Social science and human flourishing: The scottish enlightenment and today

Journal of Scottish Philosophy 7 (1):29-46 (2009)
Abstract
The Scottish Enlightenment is commonly identified as the birthplace of modern social science. But while Scottish and contemporary social science share a commitment to empiricism, contemporary insistence on the separation of empirical analysis from normative judgment invokes a distinction unintelligible to the Scots. In this respect the methods of modern social science seem an attenuation of those of Scottish social science. A similar attenuation can be found in the modern aspiration to judge the outcome of institutions or processes only with regard to efficiency. While the tenet that efficiency is preferable to inefficiency is central to Scottish social thought, the Scots regarded maximization of quantifiable returns as only one among three ends that well-functioning institutions and processes promote. Scottish social science speaks also of virtue and liberty where ours speaks only of utility. This essay develops these differences in three sections. Its first section compares Scottish and contemporary understandings of social science methods. Its second section examines how these differing methodologies inform their differing conceptions of human flourishing and particularly led Scottish social science to focus on virtue and freedom in addition to wealth. The essay concludes by calling attention to three movements in social science today which might help us recover the best features of Scottish social science
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