Social Science: Philosophical and Methodological Foundations

By Gerard Delanty | Go to book overview

Introduction: Challenges
for Social Science

Why does society need social science? What is the current selfunderstanding of social science? What is the public role of social science? These questions have always been central to debates on the task of social science ever since the neo-Kantians launched their critique of positivism in the second half of the nineteenth century. However, the situation of social science today is different from the days when the neo-Kantian philosophers of the German Historical School demanded a radical bifurcation of the human and the natural sciences and, consequently, the answer to the question of what does the public role of social science consist can no longer be found in methodology, but concerns the role of social science as a mediating discourse between public culture and professional culture. This book is a plea to debate the self-understanding of social science on new foundations and to recognize that the matter cannot be resolved by methodology or philosophical reflections on epistemology alone: it is above all a question of the public role of social science. The critique of positivism has been too much preoccupied with the relationship between the sciences. The consequence of this has been the neglect of the relationship between science and other forms of knowledge.

The crisis of the social sciences, then, is no longer one of methodology nor is it one that can be conducted as a critique of positivism: it is one of the very social relevance of social science. The challenge of social science today is not the decline in highquality social research, whether positivistic or otherwise, but derives from the failure of social science to mediate its professional culture with the public commitments of intellectual culture. One does not have to agree with Irving Louis Horowitz’s (1993) reactionary claim

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