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The Flight from Reality in the Human Sciences

The Flight from Reality in the Human Sciences

Ian Shapiro
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Flight from Reality in the Human Sciences
    Book Description:

    In this captivating yet troubling book, Ian Shapiro offers a searing indictment of many influential practices in the social sciences and humanities today. Perhaps best known for his critique of rational choice theory, Shapiro expands his purview here. In discipline after discipline, he argues, scholars have fallen prey to inward-looking myopia that results from--and perpetuates--a flight from reality.

    In the method-driven academic culture we inhabit, argues Shapiro, researchers too often make display and refinement of their techniques the principal scholarly activity. The result is that they lose sight of the objects of their study. Pet theories and methodological blinders lead unwelcome facts to be ignored, sometimes not even perceived. The targets of Shapiro's critique include the law and economics movement, overzealous formal and statistical modeling, various reductive theories of human behavior, misguided conceptual analysis in political theory, and the Cambridge school of intellectual history.

    As an alternative to all of these, Shapiro makes a compelling case for problem-driven social research, rooted in a realist philosophy of science and an antireductionist view of social explanation. In the lucid--if biting--prose for which Shapiro is renowned, he explains why this requires greater critical attention to how problems are specified than is usually undertaken. He illustrates what is at stake for the study of power, democracy, law, and ideology, as well as in normative debates over rights, justice, freedom, virtue, and community. Shapiro answers many critics of his views along the way, securing his position as one of the distinctive social and political theorists of our time.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2690-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION Fear of Not Flying
    (pp. 1-18)

    In Medieval England there was a curious gap between the study and practice of law. From the thirteenth century to the seventeenth, the main language used for pleading in common law courts was Law French. It seems to have developed because Latin, the language of formal records, carried too much historical freight from Roman law for the peculiarities of English circumstances, whereas medieval English was insufficiently standardized for official use. Law French was a hybrid dialect, owing more to Picard and Angevin influences than to Norman French, in which French vocabulary was combined with the rules of English grammar. The...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Difference That Realism Makes: Social Science and the Politics of Consent
    (pp. 19-50)
    Ian Shapiro and Alexander Wendt

    All forms of social inquiry rest on beliefs about what counts as an explanation of social phenomena. Should explanations of social life be deduced from observable facts? Should they be grounded on peoples’ self-understandings? Should they be based on whatever enables us to intervene with effect in the world? Most of the time, social scientists go about their research without worrying about these issues, which primarily interest philosophers of social science. This may be unavoidable and even desirable given the intellectual division of labor, but it becomes problematic when bad philosophical assumptions contaminate the conduct of social science.

    Since the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Revisiting the Pathologies of Rational Choice
    (pp. 51-99)
    Donald Green and Ian Shapiro

    The social sciences were founded amid high expectations about what could be learned through systematic study of human affairs, and perhaps as a result social scientists are periodically beset by intellectual crises. Each generation of scholars expresses disappointment with the rate at which knowledge accumulates and yearns for a new, more promising form of social science. The complexity of most social phenomena, the crudeness with which explanatory variables can be measured, and the inability to perform controlled experiments may severely constrain whatanyform of social science can deliver. Nevertheless, nostrums that seem to put social science on the same...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Richard Posner’s Praxis
    (pp. 100-151)

    My purposes here are four. First, I reveal the internal logic of Richard Posner’s microeconomic conception of judicial efficiency to be fallacious, partly for reasons indigenous to his particular formulation of it and partly for reasons that have long been known by welfare economists and political scientists to attend various compensation-based theories of allocative efficiency. Second, I show that in his writings about the federal courts and his advocacy of efficiency as a basis for common law making and statutory interpretation, Posner employs a conception of macroeconomic judicial efficiency that is not derived from his microeconomic theory and which is...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Gross Concepts in Political Argument
    (pp. 152-177)

    Political theorists often fail to appreciate that arguments about how politics ought to be organized typically depend on relational claims involving agents, actions, legitimacy, and ends. If they did, they would see that to defend the standard contending views in many of the controversies that occupy them is silly. In what follows I work through a number of debates about the nature of right, law, autonomy, utility, freedom, virtue, and justice, showing this to be true. I argue, further, that political theorists frequently think in terms ofgross concepts: They reduce what are actually relational claims to claims about one...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Problems, Methods, and Theories in the Study of Politics: Or, What’s Wrong With Political Science and What to Do about It
    (pp. 178-203)

    Our mandate is to engage in navel-gazing about the condition of political theory.¹ I confess that I find myself uncomfortable with this charge because I think political theorists have become altogether too narcissistic over the past half-century. Increasingly, they have come to see themselves as engaged in a specialized activity distinct from the rest of political science—either a bounded subdiscipline within it or an alternative to it. Political theorists are scarcely unusual in this regard; advancing specialization has been a hallmark of most academic disciplines in recent decades. When warranted, it facilitates the accumulation of knowledge in ways that...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Political Science Discipline: A Comment on David Laitin
    (pp. 204-212)

    In “The Political Science Discipline,” David Laitin argues that there is an intellectual order to political science, but he laments that it is not reflected in the way in which we teach the discipline to undergraduates.¹ He proposes to remedy this state of affairs by designing an introductory political science course that mirrors standard introductory courses in economics. For reasons that are explained below, I believe that his perception of disciplinary order is illusory and that his prescriptions are pernicious.

    Laitin makes a number of valid points and proposes a creditable introductory political science course. We should not favor its...

  11. INDEX
    (pp. 213-223)