“Science” and “Political Science”

In 2009 the British Science Council unveiled what they describe as the “official definition of science“:

Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.

There’s a lot of debate as to whether “political science” really qualifies as a science. This is for a variety of reasons, including the fact that there is such a variety of ways in which political researchers go about trying to answer important political questions. Also, the very definition of “science” itself is often hotly contested.

The UK Guardian asked a historian and a philosopher what they thought of the British Science Council’s definition of “science”. The historian said that the definition “defines science as a pursuit, an activity, related to the creation of new knowledge, rather than established knowledge itself. … The definition would include historical research and indeed some journalism! It does not demarcate something called science from the humanities. This is a good and sensible thing.”

The philosopher said: “Because ‘science’ denotes such a very wide range of activities a definition of it needs to be general; it certainly needs to cover investigation of the social as well as natural worlds; it needs the words “systematic” and “evidence”; and it needs to be simple and short. The definition succeeds in all these respects admirably, and I applaud it therefore.”

When a historian and a philosopher both agree on a definition of “science”, you know you’ve got something fairly comprehensive and useful. By this definition, I would enthusiastically argue that “political science” qualifies as a full-fledged “science”. Political scientists, whether they favor historical, philosophical, or empirical (qualitative and quantitative) approaches, all are engaged in the “pursuit of knowledge … of the social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.”

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