Esser’s sociology

Sociology in Germany seems to be particularly prolific today, and this extends to the contributions that German sociologists are making to the sub-discipline of analytic sociology. One of the leaders who has played a key role in this active field is Hartmut Esser. Esser's Soziologie. Spezielle Grundlagen 3. Soziales Handeln (2002) is particularly important, but …

Herbert Simon’s satisficing life

Herbert Simon was a remarkably fertile thinker in the social and "artificial" sciences (The Sciences of the Artificial - 3rd Edition (1969, first edition)).  His most celebrated idea was the notion of "satisficing" rather than "optimizing" or "maximizing" in decision-making; he put forward a theory of ordinary decision-making that conformed more closely to the ways …

Economics and the historian

What are some of the important ways in which economic analysis is pertinent to historical research and explanation?  This was the topic of a cutting-edge collection edited by Tom Rawski over ten years ago (Economics and the Historian), and it is still a unique contribution.  Rawski is a good historian of China and a good …

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 …

Rawls and decision theory

John Rawls's A Theory of Justice was a strikingly original contribution to political philosophy upon its appearance in 1971.  Against the prevailing preference for "meta-ethics" in the field of philosophical ethics, Rawls made an effort to arrive at substantive, non-tautological principles that could be justified as a sort of "moral constitution" for a just society.  The theory …

How good is deliberative democracy?

The basic idea of deliberative democracy is an appealing one. Suppose we are faced with this basic problem of social choice. There is an important issue facing a community. There are a small number of policy options that might be chosen. The community wants to choose among these options "democratically." There are several ways in …

MacIntyre and Taylor on the human sciences

There is a conception of social explanation that provides a common starting point for quite a few theories and approaches in a range of the social sciences. I'll call it the "rational, material, structural" paradigm. It looks at the task of social science as the discovery of explanations of social outcomes; and it brings an …

Unintended consequences

International relations studies offer plentiful examples of the phenomenon of unintended consequences -- for example, wars that break out unexpectedly because of actions taken by states to achieve their security, or financial crises that erupt because of steps taken to avert them. (The recent military escalations in Pakistan and India raise the specter of unintended …

Action and its causes

What is an action? And, eventually, what role does action play in history?There is a large philosophical arena that focuses on the first part of this question. And basically, it comes down to "persons intervening intentionally". Persons commit actions. Persons have beliefs, desires, intentions, plans, and goals; they have reasons for what they do; they …

Education choices and personal futures

Why do people pursue education -- whether through secondary school or through post-secondary school?It seems like a very simple question with an obvious answer: education adds to one's skills and productivity; these enhanced skills make one more attractive in the employment market; and therefore, pursuing education is a rational investment in future lifetime earnings. (The …

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