How to Map Arguments in Political Science

Craig Parsons, How to Map Arguments in Political Science (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Parsons says there are four regions on the map of political science:

Structural explanations – what people do is a function of their position in material structures. Geography, distribution of wealth, distribution of power an so on form exogenous environment, an obstacle course of constraints and incentives which people navigate. Marxism, economic liberalism, realism, rational choice are all structural explanations.

Institutional explanations – what people do is a function of their position in man-made organizations and rules. The man-made environment is an obstacle course of constraints and incentives around people.

Ideational explanations – what people do is a function of their man-made cognition and affect, their man-made interpretation of what they can/should do.

Psychological explanations – what people do is function of physiology, hard-wired cognitive, affectual, or instinctual motives, their exogenous interpretation of what they can/should do.

A good and useful map. Adding genes to the conventional “interests, institutions, and ideas” triad is particularly helpful.

But it has a couple of flaws. First, the metaphor of “hardwired” can be misleading. Genes are not wiring. The act probabilistically, not deterministically, as wires do. Second, unfortunately Parsons only maps explanatory arguments, not moral arguments.

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  1. Pingback: Four Ways to Improve IR Theory | Breviosity

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