Was Alexis de Tocqueville a social scientist?

Alexis de Tocqueville is sometimes counted among the founding influences in modern sociology -- one of the intellectual progenitors of the discipline in the 1830s-50s.  An aristocrat in post-revolutionary France, de Tocqueville played several roles  in his life: historian, politician, traveler, and social observer.   My question here is a specific one: in what ways …

How does philosophy help guide the sciences?

Philosophy observes the sciences. But it has also played a role in the formation of the sciences. And this is especially true in the case of the social sciences.The idea here is an elusive one. It is that the founders of the social sciences – perhaps similar to all intellectual or creative founders – possessed …

Historical comparisons

Historians are sometimes interested in comparing two cases or events in order to discover something of historical importance -- common causal mechanisms, important institutional differences between the cases, or ways in which the cases illustrate some larger historical pattern. For example, Kenneth Pomeranz offers an extensive comparison of European and Asian economic development in The …

Does historical materialism have a place in today’s social sciences?

Marx's theory of historical materialism came with a few central concepts, a large hypothesis, and a heuristic for social research. The concepts include class, the forces and relations of production, the economic structure, the superstructure, and the idea of determination ("in the last instance", as Althusser and Poulantzas put it) between the economic structure and …

How not to create a classification system

Does social science require systems of classification? From Jorge Luis Borges' description of a fictional Chinese classification of animals: “These ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies remind us of those which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled 'Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge'. In its remote pages it is written that the animals are …

Historians and the philosophy of history

How should the philosophy of history interact with the practice of working historians? The philosophy of history is challenged to discover and explore the most fundamental questions about historical inquiry and knowledge. How should this research be conducted? And how should the philosopher's development of the subject make use of the practice of the historian? …

Sociology as a social science discipline

Sociology is one of the core disciplines of the social sciences, along with political science, economics and anthropology. So one might imagine that it is a coherent, unified, and comprehensive science with a well-defined subject matter and a clear set of methods. But as most practitioners will agree, this is not the case. And that …

A new philosophy of history?

Why would we want a philosophy of history? And what is wrong with the one we've got? First, why? Philosophers want to know how good the claims are for "knowledge" in various fields. So we have philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of logic, and so on. This is one reason for pursuing a …

Positivism and social science

There is a strong current of positivism in contemporary sociology --in fact, one might say this is the dominant paradigm. Other paradigms exist -- feminism, Marxism, comparative historical sociology, and ethnographic sociology, to name several. But the claim of science is generally couched in terms of a positivist theory of science and inquiry. This is …

%d bloggers like this: