Political Philosophy and Empirical Political Science: From Foes to Friends?


Political science has been detached from philosophy in general and political philosophy in particular. The latter has also ‘celebrated its purity’. But should political philosophy cooperate with empirical political science? This article argues that since political philosophy is part of the study of politics, if it does not cooperate, political philosophy might lose its relevance, create a distorted notion of politics, and commit a methodological mistake. It is further argued that democratising political philosophy is the way to encourage such cooperation.

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  1. 1.

    Parts of this paper are based on de-Shalit (2006). I thank Luke Ashworth, Michelle Cini, Josie Kelly, and Alex Warleigh-Lack for their fruitful comments.

  2. 2.

    On what empirical political science can gain from engagement with political philosophy, see Elster (1992), Miller (1999, chapter 3).

  3. 3.

    Wolin was so eager to portray the ‘theorist’ as an anti-thesis to the ‘methodist’, who constructs her theory on the model of science, that he (Wolin) emphasized, perhaps just too much, the picture of the methodist as concerned solely with practical matters and the theorist as devoting her time to visions of social order.

  4. 4.

    Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937). In a nutshell, Gramsci's argument is that, if people are convinced and their behaviour is changed due to theory, then the latter becomes part of practice.

  5. 5.

    For example, if they want to study attitude towards equality, they use conceptions of equality that were put forward by political philosophers, and distinctions such as between equality of resources and equality of welfare.


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de Shalit, A. Political Philosophy and Empirical Political Science: From Foes to Friends?. Eur Polit Sci 8, 37–46 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1057/eps.2008.12

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  • political philosophy
  • political science
  • method
  • democratisation