothesis and formulate theories. History, for example is usually regarded as the laboratory of Political Science.

Political Science is the fruit of history and History is the root of Political Science. A number of assumptions and principles characterize Sciences or scientific methods are as follows.

First, scientists assume some laws or principles of determinism or law of universal causation. This means that Political Scientist who accepts scientific methods plunges into his work assuming that nothing in politics just happens.

The second major characteristic of science is its empirical basis. This implies a number of features, including an observational foundation, inter-subjectivity, and the value free nature of science.

The objectives of science are summarized in its characteristics of being systematic in nature, its empirical generalizations, development of systematic theory and finally explanations and predictions.

However, the arguments against the possibility of a science of politics invariably attempts to demonstrate that Political Science does not/or cannot have one or more of these characteristics. The controversy generated by this latter view (which we shall return to and examine in detail in the next section) is that political science by its nature does not possess the character of a science discipline. Those who hold this position have gone to the extent of advising behaviorally oriented political scientists to abandon all pretences, put the brakes on their fantasies, admit the futility of their efforts, and return to the traditional ways of doing things.

The Science or Art Controversy on the Nature of Political Science

From what we have discussed above, it is obvious that any scientific discipline is concerned with rational and systematic organization of ideas. You need to understand that to the extent that politics remains the study of human activities and interactions as it relates to the struggle to seek and retain power through legitimate means, we can say it qualifies to be described as a science discipline.

In addition, as far as the political behavior of some practitioners resonate a pattern, which is consistent and easily predictable, we can also say that the tenets or requirements of science have been met. From the array of studies that are carried out by Political Scientists, it is possible to discern a pattern, or develop a theory from which assumptions, deductions or inferences as well as generalizations and conclusions can be drawn. We can also develop models or ideal-constructs, which can be verified or replicated in other societies with little or no modifications.

To this extent, we are right to conceive politics as a science discipline.

Thank for reading 

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