Is Public Administration an Art or a Science?

A frequent question asked by scholars and practitioners in the academic community is whether public administration is a science or an art. Obviously, there are conflicting views and opinions on this issue and each appears to be justified in its own way. Thus, Public Administration can be regarded as both science and art.

Public Administration as an Art

Public AdministrationOpens in new window lends itself two meanings:

  1. Firstly, it is used to designate a process or an activity of administering governmental affairs.
  2. Secondly, it is used to designate an area of intellectual or academic inquiry. In other words, a discipline or a study.

The first description obviously portrays Public Administration as an art. But as portrayed by the second description: Is Public Administration as an academic discipline of study of governmental affairs, a science?

AdministrationOpens in new window, both public and private, is often consists of a series of acts or is concerned with the doing of deeds; thus it is undoubtedly an art. In the Art of Administration, Ordway TeadOpens in new window writes:

Administration is the comprehensive effort to direct, guide and integrate associated human strivings which are focused toward some specific ends or aims. Administration is, in short, a fine art, because it summons an imposing body of special talents on behalf of a collaborative creation which is integral to the conduct of civilized living today.

Quite obviously, the process or activity of administering governmental affairs is an art that can be acquired and developed, over time, under proper training. So, administration is the art of government; in reality, it is government in action.

Public Administration is not merely a theory but an art which is learned by practical application of knowledge. It deals more with actual practice rather than mere theoretical concept.

A public administrator cannot be a success by merely being a theorist. The best knowledge can be gained over time by constant practice.

To the proponents of this view, Public Administration is an art of getting things done.

Public Administration as a Science

People in this school of thought have identified certain specific and clear principles on which day-to-day administration of states is being run and managed.

These specialists are also of the opinion that Public Administration has well defined field and sufficient data for application to arrive at facts and has obtained considerable perfection to claim a place in the family of physical sciences.

Existence of a body of principles in a discipline entitles it to claim the title and status of science.

If Public Administration can prove that it has developed a set of principles, it obviously qualifies to be rated as science.

Does Public Administration have a set of such principles?

The essential characteristics of science include:

  • Absence of normative (or, ethical) value,
  • Predictability of behavior, and finally,
  • Universal application.

All these three features are as yet imperfectly present in Public Administration.

Public Administration cannot be called a science until the following three conditions are fulfilled:

  1. First, the place of normative values in Public Administration should be clearly identified and made clear.
  2. Second, greater understanding should be gained of human nature in the field of Public Administration.
  3. And third, the principles of administration, could be derived from a body of cross-cultural studies, thereby making them relatively free from cultural bias.

The last few decades have seen a remarkable development of the science of Public Administration Opens in new window.

The transformation of the laissez-faireOpens in new window state into the modern welfare sate has enlarged its sphere, added to the functions of government and aroused interest in the problem of efficiency in government, which had remained for long an art proceeding by way of trial and error.

Industrial engineers like Taylor pioneered the scientific method with its emphasis on experimentation, observation, collection of data, classification and analysis, and the formulation of laws and principle.

The subsequent progress of the scientific method added substantially to such facets of administration as organization, planning, personnel administration and budgetary control. Today Public Administration is a multidimensional study. It is both an art as well as science.

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