Wednesday, September 21, 2016



The subject of the philosophy of social science is important but poorly understood. The field considers the most foundational questions about the possibility of scientific knowledge about the social world. What are the scope and limits of scientific knowledge of society? What is involved in arriving at a scientific understanding of society? What are the most appropriate standards for judging proffered social explanations? A philosophy can guide us as we construct a field of knowledge, and it can serve as a set of regulative standards as we conduct and extend that field of knowledge. Philosophy has served both intellectual functions, as guide and as normative recommendations, in the past century.

The importance of the philosophy of social science derives from two things: first, the urgency and complexity of the challenges posed by the poorly understood social processes that surround us in twenty-first-century society, and second, the unsettled status of our understanding of the nature of the social world and the ways we can best describe and explain it. It is as if we were passengers on a technologically complex spacecraft whose propulsion and life-support systems we do not fully understand; and further, we have only a limited understanding of the systems of science and engineering on the basis of which these technologies were designed and maintained. We would have a very lively interest in learning the science that explains the workings of the technologies, and in learning the limitations and areas of uncertainty that the relevant sciences include. Likewise, it is crucial for us to come to a better and more well-grounded understanding of the social, political, and behavioral phenomena that constitute the modern social world. And, there are ...

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