Monday, May 19, 2014

The possibility of a social science

I'm not completely happy with this yet, but I need to have a final version by the end of the week. So if I'm ever going to ask for comments, it's now or never. I've been asked to give a public lecture on Winch's ideas about social science. Here's what I've come up with so far.

Comments welcome.


  1. Here are a couple initial reactions:

    Page 10: “This makes them [chemicals] not just simpler to study but importantly different in kind from human beings.”

    I think this makes sense in the context, so long as you’re not misunderstood as saying that chemistry is EASY. Given the ways that you are questioning the likeness of social science to natural science, it would be hard to know exactly what that would mean. Perhaps it would help to say explicitly earlier on (than page 24) that part of the problem is that at least part of what we want to understand is in the realm of subjective experience? But then I would want to know how exactly that ties in, for example, with the hooliganism and unemployment example.

    Page 24: “The natural sciences are not concerned with activity that has a point. They are concerned with inanimate objects, or the objective aspect of animate beings in the case of biology, and how they react to each other.”

    So what is cognitive ethology or the sort of stuff that Frans de Waal does? Or Jane Goodall? Is it a social science of animals? I’m not sure how these questions fit into your discussion, except perhaps to further complicate the question, “What is science?”

    I think it might be helpful to provide one or two examples of actual social science (or things that actual social scientists are studying or saying) so that you aren't just relying on somewhat schematic examples (to which one might object that they oversimplify matters too much). And I also found myself wondering to what extent social scientists themselves discuss and attempt to resolve these kinds of worries. Getting into both of these matters might be asking for more than you are prepared to offer in the paper/talk, but might be something you'd want to have ready to hand in Q&A. Good luck with your talk!!!

    1. Thanks, Matt! This is very helpful. I hadn't thought about Frans de Waal, but that's a very good point.