The Idea of a Social Science: Objectivity and Looping Effects
Can human, social subjects be studied “scientifically” or do they require, instead, a distinctive interpretive methodology? The debate about “naturalism” – whether the social sciences can or should model themselves on the natural sciences – has long been central to philosophy of the social sciences. The aim of this seminar is to assess claims for and against naturalism, taking our cue from recent arguments for grounding philosophical analysis of the social sciences in a detailed understanding of research practice. Readings will be drawn primarily from Winch’s classic defence of anti-naturalism, The Idea of a Social Science (1958/2008) and Cartwright and Montuschi’s recent anthology, Philosophy of Social Science (2008). Specific topics for discussion will include the question of whether, or in what form, epistemic ideals like objectivity are viable for the social sciences; and what follows for research practice from an appreciation that social agents and social kinds are subject to “looping effects” by which their identities and actions are shaped by the categories and concepts developed by social scientists.
Prerequisites: at least one prior course in a social science and/or in philosophy is strongly recommended. Contact the instructor if you have any questions about appropriate background for this course.
Graduate students are most welcome. If you prefer to take this course for 500-level (PHIL) credit contact the instructor to arrange graduate-level requirements and to complete the necessary form. This request must be approved before registration closes.