Behaviouralism (or behavioralism) is an approach in political science that emerged in the 1930s in the United States. It represented a sharp break from previous approaches in emphasizing an objective, quantified approach to explain and predict political behaviour. It is associated with the rise of the behavioural sciences, modeled after the natural sciences. Behaviouralism claims it can explain political behaviour from an unbiased, neutral point of view.
Behaviouralism seeks to examine the behaviour, actions, and acts of individuals – rather than the characteristics of institutions such as legislatures, executives, and judiciaries – and groups in different social settings and explain this behavior as it relates to the political system.
From 1942 through the 1970s, behaviouralism gained support. It was David Easton who started it in the study of political systems. It was the site of discussion between traditionalist and new emerging approaches to political science. The origins of behaviouralism is often attributed to the work of University of Chicago professor Charles Merriam who in the 1920s and 1930s, emphasized the importance of examining political behaviour of individuals and groups rather than only considering how they abide by legal or formal rules.
Prior to the "behaviouralist revolution", political science being a science at all was disputed. Critics saw the study of politics as being primarily qualitative and normative, and claimed that it lacked a scientific method necessary to be deemed a science. Behaviouralists used strict methodology and empirical research to validate their study as a social science. The behaviouralist approach was innovative because it changed the attitude of the purpose of inquiry. It moved toward research that was supported by verifiable facts. During its rise in popularity in the 1960s and '70s, behaviouralism challenged the realist and liberal approaches, which the behaviouralists called "traditionalism", and other studies of political behaviour that was not based on fact.
To understand political behaviour, behaviouralism uses the following methods: sampling, interviewing, scoring and scaling and statistical analysis.
Behaviouralism studies how individuals behave in group positions realistically rather than how they should behave. For example, a study of the United States Congress might include a consideration of how members of Congress behave in their positions. The subject of interest is how Congress becomes an 'arena of actions' and the surrounding formal and informal spheres of power.
David Easton was the first to differentiate behaviouralism from behaviourism in the 1950s (behaviourism is the term mostly associated with psychology). In the early 1940s, behaviourism itself was referred to as a behavioural science and later referred to as behaviourism. However, Easton sought to differentiate between the two disciplines:
Behavioralism was not a clearly defined movement for those who were thought to be behavioralists. It was more clearly definable by those who were opposed to it, because they were describing it in terms of the things within the newer trends that they found objectionable. So some would define behavioralism as an attempt to apply the methods of natural sciences to human behavior. Others would define it as an excessive emphasis upon quantification. Others as individualistic reductionism. From the inside, the practitioners were of different minds as what it was that constituted behavioralism. [...] And few of us were in agreement.
With this in mind, behaviouralism resisted a single definition. Dwight Waldo emphasized that behaviouralism itself is unclear, calling it "complicated" and "obscure." Easton agreed, stating, "every man puts his own emphasis and thereby becomes his own behaviouralist" and attempts to completely define behaviouralism are fruitless. From the beginning, behaviouralism was a political, not a scientific concept. Moreover, since behaviouralism is not a research tradition, but a political movement, definitions of behaviouralism follow what behaviouralists wanted. Therefore, most introductions to the subject emphasize value-free research. This is evidenced by Easton's eight "intellectual foundation stones" of behaviouralism:
Subsequently, much of the behavioralist approach has been challenged by the emergence of postpositivism in political (particularly international relations) theory.
According to David Easton, behaviouralism sought to be "analytic, not substantive, general rather than particular, and explanatory rather than ethical." In this, the theory seeks to evaluate political behaviour without "introducing any ethical evaluations." Rodger Beehler cites this as "their insistence on distinguishing between facts and values."
The approach has come under fire from both conservatives and radicals for the purported value-neutrality. Conservatives see the distinction between values and facts as a way of undermining the possibility of political philosophy. Neal Riemer believes behaviouralism dismisses "the task of ethical recommendation" because behaviouralists believe "truth or falsity of values (democracy, equality, and freedom, etc.) cannot be established scientifically and are beyond the scope of legitimate inquiry."
Christian Bay believed behaviouralism was a pseudopolitical science and that it did not represent "genuine" political research. Bay objected to empirical consideration taking precedence over normative and moral examination of politics.
