Science and Social Science: An Introduction

By Malcolm Williams | Go to book overview

3

Social science as science

In the last two chapters I have described the historical and methodological context of science, concluding that whilst we must see it as historically contingent, it is nevertheless possible to discern cognitive and material progress. This progress, though not explicable through any universal methodological or logical criteria, may however be explained by the persistence of certain values over time. These in turn have led to (what we must assume is) the best iteration yet of scientific method. In this chapter I will argue that there is enough commonality between the methodological approach to studies of the physical world and the social world to qualify study of the latter as science. This qualification does, however, come warts and all and if social science is science then these objections apply to it equally. In the following chapter I discuss these generic objections, and in Chapter 5 I discuss an alternative approach to investigation that arises out of specific objections to science in social science.

I have divided this chapter into two sections: first, ‘ Conceptualising a Social Science ’ and second, ‘ Doing Social Science ’. In the first I will set out some broad philosophical reasons for considering investigations of the social world as a subset of scientific investigations of the world in general and briefly reflect on an implication of a denial of this. In the second I will consider some key methodological similarities and differences between the social sciences and the natural sciences through some brief sketches of how social science is done.

Conceptualising a socialscience

Naturalism

The justification for adopting a position of a ‘unity of method’ rests on the philosophical principle of ‘naturalism’. Naturalism is defined in a number of ways (Papineau 1993: 2-5; Kincaid 1996: 3-4; Gower 1997: 257-8), but in social science it is usually taken to mean that human beings belong to an objective natural order and that the social world is continuous with, or arises from, the physical world.

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Science and Social Science: An Introduction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Where Did Science Come From? 8
  • Suggested Further Reading 27
  • 2 - Science and Its Method 28
  • Suggested Further Reading 48
  • 3 - Social Science as Science 49
  • Suggested Further Reading 69
  • 4 - Against Science 70
  • Suggested Further Reading 86
  • 5 - Against Science in Social Science 87
  • Suggested Further Reading 103
  • 6 - Science, Objectivity and Ethics 104
  • Suggested Further Reading 121
  • 7 - New Science and New Social Science 122
  • Suggested Further Reading 141
  • 8 - Conclusion: The Science of Social Science 142
  • Glossary 150
  • References 154
  • Name Index 168
  • Subject Index 172
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