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Lecture 1 and 2

Political Science
Course Code
La Haine

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Lectures 1 and 2: Introduction
This lecture introduced students to key concepts related to theoretical thinking in the
social sciences:
- Definition of a Theory: description, explanation, prediction
Every model by definition omits certain dimensions of reality
Every model therefore includes implicit fundamental assumptions of what matters
There is always more than one way to cut the cake
Theories are only useful only if we can falsify them
World systems: multi-polar, bi-polar, uni-polar
Because of certain theories we can explain certain things
Theories need to be falsifiable to be useful!empirical evidence
What to do when a theory is falsified?
Change the hypothesismodify it and start again, test it over and over (avoid ad
hoc assumptions)
When should we abandon a theory?
Problem: probabilistic hypotheses (democracies never fight each other~ joint
democracy reduces the probability of warthis is probabilistic and it works,
better than the latter)
Hypothesis: golfing countries never go to war with eachother
Define golfing/non-golfing nations: 1 courses per million of population
Check the war involvement of golfing nations: never on opposite sides of a war
1) Britain vs. Argentina (prob. Fewer gold courses in 1982) and Northern Ireland
Spurious correlation
Hypothesis vs. laws
The golfing hypothesis gives a claim not a causal explanation
Hypotheses are theoretical predictions (probabilistic thinking)
Laws are empirical regularities
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Gas laws PV
Newton’s law of motion
Democratic states do not fight each other (democratic peace)But why?
Without a causal explanation, this is just as good as saying golfing countries do
not fight each other
International Relations: study relations between nations
- Paradigm: A philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or
discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments
performed in support of them are formulated.
- Deduction versus Induction
- The importance of causal mechanisms (to avoid the dangers of spurious correlation)
- Testing a theory and the importance of falsification as a basis for theoretical refinement
and progress
- A way of organizing and simplifying variables to gain explanatory power.
- Counterfactuals: a thought experiment. We need to ask, if it weren’t for this
variable, would the outcome change????
- The decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima as an example
- Can an individual change history? If we took this person out of history would we get
the same outcome?
- Personality, education, past experiences, ideology, beliefs. These are the types of
explanations we find in the individual level.
- We think here about roles instead of people. We think about bureaucracy
- We map the interest of the actors, their information flows, like an organization.
We look at the decision making apparatus and procedures.
- If you changed the structure of decision making, would it affect the outcome?
- In IR we mainly focus on regime type (democracy, autocracy, presidential
democracy parliamentary democracies, etc): in democracy vs. autocracy would
they behave differently.
- What kind of incentives and constraints a decision maker may have in a
democratic vs. an autocratic regime? We try to explain the outcome, pattern of
behavior based on the constraints built in by the type of governments involved.
- If you were to change the structure of the government would it lead to a different
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