Social Science: Philosophical and Methodological Foundations

By Gerard Delanty | Go to book overview

2
Hermeneutics and
Interpretation: The
Search for Meaning

Introduction: Defining the Hermeneutical Approach

In the previous chapter the critique of positivism was looked at from a point which broadly accepted the unity of the scientific method, even though it saw the subject matter of social science as being different from that of the natural sciences. Positivism evolved from its origins in radical liberalism to become the dominant form the institution of science took in modern society. Although positivism took many forms, underlying them was a belief that the purpose of science was to explain reality. With the institutionalization of science under state control, the radical challenge to positivism was mostly represented by Marxism (which along with the critical tradition will be looked at in the next chapter). In this chapter the hermeneutical tradition, predominantly associated with nineteenth-century German thought, is examined from its origins in the counter-Enlightenment of Vico and Rousseau, to eighteenthcentury philology to the neo-Kantian school, phenomenology and its evolution into the interpretative social science of Weber and the psychoanalysis of Freud. Finally, modern hermeneutical approaches are briefly considered in order to provide a full picture of the anti-positivist tradition in terms of the understanding versus explanation controversy.

While a discourse of realism pervades positivism, a discourse of constructivism runs through the hermeneutical tradition: social reality is seen as a meaningful construction and not as an objective

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