ADRIAN BLAU, SENIOR LECTURER IN POLITICS, KING'S COLLEGE, LONDON
Thought experiments are widely used and widely criticized in political theory. This paper highlights important and largely unnoticed parallels between thought experiments and comparison in the natural and social sciences. This gives us a more precise language with which to assess the strengths and weaknesses of thought experiments. And it gives us powerful tools for improving them, by using ideas like internal and external validity, controlled comparison, omitted variable bias, interaction effects, spurious correlations, testable implications, and parsimony. Focusing on variables is the key. This helps me address longstanding debates about ‘weird’ and ‘wacky’ thought experiments. I do not wish to exaggerate the scientific parallels: there are important differences too. But the similarities raise fascinating questions about the links between political theory and political science, and between philosophy and science more generally.
The Political Theory Workshop offers faculty and other scholars an opportunity to present "in progress" or recently completed work to a diverse audience from political science, philosophy, law, and other social sciences and humanities. Workshop papers come from all areas of political theory, including normative and positive theory, legal theory, and the history of political thought. Papers are circulated ten days before the seminar. Participants are expected to read the paper before the workshop. Each session begins with comments and questions on the paper by a discussant, a brief response from the author, followed by a general discussion.