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The extent to which analysis of social phenomena is compatible with th

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The extent to which analysis of social phenomena is compatible with the scientific method is a hotly contested question. Among international relations scholars, historico-deductivist opponents of positivism claim that in the pursuit of objective depictions of the causes, course, and consequences of international phenomena the character and operation of which are purported to exist independently of the observer, positivists miss or dismiss the implicit attitudes, values, and ideologies embedded in their work, which personalize and subjectivize their conclusions. Positivism, these critics contend, attempts to impose on world politics a coherent facticity akin to that of the natural sciences, but to which the basic nature of world politics is indisposed.

For historico-deductivists, the problem of a posteriori overdetermination is a case in point. In the natural sciences, replicability and verifiability afford the findings of laboratory experimentation potentially nomothetic status. In international relations, however, such law-like generalizations about cause and effect are rarely if ever possible, not only because events are unique, but also because of the multiplicity of potential causes. Whether World War I resulted from disequilibrium in the international distribution of power, the ascendancy of government factions committed to aggression, or the accuracy of an assassin‘s bullet, is, ultimately, unknown. For opponents of positivism, it is better to recognize darkness than to pretend to see light.

While some leading positivists, most notably Pastore, admit as ―knowledge‖ only the sum of all tested propositions, for most it is the very cloudlike nature of political phenomena that requires a clocklike approach. Conceding that their subject does not permit nomothetic propositions, the majority of positivists appear committed to Williams‘ more moderate rule: ―The propensity to error should make us cautious, but not so desperate that we fear to come as close as possible to apodictic findings. We needn‘t grasp at the torch with eyes closed, fearing
to be blinded.‖

Positivists point to the potential of scientific analysis to yield counterintuitive truths. A frequently cited example is Grotsky‘s study of the role of non-state actors in international trade. Published at a time when many scholars were convinced that multinational organizations had effectively ―elbowed the traditional sovereign nation-state…out of analytical existence in our field,‖ Grotsky‘s research of the structure, timing, and variance of state expenditures on foreign direct investment effectively restored the state to its position as the dominant unit in international relations scholarship. Despite several efforts, historico-deductivists who had championed the new relevance of non-state actors have not, as yet, successfully refuted Grotsky‘s findings—a consideration that bodes well for those of us who believe that an end to this longstanding debate, which has produced much timely and relevant research, is not necessarily to be desired.

In addition to claiming that critics have mischaracterized their methodological commitments, positivists also contend that the historico-deductivist approach is subject to many of the same criticisms leveledagainst positivism. For example, on the twentieth anniversary of her seminal article depicting the Peloponnesian War as the archetypal case of power politics in action, Nash, perhaps the exemplar of the historicodeductivist school, revisited her earlier findings, only to conclude that the interaction between the Athenians and Spartans included significant instances of cooperation and reciprocity. Even as Nash‘s confederates praised the ―illuminating evolution‖ in her thinking, many positivists questioned whether Nash‘s antipodal findings corresponded to a shift in her initial assumptions over time. The implication, of course, is that if positivists‘ commitments at the level of proto-theory colour their eventual conclusions, then they are not alone in this regard.
1. According to information given by the author in the passage, which of the following is true of a posteriori overdetermination?
I. It presents a challenge to scholars‘ ability to produce nomothetic statements about world politics.
II. It exemplifies the analytical confusion created by unique events that often have multiple effects.
III. It suggests that the historico-deductivism is better suited than is positivism to the study of international relations.
A. I only
B. III only
C. I and II only
D. II and III only
E. I, II and III

2. As used in the passage by Williams at the end of the third paragraph in the statement,, ―We needn‘t grasp at the torch with eyes closed, fearing to be blinded,‖ the word ―torch‖ refers to:
A. propensity to error.
B. nomothetic propositions.
C. political phenomena.
D. methodological commitments.
E. myths and superstitions

3. It can reasonably be inferred that the author of the passage is a:
A. professor of history.
B. professor of international relations.
C. diplomat.
D. journalist.
E. politician


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Re: The extent to which analysis of social phenomena is compatible with th  [#permalink]

