Summarizing key concepts in political science

PS 2000, Introduction to Political Science 1
Course Learning Outcomes for
Upon completion of this unit, students should be able to:
1. Summarize the theories and philosophies that shape modern political thought.
1.1 Distinguish between political theory and political philosophy.
1.2 Identify the thinkers associated with liberalism.
5. Summarize key concepts in political science.
5.1 Explain the concept of the social contract.
Learning Outcomes
Learning Activity
Unit Lesson
Chapter 2 reading
Unit II Scholarly Activity
Unit Lesson
Chapter 2 reading
Unit II Scholarly Activity
Unit Lesson
Chapter 2 reading
Additional Reading Assignment
Unit II Scholarly Activity
Reading Assignment
Chapter 2: Political Philosophy and Its Offshoot: Political Science
Additional Reading Assignments
Click the following links to access the resources below:
Social Contract. (n.d.). In New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved from
Please read pp. 449-456 in the following resource to learn more about liberalism.
Walker, T. (2008). Two faces of liberalism: Kant, Paine, and the question of intervention. International
Studies Quarterly, 52(3), 449456. Retrieved from:
Unit Lesson
To access the audio recording of the unit lesson below, click here.
As noted in the previous unit, differentiating between political theory, philosophy, and ideology is no simple
task. This is not surprising, given the considerable overlap amongst them. To add to the confusion, political
science uses the term state, not in reference to a state or province such as Texas or Florida, but as a country.
Therefore, the term state in this course refers not to a unit of sub-government within a nation, but rather in the
context of nation and country. Indeed, you will find many textbooks use the term nation-state to avoid
Political Theory and Philosophy
PS 2000, Introduction to Political Science 2
confusion. This unit seeks to clarify the ideas of political theory and philosophy and provide an overview of the
major thinkers and their contributions.
What is power? What is authority? What is the best regime? How do foundational assumptions about the
human, the body, rationality, and emotion constitute certain notions of social and political life and of political
subjects? Political theory and political philosophy provide different perspectives into how we answer
such questions.
Political Theory
Political theory can be broadly painted as the explanation and rationale used to describe the reason or
reasons why a political event has occurred. Often, a subfield within political science, political theory focuses
on concepts, principles, institutions, and values to evaluate and interpret politics. Political theory seeks to
understand politics and provide theoretical explanations for practical use. By understanding how and why
something occurs, political theorists can often predict future events, behaviors, and recognize patterns.
Dryzek, Honig, and Phillips (2011) observed no dominant methodology to political theory, as it acts as a
mongrel sub-discipline. Indeed, theories are largely normative and are ever evolving. Modern theory
envelopes multiple ideas and perspectives but is most often grounded in one of four general areas:
philosophical, historical, institutional, and legal.
Political theory most often involves one of two perspectives: normative or empirical. The normative
perspective focuses on values and how the world should be based on those values. It explores these values
to arrive at an understanding of why politics are the way that they are and what should be done based on the
relevant set of values. The empirical perspective focuses on what is observable and deriving a hypothesis to
explain and determine a path forward. Because political theorists seek to explain what is observed, they often
incorporate empirical data and statistics to complement their research and prove their theory.
Political theory has two overarching approaches: traditional and modern. The traditional approach builds on
traditional ideas of studying politics and the government and emphasizes the need to examine political
structures and institutions. The traditional approach further divides into four approaches.
Philosophical: the oldest approach, based on values. Its primary focus is determining the value
system and morality of a society. As a result, it is an idealistic approach.
Historical: emphasizes the study of historical events to analyze and determine its translatability to any
Institutional: focuses on structures and institutions such as the legislature, executive, judiciary,
political parties.
Legal: focuses on legal processes and structures.
The modern approach typically consists of the behavioral and comparative approaches. The behavioral
approach focuses on individuals, groups, and how their actions impact and influence political behavior. The
behavioral approach now has a companion approach: post-behavioralism.
Post-behavioralism emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of widespread dissatisfaction within the
existing frame of the behavioral approach. It developed into a hybrid approach that opposed the concept of a
value-free science, a concept embraced by behavioralists that emphasized substance over technique (Varna,
2011). Post-behavioralism focuses on the human aspect and employs a practical, sociological perspective.
The comparative approach is fairly intuitive. It focuses on comparing two phenomena to determine differences
and similarities. The goal is isolating patterns to explain political activities, events, and procedures. Rose
