's Comparative Politics/The Scientific Method and History of Scientific Inquiry

Empirical vs. Normative theories


These two concepts are the crux of what every theory is built upon. When attempting to develop a concrete theoretical approach to politics, one can ask two different kinds of questions: empirical questions (What happened and why?) and normative questions (What should have happened?).

The fundamental principle of human understanding is to interpret how and why various aspects of the world operate. Both natural and social sciences utilize this method of understanding to interpret the answers to empirical questions, which results in competing empirical theories.

Normative theories are based on empirical assumptions to interpret how or what the world (or country) should be. Along with empirical assumptions, normative theories also encompass the social value systems or morals judgments of a mass to base their normative questions. For instance, many normative theorists question the phenomenon of war. Not only are empirical assumptions used to explain why war occurs or how to ascertain peace, but they also utilize normative judgments on whether or not the means of war are ever really justified (i.e. Pacifists vs. Realists).

Ontological assumptions about the nature of the world for Normative theory

  1. Epistemological Assumptions: Epistemological questions encompass the human understanding of how we know aspects of the world. For example Liberal theory and Realist theory both believe that humans derive objective information of the world through observations and methodologies like the “scientific method.” While there are other theories (variants of Critical Theories) that feel subjective bias distorts people’s observation process.
  2. Nature of Man: Is the nature of man good? Is it bad? Is it rational or irrational? Are there definitive differences in gender? These are all assumptions that have implications for any Normative theory.
  3. View of History: The view of history is a very important assumption in Normative theory. If one has linear view of history, then they assume that the world is progressing towards a more positive future. In opposition to linear views of history, an entropic view of history assumes that the world is descending into a negative future. Lastly, those with a cyclical view of history are those who believe that nothing changes except for who is on top and how they got there.
  4. Nature of the World Order:
    1. Key Actors? States? Civilization (e.g. Muslim Caliphate)?, Non- Governmental Organizations or NGO's (e.g. MNCs, Amnesty International, Green Peace, etc)? Inter-governmental Organizations or IGOs (UN, WTO, EU, NATO, OPEC)? Transnational Social Movements (TSMs) that are loose alliances of NGOs across countries and/or groups of people who identify with a particular group?
    2. Predominant form of Collective Identity? What is the primary identity of a particular group of people? National Identity (e.g. Iraqi)? Tribal Identity? Ethnic Identity? Religious Identity? Gender Identity? There is often a close link between key actors and predominate form of collective identity.
    3. Key Level of Analysis and Factors Behind World Politics? e.g. Realists believe that anarchy and struggle for power is the fundamental reality and key factors include geography, natural resources, military and economic power.
    4. Tacit or Formal Rules that Regulate the Actions of Key Actors? If so, what are these?
  5. Why War Occurs:
    1. "Politics is war by other means." Humans are political animals. We naturally associate with each other, and this means conflict. Who will make decisions for a society?