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Socratic Method and Political Science

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 July 2012

CHRISTOPHER MECKSTROTH*
Affiliation:
Harvard University
*
Christopher Meckstroth is Lecturer on Social Studies, Harvard University, 52 Garden Street, Hilles - Lower Main Level, Cambridge, MA 02138 (meckstroth@fas.harvard.edu).

Abstract

This article advances a novel theoretical account of what a “method” is and what makes one “rigorous,” and shows how it could advance contemporary debates in political theory and empirical methodology. Plato's Socrates invented the notion of method, and his characteristic practice of immanent refutation through questioning escapes key problems in more familiar views. Socratic method is (1) antifoundational, (2) non-algorithmic, and (3) indirect and relative to competing hypotheses, and it (4) develops its own standards of objectivity from the logic of asking questions. The article reconstructs Socrates’ method from the Platonic texts and shows how it provides reasonable criteria for judgment while remaining critical, sensitive to difference, and open to innovation. Socratic method avoids a forced choice between universalism and particularism in political theory, and it provides a common language for evaluating both quantitative and qualitative methods by drawing out a critical logic of empirical inquiry shared by both.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2012

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