Hempel after 70 years

Carl Hempel published his sole contribution to the philosophy of history in 1942, almost exactly 70 years ago. The article is "The Function of General Laws in History" (link), and it set the stage for several fruitless decades of debate within analytic philosophy about the nature of historical explanation. Hempel argued that all scientific explanation has …

Feyerabend as artisanal scientist

I've generally found Paul Feyerabend's position on science to be a bit too extreme. Here is one provocative statement in the analytical index of Against Method:Thus science is much closer to myth than a scientific philosophy is prepared to admit. It is one of the any forms of thought that have been developed by man, and not necessarily …

Kuhn’s paradigm shift

Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) brought about a paradigm shift of its own, in the way that philosophers thought about science. The book was published in the Vienna Circle's International Encyclopedia of Unified Science in 1962. (See earlier posts on the Vienna Circle; post, post.) And almost immediately it stimulated a profound …

Neo-positivist philosophy of social science

The 1960s witnessed the development of a second generation of analytic philosophy of science inspired broadly by logical positivism and the Vienna Circle (post, post). The "received view" of the 1950s and 1960s, as expressed by philosophers such as Carl Hempel, Ernest Nagel, and Israel Scheffler (and others pictured above), presented a view of scientific …

Neurath on sociology

Otto Neurath was one of the central figures in the Vienna Circle in the 1930s and 1940s. And he was the most important figure in the group to consider the social sciences within the "unified sciences" of the twentieth century. As noted in an earlier post, the Vienna Circle set the stage for a powerful …

John Stuart Mill as a social science founder

John Stuart Mill was Britain's leading thinker when it came to issues having to do with logic and scientific knowledge in the mid-nineteenth century. His System of Logic was first published in 1843 and was reprinted in numerous editions, and it constituted a comprehensive treatment of scientific knowledge and inference within the empiricist tradition. The …

Tributaries of the philosophy of the social sciences

The philosophy of the social sciences is largely focused on questions about the nature of our knowledge, representation, and explanation of social phenomena. There is an ontological side to some of the questions in this field -- for example, what is the nature of social phenomena? But many of the questions are epistemological, having to …

Components of positivism

Many of us agree that "positivist" social science isn't a good idea. But what is encompassed by "positivism" in this setting?First, the favorable part of the story: positivism puts forward two ideas about conceptual clarity and empirical rigor that surely need to be a part of any intellectually sound effort to understand society, or to …

A simple sociology

What is involved in providing a scientific study of society--a scientific sociology? Several features of science are crucial. Scientific claims are intended to be true and rationally supportable. Scientific knowledge is based on empirical research and rigorous reasoning. Science provides a basis for explaining the phenomena it considers. And science depends upon the idea of …

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 …

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