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Finding Philosophy in Social Science

Finding Philosophy in Social Science

Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    Finding Philosophy in Social Science
    Book Description:

    Written by an eminent and original thinker in the philosophy of science, this book takes a fresh, unorthodox look at the key philosophical concepts and assumptions of the social sciences. Mario Bunge contends that social scientists (anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, economists, and historians) ought not to leave philosophy to philosophers who have little expertise in or knowledge of the social sciences. Bunge urges social scientists to engage in serious philosophizing and philosophers to participate in social research. The two fields are interrelated, he says, and important advances in each can supply tools for solving problems in the other.Bunge analyzes such concepts as fact, cause, and value that the fields of philosophy and social science share. He discusses assumptions and misassumptions involved in such current approaches as idealism, materialism, and subjectivism, and finds that none of the best-known philosophies helps to advance or even understand social science. In a highly critical appraisal of rational choice theories, Bunge insists that these models provide no solid substantive theory of society, nor do they help guide rational action. He offers ten criteria by which to evaluate philosophies of social science and proposes novel solutions to social science's methodological and philosophical problems. He argues forcefully that a particular union of rationalism, realism, and systemism is the logical and viable philosophical stance for social science practitioners.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14623-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction Why Philosophy?
    (pp. 1-12)

    Science and philosophy were hardly distinguishable until the Romantic period. Then they became estranged, but they never really split. Actually, science and philosophy share a number of extremely general key concepts, principles, and even problems. Hence, far from being disjoint, they overlap partially. To prove this claim, I shall exhibit random samples of each category of ideas.

    To begin with, consider the following statements, disregarding their truth-value and noting only their constitutive concepts, although an analysis of their negations would in fact yield the same conclusion.

    —All societies are concrete systems composed of living beings (rather than, say, either...

  5. PART A From Fact to Theory

    • 1 Fact
      (pp. 15-46)

      The social sciences study social facts such as helping and fighting, marrying and divorcing, hiring and firing, working and stealing, organizing and disorganizing, innovating and resisting innovation, voting and rebelling, invading and repelling invasion, setting up or dismantling organizations, and so on. This makes themfactualsciences, unlike logic and mathematics, which may be calledformalsciences, in that they deal with pure “forms”—that is, ideas unrelated to any matters of fact.

      So far, there is near consensus in the community of social scientists. But there is no unanimity as to the signification of the expression ‘social fact’ or...

    • 2 Idea
      (pp. 47-75)

      The concept of an idea is very broad: it embraces percepts, mental images, memories, concepts, propositions, theories, inferences, problems, proposals, instructions, plans, and more. Most ideas can be expressed in symbols, such as spoken or written words, drawings, or mathematical formulas. All symbols are conventions. One and the same idea can be symbolized in many different ways. In particular, there is no necessary connection between sound and meaning. Therefore, to understand a text or a technical drawing, we need to know the conventional code that pairs symbols with ideas. In particular, understanding a scientific text calls for substantive knowledge as...

    • 3 Inquiry
      (pp. 76-107)

      We all want to know certain things, and sometimes we also wish to understand them: this is why we inquire into all manner of things. In some cases we need knowledge in order to solve practical problems; in others we want it to satisfy sheer curiosity. Exclusive focusing on practical needs leads to philosophical pragmatism, whereas exaggerating cognitive wants leads to philosophical idealism.

      Both trends are present in the sociology and history of knowledge, as well as in philosophy. As with so many other questions, the whole truth is a synthesis of the two extremes. Evidence for this thesis is...

    • 4 Systematization
      (pp. 108-132)

      When presented with an interesting new array of facts, we usually attempt to account for them by forming a jumble of rather fuzzy, and perhaps even mutually inconsistent, ideas—a muddle, in short. Critical reflection upon such a muddle may succeed in transforming it into a model, or system of reasonably precise, well-articulated ideas. This may in turn help us to take a second, deeper look at the facts that prompted our modeling effort. This second look is likely to suggest refinements to our model—or perhaps a totally different one. Such zigzagging between ideas and facts may go on...

  6. PART B From Explanation to Justification

    • 5 Explanation and Prediction
      (pp. 135-165)

      Social facts can be produced or prevented; and some of them can be discovered, described, classed, explained, forecast, or evaluated. In this chapter we shall study only the main ways of accounting for facts: namely, description, explanation, and forecast. This study needs to precede that of the practical problems of producing or preventing social facts in a rational way. In particular, objective description should precede everything else, for only a (sufficiently) true description of a social situation qualifies us in advancing explanatory hypotheses, identifying social issues, and designing efficient policies or plans for tackling the latter.

      The least we should...

    • 6 Empirical Operations
      (pp. 166-183)

      Whoever cares for truth should care for truth tests, because truth-values can be assigned responsibly only on the strength of truth tests. Of course, so-called revealed truths are exempt from such tests, some for being untestable, others for being asserted as dogmas: they are handed down, or imposed, rather than proposed. By contrast, the conjectures proposed by mathematicians, scientists, technologists, humanist scholars, and ordinary folk are supposed to be testable. Moreover, if interesting, it is expected that they will eventually be put to the test.

      Since mathematical conjectures refer to mathematical ideas, not concrete things, they are tested in a...

