Published quarterly by Unesco
Vol. X X X V I , N o . 4, 1984

Editor a.i.: AM Kazancigil

Design and layout: Jacques Carra...
INTERNATIONAL SOCIAL
SCIENCE JOURNAL

EPISTEMOLOGY
OF SOCIAL SCIENCE

0020 8701

102

Editorial

565

General analyses

Er...
Editorial

There are ways in which scientific activity
resembles the practice of a sport. A sportsm a n must observe his m...
Editorial

56
6
decades; and Jacques Lombard provides a historical account of the teaching of anthropology in Belgium, the...
The scientific status
of the social sciences

Ernest Gellner

The idea of the 'scientific'

could they mislead us in this ...
568
the m a n y warring groups manages to impose
its view at any given time. Instead, w e are
deeply concerned with s o m ...
The scientific status of the social sciences

features, locked in with each other in this or
that concept of a given langu...
570

these questions, m e n were concerned with the
validation or legitimation of more specific
claims, in terms of some m...
The scientific status of the social sciences

LE PROVOCATEUR DE PLOIE
Promethean Science: the rainmaker, D . R .

571
572
aspects that m a y not be altogether in harmony.
W h e n stressing the continuity of trial and
error as the basis of a...
573

The scientific status of the social sciences

philosopher of science to use? Which sociological paradigm m a y he tru...
574

with the features of the output of science,
with the kind of theory it produces. Nevertheless, that tends to be a dat...
The scientific status òf the social sciences

'Cognitive despair'. Roger-Viollet.

575
576

cognitive systems within such a society tend to
be fairly stable, and the same tends to be true
of its productive sys...
The scientific status of the social sciences

577

once, in the agro-literate polity. It is so no label. I believe this ki...
578

dition, which is beyond words, is crucial
for the occasional outstanding great n e w discovery, or, in small regular ...
The scientific status of the social sciences

2.

3.

4.
5.

with B a c o n or H u m e , and surviving in
m o d e r n beha...
580
same kind of thing is happening in our
understanding and manipulation of society.
But this w a y of presenting the iss...
The scientific status of the social sciences

581

'The Pirandello effect', a w a y of breaking d o w n the neat distincti...
582

Ernest Gellner

meaningful categories, they are themselves
criticism). This movement stands to the
established in vir...
583

The scientific status of the social sciences

For instance, in the lively debate concerning the scientific status of ...
584

social sciences for the presence or absence of
the various traits that figure prominently in
diverse theories of scie...
585

The scientific status of the social sciences
paradigm m a y , of course, b y sure concerning
their o w n particular l...
Ernest Gellner

586

7. Michael Polanyi, Personal
Knowledge: Toward a Post
Critical Philosophy, Chicago,
111., University ...
Philosophical schools
and scientific working
methods in social science

Stefan Nowak

Philosophical orientations
in empiri...
588
ontological) and of value judgements belong
to sociology. I agree that it is correct that
these assumptions are often ...
Philosophical schools and scientific working methods in social science

589

thoroughly by M a r x , Simmel, Coser, Dahrth...
590
behaviour, there m a y b e disagreement
about the methodological scheme of such
explanations. S o m e insist that w e ...
Philosophical schools and scientific working methods in social science

A n allegory of logic, seventeenth-century etching...
592

The empirical, normative and
analytical premises of problem
formulations and research
methods in sciences
Before w e ...
Philosophical schools and scientific working methods in social science

efficient) methods for the study of h u m a n
subj...
Epistemology of Social Science, ISSJ Unesco Vol. XXXVI, No. 4, 1984
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International Social Science Journal, VolXXXVI, n°4, 1984
EPISTEMOLOGY OF SOCIAL SCIENCE
The scientific status, values and institutionalisation

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Epistemology of Social Science, ISSJ Unesco Vol. XXXVI, No. 4, 1984

