Science and Social Science: An Introduction

By Malcolm Williams | Go to book overview

8

Conclusion: the science of social science

In the preceding chapters I have described some key features of science and how these might relate to studies of the social world. In this final chapter I will review these and conclude that a ‘moderate’ science of the social world is both possible and desirable.

What is a moderate science?

The model of science I advocate for the study of the social world rests upon certain conclusions about what science is. One of the difficulties of defining science is that throughout its history it has taken on quite different forms. In Chapter 1 I showed how science developed as a result of complex relationships between social, metaphysical and cognitive factors. The relationship could perhaps be seen as a complex feedback mechanism, where external influences shaped and limited the science of the day, but the latter’s success, particularly in the form of technological progress, impacted upon society. The more successful science became, the greater the impact. We can talk of progress in science, in particular cognitive progress in the ways the world is understood and the development of ways of elaborating relationships between concepts (through the development of deductive logic for example). Nevertheless despite evidential progress in method, knowledge and output, science must be seen as historically contingent. It is hard to say that its discoveries, or development, were necessary outcomes; it could have been otherwise.

Social constructionists take the view that such historical contingency demonstrates not a steady progress towards knowledge of nature, but the character of science as a purely social enterprise, a product of the political or ideological exigencies of the day. The conclusion being that science is simply what scientists do, or what they say they do. In some versions of social constructionism the scientists themselves are seen to come from dominant social groups and consequently science, from its topics of interest to its results, are cast in the image of that group. The difficulty with this view is its inability to explain the epistemological and technical success of science contra the other world views. By ‘success’ I do not imply that the

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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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