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May 16, 2010


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That's a useful and interesting post, John. Since you briefly mention the theory/philosophy divide let me post a link to Jacob Levy's very helpful post on that subject:

I don't agree w/ all that Levy says, but I think it's mostly right.

Alfred Brophy

Thanks for this, John. One question: does anyone do quantitative political theory? Seems like there's a lot about political theory that might be reduced to numbers -- from simple things like the people theorists cite to the amount of space they devote to various arguments. I'm thinking this might be particularly useful in tracing the evolution of political theory in the popular press -- maybe, for instance, in the United States in the years, say, from 1820 to 1861?

John Inazu

Thanks much for these comments. Jacob Levy’s insights (linked by Matt above) are very helpful, and make me realize that I should have expressly acknowledged the non-overlapping aspects of political theory, political philosophy, and legal theory in suggesting that they fit together like a Venn diagram. That said, my own experience echo’s Levy observation that at conferences with political theorists and political philosophers, “there’s an air of, ah, now here are people who understand each other.” I've only been at this for a few years, but the best example of interdisciplinarity that I’ve witnessed was at the annual meeting of the American Society of Political and Legal Philosophy (, which drew participants from law, philosophy, and political science.

Since I don’t really know the answer to Al’s good question, I’ll punt with a non-responsive response. One route to the kind of data about which Al asks may be through intellectual histories of political theory. I’ve benefited greatly from John Gunnell’s work, especially his Imaging the American Polity and The Descent of Political Theory. While Gunnell’s approach isn’t quantitative, his sources might point toward some of the data about which Al asks.


I don't know if anyone has done such things with political theory, but Eric schwitzgebel, a philosopher at UC Riverside, has put together some interesting posts on what he calls "discussion arcs", about how various topics (and/or philosophers) have figured in journal articles cited in the "philosopher's index" over several years. The first one is here:

I don't want to put in too many links, for fear of messing up the comment, but he has others on particular philosophers, the ratio of metaphysics and epistemology to ethics, the increase in feminist philosophy, etc. (He also has some interesting posts about which contemporary authors are most cited in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, but that's a bit differed.) Browsing from his main page will find those easily enough. I'm not sure how accurate a picture of the field it gives, but it's pretty interesting.

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