Models of Power: Past and present

Terence Ball

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Social scientists generally, and political scientists in particular, are nowadays apt to think of power relations as causal ones: to exercise power is to cause someone to do something that he would not otherwise do. This might be unexceptionable enough, except that political scientists then go on to make two rather more questionable moves. The first is to picture causal relations, and hence “power,” in narrowly mechanistic terms; the second is to claim originality for their efforts. My aim in this paper is to counter the second move. This I do by showing that the mechanistic‐causal model of power is three centuries old, being traceable to Hobbes, Locke and Hume. The moral of my tale is that social scientists wishing to disentangle their “models” from philosophers' metaphors, should begin by acquainting themselves with the history of their science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-222
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1975

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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