  1. 1. Published quarterly by Unesco Vol. X X X V I , N o . 4, 1984 Editor a.i.: AM Kazancigil Design and layout: Jacques Carrasco Picture research: Florence Bonjean Correspondents Bangkok: Yogesh Atal Beijing: Li Xuekun Belgrade: Balsa Spadijer Buenos Aires: Norberto Rodríguez Bustamante Canberra: Geoffrey Caldwell Cologne: Alphons Silbermann Delhi: André Béteille Florence: Francesco Margiotta Broglio Harare: Chen Chimutengwende Hong Kong: Peter Chen London: Cyril S. Smith Mexico City: Pablo Gonzalez Casanova Moscow: Marien Gapotchka Nigeria: Akinsola A k i w o w o Ottawa: Paul L a m y Singapore: S. H . Alatas Tokyo: Hiroshi Ohta Tunis: A . Bouhdiba United States: G e n e Lyons Topics of forthcoming issues: International comparisons Food structures Education Youth Cover: Eye reflecting a theatre, drawing by the French architect Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806). Edimcdia ' Right: The mystery of human mind, drawing from Robert Fludd, Utriusque Cosmi Historia (1619). Explorer mm '.'.Aw'««;*,'-. •$•„.--- : ^^¿iW'£j?•••-•.¿Xe-.'y^ lhr- ; m< >
  2. 2. INTERNATIONAL SOCIAL SCIENCE JOURNAL EPISTEMOLOGY OF SOCIAL SCIENCE 0020 8701 102 Editorial 565 General analyses Ernest Gellner T h e scientific status of the social sciences 567 Stefan Nowak Philosophical schools and scientific working methods in social science 587 Emérita S. Quito Value as a factor in social action 603 Claude A k e Commodification of the social sciences 615 Disciplines Philippe Braillard Edmund Burke III Milton Santos The social sciences and the study of international relations 627 The institutionalization of sociology in France: its social and political significance 643 Geography in the late twentieth century: n e w roles for a threatened discipline 657 T h e social science sphere T . V . Sathyamurthy Development research and the social sciences in India 673 G . B . Benko Regional science: evolution over thirty years 699 Jacques Lombard The teaching of anthropology: a comparative study 713 Books received Recent Unesco publications ' ' - 725 727
  3. 3. Editorial There are ways in which scientific activity resembles the practice of a sport. A sportsm a n must observe his movements and analyse them in detail, in order to improve his performance. Similarly, the researcher should not overlook professional self-analysis and reflection about the direction and scope of his work, finding theoretical and methodological ways to improve his results and better dominate his subject. Indeed, this type of analysis cannot be isolated from research activity itself. This is of particular importance in the case of the sciences of m a n and society, where the relations between the researcher and his field of research present certain special characteristics different from those prevailing in the sciences of life and nature. H o w e v e r , the epistemológica! foundations of social science research are not always explicitly stated; neither are they analysed as systematically as they should be. The theory of knowledge provides opportunities for a refreshing look at the social sciences, provided that the Charybdis of obsessive preoccupation with epistemology is avoided as clearly as the Scylla of a narrowminded empiricism. The articles in this issue are devoted, to such a self-examination of the social sciences, and present viewpoints o n certain of their epistomological, axiological and institutional aspects. Ernest Gellner raises the question of ascertaining whether the social sciences should be admitted into the exclusive club of the sciences. C a n the social world be studied scientifically, or should it b e left to the philosophers and poets? Gellner has no readym a d e answer to offer, but h e eloquently demonstrates the weakness of attempts to exclude the social sciences from the scientific realm. Stefan N o w a k broaches the relations between the scientific methods used in sociology and various philosophical schools and shows h o w methodological choices indicate philosophical and epistemological preferences. Emérita Quito's contribution analyses the relations between values as an object to be studied, and values as factors influencing social science research. Claude A k e offers an approach that could be called a political economy of the social sciences, showing that the latter, operating under the constraints of market laws and within an environment dominated by exchange value and not use value, are commodified. T h e last three articles of the thematic section are epistemological analyses of specific disciplines in various contexts. E d m u n d Burke III studies the social and economic forces that shaped the institutionalization of sociology in France, at the turn of the century, Philippe Braillard discusses the case of international relations, and Milton Santos, that of geography. The texts that appear in ' T h e Social Science Sphere' are not foreign to the thematic section: T . V . Sathyamurthy describes the striking growth of the social sciences in post-independence India; G . B . B e n k o writes about regional science, an interdisciplinary field that has developed over the last few
  4. 4. Editorial 56 6 decades; and Jacques Lombard provides a historical account of the teaching of anthropology in Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Past issues of the ISSJ devoted to topics related to the current one include: Vol. X V I , N o . 4, 1964; Vol. X X , N o . 2, 1968; Vol. XXII, N o . 1, 1970; Vol. X X I V , N o . 4, 1972; and Vol. X X I X , N o . 4, 1977. The complete list of back issues is provided at the end of this volume. W e take this opportunity to inform our readers of a recent change in the editorial team. Peter Lengyel, editor of this Journal since 1963, has left Unesco, which he joined in 1953. His career in the service of the Organization, devoted to m a n y aspects of international co-operation in the social sciences, was characterized above all by his achievements with the ISSJ. A.K. [Translated from French]
  5. 5. The scientific status of the social sciences Ernest Gellner The idea of the 'scientific' could they mislead us in this case, by falsely identifying the object, or cluster of objects, with which w e are to b e concerned, namely T h e problem of whether the social sciences are the social sciences? N o . T h e central object of our inquiry is precisely the social sciences, as genuinely scientific immediately raises two actually practised and identified in contemquestions: W h a t are the social sciences? W h a t porary societies. Public opinion, however is it to be scientific? loosely defined, cannot here mislead us, T h efirstof these questions raises no deep because the object that concerns us is, preproblems and can be answered by ostensión cisely, one defined by reference to current or by enumeration. T h e social sciences simply cultural norms. W e m a y are what social scientists of course also be inprofessionally practise. Ernest Gellner, formerly at the Lonterested in s o m e transThe definition thus condon School of Economics and Polisocial, culturally neutral, tains a covert (but hardly tical Science, is n o w Professor of ideal social science, if very covert) reference Anthropology at King's College, there is such a thing; but Cambridge, United Kingdom. His to the consensual or m a - , our primary concern is main publications are Words and jority or uncontested Things (1959), Thought and Change with the concrete pracjudgements prevalent in (1965), Saints of the Atlas (1969), tices recognized currently contemporary societies Muslim Society (1981) and Nations as 'social sciences'. and Nationalism (1983). and identifying, by their But the situation is tacit or express ranking, quite different w h e n w e which universities, proc o m e to the second term, fessional associations, which needs to be deindividuals, are as it were fined—'scientific'. H e r e , norm-setting or paradigostensión or enumeration matic and, in effect, deare of n o help whatever. W e are not specially fine, by their o w n attribution of labels, the interested in the question of what society nature and range of the social sciences. happens to call 'scientific', or at any rate, the This covert reference to public opinion or actual use of this label by our contemporaries consensus does not vitiate the definition or is not conclusive. A s a matter of fact, society is m a k e it circular. Majorities, consensus, the disunited on this issue, and there is a lot of very general cultural 'sense of the meeting'—all significant pushing and pulling going o n about these are of course not infallible or stable or just h o w far the blanket of the 'scientific' is to unambiguous. There is n o contradiction in the suggestion that public opinion at a given date reach. B u t w e are not interested in holding a referendum about this, or in seeing which of is in error. If such sources can be mistaken,
  6. 6. 568 the m a n y warring groups manages to impose its view at any given time. Instead, w e are deeply concerned with s o m e normative, genuinely authoritative sense of 'scientific'. W e are interested in finding out whether the social sciences are really scientific. This is in itself an interesting and significant fact. In formulating our question— A r e the social sciences scientific?—we seem to employ for our subject a term which is defined conventionally or by denotation—anything currently in fact called by that n a m e , ipso facto falls under it—while our predicate is Platonistic or normative, and intended not be be at the mercy of h u m a n w h i m or convention. T h e rules of its application are meant to be based o n s o m e higher, independent authority. O u r sentence thus seems logically a hybrid—the subject is nominalistic or conventional, the predicate is Platonistic, essentialist and prescriptive. Is such double-talk permissible? I do not think this situation is actually all that anomalous or unusual. But it is significant. If both terms were defined conventionally, by reference to the actual or majority or agreed use of the term, the question would be easy to answer and lack any profundity or importance. All w e should need to do would be to commission a survey, set up tofindout whether and to what extent people use one label ('social sciences') in a manner such that it falls within the range of use of another and broader label ('scientific'). But no such survey would in fact be felt to be relevant, or at any rate conclusive, to the question which w e are effectively asking. , This 'Platonism of the predicate', which obliges us to treat the term in question as though it referred to something constituted quite independently of our choice and custom, and endowed with authority over us, is interesting and significant. Note that it is an old and pervasive feature of discussions concerning the delimitations of 'science' or 'meaning'. Those famous demarcation disputes had all the passion and intensity of circumscribing the Ernest Gellner saved and the damned, of defining the licit and the illicit, of discovering an important and given truth, and not of just allocating labels. Conventionalism with respect to the delimitation of concepts was only invoked, with some embarrassment and visible lack of conviction, w h e n the theorist found himself cornered by, for instance, the insistent question concerning the status of the 'verification principle' itself. W a s it itself an experiential report, or a convention determining the limits of a term? The pretence was maintained that the verifiability demarcation of meaning or of science was merely a convention of ours. But the real spirit in which this delimitation was proposed was obviously quite different. It was propounded as an objective, authoritative, Platonic norm. It circumscribed cognitive salvation. There is not a shadow of doubt that discussions concerning what is and is not 'scientific' are carried on in this utterly Platonistic, normative and non-conventionalist spirit. These are debates about whether something is really, really scientific. T h e debates seem based on the assumption that what is at issue is an important conceptual boundary, in the very nature of things, and altogether beyond the reach of what w e choose to call what. Another explanation is available: w e are not conceptually rigid because w e are Platonists; w e become Platonists because w e are conceptually rigid. It is w h e n concepts constrain us, that w e turn Platonist malgré nous. W e cannot always choose our concepts, and our concepts do often have authority over us. M a n can do as he will, but he cannot will as he will; and he cannot always choose his concepts at will. Sometimes they have an authority over us w e cannot resist. A n d w h y are w e in s o m e cases so conceptually rigid, and w h y do w e allow ourselves to be bondsm e n to the values and imperatives incapsulated in s o m e ideas? Generically, one m a y say that this happens because some cluster or syndrome of
