Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Proper Objectives and Methods of Social Science

Francis Fukuyama:
It is certainly desirable for a social science to be rigorous, empirical and seek general rules of human behavior. But as Aristotle explained, it should not try to achieve a rigor that goes beyond what is possible given the limitations inherent in the subject matter. In fact, most of what is truly useful for policy is context-specific, culture-bound and non-generalizable. The typical article appearing today in a leading journal like the American Political Science Review contains a lot of complex-looking math, whose sole function is often to formalize a behavioral rule that everyone with common sense understands must be true. What is missing is any deep knowledge about the subtleties and nuances of how foreign societies work, knowledge that would help us better predict the behavior of political actors, friendly and hostile, in the broader world.

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