Essay on Political Science – Meaning, Definition and Nature

Plato (427-347 B.C.) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) were the two early Greek political philosophers who made far-reaching and lasting contribution in the field of political science. In his famous book, ‘the Republic’, Plato justified moral significance of the State, its organic unity, educational functions and above all its supremacy over the individuals.

Aristotle is said to be the intellectual child of Plato and in his famous book, ‘the Polities’, he first developed a systematic study of political science as an independent academic discipline. In fact, Plato’s ‘Academy’ and Aristotle’s “Lyceum” were the schools which aimed at preparing the future administrators, constitutional experts and rulers of the Hellenic City States.

Aristotle is regarded as “the father of Political Science”, because of his far-reaching and permanent contribution in the field of political science. Frederic Pollock writes, “There was political speculation before him, but it was he who first brought to bear on political phenomena the patient analysis and unbiased research, which art of the proper marks and” virtues of scientific enquiry.

The science of politics, like so much else of our knowledge and endeavours to know, begins with Aristotle”. Thus, the Greeks were the first people who developed Political Science in its pure and systematic form. Subsequently it spread over all other countries and its study has assumed greater importance in modern times.

Etymologically, the term political science or politics has been derived from the Greek word’Polis’, which means the City- State or the State. Hence Political Science deals with the problems of City or the State in which men live. It is, therefore, defined as the study of the activities of the state.

But in recent times, political science has ceased to be merely a science of the ‘State-craft and eloquence’. The scope of the subject has become so wide that it has become difficult to define ‘Political Science’. Despite this, one may attempt an analysis of a few standard definitions that have been found in the literature on Political Science.

Meaning and Definition of Political Science:

Many books have been written on Political Science by the eminent writers and different definitions have been given.

A Perusal of these definitions shows that the authors themselves do not have very clear-cut views and they find it difficult to give precise definitions. Some writers write hundreds of pages on definition or rather description on the subject without hinting at the actual definition in a sentence or two.

Evidently, describing the contents of a subject is easier than giving a precise definition. Many political ideas have been developed and accumulated in course of time. It is difficult to put different ideas within a limited scope of single definition.

When one examines an array of standard definitions, one is bound to be staggered at the nature of their diversity. Of late, two American authors have defined Political Science as a study of “all that has to do with the forces, institutions and organizational forms’ in any society that are recognised as having the most conclusive and final authority existing in that society for the establishment and maintenance of order, the effectuation of other conjoint purpose of its member and the reconciliation of their differences.

On the other hand, Political Science is defined as “a study of State and Government”. The Oxford English Dictionary defined it as “the science and art of government, the science dealing with form, organisation and administration of the state or part of one with the regulation of its relation with other States”.

This diversity in defining Political Science is due to the varying scope of Political Science in different times. Since its emergence as a scientific study, Political Science has been growing in its scope. Hence the old definitions of Political Science cannot suit the twenty-first century version of Political Science. One may further examine some standard definitions of Political Science, given by eminent political scientists.

Gettell:

“Political Science deals with the associations of human beings that form political units, with the organization of their governments and with activities of these governments in making and administering law in carrying on inter-state relations.”

Caitlin:

“For the text books, politics means either the activities of political life or the study of these activities. And these activities are generally treated as activities of the various organs of government.”

Bluntschli:

“Political Science is the science which is concerned with the State, which endeavours to understand and comprehend the State in its fundamental conditions, in its essential nature, its various forms of manifestations, its development”.

Seeley:

“Political Science investigates the Phenomena of Government as Political Economy deals with wealth. Biology with life, Algebra with numbers and Geometry with space and magnitude”.

Paul Janet: “Political Science is that part of science which treats of the foundations of the State, and principles of government.”

Laski:

“The study of politics concerns itself with the life of man in relation to organized States.”

David Easton:

“Political Science is concerned with the authoritative allocation of values for a society.”

Lasswell and Kaplan:

“Political Science is the study of shaping and sharing of power”.

