What Is the Difference Between Political Theory Political Science and Political Philosophy?


Martha Robinson

Political theory, political science, and political philosophy are three interrelated but distinct fields of study that deal with the study of politics. While they may seem similar, each field has its own unique characteristics and approaches to studying politics.

What is Political Theory?

Political theory is the study of the concepts, principles, and ideas that underlie political systems. It is concerned with understanding the nature of power, authority, justice, democracy, sovereignty and other key concepts that shape political life. Political theorists often use historical analysis to explore how these concepts have evolved over time and how they have been applied in different political contexts.

What is Political Science?

Political science is the systematic study of politics. It employs empirical research methods to investigate the behavior of individuals and groups within political systems.

Political scientists use statistical analysis to understand patterns and trends in voting behavior, public opinion, policy outcomes and other phenomena related to politics. The discipline covers a broad range of topics such as international relations, comparative politics, public administration, and public policy.

What is Political Philosophy?

Political philosophy is concerned with understanding the ethical foundations of political systems. It seeks to answer questions about what makes a just society or state and what are the rights and responsibilities of citizens within those systems. Political philosophers often use normative frameworks such as social contract theory or utilitarianism to evaluate existing political systems or propose new ones.

The Differences Between These Fields

While there are overlaps between these fields of study, each one has its own distinctive focus. Political theory tends to be focused on examining abstract concepts while political science focuses on empirical research methods. Political philosophy differs from both in that it focuses on normative questions about what ought to be rather than describing what actually exists.

Why Do These Distinctions Matter?

Understanding these distinctions can be helpful for students who are considering pursuing a career in one of these fields. It can also help researchers and scholars to communicate more effectively with others who may have different disciplinary backgrounds and approaches.


Political theory, political science, and political philosophy are all important fields of study that contribute to our understanding of politics. While they share some similarities, each field has its own unique characteristics and approaches to studying politics. By understanding these distinctions, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity of political life and the different ways in which it can be studied.