Individualism in Social Science: Forms and Limits of a Methodology

By Rajeev Bhargava | Go to book overview

3
Methodological Individualism and the D-N Model

Chapter 2 examined the issue of derivational reduction without looking at two of its central assumptions. In this chapter, I make good that omission. I seek answers to two crucial questions. Do we have social and individual laws? Do all explanations satisfy conditions imposed by the D-N model? The reader will notice that I add little new to the existing stock of answers to these questions. What follows, in the initial sections of this chapter, is a brief recapitulation of some familiar arguments for the benefit of those interested in these issues but without the time to look elsewhere. Surprisingly, however, little has been said on the bearing these answers have on the feasibility of MI. After making this explicit, I ask if explanations can find rational backing from another, if not the D-N, model. The relevance of this other question I make plain in Chapter 4.


Laws in the Social Sciences

A law is a statement with the syntactical form of the universal conditional, is general in that its application is not restricted to a particular object or specific spatio-temporal location, is distinct from an analytic statement, expressing empirically confirmed relationships, and, finally, meets the requirements of contrary-to-fact and subjunctive conditionals.1 In brief, laws are general, well confirmed,2 exceptionless,3 and entail counterfactuals.

____________________
1
For a standard account of the nature of laws see E. Nagel ( 1961, ch. 4) and Hempel ( 1970: 231-2, 264-70). Recent accounts as well as standard textbooks offer a similar list of features. See Swartz ( 1985: 29) and Lambart and Brittan ( 1970: 37-45). The concept of law is meant, for Hempel, to apply to true statements alone. Studied independently of the factual requirement of truth the account applies to lawlike statements. In other words, lawlike statements may turn out to be false and therefore found not to be laws.
2
But others have argued that laws may apply to only particular phenomena. See Davidson ( 1985, ch. 14, 274), White ( 1965, ch. 2), and Donagan ( 1966). They argue for the existence or the possibility of laws that apply to particular individuals, hereafter called individualistic laws (as distinct from general laws that apply to all individuals).
3
It follows that I shall not be dealing with statistical laws. This is consistent with my strategy of leaving the inductive-statistical model out of this study.

-89-

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