International Institutions: Two Approaches (1988)

  • Robert Keohane


Contemporary world politics is a matter of wealth and poverty, life and death. The members of this Association have chosen to study it because it is so important to our lives and those of other — not because it is either aesthetically attractive or amenable to successful theory-formulation and testing. Indeed, we would be foolish if we studied world politics in search of beauty or lasting truth. Beauty is absent because much that we observe is horrible, and many of the issues that we study involve dilemmas whose contemplation no sane person would find pleasing. Deterministic laws elude us, since we are studying the purposive behavior of relatively small numbers of actors engaged in strategic bargaining. In situations involving strategic bargaining, even formal theories, with highly restrictive assumptions, fail to specify which of many possible equilibrium outcomes will emerge.1 This suggests that no general theory of international politics may be feasible. It makes sense to seek to develop cumulative verifiable knowledge, but we must understand that we can aspire only to formulate conditional, context-specific generalizations rather than to discover universal laws, and that our understanding of world politics will always be incomplete.


International Relation International Institution Rationalistic Theory World Politics International Politics 
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© International Studies Quarterly 1995

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  • Robert Keohane

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