Whether Political Science is a Science or an Art?

There is a great deal of controversy among scholars about whether Political Science is a Science or an Art. Aristotle considered it as the 'master science'. Other modern writers like Godwin, Hobbes, Vico, Hume, Frederick Pollock, John Seely, and Lord Bryce consider it a science.

On the other hand, scholar like Mosca, Burke, Buckle, Comte, Maitland question its claim as a science since it has failed to act up to the standard of science.

Instead of asking this question, it is better to ask: to what extent Political Science can claim to be a science? It will be useful to remember that no science, whether 'natural' or 'social', can be absolutely scientific at all times and under all circumstances.

As far as Political Science is concerned two propositions can be stated. One, it is futile to hope that Political Science can entirely become scientific. Second, it is much more scientific today than it was in the past.

Not a Science

The following arguments are advanced against the claim of Political Science as a science.

1. Lack of Consensus on Nature of Political Science:

There is no agreement among political scientists as to its methods, principles and conclusions.

2. No Certainty and Universality in the Laws of Political Science:

It lacks uniform principles or laws that are universally valid. The generalisations of the natural sciences are frequently described as laws. But the generalisations put forward by social sciences including Political Science are endlessly disputed as they do not possess the same degree of certainty or universality. At best, they are 'tendencies', not 'laws'.

3. No Predictability:

The political behaviour of man is unpredictable and hence it is difficult to arrive at exact and definite views and conclusions. Generalisations in social sciences lack the quality of predictability which is regarded as a major characteristic of the 'laws' of natural sciences. The latter make forecasts about future developments possible.

4. No Law of Cause and Effect:

There are many laws in natural science - a particular cause will lead to a particular effect. But this does not happen in Political Science. There is no certainty that the factors which caused the French Revolution of 1789 will lead to a similar revolution in another country.

5. Not Possible to Conduct Experiments in any Laboratory:

It is impossible to apply to Political Science rigorous scientific methods of investigation. General statements are difficult to establish because of the problem of their verifiability. "Political phenomena are characterized by uncertainty, variableness and a lack of order and continuity."

Laboratory experiments are not possible in Political Science as in the case of Physics or Chemistry. Social phenomena based on human behaviour are constantly undergoing change and are more difficult to control. Political Science is primarily a science of observation, and not of experiment.

6. No Neutrality and Objectivity:

Objectivity which characterizes the study of physical sciences is lacking in political studies. Political scientists cannot take a totally impartial, value neutral attitude in dealing with political issues and affairs. The subjective bias of the political observer colours his judgment of political problems and his findings may be one-sided.

Political Science is a Science

These arguments clearly show that Political Science cannot be an exact science like Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. But it is a social science like Sociology, Psychology and Economics. Science may be broadly defined as 'a body of systematized knowledge'. Political Science can legitimately claim to be a science in so far as it shares with the natural sciences the use of the scientific method.

The essential features of this method are; (a) It takes nothing for granted; (b) It insists that all generalisations made be based on observed facts; (c) It will not accept any generalisation as final and irrevocable; (d) Besides a scientist, so far as humanly possible, is not swayed by his personal preferences or subjective bias in the formulation of his findings. He should be objective.

Since the principles of Political Science have been formulated after systematic study of political phenomena, it has the valid claim of being called a science. Of course, it is generally admitted that the principles of social sciences including Political Science are neither universally valid nor are always exact and precise.

That is why Lord Bryce compared Political Science to a relatively underdeveloped and inexact natural science like meteorology. Sir Frederick Pollock maintained that "there is a Political Science in the same sense that there is a science of morals."

Since the behavioural revolution in Political Science, advanced tools and techniques of research, concepts and models borrowed from other sciences have enriched political studies and have imparted it greater scientific character.

However, while the claim of Political Science to be treated as a science has to be accepted, it has to be done with the reservation that, like all social sciences, it is an inexact science.

Political Science is an Art

Political Science is both a science and an art. An art is defined as the practical application of knowledge for the achievement of a particular end. Political Science is a body of systematized knowledge which can be applied in drafting a constitution, in day to day administration, in legislation, in foreign policy and above all in bringing about all round development of the state.

Thus the knowledge of Political Science is made use of by statesmen, diplomats, administrators, social reformers and activists to achieve their objectives. The knowledge of Political Science is not merely of theoretical value, but it has practical utility.

It will suffice to say in conclusion that Political Science is mainly an art. Its knowledge is utilized for the good of all. Further, as a result of significant use of behavioral method which is scientific in nature, political science is becoming a science. Thus, Political Science is a combination of art and science.