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Scope Statements: Imperatives for Evaluating Theory

Henry A. Walker and Bernard P. Cohen
American Sociological Review
Vol. 50, No. 3 (Jun., 1985), pp. 288-301
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095540
Page Count: 14
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Scope Statements: Imperatives for Evaluating Theory
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Abstract

Sociology faces a peculiar paradox: Every general sociological proposition is both true and false. On the one hand, one can easily find exceptions to most of the propositions which are advanced as general sociological principles. Yet, there are many instances in which general sociological principles are supported by empirical findings. As a consequence, it is not clear when some sociological principle is to be counted as false. This paper argues that a proper assessment of the state of sociological knowledge and the possibility of cumulative growth in sociology depends on resolving the true-false paradox. We argue that the paradox can be resolved if sociologists make the scope of their theories explicit. We offer a formulation of scope restrictions, demonstrate how the formulation resolves the true-false paradox, and illustrate the differences between the method proposed here and other strategies for making sociological theories conditional.

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