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Clouds, Clocks, and the study of Politics

  • Gabriel A. Almond (a1) and Stephen J. Genco (a1)


In its eagerness to become scientific, political science has in recent decades tended to lose contact with its ontological base. It has tended to treat political events and phenomena as natural events lending themselves to the same explanatory logic as is found in physics and the other hard sciences. This tendency may be understood in part as a phase in the scientific revolution, as a diffusion, in two steps, of ontological and methodological assumptions from the strikingly successful hard sciences: first to psychology and economics, and then from these bellwether human sciences to sociology, anthropology, political science, and even history. In adopting the agenda of hard science, the social sciences, and political science in particular, were encouraged by the neopositivist school of the philosophy of science which legitimated this assumption of ontological and meta-methodological homogeneity. More recently, some philosophers of science and some psychologists and economists have had second thoughts about the applicability to human subject matters of strategy used in hard science.



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1 Popper, Karl R., ”Of Clouds and Clocks: An Approach to the Problem of Rationality and the Freedom of Man,” in Popper, Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach (Oxford:Clarendon Press 1972), 210; emphasis in original.

2 Ibid. 213; emphasis in original.

3 Ibid., 226; emphasis in original.

4 Compton, Arthur H., The Freedom oj Man (New Haven: Yale University Press 1935).

5 Popper (fn. 1), 228, 229; emphasis in original.

8 Ibid., 231–32; emphasis in original.

7 See Campbell, Donald T., ”Variation and Selective Retention in Socio-cultural Evolution,” General Systems Yearbook XIV (1969).

8 Popper (fn. i), 240–41; emphasis in original.

9 Ibid., 254–35.

10 Sprout, Harold and Sprout, Margaret, The Ecological Perspective on Human Affairs (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1965).

11 Campbell, Angus and others, The Voter Decides (Evanston, Ill.: Row Peterson 1954); Campbell and others, The American Voter (New York:Wiley 1960).

12 Nie, Norman, Verba, Sidney, and Petrocik, John R., The Changing American Voter (Cambridge:Harvard University Press 1976), 345ff; Burnham, Walter Dean, Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics (New York:Norton 1970).

13 Converse, Philip E., ”Public Opinion and Voting Behavior,” in Greenstein, Fred I. and Polsby, Nelson W., eds., Handbooks of Political Science, IV (Boston:Addison-Wesley 1975), 126.

14 For a recent review of the literature, see David O. Sears, ”Political Socialization,” in Greenstein and Polsby (fn. 13), 93ff.

15 Jennings, M. Kent and Niemi, Richard G., The Political Character of Adolescence (Princeton:Princeton University Press 1974).

18 See Dye, Thomas R., Understanding Public Policy (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall 1972), 243–48, for a review of this literature and a fuller formulation of these findings and inferences.

17 For a review of this literature, see Almond, Gabriel A., Flanagan, Scott C., and Mundt, Robert J., eds., Crisis, Choice and Change (Boston:Little Brown 1973), 8ff.

18 Bell, Daniel, The End of Ideology (New York:Free Press 1960).

19 Bell, Daniel, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (New York:Free Press 1973).

20 Bell, Daniel, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (New York:Basic Books 1976).

21 Easton, , The Political System (New York:Knopf 1953), 55.

22 Truman, David B., ”The Impact on Political Science of the Revolution in the Behavioral Sciences,” reprinted in Eulau, Heinz, ed., Behavioralism in Political Science (New York:Atherton 1969).

23 Scarrow, Howard A., Comparative Political Analysis: An Introduction (New York:Harper & Row 1969), 33.

24 Conway, Margaret and Feigert, Frank B., Political Analysis: An Introduction (Boston: Allyn and Bacon 1972), 17.

25 Przeworski, Adam and Teune, Henry, The Logic of Comparative Social Inquiry (New York:Wiley 1970), 4.

26 Frohock, Fred M., The Nature of Political Inquiry (Homewood, Ill.:Dorsey 1967), 141.

27 Isaak, , The Scope and Method of Political Science (Homewood, Ill.:Dorsey 1969), 80.

28 Conway and Feigert (fn. 24), 27.

29 , Braithwaite, Scientific Explanation (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press 1953).

30 Hempel, , Aspects of Scientific Explanation (New York:Free Press 1965); see also Nagel, Ernest, The Structure of Science (New York:Harcourt, Brace and World 1961).

