From their conception to the present, the social sciences have invoked a kind of explanation that looks suspect by the standards of the natural sciences. They explain why social practices exist by reference to the purpose or needs they serve. Yet the purposes invoked are generally not the explicit purposes or needs of any individual but of society or social groups. For example, Durkheim claimed that the division of labor in society exists in order to promote social solidarity and Marx (...) thought that the state served to promote the interests of the ruling class. Social scientists have found these explanations as irresistible as their critics have found them mysterious. This chapter traces the controversies over these explanations — generally called functional explanations — and argues that they are widespread in some of our best current social science and that they can provide compelling information in some cases, despite the many doubts about them. (shrink)
How should philosophy of social science proceed? Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-4 DOI 10.1007/s11016-011-9592-7 Authors Harold Kincaid, Department of Philosophy, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 900 13th Street South, Birmingham, AL 35294-1260, USA Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
Biomedical science has been remarkably successful in explaining illness by categorizing diseases and then by identifying localizable lesions such as a virus and neoplasm in the body that cause those diseases. Not surprisingly, researchers have aspired to apply this powerful paradigm to addiction. So, for example, in a review of the neuroscience of addiction literature, Hyman and Malenka (2001, p. 695) acknowledge a general consensus among addiction researchers that “[a]ddiction can appropriately be considered as a chronic medical illness.” Like other (...) diseases, “Once addiction has taken hold, it tends to follow a chronic course.” (Koob and La Moal 2006, p. ?). Working from this perspective, much effort has gone into characterizing the symptomology of addiction and the brain changes that underlie them. Evidence for involvement of dopamine transmission changes in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) have received the greatest attention. Kauer and Malenka (2007, p. 844) put it well: “drugs of abuse can co-opt synaptic plasticity mechanisms in brain circuits involved in reinforcement and reward processing”. Our goal in this chapter to provide an explicit description of the assumptions of medical models, the different forms they may take, and the challenges they face in providing explanations with solid evidence of addiction. <br>. (shrink)
An alternative account of Merton to that provided by Turner is sketched. It shows strong similarities to some quite plausible contemporary understandings of science in general. Given this reading, it would seem that Merton did not drastically change his position nor does it suffer from the ambiguities that Turner describes. Key Words: theory • naturalism • causation • functional explanation.
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Economics is a cutting-edge reference work to philosophical issues in the practice of economics. It is motivated by the view that there is more to economics than general equilibrium theory, and that the philosophy of economics should reflect the diversity of activities and topics that currently occupy economists. Contributions in the Handbook are thus closely tied to ongoing theoretical and empirical concerns in economics. Contributors include both philosophers of science and economists. Chapters fall into (...) three general categories: received views in philosophy of economics, ongoing controversies in microeconomics, and issues in modeling, macroeconomics, and development. Specific topics include methodology, game theory, experimental economics, behavioral economics, neuroeconomics, computational economics, data mining, interpersonal comparisons of utility, measurement of welfare and well being, growth theory and development, and microfoundations of macroeconomics. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Economics is a groundbreaking reference like no other in its field. It is a central resource for those wishing to learn about the philosophy of economics, and for those who actively engage in the discipline, from advanced undergraduates to professional philosophers, economists, and historians. (shrink)
After sorting different structuralist claims, I argue that structural realist ideas are instantiated in the social sciences, providing both clarification of social science research and support for some components of structural realism. My main focus is on three distinct ways that the social sciences can be about structural relations—exemplified by claims about social structure, reduced form structures in causal modeling, and equilibrium explanations—and on the implication of structuralist ideas for thinking about issues concerning causal explanation and nonreductive pictures of the (...) unity of the science. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, 900 13th Street South, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294; e‐mail: email@example.com. (shrink)
It has long been thought that science is our best hope for realizing objective knowledge, but that, to deliver on this promise, it must be value free. Things are not so simple, however, as recent work in science studies makes clear. The contributors to this volume investigate where and how values are involved in science, and examine the implications of this involvement for ideals of objectivity.
