Range of reactions to realism about the social world

My recent post on realism in the social realm generated quite a bit of commentary, which I'd like to address here. Brad Delong offered an incredulous response -- he seems to think that any form of scientific realism is ridiculous (link). He refers to the predictive success of Ptolemy's epicycles, and then says, "But just …

The case for realism in the social realm

Image. Orderly chaos in flight path of ocean-foraging albatross The case for scientific realism in the case of physics, microbiology, and chemistry is a strong one. The theories of physics, biology, and chemistry postulate unobservable entities, forces, and properties. These hypotheses are specified in a fair degree of precision. They are not individually testable, because …

Debates about field experiments in the social sciences

Questions about the empirical validation of hypotheses about social causation have been of interest in the past several weeks here. Relevant to that question is Dawn Langan Teele's recent volume, Field Experiments and Their Critics: Essays on the Uses and Abuses of Experimentation in the Social Sciences. The essays in the book make for interesting …

Realism and methodology

Methodology has to do with the strategies and heuristics through which we attempt to understand a complicated empirical reality (link). Our methodological assumptions guide us in the ways in which we attempt to collect data, the kinds of data we collect, the explanatory hypotheses we bring forward for that range of empirical findings, and the …

What kind of realist?

I've always felt that scientific realism is almost self-evidently true. Scientific theories and hypotheses put forward ideas that go beyond the evidence of direct experience. They postulate the existence of entities and forces that cannot be directly observed but whose effects can be teased out through the assumptions we have made about their characteristics. And …

Structural realism and social realities?

The topic of realism has come up frequently here -- causal realism, critical realism, scientific realism. Each of these realisms comes out of somewhat different fields of questions and assumptions. Within mainstream philosophy of science there is another realism that has been debated in the past twenty years, referred to as structural realism. The view …

Causal inference and random trials

image: Tamil Nadu nutrition study Nancy Cartwright has spent much of her career probing the assumptions scientists make about causation. She has helped to demonstrate that the Humean assumptions about causation that philosophers (including Carl Hempel) carried into twentieth century philosophy of science don't come close to answering the question correctly, and she has provided …

Causal realism and historical explanation

Are there plausible intuitions about the ways the world works that stand as credible alternatives to Hempel's covering law model? There are. A particularly strong alternative links explanation to causation, and goes on to understand causation in terms of the real causal powers of various entities and structures. Rom Harre's work explored this approach earliest …

Criteria for assessing economic models

How can we assess the epistemic warrant of an economic model that purports to represent some aspects of economic reality?  The general problem of assessing the credibility of an economic model can be broken down into more specific questions concerning the validity, comprehensiveness, robustness, reliability, and autonomy of the model. Here are initial definitions of …

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 …

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