Behaviouralism initially represented a movement away from "naive empiricism", but as an approach has been criticized for "naive scientism". Additionally, radical critics believe that the separation of fact from value makes the empirical study of politics impossible.
British scholar Bernard Crick in The American Science of Politics (1959), attacked the behavioural approach to politics, which was dominant in the United States, but little known in Britain. He identified and rejected six basic premises and in each case argued the traditional approach was superior to behaviouralism:
A General View of Positivism (Discours sur l'ensemble du positivisme) was an 1848 book by the French philosopher Auguste Comte, first published in English in 1865. A founding text in the development of positivism and the discipline of sociology, the work provides a revised and full account of the theory Comte presented earlier in his multi-part The Course in Positive Philosophy (1830–1842). Comte outlines the epistemological view of positivism, provides an account of the manner by which sociology should be performed, and describes his law of three stages.Berkeley school of political theory
The Berkeley school of political theory is a school of thought in political theory associated originally with the work of faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, some of whom formulated and popularized its ideas. The school of thought was founded by Sheldon Wolin, Hanna Pitkin, Michael Rogin, John Schaar, and Norman Jacobson, among others, and has been carried on by theorists including Wilson Carey McWilliams and J. Peter Euben.The Berkeley school has been characterized as returning political theory back in the direction of politics and political action, and away from efforts to center "scientific" models such as economics, psychology, sociology, and the natural sciences, specifically behavioralism and evolutionary psychology.Berlin Circle
The Berlin Circle (German: die Berliner Gruppe) was a group that maintained logical empiricist views about philosophy.Confirmation holism
In philosophy of science, confirmation holism, also called epistemological holism, is the view that no individual statement can be confirmed or disconfirmed by an empirical test, but only a set of statements (a whole theory).
It is attributed to Willard Van Orman Quine who motivated his holism through extending Pierre Duhem's problem of underdetermination in physical theory to all knowledge claims. Duhem's idea was, roughly, that no theory of any type can be tested in isolation but only when embedded in a background of other hypotheses, e.g. hypotheses about initial conditions. Quine thought that this background involved not only such hypotheses but also our whole web-of-belief, which, among other things, includes our mathematical and logical theories and our scientific theories. This last claim is sometimes known as the Duhem–Quine thesis. A related claim made by Quine, though contested by some (see Adolf Grünbaum 1962), is that one can always protect one's theory against refutation by attributing failure to some other part of our web-of-belief. In his own words, "Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system.".Constructive empiricism
In philosophy, constructive empiricism (also empiricist structuralism) is a form of empiricism.Course of Positive Philosophy
The Course of Positive Philosophy (Cours de Philosophie Positive) was a series of texts written by the French philosopher of science and founding sociologist, Auguste Comte, between 1830 and 1842. Within the work he unveiled the epistemological perspective of positivism. The works were translated into English by Harriet Martineau and condensed to form The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte (1853).
The first three volumes of the Course dealt chiefly with the physical sciences already in existence (mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology), whereas the latter two emphasised the inevitable coming of social science. It is in observing the circular dependence of theory and observation in science, and classifying the sciences in this way, that Comte may be regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term. For him, the physical sciences had necessarily to arrive first, before humanity could adequately channel its efforts into the most challenging and complex "queen science" of human society itself. His A General View of Positivism (published in English in 1865) would therefore set out to define, in more detail, the empirical goals of sociology.Epistemological idealism
Epistemological idealism is a subjectivist position in epistemology that holds that what one knows about an object exists only in one's mind. It is opposed to epistemological realism.Ernst Laas
Ernst Laas (June 16, 1837, Fürstenwalde, Brandenburg, Prussia – July 25, 1885, Straßburg, Germany (now Strasbourg, France)) was a German positivist philosopher.Geisteswissenschaft
Geisteswissenschaften (German pronunciation: [ˈɡaɪstəsˌvɪsənʃaftən], "sciences of mind") is a set of human sciences such as philosophy, history, philology, musicology, linguistics, theater studies, literary studies, media studies, and sometimes even theology and jurisprudence, that are traditional in German universities. Most of its subject matter would come under the much larger humanities faculty in the typical English-speaking university.History of political science
Political science as a separate field is a rather late arrival in terms of social sciences. However, the term "political science" was not always distinguished from political philosophy, and the modern discipline has a clear set of antecedents including also moral philosophy, political economy, political theology, history, and other fields concerned with normative determinations of what ought to be and with deducing the characteristics and functions of the ideal state.Nomothetic and idiographic
Nomothetic and idiographic are terms used by Neo-Kantian philosopher Wilhelm Windelband to describe two distinct approaches to knowledge, each one corresponding to a different intellectual tendency, and each one corresponding to a different branch of academe.
