The Relevance of Political Theory: Why Did We Take This Class?

December 13, 2011

Political Theory

Today in my discussion section, we talked about the value of political theory in the world today. When compared to other topics in political science, or other completely different types of subjects outside of political science, it is generally one of the smallest, and the first to be affected by budget cuts. While we were able to come up with several reasons why political theory is not as useful as other fields, and also several indirect benefits it might bring, we had trouble at first thinking of direct benefits gained from studying political theory.

I looked for a current event in which political theory would be helpful. One big news story right now 

Imageconcerns the Arizona immigration law, since the Supreme Court agreed to take its appeal. This topic fits into what we have talked about on the themes of identity and equality. However, it is still difficult to find a direct benefit from using political theory. One option, which has been done frequently on this blog, is to discuss how philosophers we have learned about would feel about this law or its appeal. For instance, John Locke or John Stuart Mill, who discussed toleration and freedoms may be against the ideals of the law itself. But since their discussions assumed citizenship as a prerequisite, can we really extend their ideas to one on immigration? And even if we could, would that provide any concrete benefit? Talking about what these philosophers would have actually done in this situation could be more helpful. But would that be more useful than just looking at the existing options ourselves? I think that the answer to this is potentially yes, because one of the largest advantages of studying political theory is understanding methods used by others. By understanding how someone (whose ideas have been heavily studied) would react in this situation, it might be easier to understand what might go wrong (or right) with taking certain actions. Political theory allows us to understand how and why arguments are made; and from this information, we can better determine what our own opinions and arguments should be in a given situation.

ImagePolitical science in general looks at how the world is. Political theory, on the other hand, looks at how the world should, or maybe even could, be. Based on this, I think that political theory is a necessity in our world. If we only looked at how things are, progression would be impossible. We would only be able to say, “this is bad,” rather than being able to say, “this is bad, and it should/could be more like this.” I think that the biggest advantage to studying political theory is the potential for improvement that it provides. While that by itself is not enough, political theory and other political science topics can work together to look at what is wrong with the world today, and decide what can be done to change it.


What do you think? Do you think that there is any relevance to political theory today? Have we gained anything useful from this course? If so, what is it? And if not, why?  



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5 Comments on “The Relevance of Political Theory: Why Did We Take This Class?”

  1. nozomigg Says:

    I think that political theory is not to be used for concrete evidence so much as it is to offer up the foundations of many of the opinions that we see today. Each philosopher had their own independent belief, and for the most part we can still see those beliefs in our political parties, in laws that are created, in arguments for humans rights and so many other things.
    No, political theory does not give any concrete evidence for an issue; but then again, it’s not supposed to. Nothing based on theory has concrete; theories themselves aren’t concrete, they’re ideas. But what’s taken from these ideas is where the most important effect can be seen. It’s how these ideas and ideologies are applied, interpreted and reinterpreted, and maintained in today’s world.
    So, while an argument based on Socrates’s teachings may not hold up on court, his theories are what gives us the understanding to create an argument that would. In this way, I think deem any theory class even more important than many others. The learning that comes from theory classes holds much of the standard of what many people claim the education system is losing, in favor of classes targeted only to help you win a high salary job. Political theory helps you understand life better and to live life fuller, even if you don’t come out of a class of it ready to tackle a Supreme court case.

  2. jkb34383 Says:

    Agreed. By studying the means that philosophers conduct their arguments, we have developed a way to have unbiased viewpoints on specific political issues. We are able to see the other side of the coin per-say. Because we have learned to incorporate philosophers’ political theory into our own thoughts, the overall strength of our own personal arguments and opinions have vastly improved. This course is definitely one that forces you to think for yourself. It also requires you to consistently analyze concepts through the eyes of contrasting viewpoints as well as your own. Political theory is a subject all should take. I personally have received benefits outside of learning the material instructors have asked of us.

  3. isobelkraft Says:

    Political theory is very important to keep the current status of world in perspective. Like the author says, knowing and studying political theory allows for the ability to see the world as it could be and just as it is now.

    I believe this class has taught us how to think and perceive events in the world in a more analytical manner. It has made not only pay attention to news and current events but it also made us able to suggest solutions or give reason for why things are the way they are.

    Political theory is also the basis for political systems today. Knowing how things came to be in important in gaining an understand of how things are, as well as knowing how to go about changing it.

  4. ksoisson Says:

    Political theory has taught me to analyze various things now, which improves both problem solving skills and ability to form arguments. It has taught us to look at how people think and why they do so. We have learned to look at situations from multiple perspectives and apply ideas to real world problems. That’s why I think it still has some relevance today. At the same time, I think political theory in a way helps us to look at the past and see which problem solving methods worked and which have not. It’s important to learn from the past in an effort to better ourselves. Yes, we’ll never be a perfect society but political theory is a way of analyzing where we stand. It’s nice to have a variety of philosophers’ ideas that we can interpret and apply to today’s current events.

  5. zekeharris Says:

    I think political theory is very important in our world today. With all of the protest groups rising up and questioning the law and what is just I think applies as much now as it did hundreds of years ago. Knowing what has been done and what the great theorist have concluded during there time has allowed us to have a base to work off of today. And in all honesty if philosophy is still relevant than political theory should be right there too. It is true our world changes but we all know to well “history repeats itself” so the ideas of Locke or Mill can serve us well when the situation surfaces.
    I took the political theory at the same time I took my world politics class and while they both were interesting I feel political theory really allows for thinking outside of the box. There is no right answer in the real world and I think that what this class was able to teach me. It makes you think in ways that normally wouldn’t cross your mind and its great. I think we need imaginative thinking now til forever in society.

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