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Theses Doctoral

On the Concept of Power

Parietti, Guido

This dissertation provides a definition of “power”, and examines the implication of said definition for the study of politics. The exam of extant debates, from Dahl to Lukes and Morriss, shows that a proper definition of power is still to be had; those so far proposed are either circular and/or so detached from the concept’s meaning in ordinary language that they cease to be about power. Re-connecting power to its meaning in natural languages is the necessary premise to any study of politics, be it empirical, theoretical, or normative: without the concept of power, we could not conceive of politics as a specific domain, either to be scientifically inquired or acted into. To formulate a viable definition, we have to recognize that “power” is not a “thing” or phenomenon, but rather refers to a state, or a modality, within which persons may be situated. Power is a modal concept, and the relevant modality, or category, is that of possibility. More specifically, “power” denotes the status, or condition, of having possibilities available and representing them as such. If and only if both conditions are present, then power can meaningfully be attributed. The implications of this definition are far reaching, as they show how, by adopting perspectives that variously eschew the category of possibility, significant portions of political science and political philosophy are, by their own design, incapable of properly conceptualizing power, and therefore politics. The main problem with political science is the attempt to methodologically reduce politics to causal and probabilistic regularities, which entails the disappearance of possibility in favor of necessity. Political philosophy, on the other hand, tends to prioritize various forms of a teleologically oriented normativity, which results in discarding possibility in favor of necessity, again losing sight of politics.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Urbinati, Nadia
Johnston, David Chambliss
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 24, 2018