  7. 7. The scientific status of the social sciences features, locked in with each other in this or that concept of a given language or style of thought, has good reasons, so to speak, for being locked in with each other in just that manner, with that particular set of ingredients, and for having some kind of compulsive hold over our thought. Moreover, the moral charge, positive or negative, with which such concepts are loaded, cannot be prised away from them. The reasons that lead to the crystallization of such concepts binding a cluster of traits m a y be general or specific; they m a y be inherent in the h u m a n condition as such, or they m a y be tied to some definite social or historic situation. But the overall formula for this occurrence must be something like this: situations arise (and sometimes persist) which impel a given speech and conceptual community to think in terms of a concept T, defined in terms of attributes, a, b, c, etc. ; moreover it is of great importance for the community as to whether a given object or practice does or does not fall under T, is part and parcel of the very life, use and hence operational definition of that concept. So is its moral charge. S o m e conceptual boundaries have an importance for given societies, which arises from the very nature of their situation, and which cannot be abrogated by fiat. 569 mere opinion, and with the even m o r e acute concern with the identification of the true faith. In the latter case, w e knew only too well w h y the notion was so important: personal salvation and damnation depended on it. But the demarcation of the scientific, though it m a y overlap, certainly is not co-extensivè (let alone co-intensive) with either true knowledge or with the true faith. If this be granted, then what is it? Sociologizing science to the second degree: Popper and Kuhn T h e 'scientific' has not been a crucial and authoritative notion in all ages and all societies. In societies in which the institution of the 'sage' was well established, it was natural that the preoccupation with the distinction between real and spurious knowledge, genuine and fraudulent access to recipes for good lifestyles and excellence, should become widespread. It was a kind of consumer protection service for those w h o entered the marketplace for wisdom and counsellor services about the 'good life'; and it seemed to provide the first powerful stimulus for the development of the theory of knowledge. In the days There is no doubt in m y mind that, in of competing putative messiahs, the criteria modern society, the concept of the 'scientific' for identifying the true one seemed to b e is precisely of this kind. W e need it, and it demonstratively spectacular rather than episcannot but be an important and authoritative temological. B y the time Revelation came to notion. A s so often, w e m a y or m a y not be be monopolized and scripturally codified, the able to specify precisely what it is that w e central preoccupation became, naturally, the m e a n by it; what m a y b e called Socrates' identification of the unique or nearly unique paradox, namely that it is possible to use a point of revelation, and of the authenticity of notion without being able to define it, does the putatively unique message, messenger, or apply here, as it does so often. But whatever of the permanent institution or series of it is that goes into the cluster of traits which personal links between the authentic point of defines the idea, the idea is indisputably communication and the present. Against the important, and is so to speak non-optional. background of these various institutional and W e do not k n o w precisely what it is, but w e doctrinal assumptions, each of these quesdo k n o w that it is important and that w e tions, and no doubt other variants of them, m a d e sense. Although they do have some can'not tinker with it at will. overlap and affinity with the question that The idea of the 'scientific' is such a concerns us here, obviously they are not notion. But it has not always been so. N o identical with it. doubt it has some mild affinity with the old desire to define true knowledge as against The main point of overlap is that in all of
  8. 8. 570 these questions, m e n were concerned with the validation or legitimation of more specific claims, in terms of some more general criteria. W h e n one determines whether or not something is 'scientific', one is ipso facto deciding whether or not it has a certain legitimate claim on our attention, and perhaps even on our credence. T h e status of being 'scientific' is not necessarily the only or the dominant way of conferring such authority on specific claims; but it is most certainly at least one a m o n g such widely heeded and respected ways of validation. T i m e was when it was not even one a m o n g m a n y ; when it was, in fact, unknown. This, to m y mind, is a crucial clue. W e needfirstof all to identify those background social conditions that have engendered this particular manner of validation, which bring forth this n e w and potent notion or 'the scientific', and e n d o w it with authority. This automatically pushes our inquiry into a sociological direction—by obliging it to be sensitive to and concerned with general differences in kinds of society. A t the very least, w e shall need to be concerned with the difference between the kind of society that does and the kind that does not engender the concept in question. There are at least two ways of approaching the problem of defining 'science': the philosophical and the sociological. T h e philosophical can be characterized as follows: the practitioner of this approach works in terms of s o m e kind of model of discovery or of the acquisition of knowledge, where the elements in that model are items drawn from individual activities, such as having ideas, experiences, setting up experiments, relating the lessons of experience or the results of experiments to generalizations based on the initial ideas, and so forth. A n extreme individualistic theory of science would be one that offered a theory and a demarcation of science without ever going beyond the bounds of a model constructed in this way. Such a theory might concede or even stress that, in fact, scientists are very numerous and that they habitually co-operate and communicate with each other. Ernest Gellner But it would treat this as s o m e h o w contingent and inessential. A Robinson Crusoe could, for such a theory, practise science. Given resources, longevity, ingenuity and ability, no achievement of science as w e k n o w it would, 'in principle', be beyond his powers. Those w h o hold theories of this kind are not debarred from admitting that, in fact, criticism, testing and corroboration are, generally speaking, social activities, and that they depend for their effectiveness on a mathematical, technological and institutional infrastructure, which is far beyond the power of any individual to establish; but they are, I suppose, committed to holding that whether or not a social environment makes these preconditions available is, as it were, an external condition of science, but not in any essential way part of it.1 There are various ways and degrees of injecting a sociological element into such an individualistic vision. Minimally, one might insist that society constitutes an essential precondition—but only society as such, and not necessarily this or that kind of society. Emile Durkheim would be an example of such a position: he held that thought was impossible without conceptual compulsion, which in turn depended on the existence of society and, above all, on communal ritual. This, if true, turns society into an essential pre-condition of science and, indeed, of all thought; a genuinely pre-social individual, however able, long-lived and well-equipped, could never rise to the formulation of a general idea.2 A second degree of the sociologizing of the theory of science involves insisting not merely o n the presence of a society, but of a special kind of society. Popper's theory of science seems to be of this kind: society is not enough, the w o m b of science requires the 'critical spirit'. Closed societies cannot engender science but an 'open society' can do so. A n open society is one in which m e n subject each other's views to criticism, and which either possesses institutional underpinning for such a practice, or at least lacks the institutional means for inhibiting it. Popper's views on this matter have a number of
  9. 9. The scientific status of the social sciences LE PROVOCATEUR DE PLOIE Promethean Science: the rainmaker, D . R . 571
  10. 10. 572 aspects that m a y not be altogether in harmony. W h e n stressing the continuity of trial and error as the basis of all cognitive advancement throughout the history of all life, it would seem that the core secret of scientific method is something w e share with all organic life and never needed to learn. ( W e have only someh o w learnt to do it a bit faster and to show mercy to carriers of unsuccessful ideas.) N o special institutions seem to be required. In the context of turning the tables on relativists w h o invoke the h u m a n inability to overcome prejudice and interest, however, Popper seems prepared to concede that m a n y (perhaps most?) m e n are unwilling to correct their o w n views in the light of contrary considerations, and perhaps even need prejudice to m a k e discoveries at all; but he insists that science is the kind of institution that is not at the mercy of the virtues or vices of the persons w h o m a n it. Public testing by a diversified and uncontrollable community of scientists ensures the ultimate elimination of faulty ideas, however dogmatic and irrational their individual adherents m a y be. In this version, science and its advancement clearly does depend on the institutional underpinning of this public and plural testing. O n the other hand again, in the context of the discussion of the origin of the scientific spirit, Popper is inclined to invoke the figures of heroic, Promethean Ionian founder-liberators, w h o s o m e h o w overcame their o w n h u m a n proclivity to dogmatism, and encouraged their disciples to criticize, thereby inventing science. T h e Ionian proto-Popper plays a role in this system, similar to that of the philosopher in The Republic: he and he alone, by his somewhat mysterious emergence, can break through the vicious circle, to which otherwise mankind is in thrall. Popper's overall philosophy is curious in that science had to be invented in h u m a n history, when seen as the great act of liberation from the 'closed society', though it had not originally needed inventing in the general history of life, for the amoeba had it as its birthright. Within nature, organisms eliminated faulty hypotheses by eliminating each other. Savage, pre-scientific m e n also glee- Ernest Gellner fully eliminated each other, but not hypotheses; for s o m e reason they allowed ideas to survive, or rather they uncritically preserved them, instead of eliminating them. Harsh with each other, they showed tender solicitude for ideas. Modern scientific m e n eliminate hypotheses, but not each other, at any rate w h e n on their best behaviour. The curious consequence of Popper's philosophy of history is that there is a kind of Dark A g e or Fall, which took place between the, first emergence of humanity and the beginnings of science and the open society. The amoeba's birthright was lost somewhere during the early tribal, over-collectivistic period of h u m a n history, and was miraculously, heroically recovered in Ionia. It is interesting that the Dark A g e theory is shared by Christianity, Marxism and Popper, though in different forms. The second currently most influential philosopher of science, T h o m a s K u h n , would also seem to sociologize the subject to the second degree. Society appears in his view to be essential for the existence and advancement of science, and not just any society will do: it has to be one endowed with a paradigm. There appear to be societies not so endowed—for instance, the community of social scientists.3 A s far as one can m a k e out, the crucial differentia between science-capable and science-incapable societies in this view is just this—the absence or presence of a paradigm. K u h n does not seem to have any views concerning the difference between scientific and ««-scientific paradigms; a crucial weakness in his position, to m y mind. Paradigms seem to be not merely incommensurate, but also to constitute a curiously undifferentiated class. T h e prophet of their incommensurability seems to have little sense of h o w very different in kind they are—that some of them are more incommensurate than others. But in so far as the importance of paradigms, and the fact that they are socially carried, perpetuated and enforced, leads him openly and avowedly to turn to sociology, he does lay himself open to Popper's taunt: Which sociology is the
  11. 11. 573 The scientific status of the social sciences philosopher of science to use? Which sociological paradigm m a y he trust, when using sociology to grapple with the general problem of the nature of science, so as to illuminate the standing of all sciences, including sociology itself? B y making all scientific activity relative to paradigms, and the philosophy of science dependent on sociology (which is presumably n o more exempt from paradigmdependence than any other science or inquiry), his position would seem to have an element of circularity in it.4 W h a t concerns us h e r e is this: both Popper and K u h n sociologize the philosophy of science to the second degree, i.e. they m a k e science dependent not merely on the sheer existence of society, but on the availability of a special kind of society. T h e manner in which they do so, h o w ever, is contrasted and indeed diametrically opposed. For Popper, the only sciencecapable society is one so loosened up in its social control as to permit criticism even of its most respected sages (or better still, perhaps, one endowed with institutional guarantees of: the possibility or even the encouragement of such criticism); for K u h n , science is m a d e possible only by the presence of socialconceptual control sufficiently tight to impose a paradigm on its m e m b e r s at most (though not quite all) times, notwithstanding the fact that paradigms are not logically, so to speak objectively, binding. They are m a d e binding by social pressure, which thus makes science possible. Unless the deep questions are arbitrarily prejudged, science cannot proceed, it appears. But just as T h o m a s Hobbes insisted that any sovereign is preferable to anarchy, so T h o m a s K u h n insists that any paradigm is preferable to the dreadful freedom of contemporary social scientists, ever questioning and 1 debating fundamentals and for that very reason, through their great 'openness', inhibiting the emergence of genuine science in their o w n midst. It is not necessary here to choose between the near-anarchism of Popper and the authoritarianism of K u h n , recommending loyalty to paradigms at most times though evidently retaining the right of occasional rebellion (during similarly ill-defined, and I think in principle indefinable, conditions of 'scientific revolution'). W h a t is relevant for our purpose is to single out an error that they both share. T o define science, one needs to sociologize the philosophy of science to the third, and not merely the second, degree. It is not sufficient to allow the relevance of society and to distinguish between science-capable and science-incapable societies; it is also necessary to m a k e this distinction in terms of features of society that do not pertain to their cognitive activities alone, and to consider those societies w h e n involved in activities other than cognition. W e shall need to look at the impact of cognition on its other activities. This, in m y terminology, is to sociologize the subject to the third degree; and it needs to be done. H o w is it to be done? Characteristics of science-capable societies If w e are to understand w h y the notion of being scientific is so potent, w h y this accolade is so very significant, w e must look at what it is that 'science' does to society, and forget for a m o m e n t the usual and fascinating question of h o w it manages to do it. Philosophical theories of science, such as those that are incorporated in various philosophical attempts to demarcate science, basically endeavour to answer the question concerning h o w it is that science works, h o w it is that the great miracle of scientific progress and consensus is achieved. But from the viewpoint of identifying what it is that confers such magic and charm onto science, w e must look not so m u c h at h o w it is done, but what it is that is done which is so enchanting. W h y is it that science makes so m u c h difference to society, that a special prestige attaches to any activity that m a y be included within its charmed circle, and can be withheld from anything that fails to qualify as 'scientific'? This contrast, as I formulate it, somewhat simplifies a m o r e complex reality: philosophers of science are of course also concerned
