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Rosenberg Individualism Holism Notes

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Alexander Rosenberg - The Philosophy of Social Science Chapter Five: Functionalism and Macrosocial Science

Do the social sciences deal with facts about social institutions etc (social facts), or facts about individuals?
* if social facts are irreducible, then sociology/social sciences are autonomous
* methodological individualism = if there are social facts, they can be reduced to facts about individuals

Holism and human action
* How can we establish social facts?
* philosophical argument - intentional notions, explanations in terms of beliefs, desires etc presuppose social facts
# e.g. cashing a cheque cannot be explained to someone who doesn't understand the rules that give the exchange its meaning, and these rules only make sense to someone who understands the institutions of persuasion, enforcement etc
# we cannot characterise such behaviour without reference to meaning - an account of physical behaviour won't capture the intentional concepts
* hence reference to social facts is unavoidable in individual explanations
* methodological individualist - statements referring to social facts can only be tested in observations about individuals
# so such statements must be translatable to claims about individuals
* but this doesn't hold because not all theoretical statements in physics can be translated into statements about observations
* so rather, the test of statements that transcend observations should be their explanatory power, not testability
* in this case, the philosophical argument doesn't carry much weight, because intentional descriptions (social facts) only describe - they do not explain
* holism must show not just that our descriptions of individual actions presuppose social facts, but that our explanations of action presuppose social facts
# but if the existence and interactions of individuals are necessary and sufficient for the existence of society and social facts, then social facts should be explicable in terms of facts about individuals (question begging?)
* one response for the holist is to claims that the existence/interaction of individuals isn't sufficient - society is more than the sum of its parts The autonomy of sociology
* Durkheim on the existence of social facts
* like cause, like effect - if suicide numbers double over the course of 50 years, but are blamed on the same things (illness, poverty, jealousy) in the same proportions, then these things cannot have been the causes (for why would they have doubled in incidence?)
# so the change in rate (a statistical social fact) cannot be explained by psychological facts, but must be explained by other social facts
# the behaviour of individuals is determined by unconscious norms of conduct,

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