Is social science really a science at all, and if so in what sense? This is the first real question that any course on the philosophy of the social sciences must tackle. In this brief introduction, Malcolm Williams gives the students the grounding that will enable them to discuss the issues involved with confidence.
This paper is a re-examination of the issue of objectivity in sociology. Though it begins from the premise that objectivity is a necessary precondition for a minimally scientific sociology, it sides with subjectivists who claim that values are ever present in investigation. Values are shown to exist along a continuum in investigation. The paper develops the argument that objectivity is a value itself and is nested in other values that will take on a contextual character dependent upon disciplines. Two brief (...) research examples are used to illustrate the way in which objectivity is transferred through three different levels in sociology. (shrink)
This text brings together a a number of contributions that discuss issues surrounding and informing questions such as: what is the social?; in what ways can we know it?; and how can our findings be validated? Topics discussed include: the relationship of philosophical and research issues to each other; the nature of social reality; properties that may be ascribed to the social; research accounts and rhetorical persuasion; and the relations between gender and knowing. The overall concern of the book is (...) to clarify how and in what ways we can claim to know the social world and what implications and consequences this may have for social scientific practice. (shrink)
In recent years, realism?particularly critical realism?has become an important philosophical and methodological foundation for social science. A key feature is that of natural necessity, but this coexists alongside an acceptance of contingency in the social world. I argue in this paper that there cannot be any natural necessity in the social world, but rather the real nature of the social world is that it is contingent. This need not lead to an abandonment of realism, and indeed I argue that a (...) contingent form of realism allows us to bring ontological probability back into realism. (shrink)
This paper is a realist argument for the existence of “social objects”. Social objects, I argue, are the outcome states of a contingent causal process and in turn posses causal properties. This argument has consequences for what we can mean by realism and consequences for the development of a realist methodology. Realism should abandon the notion of natural necessity in favour of a view that the “real” nature of the social world is contingent and necessity is only revealed in outcome (...) states. This, I argue, has both theoretical and methodological implications and I develop my argument through two case studies, of homelessness and ethnicity. (shrink)
This book, written by leading authors in the field, takes a completely new approach to objectivity and subjectivity, no longer treating them as opposed - as many existing texts do - but as logically and methodologically related in social research. The authors explain complex arguments with great clarity for social science students, while also providing the detail and comprehensiveness required to meet the needs of practicing researchers and scholars.
This paper is a re-examination of Popper’s propensity interpretation of probability in respect of its potential methodological value in social science. A long standing problem for the frequency interpretation of probability is that whilst it is able to treat both aggregate and individual phenomena as having measurable properties, it cannot explain the ontological relationship between such concrete individual cases and aggregates. Popper’s interpretation treats single cases as both real, but also as realisations of a propensity to occur. The frequency and (...) propensity interpretations are compared and whilst some common objections raised must be upheld, they do not devalue the importance of the propensity interpretation as at least a metaphysical basis for probabilistic claims in social science. However the value of the approach may also lie in its methodological potential. Here I sugest that single case probabilities must be analysed in terms of the anterior probabilities of prior constituent events. In this I move beyond Popper’s own programme, but suggest that such a move is theoretically compatible with recent complexity approaches in social science and goes some way toward meeting anti-naturalist concerns about intentionality. (shrink)
Objectivity and value freedom have often been conflated in the philosophical and sociological literature. While value freedom construed as an absence of social and moral values in scientific work has been discredited, defenders of value freedom bracket off methodological values or practices from social and moral ones. In this paper I will first show how values exist along a continuum and argue that science is and should be value based. One of these values is necessarily objectivity for science to be (...) possible. However the version of objectivity I will describe is socially situated in methodological practice, but also crucially in the particular purpose of a given science. Objectivity (or its absence) may be transferred vertically from practices, goals, or discourses outside science through several levels to that of the day-to-day activities of the scientist. It is also possible for this transfer to occur in the other direction and indeed objectivity can be situated in extra-scientific practices and discourses. Objectivity (or its absence) may also be transferred horizontally within particular methodological practice to other disciplines or parts of a discipline. Ultimately a socially situated objectivity is an achievement of the community of science. I will use some brief contemporary and historical illustrations from science and the intersection of science and public policy to show how objectivity has been achieved or failed. (shrink)
Philosophical considerations and positions underlie all of the natural and social sciences. In the latter case philosophical foundations and their emergent issues have a profound impact on methodology and empirical practice. Design decisions will usually depend on philosophical perspectives or assumptions, such as the very fundamental decision to employ a quantitative design or an interpretive design. The 'philosophy of social research' is thus a subset of the philosophy of social science, but also an important subject area that spans methodology and (...) method. The articles making up this timely collection are the best exemplars of key positions in a very wide disciplinary field. The selection is designed to begin each section with an 'entry level' article to introduce the reader to the topic area and to ground the approach a research problem. Topics covered include science and art in the history of social research, positivism and antipositivism, language and the linguistic turn, realism and anti-realism, theory and theory choice, logic and models, prediction and laws, interpretation, probability and complexity. With the study of the philosophical foundations of methods and methodology gaining increasing priority in university courses, this will be a valuable resource for academics and researchers across the social sciences. (shrink)
This article is a defence of objectivity in sociology, not as is usually conceived as ‘value freedom’ or ‘procedural objectivity’, but rather as a socially constructed value that can nevertheless assist us in accessing social reality. It is argued that objectivity should not be seen as the opposite to subjectivity, but rather arising from particular intersubjectively held values (both methodological and societal) held in particular times and places. The objectivity defended here is socially situated in the beliefs and values of (...) communities. This on its own would imply an epistemological relativism, but in the final section of the article I make a plea for realism as a regulatory ideal underpinning objectivity and one which can lead us to novel truths about social reality. (shrink)