The methodology of political theory: can political science help?

I’m in the Netherlands to give a paper tomorrow to the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs at Leiden University (at their campus in Den Haag/The Hague).

Because the audience will mainly be empiricists, I’m talking about what political theorists can learn from political science (and a bit of the reverse).

The first part of the talk will summarise my past work on history of political thought. In five articles and book chapters, I’ve implicitly or explicitly argued that much textual interpretation can benefit from scientific ideas.

The second part of the talk is more speculative, as it’s on something I’ve only been working on for a few weeks (although I’ve taught the key idea for nearly a decade). I’m going to extend France’s Kamm’s insight about normative thought experiments being like scientific experiments, and see what else we can take from the analogy.

Assuming the ideas about thought experiments are not demolished tomorrow, I’ll be giving a more polished version of this argument at APSA in Philadelphia and ECPR in Prague in September.

Causality symposium at King’s College London

What does it mean to say that X caused Y? How do philosophical ideas of causation relate to the practice of social science, and vice versa? We discussed such questions in a day-long symposium in the Department of Political Economy (DPE) at King’s College London on Saturday April 30th. The event was organised by DPE PhD students Irena Schneider and Matías Peterson. In attendance were PhD students studying political economy, political science, political theory, philosophy, and economic history, from KCL, UCL and the LSE. I chaired the event, which was kindly funded by the King’s Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctoral Training Centre (KISS-DTC).

A kCausalitySymposium5ey insight was that we can easily be the slaves of an idea of causation if we do not think about ideas of causation – and that means ideas, plural. There are several different ideas of causation, each of which has weaknesses. And different social-science methods sometimes use different ideas of causation. If we knew more about different ideas of causation, we might not be so quick to reject some social-science methods.

We read the following texts:

Session 1, 10am-11:30am

Philosophical notions of causation

  • Mumford, Stephen and Rani Lill Anjum (2013). Causation: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1-84.

Singular versus general causation

  • Hitchcock, Christopher (1995). “The mishap at Reichenbach fall: singular vs. general causation”, Philosophical Studies 78.

Session 2, 12pm-1:30pm

What can a statistical model say about causation?

  • Holland, Paul (1986). “Statistics and Causal Inference”, Journal of the American Statistical Association 81 (396).
  • Pearl, Judea (2012). “The causal foundations of structural equation modeling”, in Handbook of structural equation modeling, ed. Rick H. Hoyle.

Session 3, 3pm-5pm

What can qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) say about causation?

  • Lucas and Szatrowski (2014). “Qualitative comparative analysis in critical perspective”, Sociological Methodology 44.
  • Ragin, Charles (2014). “Comment: Lucas and Szatrowski in critical perspective”, Sociological Methodology 44.






I still don’t understand this!