Taking Plausibility Seriously: The Cognitive Basis of Theory Development in Comparative Politics
50 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2011
Date Written: August 10, 2011
Why do political scientists frequently regard the process tracing involved in theory construction as an serendipitous, art-like craft that defies systematic quality judgments about the resulting hypotheses? On closer inspection, theory construction involves conjectures and beliefs about the world that are generated through inductive reasoning whose quality cognitive psychologists long have studied. Drawing on this literature, this paper identifies six particular forms of cognitive bias and uses them to assess the plausibility of seven theoretical propositions put forth by the nine contributions to the recent literature on the historical origins of electoral systems. It demonstrates that plausibility of theories can be assessed independently and prior to their empirical testing. Taking plausibility more seriously ultimately would provide an additional criterion for evaluating theories that could complement standard quantitative testing and thus improve the dialogue between qualitative and quantitative research on which theory development depends.
Keywords: Methodology, Theory Development, Cognitive Psychology, Replication, Electoral System Choice, Origins of Proportional Representation
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