Medicine has been a very fruitful source of significant issues for philosophy over the last 30 years. The vast majority of the issues discussed have been normative—they have been problems in morality and political philosophy that now make up the field called bioethics. However, biomedical science presents many other philosophical questions that have gotten relatively little attention, particularly topics in metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of science. This volume focuses on problems in these areas as they surface in biomedical science. Important (...) changes in philosophy make biomedical science an especially interesting area of inquiry. Contemporary philosophy is largely naturalistic in approach—it takes philosophy to be constrained by the results of the natural sciences and able to contribute to the natural sciences as well. Exactly what those constraints and contributions should be is a matter of controversy. What is not controversial is that important questions in philosophy of science and metaphysics are raised by the practice of science. Physics, biology, and economics have all drawn extensive philosophical analysis, so much so that philosophical study of these areas have become specialized subdisciplines within philosophy of science. Philosophy of medicine approached from the perspective of philosophy of science—with important exceptions (Schaffner, 1993; Thagard, 2000)—has been relatively undeveloped. Nonetheless, medicine should have a central place in epistemological and metaphysical debates over science. It is unarguably the most practically important of the sciences. It also draws by the far the greatest resources and research efforts of any area in biology. Yet philosophy of biology has focused almost exclusively on evolutionary biology, leaving the vast enterprises of immunology, cancer biology, virology, clinical medicine, and so on unexplored. Naturalized philosophy has emphasized the important interplay of historical and sociological aspects of science with its philosophical interpretation. Biomedical science as a large scale social enterprise is a natural target for such approaches. Relatedly, within philosophy there has been a growing interest and appreciation for the connections between issues of value and issues of fact in science (Kincaid et al., 2007). Biomedical science is a paradigm instance where the two intersect. The upshot is that biomedical science is a potential rich area for philosophical investigation in areas outside biomedical ethics. This volume seeks to show that promise and to encourage its exploration. (shrink)
Mesoudi et al.'s case can be improved by expanding to compelling selectionist explanations elsewhere in the social sciences and by seeing that natural selection is an instance of general selectionist process. Obstacles include the common use of extreme idealizations and optimality evidence, the copresence of nonselectionist social processes, and the fact that selectionist explanations often presuppose other kinds of social explanations. (Published Online November 9 2006).
Debates about explanation in the social sciences often proceed without any clear idea what an 'account' of explanation should do. In this paper I take a stance - what I will call contextualism - that denies there are purely formal and conceptual constraints on explanation and takes standards of explanation to be substantive empirical claims, paradigmatically claims about causation. I then use this standpoint to argue for position on issues in the philosophy of social science concerning reduction, idealized models, social (...) mechanisms, functional explanations, inference to the best explanation and interpretive understanding. (shrink)
This article argues that a particular notion of rationality, more exactly a specific notion of legitimate inference, is presupposed by much work in the social sciences to their detriment. The author describes the notion of rationality he has in mind, explains why it is misguided, identifies where and how it affects social research, and illustrates why that research is weaker as a result. The notion of legitimate inference the author has in mind is one that believes inferences are guided by (...) principles that are formal, universal and a priorithat is, that make no substantive, domain-specific empirical assumptions about the world. The author briefly provides a variety of reasons to be skeptical about such principles. Those reasons extend from broad philosophical considerations to quasi-empirical evidence. The author then argues that this notion of inference is involved with both the practice and the content of the social sciences in various ways. In terms of practice, this notion of inference lies behind the way statistical testing is generally done in the social sciences. In terms of content, the author argues that this notion of rationality is invoked, for example, in game theory and in rational expectations macroeconomics. In all cases, use of the formal rationality notion leads social scientists to put more faith in their results than is warranted and thus is an obstacle to doing better social science. (shrink)
This paper argues that realism issue in the social sciences is not one that can be decided by general philosophical arguments that evaluate entire domains at once. The realism issue is instead many different empirical issues. To defend these claims, I sort issues that are often run together, explicate and criticize several standard realist and antirealist arguments about the social sciences, and use the example of the productive/nonproductive distinction to illustrate the approach to realism questions that I favor.
