Social Science under Debate

Social Science under Debate: A Philosophical Perspective

Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 672
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  • Book Info
    Social Science under Debate
    Book Description:

    Bunge contends that social science research has fallen prey to a postmodern fascination with irrationalism and relativism. He urges social scientists to re-examine the philosophy and the methodology at the base of their discipline.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8003-6
    Subjects: Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Part A: Basic Social Science
    • [PART A Introduction] (pp. 1-3)

      Scientists are expected to explore the world in order to understand it. They ask, answer, and argue. They observe facts – natural, social, or mixed – and invent hypotheses to explain or forecast them. They classify and construct systems of hypotheses, that is, theories, of various degrees of depth and breadth. They check data and guesses to find out whether these hypotheses are at least roughly true. They invent techniques to collect, check, or process data. And they argue over projects and findings broad and narrow.

      Scientific researchers are expected to abide by the scientific method, which boils down to...

    • 1 From Natural Science to Social Science (pp. 4-60)

      One of the most fundamental, interesting, and persistent of all the philosophical controversies in the metatheory of social science concerns the distinction between nature and society, and the concomitant natural science / social science divide. This controversy is philosophical because it concerns broad categories and thus affects all the social sciences. And it is fundamental because the very social-research strategy depends upon the stand one takes in the controversy.

      The traditional answers to the question of the nature of society and social science are social naturalism and idealism. According to the former society is part of nature, whereas idealism contends...

    • 2 Sociology (pp. 61-99)

      Sociology may be defined as the scientific synchronic study of society. Now, society is a system of systems – families, firms, schools, states, and so on. Hence, sociology may also be characterized as the scientific and synchronic study of social systems of all kinds and sizes and, in particular, of their structure and its changes. Here “structure” is interpreted as a set of relations, in particular bonds or forces, among the system components and among these and items in the system’s environment. (‘Structure’ is thus synonymous with ‘organization’ and ‘architecture.’) I submit that, like any other system, a social system...

    • 3 Positive Economics (pp. 100-154)

      Economics has always been the most awe-inspiring of all the social sciences. So much so that, until about 1930, most economists were complacent and arrogant. This situation changed with the Great Depression, and then again forty years later with the end of the post-war growth process and the onset of stagflation. On both occasions it became obvious that mainstream economic theory hardly fits the real world, and thus it provides no reliable basis for economic policy. Substantive as well as methodological criticisms began to be heard, and not only from the predictable quarters – institutionalism and Marxism. First came the...

    • 4 Political Science (pp. 155-218)

      Just as the economy turns around work and its fruits, so politics is centred in power. Put bluntly, it is about “who gets what, when, how” (Lasswell 1958). And political science – or, more modestly,politology– is of course the study of politics. Since the marrow of politics is the struggle for and management of power, realists define political science as “the science of power” (Lasswell and Kaplan 1952, 82). In other words, political science asks who governs what for whom. More precisely, it is the scientific study of power relations in and among social systems. Hence, it attains...

    • 5 Culturology (pp. 219-256)

      Recall our quadripartite orBEPCanalysis of every society into its biological, economic, political, and cultural subsystems (chap. 1, sect. 1). Recall also that we have preferred the narrow sociological concept of culture to the broad anthropological one, which equates culture with society (chap. 1, sect. 7.) According to the former, the culture of any society, whether primitive or civilized, ancient or modern, is composed of such ingredients as language, stories, knowledge (in particular science, technology, and the humanities), art, morality, and ideology – including religion. In sociological (and materialist) terms, the culture of a society is the subsystem of...

    • 6 History (pp. 257-296)

      The study of human evolution is only one of the historical sciences: others are cosmology, geology, and evolutionary chemistry and biology. All the historical sciences have the same aim, namely, to discover what happened and why it happened: they seek truth and explanation, not just yarn. Moreover, the historical sciences investigate the past not only out of curiosity but also to better understand and influence the present, and thus help to shape the future, on the obvious assumption that today is the child of yesterday and tomorrow that of today. All of them abide by Charles Darwin’s famous dictum, “If...

  6. Part B: Sociotechnology
    • [PART B Introduction] (pp. 297-305)

      In this part of the book we shall examine some of the philosophical problems raised by social technology, or sociotechnology for short. This discipline studies ways of maintaining, repairing, improving, or replacing existing social systems (e.g., factories, hospitals, and schools) and processes (e.g., manufacture, health care, and education); and it designs or redesigns social systems and processes to tackle social issues (e.g., mass unemployment, epidemics, and crime). Accordingly, social medicine, social work, management science, normative macroeconomics, and the law are sociotechnologies; so are the disciplines that study environmental protection, welfare, education, work, social control, city planning, finance, and public policy...

    • 7 Action Theory (pp. 306-353)

      Human action is a legitimate subject of philosophical reflection because, when deliberate and rational, it has philosophical presuppositions. Indeed, we would not act at all unless we thought that our actions might have consequences – that is, unless we embraced some version of determinism. Nor would we ever take extra precautions unless we also believed that unexpected side-effects and accidents might happen. Moreover, we would not care to study action unless we believed that the knowledge garnered through such study might help improve our actions – that is, unless we adopted epistemological realism. And we would have no qualms about...

    • 8 Law (pp. 354-379)

      The law is a means for guaranteeing rights, enforcing duties, resolving conflicts, attaining justice, exercising social control, and conserving or reforming the social order. However, far from being a neutral tool, law has many philosophical and ideological presuppositions (see, for instance, Feinberg and Gross 1991). For example, the old philosophical clash between idealism and materialism appears in legal theory and jurisprudence under the guise of the conflict between conventionalism – in particular legal positivism – and legal realism, or sociological and historical jurisprudence. (For formalism see Kelsen 1945 and Hart 1961; for realism see Pound 1954; Llewellyn 1930; Lundstedt 1956;...

    • 9 Management Technology (pp. 380-402)

      All social systems, even the voluntary ones, need to be managed, though of course not necessarily in an authoritarian fashion. Management expertise can be of either of three types: (a)oracular, or following the advice of self-styled experts in how to run other people’s businesses, a.k.a. gurus; (b)empirical, or following tradition; or (c)scientific, that is, using experience, analysis, statistics, and occasionally mathematical modelling as well, to craft and discuss policies and plans, as well as to monitor their implementation. Each of these management styles presupposes its own theory of knowledge: intuitionism (or even magic thinking), empiricism, and ratio-empiricism...

    • 10 Normative Economics (pp. 403-438)

      The task of normative economics is to design, analyse, evaluate, and update policies that aim at controlling the production and distribution of goods, whether martketable or public, at all levels. Such policies are of interest to philosophy on several counts. First, they involve broad assumptions about human nature and society, in particular ideas about the right social conduct and the good society. Second, because they affect individual welfare and freedom, economic policies give rise to conflicts between individual and public interests, as well as among social groups, so that they raise moral problems. Third, the very idea of a public...

    • 11 Designing the Future (pp. 439-454)

      The future of a natural thing beyond our reach “comes” without our assistance: it unfolds lawfully from present circumstances. Not so the future of a made object, such as an institution. The future of such a thing does not “come” at all: we make it, if not always deliberately, let alone rationally. We shape the future of society by acting now and by preparing for later action. But we are not all equally effective in modifying the present conditions in such a way that they will evolve into what we want. Some of us are forced to wait for the...

  7. PART C: Appendices (pp. 455-466)
  8. References (pp. 467-518)
  9. Index of Names (pp. 519-528)
  10. Index of Subjects (pp. 529-538)


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