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Purpose and description
The philosophy of social science is a discipline that attempts to analyze the logic, methodology, modes of explanation, and methods of inquiry of the social sciences. It is based on the assumption that both philosophers and social scientists will benefit from a better understanding of the conceptual and methodological issues that arise in the conduct of social science research. One of the goals of the discipline is to allow us to come to some judgments about the degree of validity and credibility that typical social science theories have as assertions about the nature of the social world we experience.
My approach to the philosophy of social science is based on the idea that the discipline should develop its theories and analyses by working closely with strong examples of good social science research. Philosophy is sometimes seen as the apriori exploration of a set of ideas or concepts. My approach asks that we abandon this aprioricity and construct our discipline by learning from specific fields of social science research, observing the achievements and obstacles that can be identified in the history of social science, and then by reflecting philosophically on these issues and concepts. We should frame the defining questions of the philosophy of social science by reflecting upon the large conceptual and methodological issues that have actually been important to social scientists as they conduct their research and theory construction.
Before we can create genuinely insightful social sciences,
we need to fully confront the important differences between social
and natural phenomena. Individual agents are different from atoms
or molecules, social structures are different from physical structures
such as metals or crystals, and the inexact regularities of social
life are different from laws of nature. So social science explanations
and social science theories will unavoidably display corresponding
differences from these constructs in the natural sciences.
This lecture series is intended to introduce students to some of the topics that the author has focused on in his studies of the social sciences. Not all philosophers approach the subject matter in exactly this way. So these lectures are not intended to provide a broad survey of the philosophy of social science by all western philosophers. Instead, these lectures are designed to stimulate new questions for Chinese social scientists about the logic and nature of the fields of social science research.
Other important contributions to the field of western philosophy of social science include writings by Jon Elster, David Braybrooke, Alexander Rosenberg, Paul Roth, and Richard Miller. Important contributions to analytical Marxism include writings by Gerald Cohen, Jon Elster, Richard Miller, Adam Przeworski, and John Roemer. Bibliographies that include citations to these works will be provided as course materials.
Revised schedule of lectures and writing assignments
|5-Jul||lecture 1||lecture 5||lecture 13||11-Jul|
|7-Jul||lecture 2||lecture 6||lecture 14|
|12-Jul||lecture 3||lecture 7||lecture 9||18-Jul|
|14-Jul||lecture 4||lecture 8||lecture 10|
|19-Jul||lecture 11||lecture 12||lecture 16||25-Jul|
There will be no examinations in the course. Each week there will be a short paper on an assigned topic related to the weeks readings. You will be given a choice of topics each week. Papers will be written in English with careful attention to clarity, focus, argument, and content. Papers should be between 750 and 1500 words. Papers are due by 4:00 pm on the Friday of the week in which these readings are discussed. I am interested in reading how you approach the topic and reason through to your own position on the issue. I will also expect a short essay that is a brief intellectual biography that will let me get acquainted with you (described below). This should be completed before the first lecture.
More advanced students may wish to consult with me in order to formulate a paper topic that goes more deeply into an issue that you find interesting in the readings.
I would like to get to know you. Please write a brief statement that describes your educational career and your main academic interests. If you have thought about social science methodology in the past, I would be interested in hearing some of your thoughts (about political science, anthropology, sociology, or history, for example). I would also be interested in hearing your thoughts about the role of humanities in your studies (philosophy, literature, the arts). And I would be interested to know what your career plans are at this point.
Week 1. Philosophy of social science
Do you think that the social sciences should discover generalizations about social phenomena, analogous to laws of nature? Are there examples of social generalizations that you find convincing? Your paper should take some account of the arguments against social generalizations in the readings, but of course you are free to come to a different conclusion.
Do the assumptions of individual rationality provide a convincing and comprehensive basis for discovering explanations of social outcomes and patterns? What are the strengths and weaknesses of rational choice theory as a basis for social explanation?
Week 2. Analytical Marxism
Do Marx's writings provide the basis for a scientific theory of society? What are the main elements of such a theory? What are some of the limitations of Marx's theory of capitalist development and capitalist society? How do the arguments considered in the previous readings about the necessary incompleteness of social theory pertain to Marxism?
