Beyond Relativism: Raymond Boudon, Cognitive Rationality, and Critical Realism

Beyond Relativism: Raymond Boudon, Cognitive Rationality, and Critical Realism

Beyond Relativism: Raymond Boudon, Cognitive Rationality, and Critical Realism

Beyond Relativism: Raymond Boudon, Cognitive Rationality, and Critical Realism


This book argues that critical realism offers the theory of cognitive rationality a real way of overcoming the limitations of methodological individualism by recognising both the agents' - and the social structure's - causal powers and liabilities. Cynthia Lins Hamlin persuasively argues that critical realism represents a better safeguard against the relativism which springs from the conflation of social reality and our ideas about it. This is an important book for sociologists and anyone working in the social sciences, and for all those concerned with the methodology, and philosophy, of social science.


This book is a defence of the social sciences against some of the relativist trends which have pervaded social thought. It will be of interest to anyone concerned with the main philosophical debates on the methodology of the social sciences, even though it is particularly directed to sociologists. This defence assumes the form of a critical reflection on the work of the French sociologist Raymond Boudon, informed by some of the contributions which critical realism has brought from philosophy into social theory and research.

This defence is both necessary and urgent. As Gerard Delanty (1997) has argued, the end of the twentieth century has witnessed the emergence of a new debate on the role of the social sciences. Different from the nineteenth century fin de siécle, the current debate has not dwelled upon the possibility or even the desirability of building a natural science of society, but on the usefulness of the social sciences in terms of their public influence, social impact and, ultimately, on their privileged status in relation to other forms of (non-specialised) knowledge.

This is, of course, part of a larger picture. the 'runaway world', to borrow Giddens' expression, has revealed in an unprecedented way the paradoxes of Enlightenment Reason. On the one hand, the 'natural world' is to such an extent transformed through human planning and manipulation that it is now virtually impossible to draw the line between the human and the natural world; Nature is a human creation as much as its own. On the other hand, processes such as global warming, the spread of microorganisms that are increasingly resistant to antibiotics and exposure of different species to plagues as a result of the rapid reduction of natural genetic libraries are only some of the signs of Nature's refusal to be put under control.

Such unintended consequences of human action upon Nature have also affected social relations in novel and unpredicted ways, contributing to the establishment of new forms of domination and social exclusion. It has, moreover, been generally accepted that it is not only our actions which have an impact on social reality, but also our theories. Information has been turned into another form of commodity, intensifying the effects of the double hermeneutics according to which specialised knowledge is constantly reinterpreted by social actors, sometimes working as self-fulfilling prophecies,

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