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Debates about the Possible as a Central Concern in International Relations Theory
Unformatted Document Text:  38 to rest, then there is no major paradigm that would lead us to predict that significant transformations in the quality of international outcomes are not possible. Dangers of the “And Therefore” Clause IR theorists justify the importance of theory in part by arguing it has implications for policy or social action. The step from theory conclusions to action recommendations can be tricky however. All too often, theorists will confidently assert a sweeping policy pronouncement as if it follows unquestionably from the theory, without subjecting that policy pronouncement to careful scrutiny. This concluding argument has some parallels to the opening move in some forms of theorizing. In deductive theorizing, theorists often begin by making simplifying “as if” assumptions. They argue that it does not matter whether such assumptions are really accurate, only whether they are useful for constructing theory; this places them in a category in which they are not expected to be evaluated as propositions in their own right. Similarly, theorists often put forward action recommendations using an implicit “and therefore” clause. Because they treat the action advice as a logical implication of the theory, they act as if their recommendation is not a separate proposition that might require separate evaluation. “And therefore” propositions come in several varieties, and I have already given examples of some of the above without labeling them as such. One version uses a causal argument to support a positive possibilistic conclusion. Some social constructivist work provides an example: norms influence outcomes and behavior, “and therefore” it is possible to introduce norms that would shift world politics from a Hobbesian to a Kantian type of system. As I have argued at length, such a conclusion cannot be justified purely from the premise; additional research is necessary. Realists do essentially the same thing, except they use a probabilistic causal theory to suggest certain outcomes are impossible. Several variables could provide the starting point, but they are used to draw the same conclusion: anarchy or human nature or shifts in power or conflicts of interest are a cause of war; this factor or these factors will always exist; “and therefore” it is not possible to do anything (other than use power itself) to reduce the amount of war or the need to prepare for war. Unless one of these factors, such as shifts in power, is both the exclusive cause of war and sufficient to cause war in every case, this conclusion does not follow. It might be possible to block some of the other causes of war, or manipulate other factors that could counterbalance the effects of power, or identify intervening

Authors: Knopf, Jeffrey.
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38
to rest, then there is no major paradigm that would lead us to predict that significant
transformations in the quality of international outcomes are not possible.
Dangers of the “And Therefore” Clause
IR theorists justify the importance of theory in part by arguing it has implications for
policy or social action. The step from theory conclusions to action recommendations can be
tricky however. All too often, theorists will confidently assert a sweeping policy pronouncement
as if it follows unquestionably from the theory, without subjecting that policy pronouncement to
careful scrutiny. This concluding argument has some parallels to the opening move in some
forms of theorizing. In deductive theorizing, theorists often begin by making simplifying “as if”
assumptions. They argue that it does not matter whether such assumptions are really accurate,
only whether they are useful for constructing theory; this places them in a category in which they
are not expected to be evaluated as propositions in their own right. Similarly, theorists often put
forward action recommendations using an implicit “and therefore” clause. Because they treat the
action advice as a logical implication of the theory, they act as if their recommendation is not a
separate proposition that might require separate evaluation.
“And therefore” propositions come in several varieties, and I have already given
examples of some of the above without labeling them as such. One version uses a causal
argument to support a positive possibilistic conclusion. Some social constructivist work
provides an example: norms influence outcomes and behavior, “and therefore” it is possible to
introduce norms that would shift world politics from a Hobbesian to a Kantian type of system.
As I have argued at length, such a conclusion cannot be justified purely from the premise;
additional research is necessary. Realists do essentially the same thing, except they use a
probabilistic causal theory to suggest certain outcomes are impossible. Several variables could
provide the starting point, but they are used to draw the same conclusion: anarchy or human
nature or shifts in power or conflicts of interest are a cause of war; this factor or these factors
will always exist; “and therefore” it is not possible to do anything (other than use power itself) to
reduce the amount of war or the need to prepare for war. Unless one of these factors, such as
shifts in power, is both the exclusive cause of war and sufficient to cause war in every case, this
conclusion does not follow. It might be possible to block some of the other causes of war, or
manipulate other factors that could counterbalance the effects of power, or identify intervening


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