Donald Smiley’s methodology


in Canada, Politics, Writing

“The third edition of Canada in Question is somewhat shorter on self-indulgent polemic than was its immediate predecessor. This does not mean that I have become a convert to the cause of “value-free political science” for, despite prolonged and diligent efforts to do so, I have never been able to understand how the analysis of significant political events could be neutral about values. (xi)

What criterion do we use to judge the relative validity of two or more contradictory explanations of the same phenomenon? Where complex matters are involved – such as the influence of Government on Society, or whether political institutions have an independent effect in determining the pattern of political cleavages – the only defensible test is, I think, plausibility. This test is by scientific standards inadequate, but it is the best we have. Rigorously scientific knowledge proceeds by separating out variables… Students of politics can seldom use such devices. (6)

– Smiley, Donald. Canada in Question: Federalism in the Eighties. 1980.

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