Mainstream IR and Comparative Politics in the King, Keohane, and Verba era have been dominated by a prescriptive vision of science modeled on theoretical Physics and rooted in a covering-law conception of explanation and a Humean associational conception of causation.  The standard view in the contemporary philosophy of science, however, is that different sciences employ different knowledge practices as appropriate to their subject matters. And it is common to suggest that the social sciences are much more like Biology than Physics.  Donnelly accepts this suggestion and elaborates some of its principal implications. Biologists study not laws of nature (which are rare in Biology) but mechanisms:  organized entities and activities that produce regular changes.  This implies processual conceptions of causation and explanation – which in turn imply a very different kind of social science.  Donnelly contrasts associational and mechanismic accounts of explanation and causation and sketches some concrete implications for research in IR and Comparative Politics.

Jack Donnelly is the Andrew Mellon Professor and Distinguished University Professor in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.  Best known for his work on international human rights, including Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, in recent years he has worked primarily on structural international theory, publishing a series of articles in International Organization, European Journal of International Relations, and International Theory.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


1302 International Affairs

An advance reading will be available beginning the week of September 16th. Please email Spencer to receive a copy.