Is There Such a Thing as a Social Science?

Dokos 17:53-86 (2016)
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This paper looks at the centrality of action in social disciplines and examines the implications of this for whether social disciplines can be called scientific. Various reasons for calling social disciplines scientific are examined and rejected: (1) the claim that social disciplines are reducible to natural scientific ones, (2) the claim, from Donald Davidson, that reasons for action are to be construed in causal terms, (3) the claim that social disciplines employ, or should employ, the methodologies of the natural sciences. The question of progress in social disciplines will also be examined critically. Does the (apparent) lack of progress in social disciplines suggest that academics working in sociology, economics, politics, human geography, and philosophy should adopt the methods of natural science? My answer will be that it does not but nonetheless I will side with John Dupré against Hutchinson, Read, and Sharrock in claiming that social disciplines can properly be called scientific. There is such a thing as a social science.

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Robert Vinten
Universidade Nova de Lisboa


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