Does the concept of social class have relevance to every society? How can we best define social class? Is the concept relevant in a family farming economy? Is it relevant in a hunter-gatherer society? Or is it most relevant to the formative period of capitalism in Great Britain in the nineteenth century? In what ways do we need to provide other analytical tools for understanding group behavior beyond the category of class?
Week 3. Western theories of Chinese history
Discuss the occurrence of social mobilization and collective action in Chinese history. What factors were most important in the mobilization of peasants or urban dwellers in different periods of Chinese social unrest? What are the most convincing theories of peasant rebellion?
Discuss the factors that are most important in setting the course of China's economic development in the late imperial times. Factors that you might consider could include: population dynamics, features of the state, relationships to powerful external states, the nature of the property system, or the discovery and diffusion of technology. Is China's economic development from 1800 to 2000 a process that can be explained in terms of a few simple factors? Or it is a more contingent and variable process?
Outline of topics and readings
Lectures will be presented in the context of a powerpoint presentation on the day's topic. The presentation will be made available to the class before it is presented. Readings are divided into "Core" readings that everyone should do, and "Extended" readings that advanced students will wish to complete.
Class sessions will be organized in two-hour blocks. The first hour will be devoted to a lecture presentation of the topic, and the second hour will be an organized discussion of these ideas. In order to gain the best benefit possible in the discussion period, I will ask groups of students to work together to formulate some questions. Then each group will have a few minutes to present its questions for discussion by the professor and other members of the class.
Introduction to course--themes and topics
A. Explanation in the social sciences
Truth, and Method in Anthropology". Encyclopedia entries:
of Social Science," "Verification,"
Extended: VSE: chapter 1 ("Introduction"); MMC: chapter 9 ("Evidence and Objectivity in the Social Sciences")
chapter 10 ("Causal Explanation in the Social Sciences");
encyclopedia entries "Scientific
Extended: VSE: chapter 2 ("Causal Analysis"); "Transport as a causal factor in history"
chapter 3 ("Rational Choice Theory"); MMC:
chapter 1 ("Microfoundations of Marxism")
Extended: VSE: chapter 5 ("Functional and Structural Explanation"); MMC: chapter 4 ("Rational-Choice Theory and Asian Studies"), chapter 5 ("Collective Action and the Traditional Village")
chapter 9 ("Methodological Individualism"), chapter
11 ("Towards Methodological Pluralism")
Extended: MMC: chapter 12 ("On the Scope and Limits of Generalization in the Social Sciences"); "Explaining Large-Scale Historical Change"; "Beyond Positivism: Toward a Methodological Pluralism for the Social Sciences"
B. Analytical Marx Studies
introduction, chapter 5 ("Explanation"); "Marxism
Extended: TSM: chapter 1 ("Naturalism and Capital"); "Rationality, ideology, and morality in Marx's social theory"
Readings: MMC: chapter 3 ("Marxism and Popular Politics")
C. China Studies -- Theoretical frameworks in Asian studies
Readings: UPC: chapter 5 ("Theories of Peasant Rebellion")
chapter 4 ("The Breakthrough Debate"); "Eurasian
Extended: "New Perspectives on the Chinese Rural Economy, 1885-1935"
D. Ethical issues in global economic development
Readings: PWP: chapter 1 ("Welfare, Well-being, and Needs"), chapter 2 ("What is Economic Development?")
Readings: PWP: chapter 4 ("Justice")
Readings: PWP: chapter 7 ("Development and the Environment"), chapter 8 ("Democracy and Development")
Readings: PWP: chapter 6 ("Aid, Trade, and the Global Economy"), conclusion
Texts (all authored by Daniel Little)
The Scientific Marx (University of Minnesota, 1986)
VSE Varieties of Social Explanation: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Social Science (Westview Press, 1991)
UPC Understanding Peasant China: Case Studies in the Philosophy of Social Science (Yale University Press, 1989)
MMC Microfoundations, Method and Causation: On the Philosophy of the Social Sciences (Transaction Publishers, 1998)
PWP Paradox of Wealth and Poverty: Mapping the Ethical Dilemmas of Global Development (Westview Press, 2003)
Choice, and Collective Action
Philosophy of Social Science and Economics
Philosophy of Science
Causal Explanation and Inquiry
History of Technology and Business
China (Economic and Social History)
Asia (excluding China)
Economic Development and Ethics