This conversation is closed.

Can there be an objective, scientific analysis of political science?

Much of political science is elusive and subjective. People tend to feel that their position on an issue is 'right' while the opposing side is 'wrong.' Much of one's perspectives, however, result from flawed analysis such as pre-conceived biases, i.e. a wealthy white male will statistically be less inclined to agree with affirmative action than an African American, or a school teacher will more likely support a budget increase for teachers at the expense of say, public park restoration, the latter of which has a less direct affect on their personal well-being.

These issues stem ultimately from values, and as Sam Harris posits, we can derive values scientifically. Can we objectively analyze Jonathan Haidt's "moral roots' and use sound scientific reasoning as to what our values 'should' be, as well as the ends to strive for?

Is it possible to attain a zen-like transcendence of biases, self-interest, and analysis to espouse a system that is truly and objectively "better?"

As a second aspect to this question: Technology has progressively provided us with more and more tools, which render many activities hitherto dependent on humans obsolete. While this progression begins with brunt physical work, it is now evolving to take over more intellectual work, with no sign of this progress slowing.

While we have calculators to do our math, and tractors to move the earth, we still need human involvement for politicians, philosophers, and lawyers.

Do you see it as possible that these too in time will become obsolete as technology, with great artificial intelligence, can do the aforementioned 'perfect analysis' of values and law to create an objectively superior social system?

  • thumb
    Sep 30 2011: QUOTE: "Can there be an objective, scientific analysis of political science?"

    Yes. But I doubt it will happen by studying political science (or philosophy, sociology, or any other "conventional" social science.)

    I think we will have to begin at the level of the neuron to approach anything close to an objective analysis of any human activity. If we don't start there, we are essentially studying history (or fantasy.)

    QUOTE: "Is it possible to attain a zen-like transcendence of biases, self-interest, and analysis to espouse a system that is truly and objectively 'better?'"

    No. Because if we attain a "zen-like transcendence of biases" the concept "better" will be meaningless (which is, I suppose, why you put it in quotation marks.) But beyond that - and within the context of your question - there is no "we" that can attain a zen-like state.

    QUOTE: "Do you see it as possible that these too in time will become obsolete as technology, with great artificial intelligence, can do the aforementioned 'perfect analysis' of values and law to create an objectively superior social system?"

    No. Because even if the system is objectively superior, the agents within the system will be subjectively (and objectively) similar to the agents that exist within the systems we have now.

    A Frenchman in Nairobi will still speak French (and seek out other French speakers.)
  • thumb
    Sep 29 2011: Is there a need for one?

    In the course of building your house, don't use a screwdriver for a hammer's job, or vice versa.

    Logical assessments of any situation (heyy, back abs!) can always be drawn, even emperically, but people aren't implicitly logical, so it's usually a wasted effort. Science, spirituality and politics converge at the center of any one individual's personal interests, and it's up to each of us to specialize according to our own judgement, but it's inadvisable to one like other.
  • Oct 4 2011: I think ot entirely pssible to develop accurate assessments of the effectivenessof a particular strategy to reach a particular goal given a particular set of circumstances, but as others have said here I think it unlikely that an objective analysis of the 'goodness' or evil of those goals can exist for the simple reason that humans like many dofferent things.

    I am sceptical of Sam Harris' "human flourishing" for the simple reason that those terms themselves are subjective to some extent: all humans?---and if not, who are the ones who count, and why do we think so?...and what kind of 'flourishing'?---there are some religions that at least historically have held that the ideal human condition is a community of celibate believers living in poverty that matters not because of the richness of the mental life filled to repletion by their continual and uniform worship of a notional god. Harris' 'flourishing' reminds me of Nietzsche's 'health' and all of Rand's desiderata: private tastes elevated to the level of objective truths. Sorry, my standards are those of physics, which is more powerful than any of these because it has the power to be wrong.
  • thumb
    Oct 1 2011: The only objective analysis of anything would have to be done by a computer and even that would fail because no matter how hard the programmer would try they would still put in personal filters. We cannot be truly objective about anything because as humans our brains function with filters on many levels. Survival filters, fear filters, rejection filters, hope filters, joy filters are just a few of the many many filters we use each and every day. Politics is dealing with people and people use filters. So now you have filters dealing with filters. Liberal filters, conservative filters, ethical filters, ego filters etc. etc. I can see no way that a person driven thing like politics, religion, or law could ever be truly objective for a total measure of objective. It might be objective for a given measure of objectivity depending on the filters we use to define objective.
  • thumb
    Sep 29 2011: you mean like this?

    I highly recommend you to take time to watch the whole course... it is awesome, and will provide a good answer to your question.

    I do think we will be able to do better calculations, and have better jurisprudence or case-based analysis...
    though the question remains: which are the criteria? and what are the weights.
    We'll need to agree on some things, as imperfect and different humans... and there is always an arbitrary element in it, even if we have found a lot of things that are universal...

    There is a lot of technocratic work that still needs to be done, and a lot of laws could benefit adjustments that are objectively better. It will never be complete or perfect. (Like Sam says: there will be local highs and lows, and we don't know the highest peaks on the moral landscape... Maybe there are many equally high peaks...)
    • thumb
      Sep 29 2011: Awesome. I'm still retraining myself to Google the answer to anything before I ask it.

      In the information age, asking the right questions is FAR more important than finding the right answers. A good deal of those are just a click away.

      Pity the course doesn't explore the metaphysical foundations of ethics, on any scale, as set forth in the Pali Canon
      • thumb
        Sep 30 2011: I think the course does...

        As for metaphysics: don't confuse it with faith (be it Buddhism or any other world view)...
        Any idea about what is ethical (no matter from which teaching) needs to be evaluated.
        I would like to encourage you to see how the teachings you propose are compatible, incompatible or sheds new light on what Ian Shapiro says.

        I assume (might be my bias) you are trying to press some kind of dogmatic thinking (so tending to the Kantian approach of ethics, rather than the utilitarian approach... not implying that is worse, just incomplete)