  12. 12. 574 with the features of the output of science, with the kind of theory it produces. Nevertheless, that tends to be a datum for them: their problem is—How was it achieved? It is the sociologist w h o is concerned primarily with the effects and implications of the kinds of knowledge that science provides. In the interest of simplicity of exposition, I shall pretend that this division of labour is neater than in fact it is. This question as posed can best be answered by offering a highly schematic but nevertheless relevant sketch history of m a n kind—one that divides this history into three stages. Trinitarian philosophies of history are c o m m o n : there is for instance Auguste C o m te's theory of the religious, metaphysical and positivestages, or Sir James Frazer's doctrine of the successive dominance of magic, religion and science, or Karl Polanyi's less intellectualist account of the succession of the c o m m u n a l , redistributive and market societies. T h e n e w pattern of world history which is n o w crystallizing in our time and which constitutes, I believe, the unofficial, unformulated and sometimes unavowed, but tacitly pervasive view of history of our age, is somewhat different. It shares some of the intellectualism and the high valuation of science with the Comtist and Frazerian schemes, though it is m o r e preoccupied than Frazer at least with the impact of science on the ordering of society. T h e crucial stages of h u m a n history are the following:first,that of hunting and foodgathering; then, that of food production (agriculture and pastoralism); and, finally, that based on production, which is linked to growing scientific knowledge. Theories of historical stages in terms of social organization do not work: it is the cognitive productive ; base that seems to provide the 'big divide'; and on either side of the big divide w e find a diversity of social forms. In the present context, the world of hunters and gatherers does not greatly concern us. But the difference between the agrarian and the scientific/ industrial world does concern us a very great deal. Ernest Gellner T h e notion of a fully developed agrarian society includes not merely that of reliance on food production, but also two other important features: literacy and political centralization. Developed agrarian societies are marked by a fairly complex but relatively stable division of labour. But it is a mistake to treat the division of labour as a, so to speak, homogeneous commodity: its implications for society vary according to just what it is that is being turned into a specialism. Literacy and political centralization, the emergence of a clerisy and a polity, have quite distinctive consequences, which cannot simply be assimilated to the minor economic specializations that occur within the process of production taken on its own. Agro-literate polities are not all alike. In fact, they differ a great deal a m o n g themselves. T h e diversity of agrarian political regimes is well k n o w n . T h e clerical classes of agrarian polities also vary a great deal in their organization, recruitment and ethos. In one place, they m a y be part of a single, centralized, and jealously monopolistic organization; in another, they m a y be a loose and open guild, open to all m e n of pious learning. Elsewhere again, they m a y be a closed but uncentralized caste, or constitute a bureaucracy selected by competitive examination, with an administrative but not a religious monopoly. Notwithstanding this variety, certain important c o m m o n or generic traits can be observed. Recorded knowledge in such societies is used for administrative records, notably those connected with taxation; for communication along a political and religious hierarchy; as parts of ritual and for the codification of religious doctrine, which has a kind of shadow in the form of word magic, the compliment paid by manipulative magic to scriptural religion. Conservation of the written truth, and possibly its implementation, are central concerns, rather than its expansion in the form of acquisition of more truth. (Cognitive growth is not yet a plausible ideal.) Despite inner complexity, sometimes very considerable, both the status systems and the
  13. 13. The scientific status òf the social sciences 'Cognitive despair'. Roger-Viollet. 575
  14. 14. 576 cognitive systems within such a society tend to be fairly stable, and the same tends to be true of its productive system. T h e normative and conservative stress, on the written word, in the keeping of the clerisy, tends to produce a cultural dualism or pluralism in such a society, a differentiation between the great (literate) tradition and little tradition or traditions. Parts of the written great tradition m a y contain general ideas of great penetration and potential, or acute and accurate observations of reality, or deductive systems of great rigour; none the less, generically speaking, one m a y say that a corpus of this kind s o m e h o w or other had no firm grip on, and cumulative penetration of, nature. Its main significance and role, lies rather in social legitimation, edification, record-keeping and communication, and not in a genuine cognitive exploration of nature. W h e n it comes to the manipulation and understanding of things, the cognitive content of the corpus tends to be inferior to the skills, such as they are, of the craftsman or artisan or working practitioner. T h e cognitive despair expressed with such vigour in the opening speech of Goethe's Faust is clearly a commentary on this situation. With less anguish and perhaps m o r e indignation, and with a missionary zeal on behalf of a putative alternative, a similar sentiment can be found, for instance, in what might be called the pan-human or carte blanche populism of Michael Oakeshott. 5 Oakeshott's work enjoyed a considerable vogue in post-war Britain, and he probably continues to be the United Kingdom's foremost conservative political philosopher. His w o r k is highly relevant for the present purpose because, at its base, there is a premiss that is half-epistemological, half-sociological, and which runs as follows: genuine knowledge is 'practical', which means that it is maintained and transmitted by the practice of a skill, and can be perpetuated only by a living tradition; and its content can never be adequately seized in written' documents, and certainly cannot be transmitted from one m a n to another by writing alone. The illusion that Ernest Gellner this can be done, which endows abstract and written assertions with independent authority, he names 'rationalism', in a highly pejorative sense, and he clearly holds it to be the bane of modern life. Oakeshott's doctrine vacillates somewhat between, on the one hand, a global pan-populism, endorsing all traditions, and damning all their scholasticisms, which they develop w h e n they adopt writing and printing and take it too seriously, and, on the other hand, the endorsement of one specific and blessed tradition, which, thanks presumably to an unwritten constitution, c o m m o n law, and the pragmatic wisdom of W h i g politicians, has resisted 'rationalism' somewhat better than others—though about 1945, it did so less well than it should and aroused his wrath. If it is the achievement of one distinctive tradition, can it also be a valid recipe for all of them—without implicitly contradicting its o w n central principle, namely the absence of any abstract and universally valid principles? T h e reason w h y this Oakeshottian position is highly relevant for our argument is this: whether or not it provides a good diagnosis of the political predicament of modern m a n , it does unwittingly provide a very accurate schematic account of the role of abstract knowledge in the agro-literate polity. It is a rather good account of the relation between codified knowledge and practical skills in the agro-literate polity—but only in the agroliterate polity. T h e scriptures, law codes, epics, manuals and so forth, in the keeping of its scribes, jealously preserved and fairly stable over time, are not superior to the inarticulate practical wisdom of the life-long m e m b e r of the clan or guild. They echo, formalize, distort and travesty that wisdom; and though, contrary to the anti-'rationalist' diatribe, reverence for the codified version of the wisdom m a y on occasion be beneficial— because, for instance, reverence for the codified rule makes it less amenable to opportunist manipulation—nevertheless it is true that the absolute authority claimed for the writ in the scribe's keeping is not justified. The written theory is parasitical on the lived praxis. So be it; or at any rate, so it was,
  15. 15. The scientific status of the social sciences 577 once, in the agro-literate polity. It is so no label. I believe this kind of 'continuity thesis' to be mistaken.) longer. This, as it were, external, sociological But it is conspicuously untrue of modern science and the society based on it. A s a social account of science, described from the viewp h e n o m e n o n , modern natural science has a point of what it does to the cognitive m a p and productive processes of society (leaving aside number of conspicuous features: 1. Though not completely consensual, it is the question of its inner mechanics, the secret of its success), m a y of course be challenged. It consensual to an astonishing degree. 2. It is intercultural. Though it flourishes m a y be denied that science constitutes the m o r e in some countries than in others, it victory of trans-social, explicit, formalized appears capable of persisting in a wide and abstract knowledge, over privately, inefvariety of cultural and political climes, and fably communicated insights or skills or sensitivities. It m a y be asserted that the goldento be largely independent of them. 3. It is cumulative. Its growth rate is astonish- egg-laying goose is not, after all, radically ing. This is also, a m o n g cognitive systems distinct from the old practical skills. The perception and understanding of a scientific in general, unique. 4. Though it can evidently be taught to m e n problem, the capacity to propound and test a originating in any cultural background, it solution, 'requires—it can be argued—some requires arduous and prolonged training, in flair or spirit or 'personal knowledge' which is thought styles and techniques that are in no beyond the reach of words or script, and w a y continuous with those of daily life, and which cannot be formalized. Fingerspitzengefuehl (adroitness) is alive and well, and, more are often highly counter-intuitive. important, remains indispensable. Michael 5. T h e continuously growing technology it Polanyi was only one adherent, though possengenders is immeasurably superior to, ibly the best k n o w n one, of such a view. 7 and qualitatively distinct from, the practical skills of the craftsmen of agrarian It is difficult to say h o w one could society. evaluate this claim. It is sometimes supported It is these features, or others closely related to by arguments such as the infinite regress of them, which have engendered the persistent formalization, which can never catch up with 8 and haunting question—what is science? T h e itself; whatever is asserted is only a case of question is no longer—what is truth, wisdom 'knowing that', and presupposes further pracor genuine knowledge? M e n possessed by the tical 'knowing h o w ' to apply it—and if that in haunting question concerning the nature of turn is articulated and m a d e explicit, the science do not necessarily deny that knowl- initial argument applies once again, and so on edge or truth also exist outside science; they for ever. O r it can be supported by the widely do not all say, as an anti-scientistic book once held and plausible view that while there can ironically put it, 'extra scientiam nulla salus'.6 be a logic of testing, there is no logic of But they are generally imbued with the sense discovery—only free-floating, uncontrollable of the distinctiveness of this kind of k n o w - inspiration, which comes or does not c o m e as ing, and wish to locate its source. They do not it wills, but appears to be m o r e willing to want to kill the goose that lays the golden descend upon well-sustained, but elusive and eggs, they only wish to identify it, so as to use indefinable, research traditions. it to the full, and perhaps to guide it to n e w But even if all this is admitted, what fields. (Some do wish to equate knowledge matters from the social viewpoint is that the with scientific knowledge, not because they ratio, the entire balance, between ineffable despise and abjure pre-scientific cognitive practical skill or flair on the one hand, and styles, but because they consider them to be explicit formal knowledge, is transformed out basically similar to science, being merely of all recognition in a science-using, industrial earlier and feebler, and to deserve the same society. E v e n if an element of flair or tra-
