Embracing Ontological Doubt: The Role of ‘Reality’ in Political Realism

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While a number of scholars argue that classical realism is conspicuously similar to critical international relations, this article takes an issue with such an interpretation. It does not challenge the observation that both approaches are comparable when it comes to ethical concerns and a related critique of modernity, but it puts forth an argument that they differ fundamentally when it comes to their basic intellectual motivation and purpose. This also makes classical realism more ready to formulate normative judgment. To articulate what provides for the ethical impetus in classical realism, the study turns to the work of Stephen Turner and his collaborators who illuminate Weberian sources of classical realist social science. Adopting the category of analyticism from Patrick Jackson, it further puts forth that normative judgment is linked to classical realism’s inherent ontological doubt, a feature it compensates for by focusing on epistemology necessitating constant engagement with empirical reality as a source of its (weak) ontological orientation. As a result, classical realism is reinforced here as an approach to international relations worth reviving and further developing
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-80
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of International Political Theory
Issue number1
Early online date19 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 01 Feb 2017


  • classical realism
  • critical international relations
  • Hans J Morgenthau
  • Max Weber
  • normative judgment
  • social science
  • Critical international relations
  • Social science
  • Normative judgment
  • Classical realism


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