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What is Good Science: Neutrality in Political Science

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"Neutrality in Political Science" (1994) is an Article by Charles Taylor that was published in M. Martin & L. C. MyIntyre, Readings in the philosophy of social science (ISBN 0262631512]).


  • Topic: relation between political science and political philosophy
  • Thesis: “political science has come of age in freeing itself from political philosophy” (Taylor, 1994, p.547)
    • Development of a value-free scientific method – the study of facts
  • Intention:
    • question the “notion of the relation of factual findings in politics to value positions”(Taylor, 1994, p.549) => question the relation between political philosophy and political science
    • today, findings in political science do not necessarily establish a particular set of values and undermine others, however if they would we would have to show a clear convergence between science and normative theory
  • Argumentation:
    • Relation fact- normative beliefs is always from value to fact, not vice versa => values can influence our findings as they are conditioned by an individual’s life experiences which cannot be scientifically explained
    • “Values steer the process of discovery but they do not gain or lose plausibility by it” (Taylor, 1994, p.548)
    • Political science and philosophy are two separate fields
  1. Political Science:
    • Is it value-neutral?
    • The task of theory in political science is the discovery of features to which we should turn for explanations
    • Importance of theories for the collection of facts => DEDUCTIVE METHOD
    • Building of “theoretical frameworks” (Taylor, 1994, p.550) which tell us what needs to be explained and by what kinds of factors, it affirms some variations and denies others
    • Theoretical discovery in political discovery is the general description of phenomena embedded in crucial concepts (Taylor, 1994, p. 551)
  2. Theoretical Discovery = normative political theory = Political philosophy
    • Look for significant dimensions to judge the value of policies, not explain them
    • Excample: Plato & Aristotele
      • One form of inquiry is virtually inseparable from the other in traditional political philosophy (Taylor, 1994, p.553)
  3. Connecting political science and philosophy
    • In order to progress science must become value free
    • Political science must be separated from philosophy
    • Example: Lipset’s “L-shape of political societies” (Taylor, 1994, p.554)
      • Despotism, suppression on one side, consent and liberty on the other => individual liberty and political organization in between => gives us an easy choice => only democracy can be part of a “good society”
    • No neutrality in judging a society because no value-free definition of what is a good and what is a bad society or regime
    • Two kinds of objections of values in political science
    Overriding: valuation is accepted but the verdict for choice is overridden
    Undermining: the valuation itself is undermined and deprived of its status (Taylor, 1994, p.557)
    • The theoretical framework has to be altered in accordance
    • The framework gives the geography of a by itself value-free range of phenomena, but since political matters are of great importance for humans the map has built a value-slope on which good and bad are judged in relation to human needs and wants (Taylor, 1994, p.560)
      • Example 1: Almond’s ‘structural functional theory’ => the evaluation of institutions automatically happens when we characterize them, thus the boundary between society and policy needs to be maintained for the clarity and efficiency of a policy (Taylor, 1994, p.560)
      • Example 2: Lasswell’s ‘behavioral type’ => fact and value enter the behavior but are entirely separable (Taylor, 1994, p.561)
  4. Application
    • Example: use of good in the statement ‘ X is good’ (Taylor, 1994, p.565)
      • What makes men happy is good => the reason for judging X depends on the values of the judging person as he has chosen to accept particular ones
    • The distinction between expression and judgment can only be drawn when we look for the reasons of the judgment as nobody judges without reasons => the grounds for judgment must relate to hat man need, desire and seek after (Human happiness counts as an adequate ground) (Taylor, 1994, p.566)
    • The theoretical framework is never neutral as according to political philosophy value positions are vital to get any set of facts which distribute the core of the argument
  • Conclusion: “There is nothing to stop us making the greatest attempts to avoid bias and achieve objectivity. Of course, it is hard, almost impossible and precisely because our values are also at stake. But it helps, rather than hinders, the cause to be aware of this. “(Taylor, 1994, p.569)

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