31 Kaplan, Abraham, The Conduct of Inquiry (San Francisco:Chandler 1964), 339.

32 Ibid.

33 Diesing, Paul, Patterns of Discovery in the Social Sciences (Chicago:Aldine Atherton 1971), 164.

34 See Hempel (fn. 30), 367, where this position is maintained while its obverse—that a valid prediction must also qualify as an explanation—is put aside. This modification of the so-called ”symmetry thesis of explanation and prediction” has not always been appreciated by political scientists. See, e.g., Young, Oran, ”The Perils of Odysseus: On Constructing Theories in International Relations,” in Tanter, Raymond and Ullman, Richard, eds., Theory and Policy in International Relations (Princeton:Princeton University Press 1972), 183.

35 Hempel (fn. 30), 351; see also Nagel (fn. 30), 323.

36 Braithwaite (fn. 29), 2; see also Hempel (fn. 30), 348–49.

37 Dahl, , ”Cause and Effect in the Study of Politics,” in Lerner, Daniel, ed., Cause and Effect (New York:Free Press 1965), 87.

38 Isaak (fn. 27), 95.

39 See, e.g., Sosa, Ernest, Causation and Conditionals (Oxford:Oxford University Press 1975); Brand, Myles, ed., The Nature of Causation (Urbana:University of Illinois Press 1976).

40 There are many disputes concerning the philosophical status of causality that go well beyond this consensual element of its meaning—for example, the problem of whether the causal connection represents a constant conjunction, logical necessity, or ”natural” necessity; and the problem of the temporal ordering and contiguity of causes and effects. For a discussion of these in terms relevant to political science research, see von Wright, Georg Henrik, Explanation and Understanding (Ithaca, N.Y.:Cornell University Press 1971).

41 Hempel (fn. 30), 348–49.

42 Kaplan, ”Noncausal Explanation,” in Lerner (fn. 37), 146.

43 Simon, , Models of Man (New York:Wiley 1957), 5.

44 McFarland, , Power and Leadership in Pluralist Systems (Stanford:Stanford University Press 1969), 29.

45 Nagel, , The Descriptive Analysis of Power (New Haven:Yale University Press 1975). 29.

46 Dahl, , Modern Political Analysis (3rd ed.; Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall 1976), 30; emphasis in original.

47 Hart, H. L. A. and Honore, A. M., Causation in the haw (Oxford:Clarendon Press 1959), 52.

48 For further arguments along similar lines, see Ball, Terence, ”Power, Causation and Explanation,” Polity, viii (Winter 1975), 189214.

49 See von Wright (fn. 40), chap. 1.

50 See, e.g., Nagel (fn. 30); Hempel (fn. 30), chap. 9; Brodbeck, May, ”Explanation, Prediction, and ‘Imperfect’ Knowledge,” in Feigl, Herbert and Maxwell, Grover, eds., Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science: Vol. 3 (Minneapolis:University of Minnesota Press 1962); Rudner, Richard S., Philosophy of Social Science (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall 1966); Rudner, , ”Comment: On the Evolving Standard View in Philosophy of Science,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 66 (September 1972).

51 Riker, William H., quoted in ”Editorial Comment,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 68 (June 1974), 733–34.

52 Tufte, Edward R., ”Improving Data Analysis in Political Science,” World Politics, xxi (July 1969).

53 Mack, Andrew, ”Numbers Are Not Enough,” Comparative Politics, vii (July 1975).

54 Strauch, Ralph E., ”A Critical Look at Quantitative Methodology,” Policy Science, 11 (Winter 1976).

55 See, e.g., Alker, Hayward R., ”The Long Road to International Relations Theory: Problems of Statistical Nonadditivity,” World Politics, xviii (July 1966); Blalock, Hubert M., ”Correlated Independent Variables: The Problem of Multicollinearity,” in Tufte, Edward R., ed., The Quantitative Analysis of Social Problems (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley 1970).

56 Tukey, , Exploratory Data Analysis (Reading, Mass.:Addison-Wesley 1977); Hoaglin, David C., A First Course in Data Analysis (Reading, Mass.:Addison-Wesley, forthcoming).

57 Holt, Robert T. and Richardson, John M. Jr., ”Competing Paradigms in Comparative Politics,” in Holt, and Turner, John E., eds., The Methodology of Comparative Research (New York:Free Press 1970), 70.

58 Gregor, , ”Political Science and the Uses of Functional Analysis,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 62 (June 1968), 425–39; Young (fn. 34).

