An obstacle to unification in biological social science: Formal and compositional styles of science

Graduate Journal of Social Science 2 (2):40-100 (2005)
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Abstract

I motivate the concept of styles of scientific investigation, and differentiate two styles, formal and compositional. Styles are ways of doing scientific research. Radically different styles exist. I explore the possibility of the unification of biology and social science, as well as the possibility of unifying the two styles I identify. Recent attempts at unifying biology and social science have been premised almost exclusively on the formal style. Through the use of a historical example of defenders of compositional biological social science, the Ecology Group at the University of Chicago from, roughly, the 1930s to the 1950s, I attempt to show the coherence and possibility, if not utility, of employing the compositional style to effect the synthesis of biology and social science. I also relate the efforts of the Ecology Group to those of investigators in the Sociology Department of the University of Chicago. In my conclusion, I discuss the usefulness both of employing the category of styles of scientific investigation in historical and philosophical studies of science, as well as the concept of compositionality in scientific studies. I end the paper with some tentative suggestions regarding the importance of compositionality for an analysis of human society.

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Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther
University of California, Santa Cruz

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