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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Post-positivism in international political theory relativist or revivalist? O’Callaghan, Terry


Although the problem of relativism has been a perennial one in human studies, it has only recently become a central issue for international politics. On the one hand, scientific realists have charged post-positivists with espousing a doctrine which amounts to little more than an intellectual free for all. In return, post-positivists argue that to avoid relativism, these scientific realists appeal to a methodological procedure which can only be described as a fiction. This thesis argues that the scientific realist approach both international political theory and to the problem of relativism is severely and unredeemably flawed. And although I make no claim to solve the problem of relativism, I do argue that a different reading of international theory relativism is possible which allows us to make sense of the current relativism. In other words, I argue that to simply denounce relativism as a bad in-and-for-itself is short-sighted and overlooks the fact that relativism does make a knowledge claim upon the discipline of international politics. This claim is that as a form of theoretical alienation it forces us to look for its source. I argue that this is to be found in the marginalization of values and history from international theory in favour of a value-free science. What this tells us is that to avoid relativism we need to bring values and history back into theory.

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