Taking theory seriously, pragmatism, truth, and the foundations of international relations theory

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Rogers, Donald J.
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Recent Critical challenges to the Realist theoretical perspective in international relations (IR) suggest that its dominant intellectual status is waning. The positivism in Realism has been attacked as spurious social inquiry, as have its foundational analytical concepts. Critics submit Realist theory as a dogmatic polemic against "utopian" thinking with no basis for claiming a theoretically superior status. Alternatives to Realist theory attempt to delineate the extent to which the practice of theory reflects both a normative and a constructive element of our intellectual urge to know. It is the contention of this thesis that both approaches are mistaken in their conception of a permanent Truth as having intrinsic properties which are discerned either rationally or scientifically. In place of these two alternatives a pragmatist position is offered here; an approach that sees the "truths" expressed in Western theories as based in intersubjective agreements which determine what constitutes knowledge and the ultimate theories derived in response to the problems giving rise to inquiry. Since the historical context of theories are bound to change, the nature and status of these agreements are subject to periodic adjustment. Accepted epistemological assumptions thus no longer stand up without justification--a fact obscured by a Western tendency to both foundationalist thinking and empiricism. Recognising this, a philosophical pragmatic approach to inquiry will be used to show the need for both Realists and Critical IR theorists to take theory seriously, to cease with their propensity to use theoretical discourse to champion useless metaphysics instead of opening the discussion to all voices who may have something of value to contribute to the collective quest to solve theoretical problems.