59 Ibid., 196.

60 Holt and Richardson (fn. 57), 70–71.

61 Riker, William H. and Ordeshook, Peter C., An Introduction to Positive Political Theory (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall 1973), 11. A sympathetic yet sober evaluation of the utility of rational choice models for explaining and predicting coalition behavior is offered by De Swann, Abram, Coalition Theories and Cabinet Formations (San Francisco:Jossey-Bass 1973).

62 Riker and Ordeshook (fn. 61), 11–12. By ”explanation,” we can only assume that Riker and Ordeshook mean ”definition,” since the postulation of rationality defines a (hypothetical) type of behavior, but does not explain it in any way.

63 Moon, ”The Logic of Political Inquiry: A Synthesis of Opposed Perspectives,” in Greenstein and Polsby (fn. 13), I.

64 Ibid., 194.

65 Alker, ”Polimetrics: Its Descriptive Foundations,” in Greenstein and Polsby (fn. 13), VII, 157.

66 Kaplan (fn. 31), 3.

67 Roberts, Marc J., ”On the Nature and Condition of Social Science,” Daedalus, Vol. 103 (Summer 1974), 61, 62.

68 Chein, , ”The Image of Man,” Journal of Social Issues, xviii (October 1962), 3.

69 Ibid. Similar arguments are made in Harre, Rom and Secord, P. F., The Explanation of Social Behavior (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield 1972).

70 Chein (fn. 68), 2; emphasis in original; 18.

71 Campbell, , ”On the Conflict Between Biological and Social Evolution and Between Psychology and Moral Tradition,” American Psychologist, xxx (December 1975), 1120.

72 Ross, , ”The Intuitive Psychologist and His Shortcomings: Distortions in the Attribution Process,” in Berkowitz, L., ed., Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, X (New York:Academic Press 1977), 174.

73 Cronbach, , ”Beyond the Two Disciplines of Scientific Psychology,” American Psychologist, xxx (February 1975), 116, 125.

74 Ibid., 122–23.

75 Ibid., 126.

76 Myrdal, Gunnar, Against the Stream: Critical Essays on Economics (New York:Vintage 1972), 143.

77 Galbraith, John K., ”Power and the Useful Economist,” American Economic Review, Vol. 63 (March 1973), 2.

78 Roberts (fn. 67), 60.

79 Morgenstern, , ”Thirteen Critical Points in Contemporary Economic Theory,” Journal of Economic Literature, x (December 1972), 1164–65.

80 Leontief, , ”Theoretical Assumptions and Nonobserved Facts,” American Economic Review, Vol. 61 (March 1971), 1, 2, 3; emphasis in original.

81 Morgenstern (fn. 79), 1187–88.

82 Galbraith (fn. 77), 4.

83 Quoted in Greene, Wade, ”Economists in Recession,” New York Times Magazine May 12, 1974, p. 64.

86 Leontief (fn. 80), 3.

85 Hirschman, Albert O., A Bias for Hope (New Haven:Yale University Press 1971), 27.

88 Popper (fn. 1); Conjectures and Refutations (New York:Basic Books 1963); The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York:Basic Books 1959).

87 Polanyi, Michael, Personal Knowledge (Chicago:University of Chicago Press 1958).

88 Hanson, Norwood R., Patterns of Discovery (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press 1958); Observation and Explanation: A Guide to Philosophy of Science (New York:Harper and Row 1971).

89 Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago:University of Chicago Press 1962).

90 Quine, W. V. O., Ontological Relativity (New York: Columbia University Press 1969).

91 Lakatos, Imre, ”Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Pro-grammes,” in Lakatos, and Musgrave, Alan, eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press 1970).

92 Toulmin, Stephen, Human Understanding, I (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1972); Foresight and Understanding (New York:Harper and Row 1961).

93 See Campbell (fn. 71).

94 Bennett, , ”Anticipation, Adaptation, and the Concept of Culture in Anthropology,” Science, Vol. 192 (May 28, 1976), 847.

95 Ibid., 850, 851.

96 MacRae, , The Social Function of Social Science (New Haven:Yale University Press 1976), 3.

97 Ibid., 277ff.

98 Lerner, Daniel and Lasswell, Harold D., eds., The Policy Sciences: Recent Developments in Scope and Method (Stanford:Stanford University Press 1951), 3, 12.

* An earlier version of this paper was delivered at the Edinburgh IPSA Congress, August 1976.

Clouds, Clocks, and the study of Politics

  • Gabriel A. Almond (a1) and Stephen J. Genco (a1)


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