    • 7 Science et al.
      (pp. 184-218)

      Science, technology, and ideology are the main fountainheads of modern culture. Yet all three have been widely misunderstood, confused with one another, and often jointly blamed for all the evils of our time, from environmental degradation to nuclear weapons, from unemployment to consumerism. Moreover, some people, such as Marcuse (1964) and Habermas (1971), have accused the couple science-technology of being the ideology of late capitalism. Others, such as Feyerabend (1975), have claimed that this couple is no better than pseudoscience, or even anti-science. In this chapter we shall attempt to dispel these confusions. This will help us later on when...

    • 8 Values and Morals
      (pp. 219-238)

      Social science students are usually warned to heed Weber’s injunction: Keep your work value-free and morally neutral. But they are seldom told what values and morals are, much less why these should be shunned in social research. Moreover, they are not told why they should refrain from making any commitment to social causes, even though they were probably drawn to social studies out of concern over social issues. I will therefore attempt to answer these questions.

      Social actions and their outcomes are valuable or disvaluable to someone or other in some respects, and they either follow or break some of...

  7. PART C General Philosophy Problems in Social Science

    • 9 Individualism and Holism
      (pp. 241-263)

      The question of the nature of society lies at the very foundation of social science and social policy. I submit that there are only three general, coherent views on this matter: individualism, holism, and systemism. They can be compressed into the following formulas: “The individual is the alpha and the omega,” the Nazi sloganDu bist nichts, dein Volk ist alles(“You are nothing, your people is everything”), and “We shape society, and it shapes us,” respectively. Ironically, both individualism and holism write off social ills and discourage social protest in identical terms: “Blame yourself (or your genes), not the...

    • 10 Systemism
      (pp. 264-281)

      The alternative to both individualism and holism is systemism, since it accounts for both individual and system and, in particular, for individual agency and social structure. Indeed, systemism postulates that everything is a system or a component of one. And it models every system as a triple (composition, environment, structure), or CES for short, so it encompasses the valid features of its rivals. Furthermore, systemism offers some globalizing principles that prevent the specialist from getting bogged down in details and thus losing perspective. (For details see Bunge 1979a, 1979b. For earlier essays on systemism, see Buckley 1968 and Optner 1973.)...

    • 11 Idealism and Materialism
      (pp. 282-304)

      Idealism and materialism are ontological doctrines: they concern the furniture of the world. Crudely put, idealism (or spiritualism) is the doctrine that ideas exist separately from and above (or instead of) matter, while materialism holds that everything in the world is material or concrete, ideas being bodily (brain) processes. (Caution: The admission that we ideate and that we can understand reality only in terms of our own ideas is not a mark of idealism but of common sense.) But there are several varieties of idealism and materialism: crass and sophisticated, dear and confused, total and partial, consistent and inconsistent, and...

    • 12 Intuitionism, Empiricism, Pragmatism, and Rationalism
      (pp. 305-325)

      This chapter deals with four influential families of doctrines about knowledge—intuitionism, empiricism, pragmatism, and rationalism—as well as with some of their combinations. We first met intuitionism in chapter 9, section 5, where we identified it with the epistemology of holism. Intuitionism claims that human beings, or at least some of them, have the ability to grasp things or ideas in an immediate fashion, without analysis. Bergson is perhaps the best and clearest representative of modern radical intuitionism. By comparison, Kant and Dilthey were moderate intuitionists, for they acknowledged the need for intellect, which Bergson held in contempt.


    • 13 Subjectivism and Realism
      (pp. 326-358)

      Objectivity is of the essence of science, just as subjectivity is of the essence of art. Natural scientists are natural objectivists—except when on the occasional philosophical foray. But it is harder to be scientific, hence objective, about human affairs than about nature. This is so because it is always difficult and often impossible to guess correctly other people’s attitudes and intentions; we are influenced by social conventions and personal experience, with its attendant interests, expectations, emotions, and prejudices; and ideology, often fueled by political or economic interests, is likely to distort our perceptions of social facts or even keep...

    • 14 Between Reason and Fact: Rational Choice Theory
      (pp. 359-388)

      The concepts of rational choice, decision, and action are at the center of a large and growing number of theories, broad or narrow, in all the social sciences: the theories of utility, decision, and games, as well as neoclassical microeconomics. These rational choice theories are as controversial as they are popular and interesting. An examination of the assumptions common to all of them will clarify and help us to evaluate them. It will also be an occasion to apply, and thus consolidate, what we have learned in the foregoing.

      Let us start by recalling that the family of schools of...


    • APPENDIX 1 State Space Representation
      (pp. 391-392)
    • APPENDIX 2 Law and Rule
      (pp. 392-393)
    • APPENDIX 3 The Logic of Theory Operationalization
      (pp. 393-394)
    • APPENDIX 4 Utility: A Skeleton in the Closet of Rational Choice Theory
      (pp. 394-397)
    • APPENDIX 5 Futility Theory
      (pp. 397-399)
    • APPENDIX 6 Objective Value
      (pp. 399-399)
    • APPENDIX 7 Utility as a Set
      (pp. 399-400)
  9. References
    (pp. 401-420)
  10. Index of Names
    (pp. 421-426)
  11. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 427-432)