Archive for September, 2002

APSA

September 3rd, 2002

And while on the subject of the American Political Science Association, from which I’ve just returned, here’s Alasdair MacIntyre, from thirty years ago:

“There once was a man who aspired to be the author of the general theory of holes. When asked “What kind of hole – holes dug by children in the sand for amusement, holes dug by gardeners to plant lettuce seedlings, tank traps, holes made by roadmakers?” he would reply indignantly that he wished for a general theory that would explain all of these. He rejected ab initio the – as he saw it – pathetically common-sense view that of the digging of different kinds of holes there are quite different kinds of explanations to be given; why then he would ask do we have the concept of a hole? Lacking the explanations to which he originally aspired, he then fell to discovering statistically significant correlations; he found for example that there is a correlation between the aggregate hole-digging achievement of a society as measured, or at least one day to be measured, by econometric techniques, and its degree of technological development. The United States surpasses both Paraguay and Upper Volta in hole-digging; there are more holes in Vietnam than there were. These observations, he would always insist, were neutral and value-free. This man’s achievement has passed totally unnoticed except by me. Had he however turned his talents to political science, had he concerned himself not with holes, but with modernization, urbanization or violence, I find it difficult to believe that he might not have achieved high office in the APSA.”

From his essay, “Is a science of comparative politics possible?” from his collection, Against the Self-Images of the Age, Duckworth, 1971, p.260.

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