Philosophy of social science - Wikipedia
Analytic philosophers, most notably Peter Winch in The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy (), applied this idea to the social sciences. The philosophy of social science is the study of the logic, methods, and foundations of social sciences such as psychology, economics, and political science. Philosophers of social science are concerned with the differences and similarities between the social and the natural sciences, causal relationships. This article reviews the changes in the philosophy of the social sciences, what to regard as accepted results, the relationships between theories, applications.
Given this framework, the term philosophy of social science is arguably misleading, because it suggests that the discipline is concerned with the social sciences insofar as they are sciences or scientific; thus the term seems to imply naturalism. To avoid this suggestion, practitioners sometimes denominate their field of inquiry: In addition to the core disciplines of economicspolitical scienceanthropologyand sociologythe social studies also include such disparate disciplines as archaeologydemographyhuman geographylinguisticssocial psychologyand aspects of cognitive scienceamong others.
This should indicate the range of the field that the philosophy of social sciences encompasses and how diverse the questions, methods, concepts, and explanatory strategies are within the field.
Meanings and causes of human behaviour Human actions can be described as self-evidently meaningful; they are typically performed for a purpose and express an intention, and they also often follow rules that make them the kinds of action they are. Thus, people do not simply move their limbs or emit sounds, they vote or marry or sell or communicate, and, when they do, their actions and relations appear to be different in kind from the behaviour of other animals, especially nonconscious animals such as sponges.
Philosophers mark this difference by saying that humans act, whereas entities that lack consciousness or that lack the capacity to form intentions merely move. How should the interpretation of the meanings of actions fit into the study of human behaviour?
Does it introduce elements that make such a study different in kind from studying entities whose movements are not meaningful? Those who give an affirmative answer to the latter of these questions insist that social science must either be an interpretive endeavour or must at least provide a role for the interpretation of meanings within it; for them, meaning is the central concept of the social sciences. Philosophers such as Heinrich Rickert and Wilhem Dilthey argued that human phenomena are the product of conscious and intentional beings who became so by means of enculturation the assimilation of a cultureincluding its values and practicesand this means that the human sciences must concentrate on meaning and its interpretation as they attempt to understand human life.
This line of thought continued into the 20th century and beyond. Most notable was the application of hermeneutics to the study of human social life. Hermeneutics is the theory of interpretation, originally of written texts and later of all forms of human expression. It originated in the modern period in reflections on the interpretation of the Bible.
A number of hermeneutical theories of the social sciences have been developed, the most significant being that of the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamerpresented in his masterpiece Wahrheit und Methode ; Truth and Methodand that of the French philosopher Paul Ricoeurdiscussed in Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action, and Interpretation Hermeneuticists argue that human actions are the expressions of ideas and feelings and as such are essentially meaningful phenomena.
To understand them is more akin to interpreting a text or a painting than it is to dissecting the contents of a cell and the causes that produced them. Meaning, not cause, and understanding meaningnot causal explanationis the rallying point for philosophers of social science of this persuasion, though they offer varied accounts of what is entailed in interpreting meaning.
A cognate line of thinking developed largely in England and in the United States out of the later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgensteinas represented especially in his Philosophical Investigationsa work that argued for the essentially social nature of linguistic meaning, which it parsed in terms of rule following. Analytic philosophers, most notably Peter Winch in The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophyapplied this idea to the social sciences, hoping to show that the study of human beings involves a scheme of concepts and methods of analysis that are wholly unlike those in the natural sciences.
Phenomenology is another branch of philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness of beings who are conscious and who know that they are. The German philosopher Edmund Husserl founded the phenomenological movement in the early 20th century. Phenomenologists focus on the fact that human doings are consciously undertaken and are thus essentially intentional in character. For this reason, humans cannot be studied in the way in which plants and molecules are; instead, the structures of human consciousness must be unearthed and shown how they are expressed in human relations and actions.
Human acts are typically gestural in that they express some psychological state and cultural orientation, and much of what humans do is shaped by their culture and psychological states—motives, desires, goals, feelings, and moods as well as the life-world the world as immediately or directly experiencedin which psychological beings necessarily exist. The study of human life consequently involves such things as empathyattempting to relive what others have experienced and to grasp their subjective states, and the like.
This way of thinking has underwritten a variety of approaches in the social sciences, the most well-known being ethnomethodology, a school of sociology formulated by the American sociologist Harold Garfinkel in his classic work Studies in Ethnomethodology The social sciences that figure most saliently in humanist approaches, which centrally feature the interpretation of meaning and consciousness, are anthropology, historyand those parts of sociology that focus on the margins of mainstream society.
