Individualism in Social Science: Forms and Limits of a Methodology

By Rajeev Bhargava | Go to book overview

Concluding Remarks

To summarize afresh: the main objectives of this study were to identify a plausible form of methodological individualism, outline a non-individualist alternative that challenges it, and thereby revive a debate, long since thought of as puerile. Identifying the most plausible of individualist versions was not easy because different forms of methodological individualism lay tangled. In Part I, I sought to remedy this. I located three interrelated strains in the doctrine, two of which, the semantic and ontological, establish why it is individualist and the other gives it an explanatory form. In this crucial last strand (explanatory individualism) I detected five variants, each distinguished from the other by different explanatory requirements.

In Part II, I examined in detail the significant forms of explanatory individualism. First, I explored its reductionist variants and concluded that most non-individualist arguments against the irreducibility of the social to the individual fail to distinguish sufficiently between correlatory and micro-reductions. I argued that the failure of correlatory reduction did not automatically invalidate the entire reductionist programme; absence of the relevant correlatory laws is compatible with the presence of statements identifying social with individual properties and no obvious reasons against these are available. However, all nomological versions flounder on the absence of theoretical and phenomenological laws. A feasible individualist programme must, I claimed, rely on a nonnomological form of explanation. By identifying such a version I fulfilled my first objective. Intentionalism is an individualist strategy that seeks non-nomological explanations in terms of individualistically construed intentional states. I claimed for intentionalism a good deal of plausibility largely because it appears to account for a number of social entities traditionally thought to fall within the ambit of non-individualist social science. The point was substantiated by examples.

None the less, intentionalism was found to have its own limits. One of these is readily acknowledged by the individualist and is largely irrelevant to the individualist--non-individualist dispute: since at least some explanations in the social sciences are causal, all of them cannot involve beliefs and desires. A second more serious limitation, I argued, is imposed by pragmatic constraints on explanations. Explanations in terms of social facts cannot be replaced by those involving individual

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