Defining and specifying social phenomena

Insect (df): a class within the arthropods that have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body (head, thorax, and abdomen), three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae.What is involved in offering a definition of a complex social phenomenon such as "fascism", "rationality", "contentious politics", "social capital", or "civic engagement"? Is there any sense …

What makes a sociological theory compelling?

In the humanities it is a given that assertions and arguments have a certain degree of rational force, but that ultimately, reasonable people may differ about virtually every serious claim. An interpretation of Ulysses, an argument for a principle of distributive justice, or an attribution of certain of Shakespeare's works to Christopher Marlowe -- each …

Correspondence, abstraction, and realism

Science is generally concerned with two central semantic features of theories: truth of theoretical hypotheses and reliability of observational predictions. (Philosophers understand the concept of semantics as encompassing the relations between a sentence and the world: truth and reference. This understanding connects with the ordinary notion of semantics as meaning, in that the truth conditions …

Objectivity in the social sciences

What is objectivity in social science? What might be meant by the claim that a given theory represents an objective scientific analysis of a range of social phenomena? Debate over the objectivity of social science has often combined a variety of separate theses:There are social facts that are independent of the concepts and theories of …

Are there "social kinds"?

Philosophers of science sometimes define the idea of a natural kind as "a group of things that share a fundamental set of causal properties." Examples might be "gold," "metal," and "protein molecule." And some philosophers assume that scientific realism means being realist about natural kinds. Do the typical concepts used in the social sciences succeed …

Causal mechanisms

The central tenet of causal realism is a thesis about causal mechanisms or causal powers. We can only assert that there is a causal relationship between X and Y if we can offer a credible hypothesis of the sort of underlying mechanism that might connect X to the occurrence of Y. The sociologist Mats Ekström …

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 …

Realism for the social sciences?

Scientific realism is the idea that scientific theories provide descriptions of the world that are approximately true. This view implies a correspondence theory of truth -- the idea that the world is separate from the concepts that we use to describe it. And it implies some sort of theory of scientific rationality -- a theory …

Concepts and the world

What is the relation between concepts and the world? And how do we arrive at a conceptual scheme that provides a perspicuous way of representing reality?This way of putting the question invokes one of the central polarities that has defined modern philosophy, including the traditions of Locke, Descartes, and Kant. It is the contrast of …

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