What is Theory?
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson
Comment on this article In a 1955 article, Kenneth W. Thompson reports on a remarkable gathering of “scholars, analysts, and diplomatists” to discuss theoretical approaches to the study of international politics. The guest-list was a veritable “who's who” of mid-twentieth century American international relations (IR), including such luminaries as Hans Morgenthau, Arnold Wolfers, William T.R. Fox, Paul Nitze, and Reinhold Niebuhr; George Kennan was not present, but submitted a paper for discussion. Thompson reports that the members of the gathering wrestled with a number of problems involved in the formulation of a theory of international politics, including the relationship between history and theory, the role of theory for practitioners as opposed to its role for scholars, and the question of whether theories necessarily involved normative evaluation. While the answers that Thompson reports are intriguing, even more striking is the justification for holding the gathering in the first place: Theory in the study of international politics perhaps deserves a special priority because of the urgency of the problem and the stridency of the debate generated by competing approaches each claiming to have preempted the field. (1955:733) Thompson acknowledges the call for theory emanating from the realm of practical politics, as practitioners seek answers to pressing political problems, ... log in or subscribe to read full text
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