‘Classical’ and ‘Scientific’ Theory

  • John C. Garnett


For most men of affairs the term ‘theory’ has pejorative overtones — hence the commonly voiced criticism that although some projected policy may be alright in theory, in practice it leaves a great deal to be desired. Theory is believed to obscure rather than illuminate reality by getting between the observer and the raw data of facts and experience. To the extent that he is influenced by it, the practitioner is unlikely either to make an accurate diagnosis of the problem which confronts him or to devise appropriate prescriptions for its solution. The uselessness of theory in the field of international politics has been commented on many times. Roger Hilsman quotes one secretary of state as referring to the attics of foundations being stuffed with junk.1 And Z. Brzezinski is reported as saying that roughly 90 per cent of the research done in universities is useless and irrelevant to policy-makers.2


Political Science International Relation Scientific Approach World Politics International Politics 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    R. Hilsman, ‘Research, Policy, and the Political Process’ in N. D. Palmer (ed.), A Design for International Relations Research Scope, Theory, Methods, and Relevance (Philadelphia: American Academy of Political and Social Science, Monograph no. 10, 1970) p. 248.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid., loc. cit.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The phrase is borrowed from W. T. R. Fox. See his book The American Study of International Relations (Columbia: Institute of International Studies, University of South Carolina, 1968) p. 81.Google Scholar
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  54. 53.
    R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (Oxford University Press, 1946) p. 214.Google Scholar
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    E. H. Carr, What Is History? (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964).Google Scholar
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    See H. P. Rickman (ed.), W. Dilthey Selected Writings (Cambridge University Press, 1970) p. 15.Google Scholar
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    C. A. W. Manning, op. cit., p. 31.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 32.Google Scholar
  62. 61.
    K. E. Boulding, The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society (University of Michigan, 1956). See in particular his Introduction, pp. 3–18.Google Scholar
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  70. 69.
    R. D. McKinlay and R. Little, ‘The U.S. Aid Relationship: A Test of Recipient Need and the Donor Interest Models’, Political Studies, vol. XXVII, no. 2 (1979) pp. 236–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. 70.
    Ibid., p. 247.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John C. Garnett 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • John C. Garnett
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WalesUK

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