Over at the duck of minerva blog, there have been a few responses (and responses to responses to a recent paper written by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (whose blog can be read here). The topic of the paper is outside of the scope of the normal stuff we discuss on the blog – the title is “Leaving Theory Behind: Why Hypothesis Testing Has Become Bad for IR” and it is to be published in European Journal of International Relations – but, I think relevant to what it is we write about; it gives another spin to and expands the scope of the persistent debate on this blog between tradition, history, and rationalism.
On the blog, we discuss all sorts of political topics; but, how do we make the connection between what it is that we write about – honey boo boo. guns, small-r republican gun control obamacare, libertarianism – and larger methodological and epistemological questions that might arise – yet the answers to or assumptions about which we might take for granted – as we try to make sense of our social world?
Are Mearsheimer and Walt right to lament the decline of theorizing and its replacement with hypothesis testing? What is the relationship between the political philosophy and political philosophers (like the folks on this blog) to the study and practice of political science? In our critiques of contemporary culture, our emphasis on the good, the true and the beautiful, and a relatively rich description and understanding of human behavior, what is it that we can say as we look at the discipline? How can we appear to people outside of the discipline as more than simply smug newspaper readers or smug obscurantists? Getting the message out; connecting theory to policymaking, and being more aware of the effect of our philosophical assumptions on the study of, and pronouncements on, politics. We’re conservative, sure, but we’re also dudes and chics who’ve spent a lot of time in the classroom thinking about these questions that many people don’t really care about nearly as much as we do. And I think that demands a reflection and engagement with ourselves. And that might begin with trying to figure out how it is that we think. What are the implications of our philosophical positions. And what role those philosophical assumptions have – how they trickle down (or up? or no trickle at all?) into manifestations of political positions. Just a thought.
So… hypothesis testing: good or bad for the study of politics or international relations in particular? Why, why not, what are the deficiencies, flaws or mis-directions of that approach? If not it, then what are alternative approaches toward the study of politics? Should an emphasis be placed on theory instead? And what kind of theorizing should one do in order to study politics?