PO 101 - July 2 Reading

PO 101 - July 2 Reading - Rogers M. Smith Should We Make...

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Rogers M. Smith Should We Make Political Science More of a Science or More about Politics? To paraphrase slightly, I have been asked to focus on the apparent tensions between making genuinely scientific contributions by advancing knowledge in rigorous ways within specialized subfields, on the one hand, and addressing substantive political issues of general interest in accessible fashion, on the other. My view is that, though we should try to do both things, we should give priority to the latter--to helping both disciplinary and general public understandings of important substantive political issues become better informed and reasoned. To adopt this priority is still, I believe, to pursue the main tasks of political science as scientifically as possible; but it is true that this course involves significant tradeoffs. I would have us devote fewer resources than we now do to work that achieves greater methodological rigor in addressing minor questions as putative stepping stones toward eventually achieving more scientific work on larger questions. I would have us devote more resources to research that may not be methodologically innovative or unusually precise, but that provides evidence and arguments sufficient to judge some positions on important issues to be more credible than others. I certainly do not advocate abandoning methodologically oriented work; but the promise of achieving substantially greater rigor on most significant political questions is ineradicably limited. Hence it seems appropriate to give a secondary role in the discipline's endeavors to research that is most concerned with advancing the scientific character of political science, rather than advancing and defending substantively important propositions about politics. This position rests on a certain set of beliefs and my reasoning from them; but space prohibits any elaborate defense of those views here. Instead I simply lay out my beliefs and reasons in ways that may elucidate key points of disagreement with other views of political science. Clarifying differences is often the best way to move discussion forward. All scientific inquiry is undertaken to serve human interests. Some people believe that the highest calling of all academics, including political scientists, is to pursue science "for its own sake," or knowledge "for its own sake." Mundane human motivations, and certainly political motivations, are deemed unscientific. To the contrary, I do not believe that "science" and "knowledge" have "sakes." Scientific inquiry is something people choose to pursue. They do so for a variety of reasons, but all those reasons are forms of human interest. Some undertake scientific studies because they find satisfaction simply in obtaining and contemplating well-founded knowledge about existence. That is one of my own motivations. Still, this remains knowledge pursued to satisfy a human aspiration or interest. It is not science or knowledge for its own sake.
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PO 101 - July 2 Reading - Rogers M. Smith Should We Make...

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