The meaning of political theory necessitates the meaning of theory: to know what political theory really is to know, first, what is theory? Originating from the Greek word “theoria”, theory means or at least, may mean a well-focused mental look taken as something in a state of contemplation with the intention to grasp or understand it.
Arnold Brecht (“what is Theory?”) refers to both the broad and the narrow meaning of the word “theory”. In the broader sense, he says, theory means “A thinker’s entire teaching on a subject”, including the description of facts, his explanation, his conception of history, his value-judgments, and the proposals of goals, policies and principles. In the narrow sense, he says, theory means “explanatory” through only or at least preliminary.
In his book, political theory, Brecht uses theory in the narrow sense, saying, “… explaining is the function of theory.” Thus, for him, theory means a proposition or a set of propositions designed to explain something’s with reference to data or inter-relations not directly observed or not otherwise manifest. Theory has to be scientific, without the quantum of science, it is unthinkable. But theory, without theory or say philosophy, is as meaningless as it is, without science.
Theory is combination of elements characteristics of both science and philosophy. Theory is not practice, because doing too needs thinking. Theory involves a theoretical frame which practice really lacks. Theory is not merely ‘description’ because “describing” is only a part of “thinking”, its other parts, for example include “discovering”, “determining”, “augmenting”, “explaining” and ‘framing” a phenomenon. Theory is not hypothesis, for hypothesis denote a tentative assumption of facts, and therefore, lacks what theory really has, “definiteness”.
Theory is not philosophy because while theory is about “something”, philosophy is about “everything”. Theory is not though because it is a thought about thought, and not an entire thought itself. There is, indeed, much that is common between theory and reason, for both have a claim on being scientific, yet theory looks beyond reason, beyond science.
Theory, we may sum up with Karl Deutsch (The nerves of Government, 1993), attempts to explain, order and relate disjoined data, identifies what is relevant and therefore, points out what is missing in any phenomenon; predicts on the basis of observable facts. Theory is a guide to practice, adds much to what is merely description, clarifies hypothesis, and as/a part of philosophy, explain an issue which meets the requirements of both reason and vision.
Political theory is a theory of politics. According to George Sabine, “It is anything about politics or relevant to political”. This being the boarder meaning, be refers to its narrow meaning, saying that it is” the disciplined investigation of political problems” (a history of political theory, 1973).
David Held defines political theory as “ a network of concepts and generalizations about political life involving ideas, assumptions and statements about the nature, purpose and key features of government, state and society and about the political capabilities of human beings”. (Political theory today, 1991) A very elaborate definition of political theory has been given in Political Science Dictionary, describing it as “ a body of thought that seeks to evaluate, explain and predict political phenomena.
As a sub-field of Political Science, it is concerned with political ideas, values and concepts, and the explanation of prediction of political behavior. In its broad sense, it has two main branches: one is political philosophy or normative theory, with its value analytic, historical and speculative concerns. The other is empirical theory, with its efforts to explain, predict, guide, research and organize knowledge through the formulation of abstract models, and scientifically testable propositions.”
Political theory is all about politics. It is an overview of what the political order is about. It is a symbolic representation of what is “political”. In its nature, it is a formal, logical and systematic analysis of process and consequences of political activity. It is, in its method, analytical, expository, and explanatory. It is , in its objective, an attempt to give order, coherence and meaning to what may be referred to as “political”.