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Political science

Political science

Social science concerned with the study of politics and political systems

Political science, the systematic study of governance by the application of empirical and generally scientific methods of analysis. As traditionally defined and studied, political science examines the state and its organs and institutions. The contemporary discipline, however, is considerably broader than this, encompassing studies of all the societal, cultural, and psychological factors that mutually influence the operation of government and the body politic.

Although political science borrows heavily from the other social sciences, it is distinguished from them by its focus on power—defined as the ability of one political actor to get another actor to do what it wants—at the international, national, and local levels. Political science is generally used in the singular, but in French and Spanish the plural (sciences politiques and ciencias políticas, respectively) is used, perhaps a reflection of the discipline’s eclectic nature.

Although political science overlaps considerably with political philosophy, the two fields are distinct. Political philosophy is concerned primarily with political ideas and values, such as rights, justice, freedom, and political obligation (whether people should or should not obey political authority); it is normative in its approach (i.e., it is concerned with what ought to be rather than with what is) and rationalistic in its method. In contrast, political science studies institutions and behaviour, favours the descriptive over the normative, and develops theories or draws conclusions based on empirical observations, which are expressed in quantitative terms where possible.

Although political science, like all modern sciences, involves empirical investigation, it generally does not produce precise measurements and predictions. This has led some scholars to question whether the discipline can be accurately described as a science. However, if the term science applies to any body of systematically organized knowledge based on facts ascertained by empirical methods and described by as much measurement as the material allows, then political science is a science, like the other social disciplines.

In the 1960s the American historian of science Thomas S. Kuhn argued that political science was “pre-paradigmatic,” not yet having developed basic research paradigms, such as the periodic table that defines chemistry. It is likely that political science never will develop a single, universal paradigm or theory, and attempts to do so have seldom lasted more than a generation, making political science a discipline of many trends but few classics.


Further Resources


Introduction to Political Science


December 17, 2013

What is Political Science? | Department of Political Science | University of Washington


What is Political Science? What is the meaning of political science?


February 17, 2017

Why Major in Political Science?


September 30, 2016


Grace Lordan
August 17, 2021
Harvard Business Review
Design your policies to maximize fairness, performance, and cultural cohesion.
Science X staff
August 16, 2021
Exceeding tipping points in the climate system could lead to a measurable increase in the economic impacts of climate change, according to a new paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Science X staff
May 3, 2021
Candidates often give in to temptation to attack opponents in electoral campaigns through negative ads (more than 55% of the ads aired by the Clinton and Trump campaigns in 2016 were negative), even if evidence of this tactic effectiveness is mixed. A study by Bocconi University professors Vincenzo Galasso, Tommaso Nannicini and Salvatore Nunnari, just published in the American Journal of Political Science, reveals the backlash of electoral smearing and shows that, in a three-candidate race, it's the "idle candidate" (the one neither attacking nor being attacked) that has the upper hand.
William E. Savage & Anthony J. Olejniczak
April 27, 2021
An Academic Analytics Research Center (AARC) study published in the journal Scientometrics found that senior faculty (scholars who earned their terminal degree 30 or more years ago) research publication activity exceeded expectations based on age cohort population for book chapters and book publications, and senior scholars largely kept pace in terms of journal article publications. "Across all disciplines, senior faculty may be uniquely positioned to invest their time in a longer-term publication effort, shifting their research focus to the review and synthesis of ideas through the publication of books and chapters," said AARC Senior Researcher and co-author of the study, Bill Savage, Ph.D.
Gellers, J. C.
April 23, 2021
Long hidden from public view on factory floors, robots today are increasingly located in spaces where they exist alongside humans. This development has generated considerable hand-wringing. Will robots eventually take our jobs? Will they replace human romantic partners? In The New Breed , Kate Darling argues that equating robots with humans deprives us of our ability to determine the fate of humanity in a robot-filled world. She argues that our relationships with animals present an analogy more suitable for predicting how society will evolve as robots become part of it. Darling begins by illustrating how animals have long held roles that only seem to elicit concern when robots enter the conversation. We have domesticated donkeys to plow fields, brought dogs into battle, and directed birds to deliver messages. Robots, she argues, like animals before them, will augment human abilities, not replace humans altogether. Whether humans become obsolete is a choice, not an inevitability, and this decision must be placed in the context of the institutions that structure our lives. Crucially, Darling identifies capitalism as the culprit responsible for encouraging "short-term corporate profits rather than long-term investments in humans." Our "moral panic" about the robot invasion is misplaced, she argues. Instead, we should devote our energy to "holding our governments and corporations accountable and demanding that our economic and political systems do better for people." The book's second section deals with companionship between humans and robots. Here Darling's own research shines brightly. In opposition to those who contend that humans should treat robots like tools or that roboticists should not design intelligent machines to look like humans, Darling demonstrates that we are hardwired to perceive nonhumans capable of movement and other abilities as possessing vitality. "Our desire to anthropomorphize... isn't going away," she notes. This is an important point too often missed by critics of humanoid robotics who mistakenly believe that we can circumvent questions about moral status by ignoring the innate human tendency to project ourselves onto other beings. Darling's chapter on animal companions is an enjoyable one that even those who have no interest in robots would likely relish. Here, she reminds us that humans have a long history of establishing meaningful relationships with animals. Therefore, in principle, there is no reason why we could not also forge important ties with robots. The next chapter adds that, following our trajectory with animals, robots "will become a new type of relationship altogether" and, despite our anthropomorphic urges, "we're unlikely to confuse them with the alternative." Darling believes we should be less worried about forming relationships with robots and more worried about how these relationships could be exploited. If we fail to take an "intentional" approach to robot design, she insists, we leave ourselves vulnerable to corporate coercion, reinforcing biases, and invasions of privacy. Strong regulations and enforcement mechanisms will be needed to avoid these potential pitfalls. The book's final section addresses how humans should treat robots. Here the literature on animal rights makes a late but essential entrance. While our treatment of animals is "rife with inconsistencies," empathy, she maintains, might be the key to understanding our obligations toward robots. Perhaps to the disappointment of some, Darling suggests that our emotions, not our reason, might best guide the design of legal protections for intelligent machines. The New Breed offers readers an energetic and witty overview of how our relations with animals can deliver useful insights into how robots might be incorporated into human society, but a couple of weaknesses might catch the attention of specialists. Darling's emphasis on human needs and empathy, for example, reinforces the kind of anthropocentric thinking that has produced animal suffering and ecological devastation. In addition, her exclusive focus on Western philosophy and law gives short shrift to important ideas about the relational personhood of nonhuman entities and the fundamental interconnectedness of all life forms that are articulated in Eastern and Indigenous worldviews. Despite these shortcomings, this book succeeds in arresting the alarmism that has pervaded recent popular writing on robots. Darling ultimately makes a strong case that while our future will indeed include robots, it remains up to us to decide how to adjust our systems to accommodate our new companions. By examining the past and present of our relationships with animals, she shows how we might learn lessons that will help us shape our technological future for the better.


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