Ernest Gellner: Selected Philosophical Themes - Vol. 1

Ernest Gellner: Selected Philosophical Themes - Vol. 1

Ernest Gellner: Selected Philosophical Themes - Vol. 1

Ernest Gellner: Selected Philosophical Themes - Vol. 1

Synopsis

The essays in this volume gather together Gellner's thinking on the connection between philosophy and life and they approach the topic from a number of directions: philosophy of morals, history of ideas, a discussion of individuals including R. G. Collingwood, Noam Chomsky, Piaget and Eysenck and discussions on the setting of philosophy in the general culture of England and America.

Excerpt

Peter Winch's The Idea of a Social Science [London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958] formulates, in a laudably uncompromising form, an extreme position concerning the study of man and human societies: that human societies can only be understood as it were 'from the inside', through their own concepts, and hence, as these concepts are generally quite distinct from those of natural science and causal explanation, that therefore we can consider ourselves free from the bogey of causal determinism. the book is, however, important for philosophers rather than for social scientists, for a variety of reasons; its manner of conveying its message will not make it easily intelligible to non-philosophers, and the content of that message, in as far as it is true, will not be so novel for them either.

Mr Winch is an enthusiastic disciple of Wittgenstein. Amongst the central preoccupations of Wittgenstein and his school there was a concern with what it was to understand something (say a concept or a procedure), what it is to follow a rule (socially, or in mathematics), and so on. the sophistication about these problems was bound sooner or later to spill over and stimulate a new look in a whole class of questions in the social sciences: issues such as, for instance, the invocation of subjective and objective factors in economics (marginalism and all that), in sociology (concerning, e.g. the inner and outer aspects of class), the methodological status of introspection, of explanations in terms of conscious and of unconscious motivation, and so forth. Mr Winch's book can be seen as one of the first fruits in this predictable harvest, although he sets his sights somewhat higher: he believes that a new and, at long last, correct understanding of the social sciences as such follows from the Wittgensteinian insights. the book is, as the title says, about the idea of a social science (in the singular): Mr Winch clearly believes that by analysing this idea he can establish significant conclusions for the benefit of the practitioners of the social sciences. He checks his conclusions by arguments, interesting and often penetrating, with the general methodological and programmatic views of major figures in the

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