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New post 23 Oct 2018, 09:01

Topic and Scope

- Critiques of the positivist approach to studying international
relations and the positivist response

Mapping the Passage


¶1 notes the conflict between historico-deductivists and positivists and describes the
former‘s main critique of positivism: it tries to be completely objective in a field where
complete objectivity is impossible.
¶2 provides an example: the causes of World War I can‘t be precisely pinned down.
¶3 presents one of the positivists‘ defenses: they don‘t pretend to be completely
objective, but it‘s still best to be as objective as possible.
¶4 presents a second defense: positivism can lead to unexpected conclusions. The
author also argues that the conflict between the two groups is good for research.
¶5 presents third defense of positivism: even if positivists are biased, historicodeductivists
are too.
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Re: The extent to which analysis of social phenomena is compatible with th  [#permalink]

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New post 23 Oct 2018, 09:03

Answers and Explanations


1)

A tough question full of tough words. Since a posteriori is in italics, it‘s easy to spot. Go back to ¶2 to review what this is. Immediately after the phrase the passage says that in natural sciences, lab experiments can have ―nomothetic status.‖ What must this mean? Paraphrase: Probably that the findings are assumed to be definitely true. Read on: there‘s a ―however‖ keyword that contrasts international relations with science, saying that ―such law-like generalizations about cause and effect are rarely if ever possible.‖ Therefore, nomothetic status must
involve ―law-like generalizations,‖ and a posteriori overgeneralization must challenge positivists‘ attempts to do this because the historico-deductivists consider it a ―case in point.‖ RN I says the same, and so (B) and (D) can be eliminated. RN II is false because the example of World War II talks about causes, not effects. Though there‘s no need to evaluate RN III at this point, quickly confirm: there‘s no suggestion that historico-deductivism is exempt from the problem of a posteriori overdetermination, so that by itself doesn‘t suggest that the historico-positivist approach is inherently better. (A) must be correct.
(A): The correct answer
(B): Opposite. As described above.
(C): Opposite. As above.
(D): Opposite. As above.
(E): Opposite. As above.
Strategy Point:You don’t need to understand exactly what’s going on to answer a question! Paying
close attention to structure can help you to get through tough questions even when
the details may be fuzzy to you.

2)

Read the word in context. The sentence in which the word appears immediately follows the positivists‘ ―moderate rule‖ which says that ―the propensity to error should make us cautious, but not so desperate that we fear to come as close as possible to apodictic findings.‖ Paraphrase, keeping the main positivist idea of a scientific approach in mind: just because we can‘t eliminate error doesn‘t mean that we shouldn‘t try to work scientifically. What does the ―torch‖ that the positivists want to grasp represent, then? Predict: The conclusions that they think they‘ll find. Three choices can be eliminated, leaving you with (B). You know that (B) must be true in any case from the mention of nomothetic propositions in ¶2: they‘re described as absolute scientific findings, exactly the sort of thing that the positivists want.
(A): Faulty Use of Detail. The positivists acknowledge that error can‘t be eliminated, but that they can still grasp the ―torch‖: the scientific certainty that they‘re after.
(B): The correct answer
(C): Distortion. The positivists aren‘t trying to grasp political phenomena; they‘re trying to grasp an understanding of political phenomena.
(D): Distortion. As above, positivists don‘t want to get a handle on methodological commitments; they want to use methodology in order to get to the ―torch‖ of understanding.
(E): Incorrect, as described above.

3)

A quick scan of the answer choice shows a variety of professions. Who would be most likely to write a passage about a disagreement over how to study international relations? Predict: someone who studied international relations. (B) immediately recommends itself.
(A): Distortion. Though history is mentioned frequently in the passage, it‘s always in the context of international relations. The author argues that the debate is ―among international relations scholars,‖ and so a history professor would be less likely to write about it than an international relations professor.
(B): The correct answer
(C): Distortion. While diplomats are involved in international relations, they‘re not necessarily dedicated to the study of it. A professor of international relations would be more likely to be interested in the academic side of the topic.
(D): Out of Scope. There‘s no reason to think that a journalist would be concerned with an academic debate about the study of international relations.
(E): Out of Scope. No such inference can be made from the passage.

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