Relationship between philosophy and social science research

Philosophy of social science |

relationship between philosophy and social science research

BEHAVIOUR. 1. Philosophy and Sociology things have changed both in philosophy and in the social .. conception of the relation between the social studies. Philosophers have disagreed over the relation between the social and natural sciences. One position is NATURALISM, according to which the methods of the. I propose, in this monograph, to attack such a conception of the relation between the social studies, philosophy and the natural sciences. But it should not be.

In all of these investigations, social scientists go beyond deciphering the meaning and import of acts and relations to uncover their broader causes and effects. Indeed, depending on how broad and successful social science is in this task, causal explanations become integrated into theories of social life—theories that typically go far beyond the self-understandings of the agents involved. Examples include Keynesian or monetarist theories in economics, kinship theories in anthropology, and modernization theory in political science and sociology.

relationship between philosophy and social science research

Questions about the nature of social-scientific theorizing abound: Can the social sciences make warranted predictions about future actions or relationships?

Should the social sciences ultimately aim at explanation in terms of individual actions or in terms of groups or group structures i. To these sorts of questions, humanists have sometimes insisted that causality in the social sciences is different in kind than causality in the natural sciences.

Others have tried to work out a middle road that combines the best of both the naturalist approach, with its focus on causality, and the humanist approach, which focuses on meaning. The methodological writings of the German sociologist Max Weber are a particularly vivid instance of this.

relationship between philosophy and social science research

An important class of theories in the social sciences—so-called competence theories—constitute a distinctive type. Theories of this type explain human behaviour as arising from principles of rationality or from internalized systems of rules. These examples are indicative of the ways in which theorizing in the social sciences may be fundamentally different from that in the natural sciences. Meaningful actions involve rationality because they consist of following rules, procedures, principles, and the like.

Philosophy of Social Science

Or, again, principles of economic reasoning specify how much product to bring to market in order to maximize profit. They proceed by discovering how an idealized actor who is perfectly rational or who has perfectly mastered the relevant rules would behave in various situations.

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Another way in which theories in the social sciences are different from those in the natural sciences is that the entities being explained in the social sciences i. But this raises the question of what is the relationship, in social-scientific theories, between, on the one hand, the ideology and self-understanding of the agents and, on the other, the theoretical constructs that social-scientific observers of their behaviour might propose.

Does the former take precedence over the latter? Does the former constrain the latter? These are questions that philosophers of the natural sciences need not address, because the phenomena studied in the natural sciences are not the product of the ideology of that which is being studied. Indeed, the notion of ideology points to an activity crucial in the social sciences but one potentially in tension with its scientific aspirationsnamely, critique.

The role of critique in social science Critique becomes a possible dimension of social science because the self-understandings that serve as a basis for the actions and relations of agents may themselves be systematically mistaken. They may be under the control of an ideology that masks their social and personal reality, or they may be the victims of an irrationality that hinders them and makes them act in unintelligent or deluded ways.

Such irrationality may lie beneath their frustrations or the social conflicts in which they perforce find themselves. All of this suggests that, in order to understand and explain what such people are doing and how they are relating to others, social scientists must engage in what is called ideology critique: Examples of important social theories for which ideology critique is central are those of Karl MarxSigmund FreudHabermas, and some feminist theories.

Deconstruction is yet another form of critique in the social sciences, one inspired by the work of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida and by postmodernism more generally. At its best, philosophy can function as an equal collaborator with the creators and practitioners of the social sciences, helping to arrive at more durable and insightful theories and methods.

At its worst, philosophical doctrines can blind social researchers to more fertile and innovative avenues of theory and explanation. The importance of the philosophy of social science derives from two things: We need the best possible research and explanation to be conducted in the social sciences, and current social science inquiry falls short. We need a better-grounded understanding of the social, political, and behavioral phenomena that make up the modern social world.

Moreover, the goals and primary characteristics of a successful social science are still only partially understood.

relationship between philosophy and social science research

What do we want from the social sciences? And how can we best achieve these cognitive and practical goals? There are large and unresolved philosophical questions about the logic of social science knowledge and theory on the basis of which to arrive at that understanding.

And philosophy can help articulate better answers to these questions. So philosophy can play an important role in the development of the next generation of social science disciplines.

It is important to underline the point that this inquiry is not of merely academic concern. Understanding society better is an urgent need for all of us in the twenty-first century. Our quality of life, our physical security, our ability to provide for greater social justice globally and locally, and our ability to achieve the sustainability of our natural environment all depend upon social processes and social behavior.

The better we understand these processes and behavior, the better we will be able to shape our futures in ways that serve our needs and values. And currently our understanding of important social processes is highly limited. We need better theories, better research methodologies, and better conceptions of the basis nature of social phenomena, if we are to arrive at a more realistic understanding of the social world. The philosophy of social science can contribute to these important tasks.

Several particularly central ideas emerge from large threads of thought provided here. This doctrine takes three forms: The first version maintains that social entities must be reducible to ensembles of individuals--as an insurance company might be reduced to the ensemble of employees, supervisors, managers, and owners whose actions constitute the company.

Likewise, it is sometimes held that social concepts must be reducible to concepts involving only individuals--for example, the concept of a social class might be defined in terms of concepts pertaining only to individuals and their behavior. Finally, it is sometimes held that social regularities must be derivable from regularities of individual behavior.

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There are several positions opposed to methodological individualism. If we observe that an industrial strike is successful over an extended period of time, it is not sufficient to explain this circumstance by referring to the common interest that members of the union have in winning their demands.

Rather, we need to have information about the circumstances of the individual union member that induce him or her to contribute to this public good. This position does not require, however, that social explanations be couched in non-social concepts; instead, the circumstances of individual agents may be characterized in social terms.

Central to most theories of explanation is the idea that explanation depends on general laws governing the phenomena in question. Thus the discovery of the laws of electrodynamics permitted the explanation of a variety of electromagnetic phenomena.

But social phenomena derive from the actions of purposive men and women; so what kinds of regularities are available on the basis of which to provide social explanations? This fact in turn gives rise to a set of regularities about individual behavior that may be used as a ground for social explanation. We may explain some complex social phenomenon as the aggregate result of the actions of a large number of individual agents with a hypothesized set of goals within a structured environment of choice.

A function explanation of a social feature is one that explains the presence and persistence of the feature in terms of the beneficial consequences the feature has for the ongoing working of the social system as a whole. It might be held, for example, that sports clubs in working-class Britain exist because they give working class men and women a way of expending energy that would otherwise go into struggles against an exploitative system, thus undermining social stability.

Sports clubs are explained, then, in terms of their contribution to social stability. This type of explanation is based on an analogy between biology and sociology. Biologists explain traits in terms of their contribution to reproductive fitness, and sociologists sometimes explain social traits in terms of their contribution to "social" fitness. However, the analogy is a misleading one, because there is a general mechanism establish functionality in the biological realm that is not present in the social realm.