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How Should We Categorize Approaches to the History of Political Thought?

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Original languageEnglish
JournalREVIEW OF POLITICS
Accepted/In press19 Dec 2019

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Abstract

This paper proposes a new framework for categorizing approaches to the history of political thought. Previous categorizations leave out much research. Where political theory is even included, it is often caricatured. And previous categorizations are one-dimensional, presenting different approaches as alternatives. My framework is two-dimensional, distinguishing six kinds of end (two empirical, four theoretical) and six kinds of means. Importantly, these choices are not alternatives: studies may have more than one end and typically use several means. Studies with different ends often use some of the same means. And all studies straddle the supposed empirical/theoretical “divide.” Quentin Skinner himself expertly combines empirical and theoretical analysis – yet the latter is often overlooked, not least due to Skinner’s own methodological pronouncements. This highlights a curious disjuncture in methodological writings, between what they say we do, and what we should do. What we should do is much broader than existing categorizations imply.

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