Sanjay Ruparelia, "The Role of Judgment in Explanations of Politics", May 2010

This paper explores the role of judgment in politics, the character of good political judgment and its ramifications for how we explain politics. It proceeds in four steps. The first section proposes a realist conception of political judgment: a distinct form of practical reasoning that highlights our imperfect capacity to grasp the actual causal relations of the world. The second section discusses the intellectual prerequisites of good political judgment: its deep contextualism, practical focus, conditional strategic orientation, synthetic vision and dispassionate spirit. I argue that these traits constitute a cognitive disposition that stands against styles of inquiry that privileges universal, theoretical, rationalistic, analytical and value-neutral political explanations that dominate many spheres of contemporary political science. The third section of the paper considers the conditions in which political judgment matters. I content that it varies according to the relative stability of specific political circumstances. The final section examines the various explanatory approaches that differentiate large-N statistical analyses, small-N comparative research, and intensive case studies. I argue that the failure of nomothetic theoretical accounts to take political judgment seriously limits their explanations of politics and mars their ability to improve the quality of our political judgment. Conversely, in-depth case studies and mid-range comparative analyses are more likely to perceive the role of judgment in explaining political outcomes and consequently more likely to improve our ability to judge well.