Friday, October 24, 2008

Objectivity and Truth in Political Science

The is the first post in an Objectivity and Truth in Political Science series.

I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden.
The intellectual tradition is one of servility to power, and if I didn't betray it, I'd be ashamed of myself. ~Noam Chomsky

Science is not only the process of how individual practitioners attempt to generate new knowledge, but also the process through which one version of Truth is selected as the prevailing paradigm by the scientific community. Thomas Kuhn,in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, defines ‘normal science’ as “research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice”. Paul Feyerabend, in Against Method, argues that success in Big Science ”depends not only on rational argument but on a mixture of subterfuge, rhetoric, and propaganda”. This process and institution is built upon the work of individual scientists wrestling with how to study and represent the real world in a way to generate objective facts devoid of bias and personal prejudices. The issue is neither the process of individual experimentation and representation nor the collective process of truth selection and knowledge propagation are objective.

The political scientist must be cognitive of the limited objectivity available to him to make factual claims about the world around him. He must recognize that as a member of a scientific field and a society outside of academia he is ingrained with certain prejudices that will be propagated through the practice of science as currently structured. Most importantly, given this knowledge, the political scientist must not continue bull-headed down the path carved out previously, but take careful measures to reevaluate his placement within not only the political science field, but also within the other communities within which he is a part. This requires a conscience individual to reposition himself within the discipline of political science and society at large.

The second part of this series will address the fallacy we know as objectivity.

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