This module aims to introduce students to the foundations and methods of political theory. Students will learn how to engage in systematic normative theorizing and be introduced to many of the key components of the methodology of political theory. This includes learning how to use reflective equilibrium, how to create and employ thought experiments, and how to distinguish and move between ideal and non-ideal theory.
The module also introduces a variety of perspectives on what science is, why we do it, and what we can achieve with it. In particular, the module examines the foundations of political scientific and political theoretical research, focusing on normative analytical approaches; to provide a critical overview of different philosophies of science and social science; and to consider a range of methods and research strategies for those embarking upon graduate study in political theory and analysis, broadly construed.
It is traditional to divide the study of political theory into normative and empirical domains. Normative political theorists endeavour to construct, evaluate, justify and criticize the principles and norms underlying political practices, whereas empirical political theorists are concerned to explain, understand and interpret political practices and events by constructing and testing abstract models of those practices.
In recent years, this clear division has become somewhat blurred, as normative political theorists seek to ground their research in the description of empirical phenomena, or at least to speak to matters of empirical import, while positive political theorists have become more attentive to the implicit or explicit values that structure their research. The task of this module is to sensitize students to the presuppositions underpinning different approaches to questions of description, explanation, and critique.