IEET > GlobalDemocracySecurity > Vision > Contributors > P. Tittle > HealthLongevity
Political Science – A Costly Misnomer
P. Tittle   May 25, 2013   Bite-Sized Subversions  

Science is the pursuit of knowledge according to the scientific method: hypotheses must be testable, and results must be verifiable by replication.  Obviously, the more quantifiable something is, the more accurate and precise its measurement can be, and the more accurate and precise something is, the more testable and verifiable it is – it’s hard to test and then verify an uncertain or vague something-or-other.

So the definition of science really comes down to quantification.  Well, that and matter – only material things can be quantified.

Political science is the study of government organization and political systems.  These things are not quantifiable.  It would seem, then, that political science should have been named political art. 

So?  Well, one, we’re left with an interesting question: why was political science mis-named in the first place?  My guess is that it was because men did the naming.  For whatever reason (and several come to mind), men dominated government and politics, so, of course, they would initiate, dominate, name the field of political science.

And why would they choose to call it a science rather than an art?  Well, simply because the arts are considered feminine.  And this was a bad thing.

And why was science, on the other hand, considered masculine?  Perhaps because male supremacy depends on size.  So size is seen as a good thing.  So quantifiability, the measurability of size, is seen as a good thing.  Science, by quantifiability, is thus linked to masculinity.

And two, we’re surely left wondering what the consequences have been of this error in nomenclature.  Perhaps if political science had been named correctly at the start, if the creation and maintenance of a just society was recognized as an art, not a science, we might have just societies.

We might be focusing on quality, not quantity.  Consider the impact of this on the current economics-by-GNP system (a system in which oil spills and car accidents are good things because they increase the GNP – read Marilyn Waring), the system which directs our Finance Departments.  If we focused on quality, one’s standard of living might not be determined by how much one has, but by how happy one is, how free and autonomous one is.

Systems of organization might be lateral, not hierarchical (hierarchical systems are implicitly incremental, that is, dependent on quantity differences).  Consider the impact of this on the workplace.

Attention might be paid to process, rather than to structure (structure is matter – static quantity).  Consider the impact of this on hospitals and schools.

It might have been understood that societies are dynamic, fluid, and characterized by relationships which must be kept in balance.  Consider the impact of this on trade and foreign relations.

And it might have been understood that each organism has an optimal size, that unlimited growth is not in its best interests, that more is not better.  Consider the impact of this on consumer societies and ‘Defence’ Departments.

Just consider the impact – of the inconsequence, the insignificance, of quantity.

P. Tittle is the author of Critical Thinking: An Appeal to Reason (Routledge, 2011), Sh*t that Pisses Me Off (Magenta, 2011), Ethical Issues in Business: Inquiries, Cases, and Readings (Broadview, 2000), and What If...Collected Thought Experiments in Philosophy (Longman, 2005). She lives in Canada, and she blogs at


This is the worst piece of writing I’ve seen on IEET since that piece on how lipstick wearers are anti-feminists (another proud Tittle production - maybe the admins ought to set up some special screening procedures for her pieces?). I smell another ignominious article deletion…

Rather than attempt the monumental task of deconstructing each of the facepalmworthy errors on display here (most of which basically amount to confusing lexical similarity with semantic similarity), I will address one very basic one at the fundament of your rickety conceptual construction: anything can be quantified, it’s just a matter of choosing what the operational definition is. Various of the “softer” sciences choose some arbitrary characteristic (itself measured arbitrarily) as the boundary condition between the (quantifiably!) measured phenomena, and the “harder” sciences are engaged in fundamentally the same process, as are all the sciences of intermediate hardness. Thus, we have the demarcation problem (the lack of consensus as to what “science” actually is), just as we have an endless parade of art theorists asking what “art” is.

And your linking of this position on the science spectrum (assuming such a thing could even be established) to masculinity is, to put it politely, laughably dubious. This baffling maneuver strongly reminds me of some pieces I studied in women’s studies class that basically served as a token example of the absurd lengths some theorists have gone to (equating liquid with femininity, and therefore hydrology as a “feminine” science, or some such nonsense) to twist complex phenomena into wildly misguided attempts at serious feminist critique, thus staining the larger movement in the public’s eyes for generations.

there is a great deal of validity in what Peg writes. First, political science is no science- and economics isn’t science, either. And in fact men dominate women everywhere. BTW, apparently Margaret Mead might have been mistaken certain societies (i.e. Chambri Lake region of Papua New Guinea) were matriarchies. In other words, they may have been temporary matriarchies; they were matriarchal at the time she happened to study them, say.

@Intomorrow: I never denied that men dominate women, I pointed out that g a field’s purported scienceness is due to men dominating women is baseless and absurd. By this logic, why aren’t religion or sexual ethics, far more direct in their oppression of women, considered sciences? The questions of whether political science or economics are sciences proper are valid ones, and depend upon how well they fit with a given list of criteria (itself not set in stone, varying field by field), none of which has anything to do with oppressing women. The imprimatur of science has been borrowed in attempts to justify oppression of all manner of disadvantaged sectors of society, but this has little relevance to the argument here.

Also, just to reiterate again, there is no such thing as a definitive notion of what “science” is:

You mean pure science—but that is not what Peg is referring to, I guess; pure science is ineffectual without applied science.

Are you suggesting the distinction between pure and applied science is unambiguous and thus neutralizes the demarcation problem?

What is the basis for putting, say, political science or economics, firmly in the pure or applied category?

They are “pure” in that they aim to describe natural phenomena. Some of us humans tend to get offended by the notion that we are “natural” and thus erect all sorts of convoluted justifications for our cosmic exceptionality, a notion bolstered by the fact that we are hugely more complicated natural phenomena and thus harder to create effective predictive and quantitative models for, but results and aims are two different things.

The fields can be said to be in the “applied” category by dint of the fact that the conclusions gleaned from their research are easily coopted in our simian power struggles, but the same can be said of various disparate fields that have obvious political and economic implications, without necessarily having implications that these fields are thus not “pure” science.

Clearly the phrase political science is a misnomer, since usage of the word science is thankfully dominated by the meaning referring to the scientific method. Use of the phrase literally, is practically forever ‘ruined’. Other content in the article appears to be of little rational soundness or use.  I write to take the opportunity to touch on a core culture/civilization/political structure need for something that would be actually scientific and fundamentally, pivotally civilized and useful. This would be something like ‘leadership science’ or ‘legislative science’ and would turn legislation into something resembling the scientific method, and reduce the authority of persons, placing authority in the science, exactly how authority manifests in the scientific community. But instead of being an individual science, legislative science would draw from many sciences, including psychology, sociology, and ‘harder’ sciences. It may sound a great stretch, and to go against some or most existing cultural tendencies, but I intend to address such concerns, and describe this in a more thorough and developed way later. But I’m not deluded about what might be the likelihood,  arc and timescale of such a thing. Avoiding such mental states is something I work hard to do.

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Abolition is Imperative in Kurzweil’s Sixth Epoch Scenario

Previous entry: End of Eating Food