Someone recently bought our

students are currently browsing our notes.


Explanation And Understanding In Social Science Notes

PPE Notes > Philosophy of Science & Philosophy of Social Science Notes

This is an extract of our Explanation And Understanding In Social Science document, which we sell as part of our Philosophy of Science & Philosophy of Social Science Notes collection written by the top tier of Oxford University students.

The following is a more accessble plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our Philosophy of Science & Philosophy of Social Science Notes. Due to the challenges of extracting text from PDFs, it will have odd formatting:

Explanation and Understanding

'Complexity and Social Scientific Laws' - Lee C. McIntyre
? "Surely the complexity of human phenomena, as all other phenomena, depends crucially on the level of description and investigation we are using, and the subject matter is thereby shaped by the nature of our engagement with it."
? "A subject matter is defined by the question that we ask about the phenomena we see. So, if we choose to describe them by using natural kinds and categorizations that do not reveal the nature of the underlying regularities [but isn't this what natural kinds do?], laws may elude us. But, at a different level of inquiry, they may not be so difficult to find."
? "It is a mistake, then, to argue that there is a fundamental difference in subject matter between natural and social science, on the grounds of complexity, for we have been facing a possible confusion about what a "subject matter" is."
? "[T]he possibility of inquiry at different levels holds out the prospect of future social scientific laws."
? More sophisticated interpretation of argument from complexity: the prospect of investigation at different levels of inquiry is not adequate to the task before us in social science; we don't really have a 'choice' about the level at which we are going to inquire - some phenomena just seem interesting to us; at the level at which we are interested, the phenomena are too complex to yield laws. o E.g. Scriven thinks this.
? But the sophisticated version of the view fails as well, "for it is no more reputable to claim that laws will always fail at a given level than it is to say that laws will always fail at all levels."
? "What is simple and what is complex changes over time, and is dependent not just on the level of our inquiry but also on the concepts and theoretical tools available to us at any given time." o "The extension of the set of complex phenomena, even at one level of inquiry, is not absolute, but relative to scientific progress."
? Also, "the prospect of redescription holds out the possibility of social scientific laws." o But then what guarantee do we have that the descriptive terms and categorizations that may end up supporting laws will be the ones that we find explanatory/that capture the phenomena we want to know about?
? Scriven seems to think that any redescription will inevitably lead to truism: "an assumption which, if true, would preempt almost all of natural scientific, as well as social scientific, practice." o "He treats it as if once we have chosen the level of our interest, we have also determined all of the "natural kinds" that govern that level as well." o "[N]atural science proceeds in its search for laws precisely by redescription." 'Defending Laws in the Social Sciences' - Harold Kincaid
? "If physicalism is true, then physics is indeed unique among the sciences - but there is little reason to think physics shows there is a logic of confirmation, a single scientific method, a sharp distinction


between laws and accidental generalization, or that all adequate sciences are ultimately reducible to physics." "No doubt social explanation is not exhausted by subsumption under laws - just as explanation in general involves both more and less than laws." "[N]o explanation is completely compelling unless the explanatory statements are well confirmed; confirmation generally comes from repeatable manipulation of data under controlled conditions, and laws both result from and help make possible that process." o "Thus if one is inclined to believe...that some parts of the social sciences explain, then it is natural and perhaps necessary to defend social laws." Searle argues that we can't have social laws:

1. Social kinds have indefinitely many physical realizations.

2. When a kind has indefinitely many physical realizations, it has no systematic connection to the physical.

3. If a kind is not systematically connected to the physical, it cannot support genuine laws.

4. Thus social kinds cannot support genuine laws. "This argument is...either invalid or unsound, depending on how we read "systematic connection"." o If (1) 'systematic connection' means a lawlike relation between social and physical predicates, then 3 claims that the social sciences cannot produce laws unless they are reducible to physics. This seems implausible, esp since it would also rule out laws in natural sciences. o If (2) 'systematic connection' means supervenience, 2 is clearly false - supervenience does not rule out multiple realizations. Basically Searle makes an unwarranted reductionist assumption. Second type of argument against social laws is based on the idea that the social realm is not 'closed'. o "Laws by nature must be universal. But if the social constitutes an open realm subject to outside forces - physical or biological events, for example - then social theory will remain forever incomplete and forever without true laws." o "On some reasonable assumptions, this argument proves too much - that is, that no physical laws are possible, either." o E.g. "Assuming that biological kinds are not captured in physics - and this is what irreducibility means - then physics will have no systematic way to identify and incorporate biological factors." So physics would be incomplete. o Another objection - there is no good reason a real/strict law should have to invoke language from only one theory: "it just seems silly to make lawfulness turn on some prior notion of the 'right' vocabulary." Response to Davidson's anomalous monism in this context:

1. Belief-desire psychological theories are not the last word in behavioural theory.

2. Attacks on folk psychological explanation often pick on the weakest version of belief-desire psychology.

?????3. Much social science proceeds at the macro level, so it's unaffected by the failure of specific theories of individual behaviour. "If I suspect that there is an intermediate cause between A and C, it must be controlled for. However, nothing requires me to identify the precise mechanism." E.g. evolutionary theory. Sceptics cite 3 facts to explain why current social science hasn't produced laws (acc to them):

1. The alleged laws in the social sciences lack the requisite generality.

2. Alleged laws in the social sciences are really only accidental generalizations, not laws.

3. The purported laws are either deduced from obviously false assumptions or have unspecified (and/or unspecifiable) ceteris paribus clauses. Against point 3: o Ceteris paribus qualifications are not in principle an obstacle to laws o There are some relatively straightforward criteria to determine when CP laws are confirmed and explanatory o There are laws in the social sciences that meet these straightforward criteria. "Being appropriately general is a matter of degree, not an all-ornothing property." "Furthermore, appeal to logical form alone will not separate the really universal from the rest, for we can always transform reference to specific individuals into a universally quantified statement." "Relative to disciplines and theories, we can perhaps distinguish those statements that are universal from those that are not." "While we can no doubt describe clear instances of necessary laws and accidental conditions, it is doubtful that the difference is one of kind rather than of degree." "[M]ost theoretical laws of physics are either false or implicitly qualified with ceteris paribus (or, more accurately, ceteris absentus) clauses." o "Citing the law explains because it identifies that tendency - even if the conditions cited by the law in fact never strictly obtain." "Because phenomena cannot be created at will in the laboratory, social scientists face a problem of limited sample size." "Once we give up the positivist assumption that there is some simple property that separates science from nonscience, laws from exceptionless generalizations, and so on, then a number of consequences follow for our thinking about laws in the social sciences."

'The Function of General Laws in History' - Hempel
? General law: a statement of universal conditional form which is capable of being confirmed or disconfirmed by suitable empirical findings.
? A universal hypothesis asserts a regularity of the following type: In every case where an event of a specified kind C occurs at a certain

Buy the full version of these notes or essay plans and more in our Philosophy of Science & Philosophy of Social Science Notes.