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What is Political Science?

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  • 0:01 Political Science Defined
  • 0:44 Why It's Important
  • 2:42 Fields of Study
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
The great Greek philosopher Aristotle once called political science the master science. In this lesson, you'll learn what political science is, different subfields in the discipline, and why the study of political science is important.

Political Science Defined

Peter is a political scientist who works at one of several think tanks in Washington, D.C. A think tank is an organization that engages in research to solve particular problems, such as economic, political, technological, defense, and social problems. Peter's research focuses on the application of political science to solve pressing political and policy problems. According to the American Political Science Association, political science 'is the study of governments, public policies and political processes, systems, and political behavior.'

Why It's Important

As political scientist Harold Lasswell has explained, politics is the process of determining who gets what, when they get it, and how they get it. This is why Aristotle viewed political science as the master science - because politics affects pretty much every other human social endeavor.

Political science helps us understand politics. If you can understand something, you have a better chance of making it work in the manner you want. In other words, you have a better chance of helping to determine who gets what, when they get it, and how they get it. Let's look at an example.

Peter is studying the problem of healthcare in the United States. The United States pretty much spends more money per capita on healthcare than other countries but ranks well below many countries in healthcare outcomes. Adding to this problem is the public misconception that the United States healthcare system produces better results than systems in other countries that spend much less.

Peter's job as a researcher for his think tank is to examine the political problem of healthcare and come up with policy recommendations to solve the problem. This requires the study of political institutions, public policy, political behavior, and philosophical concepts, such as justice, equality, fairness, and liberty. He then needs to determine how these political factors relate and interact with a wide range of issues affecting the healthcare system, including economics, public and private finance, law, healthcare services, insurance, and ethics.

Fields of Study

Peter isn't the only political scientist working at the think tank. In fact, there are entire areas of political science that Peter doesn't study. This is because the study of modern political science has been divided into several subfields. Let's look at the major disciplines of political science.

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