The moral emotions of liberal democracy

Recent discussions in a class on democracy and the politics of hate (link) have been very stimulating and thought provoking. We have spent several weeks discussing Rawls's ideas in Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (JF) about the features of social life in a just society that might serve to make a just democracy stable over time. Rawls …

Issues about microfoundations

I believe that hypotheses, theories, and explanations in the social sciences need to be subject to the requirement of microfoundationalism. This requirement can be understood in a weak and a strong version, and sometimes people understand the idea as a requirement of reductionism.  In brief, I defend the position in a weak form that does …

Institutional designs for progressive reform

One place where Jon Elster's philosophical thinking intersects with empirical social science is in the field of institutional design. This involves an important question: What features of institutional design can be identified as having beneficent features of operation when exercised by normal groups of individuals? This topic has cropped up several times in Elster's career. …

Alford Young on race and sociology

Alford Young is professor of sociology at the University of Michigan and an expert on the life experience of inner-city African-American men. He is also chair of the department of sociology at Michigan. His 2006 book, The Minds of Marginalized Black Men: Making Sense of Mobility, Opportunity, and Future Life Chances, is based on several …

Lack of character?

image: Stanford prison experiment John Doris argues in Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior that the basic theory of action associated with virtue ethics and the theory of moral character is most likely incorrect. The character theory maintains that individuals have stable traits that lead them to behave similarly in a range of relevant …

Hirschman on the passions

Numerous previous posts have emphasized the importance of having a theory of the actor when we do social science or history. Are people impulsive, emotional, envious, prudent, or moral -- or a mix of all of these things in different settings? We need to have some explicit and fact-based ideas about how and why people …

Elster on Tocqueville

Jon Elster is one of the people whose thinking about society and the social sciences has made a consistently important contribution to the philosophy of social science. So Elster's treatment of Tocqueville as a social scientist in Alexis de Tocqueville, the First Social Scientist will be of interest to anyone who wants to know how …

Actor-centered history

It is easy enough to ask the question, "How can we best explain the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of German fascism, or the Industrial Revolution in England?" And we often want to paraphrase questions like these along causal lines: "What were some of the causes of the fall of Rome, what were …

Epochs and the social actor

It was suggested in an earlier post that important aspects of an individual's mental furniture are influenced by the concrete historical and social circumstances in which he or she is raised (link). Let's try to get a little more specific about this idea. How does historical context influence the behavior of the individuals who come …

Organizations and strategic action fields

  image: Hierarchical modularity of nested bow-ties in metabolic networks, Jing Zhao, Hong Yu, Jian-Hua Luo, Zhi-Wei Cao  and Yi-Xue Li (link) Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdam provide a full exposition of their theory of strategic action fields in A Theory of Fields. As observed in an earlier post, this theory presents an innovative way …

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