(1991) observed comparison uses concepts applicable in more than one country.
There are many ways to categorize and divide theories, perhaps a direct reflection of the normative and
subjective nature of theory. Your textbook focuses on three rational-material approaches to political theory:
liberal, Marxist, realism, and how the institutional and ideational approaches pose challenges to these and
other theories. The table below presents some of the most influential thinker and their theories:
PS 2000, Introduction to Political Science 3
Political Philosophy
Political philosophy is concerned with thinking and interpreting the ideas and motivations leading to certain
events and behaviors. Nardin (2011) describes political philosophy as demanding the individual interpret,
analyze, and explain politics without necessarily immediate practical application.
PS 2000, Introduction to Political Science 4
Political philosophy is mostly concerned with
relationships, nature, and makes assumptions and
generalizations based on ethics and morals. Because it is
grounded in philosophy, it centers on thought and human
nature. Political philosophers use the work of noted
thinkers to support their explanations of human behavior
and political action. It is probably best to consider these
influential thinkers in terms of the foundation upon which
their theory derived.
Classic political thought includes the works of Plato,
Aristotle, Thucydides, and Cicero. It focuses on power,
authority, and the common good. A central recurring
theme is that people are inherently flawed and need the
elite to govern and guide them. The idea of the social
contract is another school of thought. Such early liberal
thought includes thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, and
Rousseauand would include Rawls and Millas it
evolved into modern liberalism. This tradition builds on
premises of freedom and natural rights. Marxism stems
from the works of Marx and Engels and was built around
the idea of class struggle.
These schools of thought have evolved and expanded,
now bridging the gap between traditional political thought
and international relations theory. These schools of
thought, or traditions as they are sometimes called, will
also be discussed in Unit VI when we examine the ideas
and theories inherent to the study of international relations.
The overlap between political theory and philosophy (and even ideology) often leads to confusion. When in
doubt, keep in mind that political theory revolves around arguments and analysis seeking explanations to
predict behavior, while political philosophy is more concerned with discussing ideas and thoughts stemming
from ethics and morals.
Both fields turn to history (though the information they extract differs) and draw from historical figures and
thinkers. They both also consider the moral foundations of politics though from different perspectives (what
works versus what ought to work). Finally, both fields seek to make sense of, better explain, and understand
the political realm, even if their goals are different. Despite their overwhelming similarities and less obvious
differences, both fields remain critical foundational pieces of political science.
Dryzek, J. S., Honig, B., & Phillips, A. (2013). Overview of political theory. Retrieved from
Nardin, T. (2011). Political philosophy in a globalizing world. Retrieved from
Raphael. (1509). School of Athens [Painting]. Retrieved from
Rose, R. (1991). What is lesson-drawing? Journal of Public Policy, 11(01), 330.
Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), from a detail of The School
of Athens, a fresco by Raphael
(Raphael, 1509)
PS 2000, Introduction to Political Science 5
Varma, S. P. (2011). Modern political theory, New Delhi, India: Vikas Publishing House.
Wenar, L. (2017). John Rawls. Retrieved from
Suggested Reading
Please read pp. 368372 for a great example of Locke applied to modern situations.
Glasgow, D. (2015). in the classroom: Simulating John Locke’s second treatise of
government. Political Science & Politics, 48.2, 368372.
The article below, found on pp. 6372, is an excellent article on foreign policy and how it is closer to modern
realism than liberalism.
Lind, M. (2016). Lockepolitik. National Interest, (143), 6372. Retrieved from
Below is a fun video on realism. The transcript for the video can be found here.
School of Life. (2017, February 10). Machiavellis advice for nice guys [Video file]. Retrieved from

The video below is a good primer on Rousseau. The transcript for the video can be found here.
School of Life. (2015, August 14). Political theory: Jean-Jacques Rousseau [Video file]. Retrieved from

The video below is an informative video on Marxism. The transcript for the video can be found here.
School of Life [Producer] (2014). Political theory: Karl Marx. [Video file]. Retrieved from

Below is a thought-provoking article on Hobbes critique of the classical tradition.
Stauffer, D. (2016). Of darkness from vain philosophy: Hobbess critique of the classical tradition. American
Political Science Review; 110(3), 481494. Retrieved from
Learning Activities (Nongraded)
Nongraded Learning Activities are provided to aid students in their course of study. You do not have to submit
them. If you have questions, contact your instructor for further guidance and information.
The following will help you to check your understanding of the terminology associated with
.1 and 1.2.
Please click here to open a flash card activity.

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