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The Methodological Foundation. Is there such a thing as progress in political science? Do we know more than the Ancients?. Methodological Progress. Personal computers (1981) Sophisticated software for both quantitative (SPSS) and qualitative (NUD.IST, QUALRUS) analysis. The Internet

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methodological progress
Methodological Progress
  • Personal computers (1981)
  • Sophisticated software for both quantitative (SPSS) and qualitative (NUD.IST, QUALRUS) analysis.
  • The Internet
  • Explosion in the availability of data, databases, and posibilities of analysis.
three precursors of comparative politics
Three Precursors of comparative politics:
  • Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)
  • Machiavelli (1469-1527)
  • De Tocqueville (1805-1859)
  • Historical comparative work.
  • Empirical study of Constitutions of 158 Greek cities, of which the only recovered is his work on the Constitution of Athens.
  • Written in different pieces Aristotle and members of his School used for both research and teaching (=we do today).
  • Aristotle kept adding different pieces
aristotle is also the first who sees the importance of the middle class
Aristotle is also the first who sees the importance of the middle class

According to him, we need some equality of conditions to achieve freedom and friendship between the people:

“a city ought to be composed, as far as possible, of equals and similars; and these are generally the middle classes. Wherefore the city which is composed of middle-class citizens is necessarily best constituted in respect of the elements of which we say the fabric of the state naturally consists.” (308)

together with his philosophical work this makes aristotle the founder of western political science
Together with his philosophical work, this makes Aristotle the founder of Western political science:
  • Aristotle (normative+empirical investigations) Vs. Plato (normative only)
  • In Book II of his Politics, Aristotle depicts both the ideal (Ch. 1-8) and “the best existent states” (Ch. 9-12), in which he considers Sparta, Creta, and the Carthaginian.
book iv
Book IV
  • “it is obvious that government... Is the subject of a single science, which has to consider what government is best and of what sort it must be, to be most in accordance with our aspirations, if there were no external impediment, and also what kind of government is adapted to particular states.” (Aristotle)

“The new science …should deal with actual as well as ideal forms of government and it should teach the art of governing and organizing states of any sort in any desired manner. This new general science of politics, therefore, was not only empirical and descriptive, but even in some respects independent of any ethical purpose, since a statesman might need to be expert in governing even a bad state.” George Sabine, p. 91

machiavelli niccolo the prince ch 1
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince, Ch. 1:

“All states and all dominions that have had and continue to have power over men were and still are either hereditary, in which instance the family of the prince has ruled for generations, or they are new. And the new ones are either completely new, as was Milan for Francesco Sforza, or they are like…

machiavelli niccolo the prince ch 11
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince, Ch. 1:

…members added to the hereditary state of the prince who acquires them, as is the Kingdom of Naples for the King of Spain. Dominions taken in this way are either used to living under a prince or are accustomed to being free; and they are gained either by the arms of others or by one’s own, either through Fortune or through cleverness.”

machiavelli niccolo the prince ch 12
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince, Ch. 1:
  • “I shall set aside any discussion of republics, because I treated them elsewhere at length. I shall consider solely the principality... And I shall discuss how these principalities can be governed and maintained.” (79)
machiavelli discourses
Machiavelli, Discourses
  • “When we consider, then, how much honor is attributed to antiquity... I cannot but be at the same time both amazed and sorry. And I am even more amazed when I see that in civil disputes which arise among citizens, or in sicknesses that break out, men always have recourse to those judgments or remedies which were pronounced or prescribed by the ancients. (...) Nevertheless, in instituting republics, maintaining states, governing kingdoms, organizing the army and administering a war, dispensing justice to subjects, and increasing an empire one cannot find a prince or a republic that has recourse to the examples of the ancients.” (170)
  • Causes: Christianism, ignorance of history.
alexis de tocqueville democracy in america 1835
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835):

“Amongst the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of conditions.”

alexis de tocqueville
Alexis de Tocqueville:

“The more I advanced in the study of American society, the more I perceived that the equality of conditions is the fundamental fact from which all others seem to be derived...”

alexis de tocqueville1
Alexis de Tocqueville:

“I then turned my thoughts to our own hemisphere, where I imagined that I discerned something analogous to the spectacle which the New World presented to me. I observed that the equality of conditions is daily progressing towards those extreme limits, which it seems to have reached in the United States... It is evident to all alike that a great democratic revolution is going on among us” (Introduction, p.3)

the modern social sciences
The modern social sciences...
  • Developed since the beginning of the 19th century, with the spread of a program of applying the scientific method to the systematic study of social phenomena.
  • Influence of Henri de Saint Simon (1760-1825), Auguste Comte (1798-1857) and his “Social physics,” and John Stuart Mill.
    • Positivism (search for LAWS).
  • In his System of Logic (1843) Mill devotes a special section to the method in the social sciences.
mill the system of logic
Mill, The System of Logic
  • “The Social Science... is a deductive science; not, indeed, after the model of geometry, but after that of the more complex physical sciences. It infers the law of each effect from the laws of causation on which that effect depends; not, however, from the law merely of one cause, as in the geometrical method; but by considering all the causes which conjunctly influence the effect, and compounding their laws with one another.”

On the Complexity of the Social World:

“If all the resources of science are not sufficient to enable us to calculate à priori, with complete precision, the mutual action of three bodies gravitating towards one another; it may be judged with what prospect of success we should endeavour to calculate the result of the conflicting tendencies which are acting in a thousand different directions and promoting a thousand different changes at a given instant in a given society:...


“...although we might and ought to be able, from the laws of human nature, to distinguish correctly enough the tendencies themselves, so far as they depend on causes accessible to our observation; and to determine the direction which each of them, if acting alone, would impress upon society, as well as, in a general way at least, to pronounce that some of these tendencies are more powerful than others.”


“The conclusion drawn as to the individual case can only be directly verified in that case; but it is verified indirectly by the verification of other conclusions, drawn in other individual cases from the same laws. (...) The test of the degree in which the science affords safe ground for predicting (and consequently for practically dealing with) what has not yet happened, is the degree in which it would have enabled us topredict what has actually occurred.”

Mill, Indirect Verification:



“The aim of practical politics is to surround any given society with the greatest possible number of circumstances of which the tendencies are beneficial, and to remove or counteract, as far as practicable, those of which the tendencies are injurious. A knowledge of the tendencies us to a considerable extent this power. It would, however, be an error to suppose that, even with respect to tendencies, we could arrive in this manner at any great number of propositions which will be true in all societies without exception.”

basic methodological jargon
Basic Methodological Jargon
  • Unit of analysis
  • Variable
    • Dimension
  • Valor
    • Indicator
units of analysis
Units of analysis
  • Objects on which we collect data. Ex: countries, households, individuals, protests, etc.
levels of analysis units
Levels of analysis (units)
  • Macro: countries, governments, social classes, revolutions.
      • (holism)
  • Micro: individuals
      • (methodological individualism)

We can always aggregate data collected on a lower level of analysis, but we cannot disaggregate data collected on a higher level

  • Concepts whose values change over a given set of units (ex: sex, wealth, economic growth, party identification, etc.)
    • Dimension: there are complex variables whose value results from sub-variables (ex: indicators of Human Development) whose values contribute to define the value of the variable, and they are thus the dimensions of the variable.
variables levels of measurement
Variables: Levels of Measurement.
  • Nominal Variables: Qualitative properties that characterize the unit of analysis (ex: gender, nationality).
  • Ordinal Variables: qualitative properties that we can rank (ex: poor, middle-class, rich; grades A,B,C,D,E,F)
  • Interval Variables: the distance between the attributes is meaningful (it can be measured). (ex scores: 92, 87,85, 65,56).
  • It is the state the variable assumes for each unit, and may be expressed in a number, a word, or an image (ex: “female,” “poor,” “$34,000 per year,”)
  • Indicator is the procedure used for generating a value for the variable (ex: a question in a survey)


Unit of


Indicator (i.e. Question: “How much money do people in your household make every year?”)

dependent and independent variables
Dependent and Independent Variables
  • Dependent variables are those whose variations we are trying to explain.
  • Independent variables are those we use to explain portions of variation in the dependent variable.
  • Inductive: makes generalizations from observing individual cases.
  • Deductive: makes individual inferences (using known facts to learn sth. About the unknown) from general rules.


quantitative qualitative methods
Quantitative /Qualitative Methods
  • Quantitative methods show differences between units of analysis expressed in numbers.
  • Qualitative methods show those differences expressed in kind.