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Constitutional Foundations for a Theory of System Comparisons: An Inquiry into Problems of Incommensurability, Emergent Properties, and Development

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Ostrom, Vincent
Date: 1986
Agency: Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Series: Workshop Working Paper Series W86-31
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/3698
Sector: Theory
Subject(s): constitution--theory
state and local governance--theory
Abstract: From the Introduction: "It is both an honor and a challenge to present a paper on 'Constitutional Foundations for a Theory of System Comparisons' (Konstitutionelle Grundlagen einer Theorie des Systemsvergleichs) at the twentieth anniversary of the Radein research seminar. That anniversary of the seminar is devoted to the Foundations of a Theory of Order and Methodological Problems of System Comparisons. To address constitutional foundations for a theory of order in light of methodological problems for comparing different systems of order is a substantial challenge. In attempting to establish the foundations for system comparisons, we confront serious difficulties in achieving commen-surability across different systems. These are problems that we must confront; but, these problems cannot be ultimately and satisfactorily resolved by fallible creatures like human beings. We have no ultimate standard by which to judge the merit of the conceptualizations that we use as the basis for organizing ways of life and for thinking about such matters. The best we can do is to use the conceptualization that we have to make comparative assessments and to press the frontiers of inquiry so that we might deepen our understanding and extend the horizons of our conceptual formulations. In this presentation, I shall make some initial observations in part two about the perspective that Professor K. Paul Hensel (1974) takes in his concern for the study of economic order in the context of patterns of order as ways of life in human societies. I shall then, in part three, pose some questions about difficulties in distinguishing economic orders from political orders. I shall in part four turn my attention to distinguishing types of political order as these distinctions are made with reference to Western societies. A serious problem arises, however, in any effort to achieve commensurability in the comparative study of political orders even within the confines of Western societies. I examine the problem of incommensurabilities in part five of this analysis."

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