This book defends the prospects for a science of society. It argues that behind the diverse methods of the natural sciences lies a common core of scientific rationality that the social sciences can and sometimes do achieve. It also argues that good social science must be in part about large-scale social structures and processes and thus that methodological individualism is misguided. These theses are supported by a detailed discussion of actual social research, including theories of agrarian revolution, organizational ecology, social (...) theories of depression, and supply-demand explanations in economics. Professor Kincaid provides a general picture of explanation and confirmation in the social sciences and discusses the nature of scientific rationality, functional explanation, optimality arguments, meaning and interpretation, the place of microfoundations in social explanation, the status of neo-classical economics, the role of idealizations and non-experimental evidence, and other specific controversies. (shrink)
This paper discusses the nature and the status of inference to the best explanation (IBE). We (1) outline the foundational role given IBE by its defenders and the arguments of critics who deny it any place at all; (2) argue that, on the two main conceptions of explanation, IBE cannot be a foundational inference rule; (3) sketch an account of IBE that makes it contextual and dependent on substantive empirical assumptions, much as simplicity seems to be; (4) show how that (...) account avoids the critics' complaints and leaves IBE an important role; and (5) sketch how our account can clarify debates over IBE in arguments for scientific realism. (shrink)
Functionalism is a dominant but widely criticized perspective in social theory; my goal in this paper is to help clarify what functionalists claim, identify what would count as evidence for those claims and evaluate some standard criticisms. Functionalism relies essentially on functional explanations of the form "A exists in order to B." I point out problems with previous accounts of such explanations, offer an improved account, and discuss in detail evidence that might confirm such explanations and its difficulties. I (...) argue that some functionalist accounts can be confirmed and that, contra the critics, functionalism's problems are not inherent errors, "only" (avoidable) practical ones. (shrink)
This article defends laws in the social sciences. Arguments against social laws are considered and rejected based on the "open" nature of social theory, the multiple realizability of social predicates, the macro and/or teleological nature of social laws, and the inadequacies of belief-desire psychology. The more serious problem that social laws are usually qualified ceteris paribus is then considered. How the natural sciences handle ceteris paribus laws is discussed and it is argued that such procedures are possible in the social (...) sciences. The article ends by arguing that at least some social research is roughly as well as confirmed as good work in evolutionary biology and ecology. (shrink)
Tuomela (this issue, pp. 96-103) raises several objections to the analysis and critique of methodological individualism in my (1986). In what follows I reply to those criticisms, arguing, among other things, that: (1) the alleged reductions provided by Tuomela and others fail, because they either presuppose rather than eliminate social predicates or do not avoid the problem of multiple realizations; (2) supervenience does not guarantee that the social sciences are reducible, because merely describing supervenieence bases leaves numerous questions unanswered, and (...) (3) the eliminativism that Tuomela favors verges on being self-refuting and is highly implausible short of a detailed empirical critique of the social sciences, something Tuomela does not provide and something there is little reason to think can be provided. (shrink)
Advances in molecular biology have generally been taken to support the claim that biology is reducible to chemistry. I argue against that claim by looking in detail at a number of central results from molecular biology and showing that none of them supports reduction because (1) their basic predicates have multiple realizations, (2) their chemical realization is context-sensitive and (3) their explanations often presuppose biological facts rather than eliminate them. I then consider the heuristic and confirmational implications of irreducibility and (...) argue that purely biochemical approaches are likely to be unsound and to be unable to confirm an important range of statements. I conclude by sketching criteria for scientific unity that do not entail reducibility and yet leave an important place for identifying underlying mechanisms. Molecular biology, properly understood, provides an excellent paradigm of non-reductive unity between different explanatory levels. (shrink)
I defend the prospect of good science in the social sciences by looking at the obstacles to social laws. I criticize traditional approaches, which rule for or against social laws on primarily conceptual grounds, and argue that only a close analysis of actual empirical research can decide the issue. To that end, I focus on problems caused by the ceterisparibus nature of social generalizations, outline a variety of ways those problems might be handled, and then examine in (...) detail the work of Paige on agrarian revolutions. Paige's work, I argue, handles its problems roughly as well as does some of the best work in evolutionary biology. The upshot is that some social laws can be relatively well confirmed. (shrink)
This paper explores the explanatory adequacy of lower-level theories when their higher-level counterparts are irreducible. If some state or entity described by a high-level theory supervenes upon and is realized in events, entities, etc. described by the relevant lower-level theory, does the latter fully explain the higher-level event even if the higher-level theory is irreducible? While the autonomy of the special sciences and the success of various eliminativist programs depends in large part on how we answer this question, neither the (...) affirmative or negative answer has been defended in detail. I argue, contra Putnam and others, that certain facts about causation and explanation show that such lower-level theories do explain. I also argue, however, that there may be important questions about counterfactuals and laws that such explanations cannot answer, thereby showing their partial inadequacy. I defend the latter claim against criticisms based on eliminativism about higher-level explanations and sketch a number of empirical conditions that lower-level explanations would have to meet to fully explain higher-level events. (shrink)
This paper contributes to the recently renewed debate over methodological individualism (MI) by carefully sorting out various individualist claims and by making use of recent work on reduction and explanation outside the social sciences. My major focus is on individualist claims about reduction and explanation. I argue that reductionist versions of MI fail for much the same reasons that mental predicates cannot be reduced to physical predicates and that attempts to establish reducibility by weakening the requirements for reduction also fail. (...) I consider and reject a number of explanatory theses, among them the claims that any adequate theory must refer only to individuals and that individualist theory suffices to explain fully. The latter claim, I argue, is not entailed by the supervenience of social facts on individual facts. Lastly, I argue that there is one individualist restriction on explanation which is far more plausible and significant than one would initially suspect. (shrink)