Nomothetic is based on what Kant described as a tendency to generalize, and is typical for the natural sciences. It describes the effort to derive laws that explain types or categories of objective phenomena, in general.
Idiographic is based on what Kant described as a tendency to specify, and is typical for the humanities. It describes the effort to understand the meaning of contingent, unique, and often cultural or subjective phenomena.Positivism in Poland
Positivism in Poland was a socio-cultural movement that defined progressive thought in literature and social sciences of partitioned Poland, following the suppression of the 1863 January Uprising against the occupying army of Imperial Russia. The Positivist period lasted until the turn of the 20th century, and the advent of the modernist Young Poland movement.Post-behavioralism
Post-behavioralism (or post-behaviouralism) also known as neo-behavioralism (or neo-behaviouralism) was a reaction against the dominance of behavioralist methods in the study of politics. One of the key figures in post-behaviouralist thinking was David Easton who was originally one of the leading advocates of the "behavioral revolution". Post-behavioralists claimed that despite the alleged value-neutrality of behavioralist research it was biased towards the status quo and social preservation rather than social change.Postpositivism
In philosophy and models of scientific inquiry, postpositivism (also called postempiricism) is a metatheoretical stance that critiques and amends positivism. While positivists emphasize independence between the researcher and the researched person (or object), postpositivists accept that theories, background, knowledge and values of the researcher can influence what is observed. Postpositivists pursue objectivity by recognizing the possible effects of biases. While positivists emphasize quantitative methods, postpositivists consider both quantitative and qualitative methods to be valid approaches.Robert E. Lane
Robert E. Lane (August 19, 1917 in Philadelphia – December 2017) was an American political scientist and political psychologist. He was the Eugene Meyer Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Yale University. Lane taught there for nearly 50 years; during that time, he twice headed the department and helped lead the shift towards behavioralism.Russian Machism
Russian Machism is a political/philosophical viewpoint which emerged in Imperial Russia in the beginning of the twentieth century before the Russian Revolution. They upheld the scientific and philosophical insights of Ernst Mach to be of great interest. Many of the Russian Machists were Marxists, and indeed viewed Machism as an essential ingredient of a materialist outlook on the world.The Logic of Modern Physics
The Logic of Modern Physics is a 1927 philosophy of science book by American physicist and Nobel laureate Percy Williams Bridgman. The book was widely read by scholars in the social sciences, in which it had a huge influence in the 1930s and 1940s, and its major influence on the field of psychology in particular surpassed even that on methodology in physics, for which it was originally intended. The book is notable for explicitly identifying, analyzing, and explaining operationalism for the first time, and coining the term operational definition.
Operationalism can be considered a variation on the positivist theme, and, arguably, a very powerful and influential one. Sir Arthur Eddington had discussed notions similar to operationalization before Bridgman, and pragmatic philosophers had also advanced solutions to the related ontological problems. Bridgman's formulation, however, became the most influential.The Universe in a Nutshell
The Universe in a Nutshell is a 2001 book about theoretical physics by Stephen Hawking. It is generally considered a sequel and was created to update the public concerning developments since the multi-million-copy bestseller A Brief History of Time published in 1988.Werturteilsstreit
The Werturteilsstreit (German for "value judgment dispute") is a Methodenstreit, a quarrel in German sociology and economics around the question whether the social sciences are a normative obligatory statement in politics and its measures applied in political actions, and whether their measures can be justified scientifically.The quarrel took place in the years before World War I, between the members of the Verein für Socialpolitik. Main opponents were Max Weber, Werner Sombart and Gustav Schmoller.
The Zweiter Werturteilsstreit is the debate between the supporter of the Kritische Theorie and the Kritischer Rationalismus during the 1960s — better known as Positivismusstreit.