  16. 16. 578 dition, which is beyond words, is crucial for the occasional outstanding great n e w discovery, or, in small regular doses, for the sustaining of a vigorous research tradition, yet the enormous mass of ordinary research and technological activity works quite differently: it rather resembles the old explicit scholasticisms of agro-literate society, except in one crucial way—it works. Scholasticism, for all its ineffectiveness, seems to have been a good preparation of genuinely productive vigour. Talmudic societies take to science with alacrity. . Its general implications for the society which uses science are also fairly obvious. A society endowed with a powerful and continuously growing technology lives by innovation, and its occupational role structure is perpetually in flux. This leads to a fair amount of occupational mobility and hence to a measure of equality, which, though not sufficient to satisfy out-and-out egalitarians, is nevertheless far greater than that of most agrarian societies. It is egalitarian because it is mobile, not mobile because it is egalitarian. Mobility, frequent abstract transmission of ideas, and the need for universal literacy, i.e. fairly context-free communication, also lead to a completely n e w role of culture in society: culture is linked to school rather than h o m e and needs to be fairly homogeneous over the entire catchment area of an educational system. A t long last, 'great traditions' really dominate, and to a large extent supplant, 'little traditions'. So the state, which once m a y have been the defender of the faith, n o w becomes in effect the protector of a culture. In other words, the m o d e r n national state, (based on the principle—one state, one culture) becomes the n o r m , and irredentist nationalisms emerge where this norm fails to be satisfied. T h e unprecedented.potential for growth leads to cornucopianism, the attempt to b u y off discontent and to smooth over social conflict..by incremental Danegeld all round—and this in turn, as w e n o w k n o w only too well, becomes a dreadful trap w h e n , the incremental Danegeld having become an engrained, as-of-right expectation, the cornu- Ernest Cellner copia temporarily dries up or even just slows d o w n , as from time to time in the nature of things it must. These seem to be the generic traits of science-using society. They differentiate it profoundly from most or all agrarian societies, which are Malthusian rather than growth oriented, cognitively and productively stable rather than growing (innovations when they occur involve changes of degree rather than kind, and in any case come as single spies, not in battalions). Theories of historical stages or epochs in terms of social organization (capitalism/socialism is the most popular) seem to have failed, in as far as science-using (i.e. industrial) society appears to be compatible with diverse forms of organization, within the limits of their shared generic traits; but those traits, in turn distinguish it from all its predecessors. T h e question about the nature of science is in effect the issue of the nature of this distinctive style of cognition, which in turn defines an entire stage in the history of mankind. S o m e main philosophical theories of science Philosophical theories of science, as here defined, do not define science, as was done above, in the sociological manner, in terms of what it does to society. They tend to ignore that. Instead, they try to identify the secret that enables it to do it. It is impossible to list here all the contending theories in thisfield,and even if w e listed them, w e would have no w a y of deciding between them. There is no consensus in this area. Science m a y be consensual; the theory of science is not. But it is worthwhile, for our purpose, to list some of the main contenders: 1. Ultra-empiricist: stick to observable facts. Accumulate them, and only go beyond them w h e n the accumulated data strongly point in.some one direction. A b o v e all, do not trespass into the transcendent! This cautious version of empiricism, associated
  17. 17. The scientific status of the social sciences 2. 3. 4. 5. with B a c o n or H u m e , and surviving in m o d e r n behaviourism, has been m u c h decried of late. Its detractors d o not always fully appreciate the fact that the interdict o n cognitive trespass once had a great value. T h e belief systems of agrarian societies were often so constructed as to b e cunningly self-maintaining in a circular w a y , and the 'interdict o n trespass' w a s the best w a y of eliminating these. T h e Kantian diagnosis, which is a mixture of the 'interdict on trespass' with reco m m e n d e d daring within proper bounds, and within the conceptual limits allegedly imposed by the structure of the h u m a n mind. Collective self-propulsion by the resolution of internal contradictions, with deference to privileged praxis—the praxis of the privileged class is a privileged praxis—and to the direction of a prescribed social development. This is the nearest I can get to formulating o n e of the theories of knowledge c o m m o n l y associated with Marxism. M a x i m u m daring of hypothesis within the limits of testability, the Popperian theory. Obedience to a given background picture (thus eliminating the chaos characteristic of unscientific subjects, and ensuring c o m parable w o r k and thus cumulation) except at rare, 'revolutionary' occasions, which cannot b e generically characterized nor presumably predicted, and which then lead to a progressive replacement of o n e background picture b y another. Within the limits of this theory, which declares these successive background pictures to be incommensurate, there cannot however be any rational w a y of showing that the post-revolutionary picture is superior to the one it replaced. T h o u g h the idea of scientific progress is presupposed, a n d indeed sets the problem, it cannot coherently b e asserted, for it would require the comparison of successive 'paradigms', which are said to b e incommensurate, by comparing them to s o m e meta-paradigm, which ex hypothesi w e do not and 59 7 cannot possess. This is the much-discussed theory propounded b y T h o m a s Kuhn.9 6. T h e successive improvement of collectives of propositions with a view to enhancing both external predictions and manipulation and internal coherence and elegance, b y m e t h o d s asserted to b e continuous with those which governed biological evolution. This is pragmatism, ably represented in our time by W . v a n O . Q u i n e . 1 0 In his version, it asserted the 'continuity thesis' m o r e coherently than is the case in the w o r k of P o p p e r (where it clashes with the discontinuity between 'open and closed' thought). If a major break in the cognitive history of life occurred at all, in this logical-pragmatist version, it arose at the point where abstract entities c a m e to b e used and in a w a y acquired reality, thus permitting the dramatic growth of mathematics. This is not the place to debate the merits of these theories. N o doubt there are others. But w e shall need to refer to the themes that occur in them—such as accurate observation, testing, mathematicization, shared conceptual currency, and the abstention from transcendence or circularity. M y argument has been that b y 'science' is m e a n t a type of cognition which has radically, qualitatively transformed m a n ' s relation to things: nature has ceased to b e a d a t u m and b e c o m e eligible for genuine comprehension and manipulation. Science is a distinctive cognitive system with s o m e mysterious builtin m e c h a n i s m ensuring sustained a n d perpetual growth—which has been profoundly beneficial for h u m a n productive systems, and corrosive for our systems of social legitimation. W e d o not really k n o w h o w this sustained and consensual growth is achieved, but w e d o k n o w that it is achieved, and 'science', is the n a m e for the m a n n e r in which it is d o n e , whatever it m a y b e . H e n c e the question concerning whether social studies are or are not to b e properly included within the limits of science is b y n o m e a n s merely terminological: W e are asking whether the
  18. 18. 580 same kind of thing is happening in our understanding and manipulation of society. But this w a y of presenting the issue contains one important simplification. It suggests that the evaluative charge contained in the appelation 'science', because of its implied promise of understanding and control, is entirely, wholly and unambiguously positive. This is by no means so. Though there exists one major academic industry of producing books telling social scientists what science really is and h o w they can turn themselves into genuine scientists, there also exists another, with at least asflourishingan output, putatively establishing that the study of m a n and society cannot be scientific, or, alternatively, if the positively loaded term 'scientific' is to be retained, that they are scientific, but in a sense radically different from that which applies in natural science. The idea that the methods of natural and social science are basically identical, is nowadays almost a definition of 'positivism', and positivism is a term which in recent years has more often than not been used pejoratively. This is significant: originally, the central theme of positivism was the interdict on transcendence. M o d e r n anti-positivism seeks to escape from the weaknesses that flesh and fact are heir to (notably contingency and corrigibility), no longer to some transcendent realm of pure and certain truths such as were fashionable in agrarian days, but to the social and h u m a n realm; and to do so, it must insist that the h u m a n or cultural is radically distinct from nature. O n e also sometimes has the impression that a 'positivist' is anyone w h o subjects a favoured theory to the indignity of testing by mere fact. T h e arguments purporting to prove that the study of m a n and society cannot be scientific (variant reading: can only be scientific in a sense radically different from that applicable to the. study of nature) can also be catalogued. Authors upholding this view of course often combine or conflate these various points. N o n e the less, it is useful to list them separately. 1. T h e argument from idiography. H u m a n , Ernest Gellner social or historical phenomena either are inherently individual; or our concern is with their individual and idiosyncratic aspects; or, of course, both. 2. T h e argument from holism. Society is a unity; the 'principle of internal relations', which insists that everything is what it is in virtue of its relationships to everything else within the same system, applies to it. If the main device of old metaphysics was the reality of abstract objects, then this idea, in various terminologies, is the central device of modern socio-metaphysics. Empirical inquiry, however, can ex hypothesi deal only with isolated facts, and it cannot seize any totality. Hence empirical inquiry essentially distorts and misrepresents social reality. This doctrine can be combined with the view that it is the actual function, conscious or latent, of empirical factual inquiry to hide social reality and distort our perception of it, in the service of the established order, which has cause to fear clear-sighted perception of social reality on the part of the less privileged members of society. This view can also naturally be fused with a special dispensation for the propounder himself and those like-minded, w h o possess some means of privileged cognitive access to the real nature of society, insights that are beyond the reach of mere atomic empirical facts, garnered by the ideological watch-dogs of the established order. 11 3. T h e argument from the complexity of social p h e n o m e n a can be used to reinforce the preceding two arguments. 4. T h e argument from meaning. H u m a n actions and institutions are identified not by some shared physical traits, but in terms of what they m e a n to the participants. This fact (if such it is) can be held, wholly or partly, to entail the exemption of h u m a n or social phenomena either from causation or from external and comparative empirical investigation, or of course from both. The argument can be put thus: the nexus that exists between natural phenomena or classes of events is independent of any one
  19. 19. The scientific status of the social sciences 581 'The Pirandello effect', a w a y of breaking d o w n the neat distinction between actors and spectators of a play. A scene from Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. A 1936 performance by the Pitoeff C o m p a n y in Paris. Rogcr-vioiict. society, c o m m o n to t h e m all, and blind to the meanings prevailing in any o n e of t h e m . B u t actions are identified b y w h a t they m e a n to the participants, a n d the m e a n i n g s that identify t h e m are d r a w n from the, as it w e r e , semantic pool of a given culture, w h i c h n e e d not b e , a n d perhaps never is, identified with the reservoir of meanings used b y another culture. H e n c e there cannot b e a valid causal generalization in which o n e of the links is a class of actions, i.e. events b o u n d together only b y the so-to-speak collectively private m e a n i n g s that h a p p e n to b e in use in a given culture, for these d o not overlap with any so-to-speak natural kind or category. Nature could not recognize a n d identify t h e m a n d thus cannot apply a n y causal lever to t h e m . A s for the links obtaining b e t w e e n t w o or m o r e such socially
