Monday, March 10, 2014

Winch on social science again

After last time I think I should probably not focus too much on The Idea of a Social Science when talking about whether there can really be a social science (I'm going to be giving a lecture on this). I will talk about that book but also some of Winch's later work, maybe Colin Lyas' book on Winch (which I see Berel Dov Lerner recommends highly), and certainly Rupert Read's Wittgenstein Among the Sciences, and There is No Such Thing as a Social Science by Phil Hutchinson, Rupert Read, and Wes Sharrock. (Is there anything else that I shouldn't miss?)

To start with, here are some of the main points I take Winch to be making:
  • he attacks the idea that social studies should "follow the methods of natural science rather than those of philosophy" (p. 1)
  • "social relations are expressions of ideas about reality" (p. 23)
  • the aim of epistemology is to understand "the nature of social phenomena in general," i.e. to understand what is involved in a "form of life" (p. 42)
  • this, though, is the central aim of sociology (p. 43), a subject with a special place in social studies
  • "I want to say that the test of whether a man's actions are the application of a rule is not whether he can formulate it but whether it makes sense to distinguish between a right and a wrong way of doing things in connection with what he does.Where that makes sense, then it must also make sense to say that he is applying a criterion in what he does even though he does not, and perhaps cannot, formulate that criterion." (p. 58)
  • human behavior is not only different in degree (more complex) than other kinds of events in the world, it is different in kind (p. 73), even if this difference arises from what appear to be differences in degree
  • scientists seek regularities, but "criteria of identity are necessarily relative to some rule" (p. 83) (and on this point see also this and this)
  • the relevant rules in question are those of the scientist in the natural sciences but those of the people being studied in the social sciences (p. 87)
  • to understand what people do with regard to art or religion we must understand what art or religion is (pp. 88-89)
  • historical development is like the development of a conversation (in part it literally is just this, it seems to me), and such things cannot be predicted (pp. 93-94): to predict the future of a poem is to write the poem, to predict the future of music is to intervene in the process by which this future is determined (is that right?)
  • "the social relations between men and the ideas which men's actions embody are really the same thing considered from different points of view" (p. 121)
  • "To give an account of the meaning of a word is to describe how it is used; and to describe how it is used is to describe the social intercourse into which it enters." (p. 123)
This all sounds about right to me. The main point I might disagree with concerns the goal of sociology, which I think these days is more like describing and elucidating inequalities. 

No comments:

Post a Comment