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Scientific realism in the philosophy of science and international relations

Evangelopoulos, Georgios (2013) Scientific realism in the philosophy of science and international relations. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis sets out to challenge the assumption widely held among IR scholars that Scientific Realism (SR) is the definite and final interpretation of realism. The introduction of SR into IR as the latter’s proper meta-theory has been the incentive for very intense debates about both meta-theoretical and theoretical IR issues. I argue that IR has uncritically adopted the strongest version of SR. This can be seen by comparing the different versions of SR and their anti-realist alternatives - as these have developed in the Philosophy of Science literature - to the version of SR which was introduced into IR. It is Critical Realism (CR), however, a version of SR that originated with Roy Bhaskar, which has dominated the SR debate in IR. This development has had negative consequences with respect to the quality of the argumentation about realism in IR. This notwithstanding, a positive implication of this situation is that IR scholars who belong in various traditions of thought have criticized SR from different theoretical angles and thus shed light on many of its shortcomings. I elaborate on the comments that have been made on meta-theoretical as well as theoretical issues and come up with my own conclusions about SR and CR. In this framework, I also deal with two special issues which have arisen from this debate’s problematique: the question about whether reasons can be causes, which lies in the foundations of Wendt’s ‘constitutive explanation’, and the challenge of ‘meta-theoretical hypochondria’, according to which the extensive concern with meta-theory takes place at the expense of theorizing real-world political problems. Last, I show, by a way of a novel contribution, that Wendt’s latest undertaking, of a ‘quantum social science’, although compatible with SR, suffers inconsistencies and misunderstandings in terms of its methodology, metaphysics, use of quantum mechanics, and application to IR. This thesis is an interdisciplinary study, which draws upon the Philosophy of Science, IR and Physics (namely Quantum Mechanics), in order to scrutinize the use of SR and CR into IR along with its implications for both IR metatheory and IR theory.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © Georgios Evangelopoulos
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Economides, Spyros and Hill, Christopher

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