  20. 20. 582 Ernest Gellner meaningful categories, they are themselves criticism). This movement stands to the established in virtue of the semantics of the 'social construction of reality' as Fichte did culture in question, and can only be appreto Hegel; the ego rolls its o w n world, hended by penetrating, learning that sysinstead of the world rolling itself in a kind tem, and not by external investigation. of collective effort. But the temporal order Comparative intersocial research and genseems reversed this time round, for Fichte eralizations are absurd and impossible, in preceded Hegel. This view combines idealso far as the systems of meanings of diverse ism with idiographism. cultures are not comparable or overlap- 7. The Pirandello effect. The allusion is to the ping, or only contingently and partially device most powerfully developed by Luigi so. 12 A historical c o m m e n t one m a y allow Pirandello for breaking d o w n the neat oneself on this position is that idealism is distinction between characters, actors, proalive and well, and operates under the n a m e ducers, authors and spectators of a play. of hermeneutics. T h e views that had once His plays, in which characters discuss the been articulated with the help of terms further development of the plot with each such as Geist or spirit n o w see the light of other and, seemingly, the author or m e m day in terms of 'meaning' or 'culture'. bers of the audience, are of course meant to induce bewilderment in the audience by 5. 'The social construction of reality'.13 This undermining the comfortable separation argument clearly overlaps with the precedof stage and auditorium, by compelling ing one; perhaps it is identical with it, involvement by the spectator. T h e play, differing only in the style of presentation he seems to say, is not a spectacle but and in its philosophical ancestry. T h e a predicament. So in observation of preceding formulation is rooted above all social reality—and this, it is claimed, disin the work of L . Wittgenstein, whereas tinguishes it from nature. O n e charge this one springs from the ideas of E . H u s which has been m a d e against empiricist or serl and A . Schutz. scientistic social research (though it has not 6. T h e so-called 'individual construction of as yet been m a d e in these words) is that it reality'. This slogan, though not as far as I pretends that a society can be a spectacle, k n o w actually used by the movement in and not a predicament, for the investiquestion, could be used to characterize the gator. This pretence, the critics insist, is approach of a recently fashionable school false. It constitutes deception of others k n o w n as 'Ethno-methodology' and associ14 and, if sincere, constitutes self-deception ated with the n a m e of Garfinkel. T h e into the bargain. W e m a k e a commitment central doctrine of this m o v e m e n t appears in our choice of ideas or problems or to be that of our ability to describe (make interpretations, and the choice is not or 'accountable') events is something w e indicannot be impartial or guided by logical vidually achieve, and that consequently the criteria alone, or perhaps at all. Thus, the only scientific understanding available is inescapable involvement of the investigator the description (?) or highlighting (?) or in his subject-matter makes any pretence at exemplification of the very acts of indivi'scientific objectivity' spurious. In actual predual accountability-creation. T h e m o v e sentation, this argument is generally fused ment is not marked either by lucidity of with several others in the preceding list. expression or by willingness to indulge in rational discussion (a reluctance that can in 8. Special cognitive status for the inquiry into turn be rationalized in terms of its central m a n or society can also be claimed not so insight, which would preclude the testing of m u c h in virtue of general considerations, interpersonal generalization, there not besuch as those listed so far, but in virtue of ing any such; but which also conveniently alleged special substantive characteristics places the m o v e m e n t out of reach of of the specific object or style of inquiry.
  21. 21. 583 The scientific status of the social sciences For instance, in the lively debate concerning the scientific status of psycho-analysis, the claim is sometimes m a d e (in defence of the legitimacy of this technique) that the eccentric methods employed in it (by the standards prevailing in other inquiries) are justified by the very peculiar nature of the object investigated, i.e. the unconscious. Its cunning and deviousness in the face of inquiry, which it tries to evade and deceive, justify cognitive emergency measures, which would be held illicit by the rules of evidence prevailing in the normal courtrooms of science. Faced with so ruthless an e n e m y , the investigating magistrate is granted special powers and dispensed from the normal restrictions on methods of inquisition. T h e unconscious cannot be apprehended in any other way, and the difficulty and urgency of the task justifies extreme methods. (Whether these really serve to outwit the quarry, or merely protect the reputation of the hunter, by ensuring that he is never convicted of fundamental error, is another question.) There is no space here to attempt any kind of thorough evaluation of all these negative arguments. Suffice it to say that none of them seem to m e remotely cogent. Take for instance the one which m a y seem most powerful, namely the one to the effect that the categories of actions or events in a given culture are defined in terms of the meanings current within that culture, which are so to speak private to that culture, and not coextensive with 'natural kinds'. This, though true as far as it goes, in no w a y precludes even a physical determinism for the events within the culture in question. It merely precludes the identification of the determined events (if such they are) in terms of the meanings current in the culture. T h e determining forces, so to speak, will select the events they bring out in terms of s o m e characteristics that only accidentally and contingently overlap with the meanings that accompany and seem to guide the events. For instance, w h e n w e watch afilm,w e k n o w full well that what will happen is already determined; and it is deter- mined by the pattern found on the reels which is being transmitted from the projection room. T h e meaningful connections which interest us and which appear to guide and give sense to the series of events observed in the story on the screen are really quite epiphenomenal and powerless. W e do not actually k n o w that our life is like that, and most of us hope that indeed it is not; but the argument from the meaningfulness of social life, alas, in no way establishes that it cannot be so. If on the one hand the arguments purporting to establish that h u m a n and social life cannot be subject to scientific explanation are invalid, then, on the other hand, any inspection of the lively and vigorous discussions in the field of the philosophy of science indisputably reveal one thing—that the issue of the nature of science, of the identification of that secret which has m a d e possible the unprecedented, totally unique rate of cognitive growth since the seventeenth century, remains unsolved. W e have some very impressive candidates for the solution, powerfully and elegantly presented. But to have an impressive short list is one thing, and to have a firmly identified, recognized, acclaimed winner is quite another. A n d that w e do not have. T h e situation simply is that science is consensual, and the philosophy of science is not. T h e two contentions which have been affirmed—the putative demonstrations of the impossibility of science in social spheres are invalid, and the absence of an agreed account of w h y and h o w science works in thefieldsin which plainly it does work—will be crucial in answering the question to which this essay is devoted, namely whether or not the social ~ sciences are indeed scientific. Conclusion The question n o w in effect answers itself— once w e have broken it up into its constituent, normally conflated subquestions or variant interpretations. W e canfirstof all check the activités of
  22. 22. 584 social sciences for the presence or absence of the various traits that figure prominently in diverse theories of science. Those traits are: T h e presence of Well-articulated hypotheses and their systematic testing. Precise quantitative measurement, and the operationalization of concepts. Careful observation b y publicly checkable methods. Sophisticated and rigorous conceptual structures, and great insights. Shared paradigms, at any rate over sizeable communitites of scholars, and persisting over prolonged periods. There can be no serious doubt that all these traits, often in combination, can be found in diverse social sciences. M a n for m a n , or community for community, it is doubtful whether social scientists are inferior, in intellectual daring and ingenuity, in formal rigour, in precision of observation, to the practitioners of disciplines whose scientific status is not normally doubted. A s a distinguished philosopher of science, Hilary Putnam, ironically and compassionately observed, 'the poor dears try so m u c h harder'. 15 A s indicated, w e do not k n o w the secret of science; w e do not k n o w just which of the m a n y blazing beacons w e are being offered really is the 'sacred fire'. W e do k n o w that m a n y beacons are ablaze, and given the short-list supplied to us by the philosophers of science, w e rather think that one of them (or perhaps a number of them jointly) is it. But which one? M o r e concretely, w e do k n o w that m a n y of the indisputable characteristics of science are often present in social research. T h e aspects of social life that are inherently quantitative or observable with precision (e.g. in fields such as demography or social geography) are indeed investigated. with precision and sophisticated techniques; w e k n o w on the other hand that sophisticated and elaborate abstract models are developed in various areas and serve as shared paradigms to extensive communities of scholars (e.g. economists); and on the other hand, in spheres where the conceptual apparatus is not so very far removed from the ideas of c o m m o n sense, Ernest Gellner w e nevertheless k n o w that a well-trained practitioner of the subject possesses understanding and information simply not available prior to the development of the subject. In all these senses, social studies are indeed scientific. Large areas of them do satisfy one or another of the m a n y available, and convincing, theories of the sacred fire. A n d our collective life would be m u c h poorer without them. So m u c h for the satisfaction of the hallmarks of science, as they are specified by the philosophy of science. But w e obtain a different picture if w e look at it from the viewpoint, not of methods employed, but of the impact o n our cognitive world: if w e ask whether there is a generally overall consensual cognitive activity, radically discontinuous from the insights and techniques of ordinary thought, and unambiguously cumulative at an astonishing and unmistakable rate. T h e answer is obvious. In this crucial sense, in terms of their impact on our social order, social studies are not scientific—much as they m a y rightly claim to be so by the previous criterion or criteria. They claim to have stolen the sacred fire. Does anyone pay them the compliment of wishing to steal it from them? W e can try to break up this failure into its constituent parts. The quantitatively accurate descriptive techniques are not accompanied by correspondingly convincing theory of similarly accurate prediction. T h e sophisticated abstract models do not firmly mesh in with empirical material. The powerful insights are not consensual. Paradigms exist and prevail, but only in subcommunities; and when they succeed each other the situation is quite different from that which prevails in natural science. In natural science, w e are generally sure that there is progress, but have great difficulty in explaining h o w it is possible that w e can k n o w that this is so, given that there is no c o m m o n measure for comparing successive visions. In the social sciences w e are spared this worry. W e need not puzzle about h o w it is that w e can k n o w that w e are progressing, because w e are not so very sure that w e have indeed progressed. T h e partisans of a n e w
