Professor Little presents an introduction to the philosophy of social science with an emphasis on the central forms of explanation in social science: rational-intentional, causal, functional, structural, materialist, statistical and interpretive. The book is very strong on recent developments, particularly in its treatment of rational choice theory, microfoundations for social explanation, the idea of supervenience, functionalism, and current discussions of relativism.Of special interest is Professor Little’s insight that, like the philosophy of natural science, the philosophy of social science can profit (...) from examining actual scientific examples. Throughout the book, philosophical theory is integrated with recent empirical work on both agrarian and industrial society drawn from political science, sociology, geography, anthropology, and economics.Clearly written and well structured, this text provides the logical and conceptual tools necessary for dealing with the debates at the cutting edge of contemporary philosophy of social science. It will prove indispensible for philosophers, social scientists and their students. (shrink)
The breadth-first search adopted by Bayesian researchers to map out the conceptual space and identify what the framework can do is beneficial for science and reflective of its collaborative and incremental nature. Theoretical pluralism among researchers facilitates refinement of models within various levels of analysis, which ultimately enables effective cross-talk between different levels of analysis.
Causal mechanisms theory has provided an important contribution to the theory of social explanation. This article considers whether CMT also makes a contribution to improvement of social science methodology. Methodology serves as a guide to the construction of research questions and explanatory hypotheses. Research is guided by background assumptions about the ontology of the domain of investigation. CMT provides a valuable ontology for social science research. Furthermore, it provides a valuable research heuristic: “seek out the causal mechanisms that underlie an (...) outcome of interest.” CMT does indeed have valuable implications for social science investigation, hypothesis formation, and research strategy. (shrink)
This article disputes the common view that social science explanations depend on discovery of lawlike generalizations from which descriptions of social outcomes can be derived. It distinguishes between governing and phenomenal regularities, and argues that social regularities are phenomenal rather than governing. In place of nomological deductive arguments, the article maintains that social explanations depend on the discovery of causal mechanisms underlying various social processes. The metaphysical correlate of this argument is that there are no social kinds: types of social (...) entities that share a common casual constitution giving rise to strong regularities of behavior. The article turns next to a consideration of the character of social causation and argues for a microfoundational interpretation of social causation: social causal powers are embodied in the constraints and opportunities that institutions present to individual agents. Finally, it is noted that these arguments have consequences for the credibility of social predictions: it is argued that predictions in social science are generally unreliable. (shrink)
A behavioral drive directed solely at minimizing prediction error would cause an agent to seek out states of unchanging, and thus easily predictable, sensory inputs (such as a dark room). The default to an evolutionarily encoded prior to avoid such untenable behaviors is unsatisfying. We suggest an alternate information theoretic interpretation to address this dilemma.
The paper addresses the question of whether an actor-centered social ontology can admit of relatively autonomous social causal explanations. It offers an alternative to the theory of social causation represented by Coleman’s Boat, according to which all macro-explanations must proceed through micro-level processes. The paper argues instead that the examples of other special sciences demonstrate the validity of the idea of “relative explanatory autonomy” in the case of social causal reasoning. These considerations provide a basis for affirming the legitimacy of (...) causal statements about meso-level causal relations.El artículo aborda el problema de si una ontología social centrada en el agente puede admitir explicaciones causales a nivel social relativamente autónomas. Se ofrece una alternativa a la teoría de la causación social representada por el barco de Coleman, según la cual toda macro-explicación debe articularse sobre micro-procesos. Defendemos que los ejemplos de otras ciencias particulares demuestran la validez de la idea de una “relativa autonomía explicativa” en el caso del razonamiento causal sobre procesos sociales. Estos principios justifican la afirmación de la legitimidad de los enunciados causales sobre meso-relaciones causales. (shrink)
It is commonly supposed that Marx's Capital is part and parcel of his theory of historical materialism. It is argued here, however, that this view is incorrect, and that Capital is distinguished from the more general theory of historical materialism in its standing as a work of social science. This conclusion rests on several grounds. First, Capital is substantially more specialized than the theory of historical materialism, since it is concerned only with one aspect of one mode of production. As (...) a result, Capital provides a more rigorous treatment of its subject matter. Second, Capital is based on a fund of empirical evidence which is substantially more detailed than that offered in support of the theses of historical materialism. And third, given the preceding points, Capital is a developed empirical theory, whereas historical materialism is best construed as a general program of research. For these reasons Capital is epistemically distinct from historical materialism: unlike the latter, it is a substantive contribution to social science. (shrink)
A prominent historiographic theme in the past decade has been a movement away from causal explanation of large-scale processes and outcomes and toward narrative interpretation of singular historical processes. This article argues for the continued vitality of large-scale historical inquiry and surveys the historiographic issues that arise in large-scale historical explanation. The article proceeds through an examination of several important recent examples of large-scale history: comparative history of Europe and China, the history of alternative forms of industrial organization, and the (...) history of technology. These three cases provide the basis for a conception of what may be called "conjunctural contingent meso-level" explanations: explanations that identify intermediate-level structures and processes and highlight both the structural factors that govern change and the multiple pathways that change can take. (shrink)
This article considers the dispute between moral economy and rational peasant theories of agrarian societies in application to problems of collective action. The moral-economy theory holds that traditional peasant society is organized cooperatively through shared moral values and communal institutions; while the rational-peasant theory maintains that peasant society shows the mark of rational individual calculation, leading to free-rider problems that undermine successful collective action. This article offers an abstract model of a traditional village and assesses the applicability of recent qualifications (...) of the collective action argument to this model. It will emerge that the social characteristics of the traditional village embody features that facilitate collective action by rational peasants. (shrink)
There has been much discussion in recent years of the role of moral ideas within Marxism. Marx's stringent criticisms of purely philosophical inquiry impose rather narrow limits on the form which a Marxian moral philosophy might take. For Marx often holds that moral ideas and moral theorizing are irremediably ideological. By this Marx appears to mean that moral ideas are part and parcel of a system of class domination, a way of preserving class domination through internalized norms. As many recent (...) commentators have shown, however, these criticisms of moral reasoning, though present in Marx's system, cannot be the beginning and end of his stance on moral matters. For Marx himself is committed to making normative judgments about capitalism and socialism, and there is a richly textured set of normative ideas that run through his writings from early to late. Further, and perhaps more compellingly, there is a pressing need internal to Marxism for discussion of moral ideas in order to steer the course towards the attainment of socialism. (shrink)