The reason for this emphasis in sociology is that, when confronting the behaviour of those whose linguistic, cultural, and conceptual worlds are significantly different from their own, social analysts cannot ignore questions of meaning. Moreover, these disciplines strikingly confront a host of questions that trouble philosophers of social science, questions that are grouped around the topic of relativism the doctrine that either experience, assessments of value, or even reality itself is a function of a particular conceptual scheme; these views are called, respectively, epistemological, moraland ontological relativism.
But not all philosophers of social science believe that meaning is something on which the social sciences should focus. Despite the fact that human actions and relations are clearly meaningful on the surface, some philosophies of social science have denied that meaning ultimately has or should have a fundamental role to play in the social sciences.
One of the most noteworthy of these approaches is behaviourismwhich dispenses with inner mental states and cultural meanings altogether. Instead, human behaviour is conceived as a series of responses to external stimuli, responses that are regulated by the patterns of conditioning that have been inculcated into the organism.
Other approaches that deny that the interpretation of meaning is of fundamental import in the social sciences include systems theory and structuralism. Systems theory conceives of society as an entity each of whose various parts plays a certain role or performs a certain function in order to maintain society or to keep it in equilibrium; such roles are played by those who inhabit them, whether they know that they are doing so or not.
As a result, the purpose of social science is to unearth the elements of this structure and to reveal its inner logic. In both systems theory and structuralism, the meaning that behaviour has for those engaging in it is ultimately irrelevant to its explanation.
The positivist perspective, however, has been associated with ' scientism '; the view that the methods of the natural sciences may be applied to all areas of investigation, be it philosophical, social scientific, or otherwise.
Among most social scientists and historians, orthodox positivism has long since fallen out of favor. Today, practitioners of both social and physical sciences recognize the distorting effect of observer bias and structural limitations. This scepticism has been facilitated by a general weakening of deductivist accounts of science by philosophers such as Thomas Kuhn, and new philosophical movements such as critical realism and neopragmatism.
Introduction: Doing Philosophy of Social Science
Positivism has also been espoused by ' technocrats ' who believe in the inevitability of social progress through science and technology. In psychologya positivistic approach has historically been favoured in behaviourism. Epistemology[ edit ] In any discipline, there will always be a number of underlying philosophical predispositions in the projects of scientists.
- Philosophy of social science
Some of these predispositions involve the nature of social knowledge itself, the nature of social reality, and the locus of human control in action. The founding positivists of the social sciences argued that social phenomena can and should be studied through conventional scientific methods. This position is closely allied with scientismnaturalism and physicalism ; the doctrine that all phenomena are ultimately reducible to physical entities and physical laws.Natural Science Vs Social Science
Opponents of naturalism, including advocates of the verstehen method, contended that there is a need for an interpretive approach to the study of human action, a technique radically different from natural science. These debates also rage within contemporary social sciences with regard to subjectivityobjectivityintersubjectivity and practicality in the conduct of theory and research.
Social sciences, philosophy of: the study of the logic and methods of the social sciences
Philosophers of social science examine further epistemologies and methodologies, including realismcritical realisminstrumentalismfunctionalismstructuralisminterpretivismphenomenologyand post-structuralism. Though essentially all major social scientists since the late 19th century have accepted that the discipline faces challenges that are different from those of the natural sciencesthe ability to determine causal relationships invokes the same discussions held in science meta-theory.
Positivism has sometimes met with caricature as a breed of naive empiricism, yet the word has a rich history of applications stretching from Comte to the work of the Vienna Circle and beyond. By the same token, if positivism is able to identify causality, then it is open to the same critical rationalist non- justificationism presented by Karl Popperwhich may itself be disputed through Thomas Kuhn 's conception of epistemic paradigm shift.
Early German hermeneuticians such as Wilhelm Dilthey pioneered the distinction between natural and social science ' Geisteswissenschaft '. This tradition greatly informed Max Weber and Georg Simmel 's antipositivismand continued with critical theory.
The midth-century linguistic turn led to a rise in highly philosophical sociology, as well as so-called " postmodern " perspectives on the social acquisition of knowledge. Michel Foucault provides a potent critique in his archaeology of the human sciencesthough Habermas and Richard Rorty have both argued that Foucault merely replaces one such system of thought with another.
This problem is especially important for those within the social sciences who study qualitative mental phenomena, such as consciousnessassociative meanings, and mental representationsbecause a rejection of the study of meanings would lead to the reclassification of such research as non-scientific. Influential traditions like psychodynamic theory and symbolic interactionism may be the first victims of such a paradigm shift.