The Need for Factually Defined Concepts. Most political utterance is necessarily normative in import since it occurs in the process of motivating human behavior. Popularly employed political concepts, appropriately, are frequently of the ideal type in that they tend to denote an hypothetical situation toward conformance with which actual human institutions are being impelled. Ask any student to define a state or a government and he is almost certain to bring in some such notion as “operation in the public interest,” which might or might not be judged applicable to an actual situation. It is safe to say that ninety per cent of the time such concepts as state, government, court, law, administration, political party, and many others are used in this normative sense, not only popularly but in learned circles.
Without desiring the exclusion of the normative from the social sciences, the writer believes that rigid conceptual clarity in distinguishing norm and fact is necessary for the progress of these disciplines. To attain this goal, the technical requisite is a system of concepts having an understood reference of a purely factual character. The absence of such factually defined concepts is noteworthy in political science, and largely unrecognized. Although most of our studies are factual in nature and the intended reference of concepts is usually factual, definition is largely subconscious and when brought to the surface is likely to have normative form, particularly a form borrowed from legal norms.
True definition is appropriate in such disciplines as logic and mathematics and in physics, which has attained since the seventeenth century to the explanation of phenomena by hypothetical systems employing purely postulated entities like electrons and atoms. A set of pure definitions gives postulates from which theorems are derived by rigid deduction. What is put into the definitions comes out in the theorems.