Lasswell regards political science as “policy science’. He gives a positivist and non-normative meaning to the definition of politics. He writes, “The study of politics is the study of influence and the influential. The science of politics states conditions; the philosophy of politics justifies preferences.” Max Weber holds the similar view when he defines politics as “the struggle for power or influencing of those in power.” Further, it includes within its study the struggle between the State and the individuals and between the organised groups and the State.

Bryce:

“Politics is the conduct of public affairs for private advantage”.

Hillman:

“Politics is the science of who gets what, when and why.”

Bottomore:

“Political institutions are concerned with the distribution of powers in society.”

Garner:

“The meaning of the term “politics” is confined to that of the business and activity which has to do with the actual conduct of affairs of the State.” In short, political science begins and ends with the state.

From these and other definitions, one may conclude that the “STATE” is the central theme of Political Science. Political Science studies about the State, its origin, its nature, its functions and so on. Hence, Political Science may also be defined as “a historical investigation of what the State has been an analytical study of what the State is and a politico ethical speculation of what the State ought to be.” (Gettell)

One may sum up that Political Science, as narrowly conceived, is the science of the State. As it is a study about the State, it makes an enquiry into the origin of the State and political authority. In this sense, it is a historical investigation about the origin of the State.

Political Science also studies about the structure and functioning of the State, governments, interstate organization, etc. In this sense, it is an analytical study of what the State is. It is often said that Political Science ‘begins with the State and ends with the State’.

But political science does not confine its area to the past and present States only. It also attempts to formulate principles of good government or in other words, it suggests what the State ought to be.

R.G. Gettell rightly observes, “Political Science is a study of the State in the past, present and future; of political organisation and political function: of political institutions and political Jheories. From this material, it attempts to explain the nature of the state and to deduce the laws of its growth and development as well as to suggest needed reforms in political institutions and activities in a world that is undergoing rapid change.”

Political Science not only deals with the State and government, but also deals with law. Men should be ruled by law. Law is necessary to regulate social life and without law there would be chaos and confusion. Law regulates and controls the animal behaviour of man. It prevents anarchy. Hence, one may conclude that Political Science deals with “the State. Government and law”.

Political Science is a social science. As a social science, it deals with relationship of man with man. It also makes an attempt to explore the ideal relationship between man and the State. Aristotle rightly said.” The State originates in the bare needs of life and continues for the sake of good life.”

How man should adjust himself with society is a major concern of political science. It deals with freedom of individuals. Maximum State intervention leads to loss of liberty. How individual liberty should be safeguarded is an eternal problem in political science.

As Rousseau once said, “Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains”. How to free man from chains and bondages is also a subject matter of Political Science. Hence, Political Science may be defined as ‘a science of liberty’.

Nature of Political Science:

Political Science is a study about the State. It makes an enquiry into the origin of the State and political authority. In this sense, it is a historical investigation about the origin of the State. Political Science also studies the structure and functioning of the State, governments, inter-State organisations, etc.

In this sense, it is an analytical study of what the “State” is. Garner has rightly said that “Political Science begins with the State and ends with the State”. But Political Science does not confine its area to the past and present States only. It also attempts to formulate principles of good government or in other words, it suggests what the State ought to be. It is therefore, a study of past, present and future of the State. However, the study of Political Science is wider than the activities of the State.

Upson writes “More limited than politics is the concept of the state…. The point that politics is broader than the state can be easily demonstrated. Wherever the State exists, there is also politics. But the reverse is not true-that wherever politics exists, so does the State. We can rightly speak of international politics but we know that there is not as yet a super national state.

We can talk of politics within churches or municipal corporations or trade unions, although none of these is a state”. Catlin maintains that politics should include all those things which Aristotle included in it such as the “organisation of the family, control over slaves, analysis of revolutions, and pure democracy-national, civic and international politics, religious congregations and labour unions and organisations of employees” which are carried on under the auspices of society. He concludes by saying that politics is the study of political aspects of organised human society.

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