  23. 23. 585 The scientific status of the social sciences paradigm m a y , of course, b y sure concerning their o w n particular leap (they usually are); but they are seldom sure about the w h o l e series of leaps that constitute the history of their subject. O n the contrary, their o w n leap is very often a reverse leap, a return to an earlier m o d e l . If I a m right about the logical inadequacy of the alleged proofs of the ineligibility of the social world for science, w e need not despairingly conclude (or confidently h o p e , as the case m a y b e ) that this will always continue to be so. If indeed the sacred fire of science has not yet b e e n identified, w e d o not k n o w h o w to r e m e d y this situation. T h e question remains o p e n . B u t I suspect w e shall k n o w that the social sciences h a v e b e c o m e scientific, w h e n their practitioners n o longer claim that they have at long last stolen the fire, b u t w h e n others try to steal it from t h e m ; w h e n the philosophy of social science b e c o m e s a search for an ex-post explanation of a cognitive scientific miracle, rather than for a recipe or promise for bringing it about. Notes 1. Sir Karl Popper has propounded the much-discussed doctrine of methdological individualism, which requires all explanations in the social sciences to be, ultimately, in terms of the aims and beliefs of individuals, and which precludes the invocation of holistic social entities, other than as a kind of shorthand (see for instance, Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Princeton N . J . , Princeton University Press, 1966). At the same time, Popper has more recently argued in favour of a 'World Three' (see Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1972), a realm of objects of thought, in addition to the relatively wellestablished Cartesian worlds of external objects and internal experiences. It is interesting that some of the arguments invoked in support of this doctrine—the incorporation in a social tradition and its equipment of a wealth of ideas never accessible to any one man—are precisely those which led some others to be tempted by social holism. Is there m u c h gained by option for an essentialist rather than holist terminology for indicating the same facts? I suppose it depends on whether all such cultural worlds are simply parts of one and the same third world, or whether they are allowed, each of them, to m a k e its o w n world, which need not be commensurate or compatible with others. In the former case, a Platonic language for describing this would seem more appropriate; in the latter, a sociological-holistic one. It should be added that his individualism does not oblige him to see science as only contingently social; on the contrary, in the appropriate sense, he sees it as essentially social. This is discussed later in this essay. 2. Émile Durkheim, Elementary Forms of Religious Life, tr. Joseph W . Swain, Free Press, ' 1954. T h e main contrast between the two great sociologists, Durkheim and Weber, is precisely in their attitude to rational thought: : Durkheim sees this as a characteristic of any society and correlative with social life as such, whereas M a x W e b e r is preoccupied with it as a differential trait, present in o n e tradition far more prominently than in all others. So one sees rationality as ever-present, and its explanation is ipso facto the explanation of society: there w a s indeed a social contract, but it had the form of ritual, not of a compact. The other sees it as present in an uneven m a n n e r , and its explanation coextensive not with society as such, but of the emergence and distinctive nature of one kind of society, namely that which concerns us most, our o w n . 3. T h o m a s K u h n , The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed., Chicago, 111., University of Chicago Press, 1970. 4. Ibid., pp. vii-viii. 5. Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, London, Methuen & Co., 1962. 6. Paul Feyerabend, Against Method, N . L . B . , 1975.
  24. 24. Ernest Gellner 586 7. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Toward a Post Critical Philosophy, Chicago, 111., University of Chicago Press, 1974. 8. Gilbert Ryle, 'Knowing H o w and Knowing That' Presidential Address, Aristotelian Society, Proceedings, Vol. X L V I , 1945/46, pp. 1-16; Lewis Carroll, 'Achilles and the Tortoise' in The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, N e w York, Random House, 1939. 9. Kuhn, op. cit. 10. Willard van O r m a n Quine, From a Logical Point of View: Nine Lógico—Philosophical Essays, 2nd. rev. ed., Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1961. 11. Theodor Adorno et al., 'Sociology and Empirical Research' in Theodor Adorno et al. (eds.), The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology, pp. 68-86, London, Heinemann, 1976. 12. A n argument of this kind is found in: Peter Winch, The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy, Humanities Press, 1970. A n even more extreme formulation of this position, combined with an ideographiom à outrance, is found in: A . R . Louch, Explanation and Human Action, Oxford, Blackwell, 1966. This position has been frequently criticized; see, for instance, Robin Horton's 'Professor Winch on Safari' in Archives européennes de sociologie, Vol. X V I I , N o . 1, 1976; or Percy Cohen, 'The Very Idea of a Social Science', in I. Lakatos and A . Musgrave (eds.), Problems in the Philosophy of Science, North Holland Press, 1968. Or m y own 'The N e w Idealism', in I. C . Jarvie and J. Agassi (eds.), Cause and Meaning in the Social Sciences: London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973. 13. Peter L . Berger and Thomas Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise on the Sociology of Knowledge, Irvington Press, 1980. 14. See Harold Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice Hall, 1967. For critical comments, see a very witty article by A . R . Louch, 'Against Theorizing', Philosophy of the Social Sciences. Vol. V , 1975, pp. 481-7, or m y o w n , 'Ethnomethodology: the R e enchantment, Industry or the Californian W a y of Subjectivity', Spectacles and Predicaments, Cambridge, Univeristy Press, 1979. 15. Bryan Magee (ed.), Men of Ideas, p. 233, Viking Press, 1979.
  25. 25. Philosophical schools and scientific working methods in social science Stefan Nowak Philosophical orientations in empirical social science B y philosophical schools, from the point of view of sociology, w e understand here different metasociological orientations. T h e editors of a volume of metasociological studies characterize this term in the following way: T h e title of this article announces an analysis of relations between the 'working methods' of the social sciences o n the one hand and 'philosophical schools' o n the other. A m o n g 'Metasociology', a term popularized by Paul the different 'philosophical schools' w e will Furley in The Scope and Method of Sociology: A discuss only those that are (or are believed to Metasociological Treatise, refers to that branch be) relevant for the of sociology concerned with investigating the social sciences, and esStefan N o w a k holds the chair of assumptions and value pecially for ways of methodology of sociological investijudgements underlying the conducting sociological gations at the Institute of Sociology, theories and methods e m studies. T h e term 'workUniversity of Warsaw. A m o n g his ployed by sociologists. ing methods'- denotes for principal publications are: Methodology of Sociological Research (1977) Such assumptions and us here: (a) the different and Sociology: The State of Art (1982, value judgements often ways (standardized patbegin with the assertion co-editor). terns) of asking questhat sociology is a science tions about social reality; and proceed to incor(b) the different stanporate the various theodardized ways of delivretical (ontological) and methodological (epistemoering answers to these logical) choices made questions, meaning both daily. Needless to say, the logical structure of such assumptive choices dipropositions which m a y rectly affect the very content of sociology, constitute such answers and the ways of thereby making metasociology an enormously substantiation of these propositions—both important and far-reaching area of inquiry. deductively and inductively; and (c) finally, In m a n y ways, metasociology represents' a the different standardized ways of organizing mechanism for mapping the discipline of socithe whole sets of these propositions into m o r e ology. . . . In doing so, discussions underlying comprehensive and (in different meanings of assumptions remain analytically distinct from the term), m o r e coherent descriptive or those of substantive sociology.1 theoretical pictures of that reality concerning which the initial questions have been adThis passage stresses that the analysis of dressed. assumptions (at least s o m e of which are
  26. 26. 588 ontological) and of value judgements belong to sociology. I agree that it is correct that these assumptions are often used for mapping different 'theoretical approaches' to the study of social p h e n o m e n a . But w h e n used for mapping different approaches and theories, they are usually regarded as essential components. T o quote J. H . Turner: M u c h of what is labelled sociological theory is, in reality, only a loose clustering of implicit assumptions, inadequately defined concepts, and 1 a few vague and logically disconnected propositions. Sometimes assumptions are stated explicitly, and serve to inspire abstract theoretical statements containing well-defined concepts, but most of sociological theory constitutes a verbal 'image of society', rather than a rigorously constructed set of theoretical statements organized into logically coherent format. Thus a great deal of so-called theory is rather a general 'perspective' or 'orientation' for looking at various features of the process of institutionalization which, if all goes well, can be eventually translated into true scientific theory. T h e fact that there are m a n y such perspectives in sociology poses problems of exposition; and these problems in turn, are compounded by the fact that the perspectives blend into one another, sometimes redering it difficult to analyze them separately.2 For these reasons, it seems m o r e fruitful not to analyse here all 'theoretical-philosophical approaches' to the study of society, but rather particular assumptions that underlie, or m a y underlie, m o r e than one such school. Fortunately, these assumptions have been the subject of analysis and discussion for m a n y years, both in the philosophy of science and of social science. T h e latter have led to the crystallization of a certain n u m b e r of generally formulated questions, the answers to which m a y be regarded as equivalent to those assumptions mentioned above. A n y fairly c o m prehensive monograph in the philosophy of the social sciences3 usually presents a longer or shorter catalogue of such 'problem dimensions' and defines a certain n u m b e r of possible positions on each. Let us mention here s o m e of those most frequently discussed. Stefan Nowak 1. A t one extreme of the first problem dimension w e locate those w h o believe that m a n is a thinking and feeling being and whose patterned feelings and ways of thinking about the world, society and himself constitute such essential components of social reality that without proper 'understanding' (Verstehen) of these p h e n o m e n a in the w a y Dilthey, W e b e r or Znaniecki wanted us to understand them, any attempt to study social p h e n o m e n a is fruitless. A t the other extreme w e usually locate behaviourists with Skinner in thefirstplace and those theoreticians of early positivist sociology (like D o d d or Lundberg) w h o believed that the study of society and of nature have one most important feature in c o m m o n — b o t h should be based only upon the observation of reality and any other method, like Verstehen, is n o more than pre-scientific mysticism.4 2. T h e second frequent problem dimension deals with the question of whether groups are real, or whether the attribute of real existence should be reserved for h u m a n individuals only. Sometimes this question refers not to groups or other collectivities but to their properties. Here w e observe the clash between holists (sometimes called 'realists') and methodological individualists (or in other discussion contexts— 'nominalists').5 3. T h e third problem dimension—often discussed jointly with the second—is to what degree the different propositions, and especially various generalizations and laws about h u m a n aggregates and social systems can be explained by the propositions and laws about 'lower level units' and especially by the psychological laws of h u m a n behaviour. Here again the reductionists disagree with the emergentists, i.e. those w h o believe that, at each level of analysis, n e w regularities and properties m a y emerge, basically irreducible to the properties and mechanisms of the lower level.0 4. Then w e have the old dispute between determinists and indeterminists about the applicability of the notion of causality to
  27. 27. Philosophical schools and scientific working methods in social science 589 thoroughly by M a r x , Simmel, Coser, Dahrthe world in general, and to social life in endorf and contemporary Neo-Marxists, particular. T h e applicability of causal that internal conflict and dysfunction are thinking to social life in particular. T h e the essential features of any social system, applicability of causal thinking to social at both the macro and the micro levels. phenomena can be rejected either in principle ('man has free will') or on more 7. If w e look at theories that deal with social practical grounds—by demonstrating that behaviour and man's ways of thinking and causality implies a both exceptionless (i.e. feeling about himself and the external general) and spatio-temporally unlimited social world, w e m a y also find a number of (i.e. universal) character for the discovered polarized dimensions along which apregularities, whereas in the social sciences proaches and theories can be located. For w e usually discover regularities which are example, w e m a y believe (with Skinner and both statistical and 'historical', i.e. limited some radical behaviourists) that h u m a n to some spatio-temporal area. In other nature is basically reactive, that people words, philosophers of science (and socioreact to external stimuli, and that the patlogists themselves) differ in their opinion as terns of rewards and punishments shaping to the degree to which the model of the learned patterns of behaviour in universal causal theories, so successful in society m a y be apprehended in a w a y certain natural sciences, is applicable to the similar to the study of rats in an experimenworld of h u m a n thinking and actions and to tal maze. But w e can also believe with the functioning and change of the social 'humanistic psychologists', that h u m a n systems.7 nature has a creative potential and that aiming towards self-realization is more im5. A t a slightly lower level of abstraction of portant than reaction to the m a z e of conphilosophical discourse w e find the polarity straints imposed by the social structure, of two approaches to the study of a and the need to exchange rewards and punmultiplicity of people. O n e (called 'pluralishments with others according to certain 8 istic behaviourism' by D o n Martindale ) rules of distributive justice. assumes more or less consciously that society is something of an aggregate of hu- 8. Quite another aspect of h u m a n behaviour m a n individuals, each of w h o m can be exis usually analysed along the dimension plained by their o w n 'background charac'rational-irrational'. Here w e m a y believe, teristics' taken in isolation from the following m a n y 'purposeful action theorcharacteristics and behaviour of other ists' from W e b e r to Parsons and contempeople—as w e do in analysis of survey porary proponents of the application of data. T h e other approach assumes that normative models of mathematical desociety or social groups and institutions cision-theory to the explanation of real constitute a system of interdependent elh u m a n actions, that looking into conscious ements; the nature of the elements can h u m a n motives of behaviour interpreted in properly be understood only by taking terms of rationally oriented goals—means into account their systemic contexts.9 relations m a y give us the proper insight. But w e m a y also follow the line of Freud 6. Even w h e n scientists agree that a systemic and Pareto and assume that what people perspective is essential, some of them are perceive as the motives of their actions are more inclined to believe (following Spenusually by w a y of being rationalizations cer, Durkheim, Malinowski or Parsons in (derivations) from actions not themselves this belief) that the dominant internal necessarily guided by principles of rationrelations are those that guarantee the ality. A n d even if there is agreement that system its harmonious functioning and the knowledge of conscious motives is homeostatic balance, while others have necessary for the proper explanation of more sympathy for the idea stressed so
