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This chapter provides an overview of how Adler’s social theory of cognitive evolution helps us study international orders. First, we compare and contrast world ordering theory with its main alternatives in International Relations, starting with Ikenberry’s. Second, we elaborate on the key building blocks of cognitive evolution theory, including evolution and process, communities of practice, creativity and learning, social order and bounded progress. Third and finally, we raise a number of critical questions about Adler’s theory, in order to chart new avenues for future research. We ask about the role of material forces, the interaction of multiple orders, the conceptualization of power and agency, the place of communication and the normative extensions that the theory suggests. We conclude by presenting the following chapters in the book.
We need new analytical tools to understand the turbulent times in which we live, and identify the directions in which international politics will evolve. This volume discusses how engaging with Emanuel Adler's social theory of cognitive evolution could potentially achieve these objectives. Eminent scholars of International Relations explore various aspects of Adler's theory, evaluating its potential contributions to the study of world orders and IR theory more generally. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the social theory of cognitive evolution, such as power, morality, materiality, narratives, and practices, and identifies new theoretical vistas that help break new ground in International Relations. In the concluding chapter, Adler responds, engaging in a rich dialogue with the contributors. This volume will appeal to scholars and advanced students of International Relations theory, especially evolutionary and constructivist approaches.
One way to describe the role of the social sciences (international relations included) is by relating to its function of rendering the social world transparent. This is a major conception of moral significance. The social world is a world of moral subjects. To render this world of moral subjects transparent involves exposing the inner states of the human mind. Moreover, according to the moral principle of reciprocity, those who make others transparent should be also transparent themselves. Furthermore, as facts do not order themselves objectively into parsimonious theory, the social scientist requires an extra-theoretical mechanism to classify and filter out data on the way to constructing theory. This extra-mechanism comprises the scientist's a priori assumptions of normative, ontological, and epistemological types: a priori assumptions that constitute the inner states of the theoretician's mind and necessarily precede theory. It is argued here that according to the moral and social principle of reciprocity, theoreticians have an individual and communal moral obligation to ensure that theory and theorising are transparent; an obligation attainable and preceded by strong individual and communal reflexivity. The extra-theoretical mechanism, and especially the ideological inclinations and normative convictions of theoreticians that allows parsimonious theory to be constructed from unbounded social complexity, should be made visible to the public.
What are social science theorists' responsibilities for the effects of their theories in the real world? I maintain that politicians and ideologues place theories in their political agendas without necessarily heeding their actual content. Hence, the ramifications of theories in the real world are mostly the result of political uses and, at times, political abuses. Consequently, theorists cannot be held morally responsible for these. They do, however, bear the obligation to examine if there are some intrinsic features of theorization and theory that render these susceptible to public misinterpretation and vulnerable to political abuse. Pointing to the rhetorical capital inherent in theories, and supported by examples involving democratic-peace theory and its political destinies, I conclude that, to discharge this task, social science theorists should substitute the prevailing objective ethic with a normative one.
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