In Harold Kincaid & Jeroen Van Bouwel (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Political Science. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)

Robert Northcott
Birkbeck, University of London
To succeed, political science usually requires either prediction or contextual historical work. Both of these methods favor explanations that are narrow-scope, applying to only one or a few cases. Because of the difficulty of prediction, the main focus of political science should often be contextual historical work. These epistemological conclusions follow from the ubiquity of causal fragility, under-determination, and noise. They tell against several practices that are widespread in the discipline: wide-scope retrospective testing, such as much large-n statistical work; lack of emphasis on prediction; and resources devoted to ‘pure theory’ divorced from frequent empirical application. I illustrate, via Donatella della Porta’s work on political violence, the important role that is still left for theory. I conclude by assessing the scope for political science to offer policy advice.
Keywords Fragility  under-determination  noise  prediction  explanation  history  theory  testing  violence  policy
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