Q: Why should Political Science even exist?
A: Most people reason in the following manner – they have a feeling, and they need to back that feeling up with an argument, and so they look for things to make an argument.
Reason starts and finds its “end,” in such cases, in making people’s arguments invulnerable to attack, in giving them the assurance that their first impulses were correct since they can’t be beaten.
This sort of reasoning, it should be noted, is characteristic of the empirical sciences. Either something is true or it isn’t with regards to efficacy. One might object that the empirical sciences don’t exist for psychological comfort, since one can be horribly wrong if one’s feelings don’t measure up to a test.
But it is true, that despite the best efforts of people to remain stubborn, that they do manage to feel humiliated when proven wrong. I submit that what connects the reasoning behind most people and the reasoning behind the empirical sciences is the idea of argument as a bludgeon. Truth is about something being absolutely true or absolutely wrong. Certainty is possible, because it has been assumed possible.
What if certainty were assumed impossible?
To have a science based on speech is to have a science based on uncertainty. We can only talk to each other because we do not know what the other is thinking. Underneath communication is a sort of skepticism; one has to assume that one has to work to understand another.
Political science starts from taking people’s opinions about things seriously. Opinions stem from truth, and reflect it in some way always, but do not emphasize the finality of truth. What they seem to indicate is that there is a diversity of ways to conceive of and achieve the good.
Political science ends with trying to reconcile those opinions and see which ones might be better than others. The same tolerance one assumes in order to take all opinions seriously initially drops away quickly when it is revealed that some opinions are more reflective of Truth than others. But absolute certainty is never there, and a multitude of opinions reside in what is highest. To “love one another,” to take one example, means many things even within a fairly strict moral code.
Which brings us back to where relativism truly lies. If one’s conception of Truth is absolutist with regards to the things we speak about, and it can’t be proven that anything we say matches up with Truth exactly, then relativism stems from the despair that our words don’t match up exactly with what we see.
For the political scientist, the invisible things, the things spoken about, are not a sign of despair but of promise. Human possibility is hinted at in the fact we get things wrong. What is obvious is that we get some things right, and both statements previous are the true confirmation that there is potential in addition to mere power.