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What should we expect of a liberal explanatory theory?

Humphreys, A. R. C. (2012) What should we expect of a liberal explanatory theory? Journal of International Political Theory, 8 (1-2). pp. 25-47. ISSN 1755-1722

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To link to this item DOI: 10.3366/jipt.2012.0024


One of the most problematic aspects of the ‘Harvard School’ of liberal international theory is its failure to fulfil its own methodological ideals. Although Harvard School liberals subscribe to a nomothetic model of explanation, in practice they employ their theories as heuristic resources. Given this practice, we should expect them neither to develop candidate causal generalizations nor to be value-neutral: their explanatory insights are underpinned by value-laden choices about which questions to address and what concepts to employ. A key question for liberal theorists, therefore, is how a theory may be simultaneously explanatory and value-oriented. The difficulties inherent in resolving this problem are manifested in Ikenberry’s writing: whilst his work on constitutionalism in international politics partially fulfils the requirements of a more satisfactory liberal explanatory theory, his recent attempts to develop prescriptions for US foreign policy reproduce, in a new form, key failings of Harvard School realism.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:No Reading authors. Back catalogue items
Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Politics, Economics and International Relations > Politics and International Relations
ID Code:33782
Uncontrolled Keywords:Ikenberry, international relations (IR) theory, Keohane, liberalism, methodology, Moravcsik
Publisher:Edinburgh University Press

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