I came across the following sentence in a book on political theory:

Political theory stands for an abstract model of the political order… a guide to the systematic collection and analysis of political data.

I referred to a lot of dictionaries for the word "abstract" and it has a wide variety of meanings. I know only very basic English and it was difficult for me to pick one meaning of abstract that perfectly fitted the bill. Also, I don't already know what the author is trying to say and so I don't know what to make of the word from the context. Please help me out. Thank you.

1 Answer 1


The quotation occurs in many places. It is incomplete. This seems to be the original form:

Google Books
Theories of the Political System:... W.T. Bluhm

For the professional student of politics, political theory, in one of its definitions, stands for an abstract "model" of the political order which he is examining, a guide to collection and analysis of political data.

The words "stands for" in the quote can be removed to make the meaning clearer:

Political theory is an abstract model of the political order.

The "political order" refers to politics in general, which is a very complex thing that can't be known completely. The student, in trying to understand that universe, makes a model or map or theory, which represents some aspects of it. It is necessarily simpler than the reality, and in that sense it is abstract. Most of the definitions of abstract apply. The model represents something, but it is much simpler than the thing itself, and that makes it an abstraction.

Just as map is an abstract representation of a territory, with very limited detail, models and theories are very simplified representations of complex things. The root meaning of abstract is that something has been taken away from something else. The theory or model, and the complex reality it tries to represent, are separated from each other.

The quote then mentions that the student uses the model to classify new things that they learn about the political reality, that is, they use the model as "a guide to collection and analysis of political data."

Merriam-Webster "abstract"

  1. disassociated from any specific instance an abstract entity
  2. expressing a quality apart from an object
  3. dealing with a subject in its abstract aspects: THEORETICAL abstract science

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