  28. 28. 590 behaviour, there m a y b e disagreement about the methodological scheme of such explanations. S o m e insist that w e must apply certain 'covering laws' in the scheme of deductive-nomological explanations, while others stress the non-nomological character of 'understanding explanations'.11 All these assumptions (and m a n y others) deal with the nature of reality as applied to social studies. But w e also find differences of approach to sociology rooted in the differences of opinion about what should be the sociologist's attitude towards his o w n studies, or opinions about h o w these studies can or should be conducted. H e r e w e c o m e across the old issue of 'objectivity' of social studies with s o m e w h o believe that studies can be value-free while others stress that it is impossible to get rid of one's values; therefore the best thing a social scientist can do is initially to declare his value preferences continuing to express them both in his problem-formulation and in the conduct and findings of his study. All those w h o recall the disputes around this problem in the late 1960s k n o w h o w m a n y different meanings were attached to each. possible attitude along this dimension. 12 This applies not only to this particular problem dimension in the philosophy of social sciences but to most of them, because not only can different attitudes be taken along each but also the dimensions themselves can be, and were understood in different ways. U n d e r such circumstances, any attempt to discuss the relevance of such assumptions to the whole process of development of research methodology would probably require at least a whole volume. H e r e , w e intend to look only into s o m e m o r e general problems of relations between the assumptions underlying sociological studies and the ways these studies are or should be conducted. The validity of philosophical arguments for research methodology in sociology W h y should these assumptions play any role Stefan Nowak at all? That most philosophers and, m o r e reflective sociologists believe in their importance does not constitute sufficient proof of relevance, especially as there are some w h o are inclined to reject the whole matter c o m pletely. T h u s , Barry Hindess says: I propose no methodology or epistemology to the positions criticized here. O n the contrary, I argue that the problems which these disciplines pose are false problems and they arise only as a function of a conception of knowledge which can be shown to be fundamentally and inescapably incoherent. Epistemology and such derivative doctrines as methodology and philosophy of science have no rational and coherent foundation. In particular there can be no rational or coherent prescriptive methodology. 13 Methodology, stresses Hindess, tries to prescribe those procedures supposed to be useful either for generating or for testing n e w propositions, and tries to validate them on the basis of philosophical argument. These procedures define what is, and what is not a science:14 Scientific knowledge is thought to be valid only if it conforms to the prescribed procedures: it follows that the prescriptions of methodology cannot be validated by scientific knowledge. . . . Methodology lays down procedural rules for scientific practice which it derives by means of a 'knowledge' provided by philosophy. Methodology is the product of philosophy and the sciences are a realization of their methodology.14 W e r e this the only possible pattern of relations between science and its methodology on the one hand and metascientific assumptions on the other, I would agree with Hindess that this would constitute either a case of nice tautological circularity or, even worse, a situation in which the whole of scientific thinking constitutes nothing more than carrying out the orders of a dogmatic dictatorship of philosophers. Fortunately, this is not the case, for several reasons.
  29. 29. Philosophical schools and scientific working methods in social science A n allegory of logic, seventeenth-century etching. Explorer. 591
  30. 30. 592 The empirical, normative and analytical premises of problem formulations and research methods in sciences Before w e look at these reasons, let us first remind ourselves here of the role of less questionable assumptions in the research process.15 Every empirical study begins (or at least it should begin) with a set of questions, to which it is supposed to deliver the answers. 16 A s is well k n o w n , the formulation of each question logically presupposes that certain assumptions about the studied objects or p h e n o m e n a are accepted as valid. If—as is often the case—these assumptions are not explicitly formulated, it is because they m a y seem so obvious that no one cares to recall them. They would become more obvious if one were to undertake a study of problems based on obviously false assumptions. Should one propose to study the attitudes of the representatives of the Hispanic minority in Poland towards the country's political system, one would be reminded that the question is 'wrong' because it is based upon the obviously false assumption that a Hispanic minority exists. O n the other hand, for the undertaking of a similar study in N e w York, the assumption would be taken for granted. A question is only applicable to the object or objects that satisfy its assumptions. But the assumption does not prescribe any specific answer to the question. O u r assumptions only classify reality into two subsets: one—in which it 'makes sense' to ask questions, and the other one—to which the questions do not apply. T h e same applies to theoretical questions. If one proposes to study in a n e w experimental project what kind of people are more likely to 'reduce cognitive dissonance' than others, one starts from the (explicit or implicit) assumption that 'cognitive dissonance' exists and that one wants to develop a more detailed theory describing the conditions under which this phenomenon is likely to occur. If a study starts from a set of valid assumptions, it does not matter whether they Stefan Nowak have been stated explicitly or only implicitly, but if a study is begun from a wrong set of assumptions, one discovers pretty soon that the questions do not apply to the selected objects and phenomena since one obtains answers that reject the initial assumptions. The validity of the assumptions implies only that w e m a y ask the questions with respect to a given object or class of objects. Whether w e ask or not depends additionally upon our values. Only they can provide the motivation to undertake a study seeking answers to given problem formulation. Whether w e specify our values (curiosity being definitely one of them) explicitly or take them for granted does not matter. Similarly for the assumptions underlying the use of a certain research method. T h e formulation and use of m a n y research methods is based upon certain identical or descriptive propositions necessary for their validity. W e m a y recall h o w m u c h theoretical physics and engineering science underlies the availability of such 'research tolls' as the cyclotron, electron microscope, or Wilson chamber for elementary particles. T h e situation in the social sciences is similar. Thousands of studies have proved that 'projection' as described by Freud really exists. Hence w e n o w use 'projective tests' if w e suspect that subjects m a y have difficulties in revealing their needs, motives or aspirations. Again, w e use information about the m a k e of a respondent's car, or visible level of consumption as 'indirect indicators' of income, because the correlation between income and levels of living has been well established. W h a t these propositions usually imply is that w e are free to use a given method for a given cognitive purpose. Whether w e do use any particular method often depends also upon certain normative premises (value assumptions), e.g. the degree of accuracy yielded by different methods, possible margins of error connected with their use, combined with the costs of applications of each. Sometimes methodological decisions involve strictly ethical premises like those which exclude the application of certain (otherwise
  31. 31. Philosophical schools and scientific working methods in social science efficient) methods for the study of h u m a n subjects. T h efinalmethodological design of any study arises from interaction of empirical considerations relating to accuracy, with certain normative, axiological premises. Another kind of premise—the analytically valid theorems ('laws') of formal logic or mathematics—is used in the process of reasoning, in the transformation of the logical or mathematical implications of one body of information into another in deductions, in deriving fresh propositions from those that have already been tested, etc. Sometimes these laws or theorems of logical thinking are so simple (or w e are so used to applying them) that w e are unaware of using them at all. In other cases they are so complex that w e employ the most powerful computers to follow correctly (and with sufficient speed) the prescribed paths of formal reasoning which have their source in certain tautologies of logic and mathematics. 'Visions' of social reality as sources of philosophical assumptions W h a t has been said so far proves only that sciences do indeed develop in a cumulative manner, n e w research problems arising from the state of knowledge in different disciplines and n e w methodologies attempting to apply positive knowledge about reality to devise more efficient research tools. It does not prove that philosophy—ontology or epistemology—are enlisted for such purposes. But the body of existing knowledge only delivers the premises for n e w questions, if these are not dramatically n e w , or in other words, that the process of development is what K u h n calls 'normal science'. The development of 'normal science' is safe enough, because it occurs within the existing and accepted paradigms; n e w questions m a y therefore be based upon well-tested empirical assumptions. If the questions are so new that the answers- might constitute a 'scientific revolution', then the corresponding assump- 593 tions can usually not be found in the tested body of existing scientific knowledge. O n e must go beyond this knowledge and risk some bold, more or less hypothetical guesses about the nature of reality. W h e r e d o such guesses belong at the m o m e n t w h e n they are formulated, thus opening the w a y to basically n e w scientific questions? O n e might say that they are no more than bold scientific hypotheses at the highest level of generality, from which the formulation of lower-level hypotheses were stimulated. But if w e look closely at the history of science in its relation with the history of philosophy, it seems more reasonable to say that m a n y such assumptions were merely taken from philosophy or could be classified with it. 'Visions' of society as an organism go far back in our history,., but anthropology as a science had to wait for Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown to use such ideas as starting-points for explanatory principles in empirical studies. There is no doubt that the idea of Verstehen as formulated by Dilthey belonged to philosophy, but all its subsequent uses to explain concrete social phenomena and for the development of corresponding methodologies belong to social sciences. It is extremely difficult to point to the border-line between philosophy and 'positive' empirical theory in Karl Marx's thinking, but there is no doubt that Hegelian dialectics, transformed by M a r x into ' m a terialistic dialectics', played an important role in his empirical thinking about society, guiding it in the formulation of testable hypotheses about the relationships between class structure, class conflict, and other aspects of social p h e n o m e n a . W h a t happens when the theory or research generated from such philosophical assumptions actually works? It implies that assumptions can also be regarded as indirectly, and partly, i.e. only inductively, confirmed by the empirical findings, thus confirming the theory. T h e validity of initial philosophical assumptions is then proven at least for those areas of reality where a theory works. But this applies only to such philosophical prop-

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