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The “Policy Sciences”: Aspiration and Outlook

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2011

Paul Kecskemeti
The RAND Corporation
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The idea of “policy science” is not a new one. In fact, it is organic to the Western tradition. Its first, incomparable formulation is found in Plato's Republic; policy, the Platonic Socrates says, can be reasonable and sound only if it is based upon the fullness of scientific insight and knowledge. According to the Platonic conception, it is not even enough to apply scientific knowledge, gathered by specialists, to practical policy problems which the rulers are to decide. Rather, the rulers themselves must acquire all the scientific knowledge needed to frame reasonable policy. The duality of the “expert adviser” and of the “decision-maker” who merely listens to him is implicitly rejected in the Republic. The ruler himself must be the knower. For the decisive thing is not knowledge in the abstract, knowledge as something impersonally available and ready to be picked up; it is knowledge conceived as the quality of a soul. According to the Platonic (and Aristotelian) view, knowledge is not an alien material “contained” in the mind, but the “form,” the ideal essence of the mind itself, so that a mind that knows belongs to a different species than the mind that lacks knowledge. In acquiring knowledge, the mind becomes essentially transformed, it acquires a new form; this is the original meaning of the term “information.” In its Platonic sense, then, the idea of “policy science” refers to the soul of the ruler, which must be the highest species of soul.

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Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1952

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1 Cf. Hilgard, and Lerner, , in The Policy Sciences, p. 28.Google Scholar

2 On this, more will be said in my forthcoming book, Meaning, Communication and Value, to be published by the University of Chicago Press.