Empiricism and the Metatheory of the Social Sciences: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Empiricism and the Metatheory of the Social Sciences

1st Edition

By Roy Bhaskar


272 pages | 7 B/W Illus.

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A picture has indeed held modern Western philosophy captive, that of the universe as a vast machine whose iron laws are best understood as exceptionless empirical regularities which, as it were, determine the future before it happens. This fantastic conception commands the assent, not just of positivistically-minded naturalists but of all the great anti-naturalists who champion a very different view of human action as a domain of freedom ‘that somehow cheats science’.

The most fundamental move in Roy Bhaskar’s system of philosophy, the germ of everything that followed, was to reconceptualise the natural world in transcendental realist terms, ‘turning Kant around using his own method’. On this account, the universe is characterized by deep structures, mechanisms and fields that generate the flux of phenomena, and is in open, creative and emergent process. This completely recasts the terms of the debate between naturalism and anti-naturalism by remedying its false grounds and shows how philosophy can be liberated from its anthropocentric/anthropomorphic prison and rendered consistent with the best insights of modern natural science. There is necessity in nature quite independent of humans, but in an open world causation is multiple and conjunctural, the actual course of the unfolding of being is highly contingent and the bases of human freedom can be understood scientifically.

Written as a DPhil thesis when Bhaskar was in his mid-twenties, Empiricism and the Metatheory of the Social Sciences brilliantly launches this reconceptualisation and explores its implications for social science in the course of carrying through the metatheoretical destruction of empiricism. It will be indispensable reading for anyone interested in the development of Bhaskar’s thought, in transcendental realism, and in the critique of empiricism, more generally of the philosophical discourse of Western modernity.

Table of Contents

List of Diagrams

List of Tables

Abbreviations and Symbols

Author’s Acknowledgements

Editor’s Preface

Editor’s Acknowledgements


1. On the Conditions of Empirical Description

1.1 Speech acts

1.2 Meaning

1.3 Propositions and directives

1.4 Propositions and statements

1.5 The context of utterance

1.6 The establishment of a common context of utterance

1.7 Further remarks on the identity of an assertion

1.8 Reflexive and non-reflexive uses of ‘true’

1.9 The notion of analyticity

1.10 The conditions of empirical description

1.11 Conclusion: themes

2. Empiricist theories of the production of knowledge

2.1 Introduction

2.2 The reification of facts and the autonomisation of experience

2.3 Theories of the explanation and justification of ideas

2.4 The theory of incorrigibility

2.5 The method and consequences of phenomenalism

2.6 Theories of the production of knowledge

2.7 The problem of scepticism

2.8 The problem of argument and the metatheory of science

2.9 Meaning and scientific change

2.10 The theory of falsifiability

2.11 The grounds for an asymmetry and the implications of relativism

2.12 The concept of a fact

3. Explanation in open systems

3.1 Introduction

3.2 Determinisms

3.3 The concept of a closure

3.4 Two types of autonomy in open systems

3.5 Positivism and the idea of a closure

3.6 Introductory remarks on explanation in the social sciences

3.7 The inadequacies of reductionism

3.8 On the absence of an experimental object of inquiry

3.9 On the theoretical objects of social sciences

3.10 Some properties of social systems and of men

3.11 Powers and tendencies: explanation in open and closed systems

3.12 Some aspects of the empiricist concept of law

3.13 The problem of verification and the alleged ‘non-falsifiability’ of social scientific theory

3.14 On the uses of the ceteris paribus clause

3.15 The interpretation of normic statements


Index of ‘technical’ terms

About the Author

Roy Bhaskar (1944–2014) was the originator of the philosophy of critical realism and the author of many acclaimed and influential works, including A Realist Theory of Science; The Possibility of Naturalism; Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom; The Philosophy of MetaReality; Enlightened Common Sense and (with Mervyn Hartwig) The Formation of Critical Realism.

Mervyn Hartwig is founding editor (retired) of Journal of Critical Realism and editor and principal author of Dictionary of Critical Realism.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Critical Realism

Critical Realism is a broad movement within philosophy and social science. It is a movement that began in British philosophy and sociology following the founding work of Roy Bhaskar, Margaret Archer and others. Critical Realism emerged from the desire to realise an adequate realist philosophy of science, social science, and of critique. Against empiricism, positivism and various idealisms (interpretivism, radical social constructionism), Critical Realism argues for the necessity of ontology. The pursuit of ontology is the attempt to understand and say something about ‘the things themselves’ and not simply about our beliefs, experiences, or our current knowledge and understanding of those things. Critical Realism also argues against the implicit ontology of the empiricists and idealists of events and regularities, reducing reality to thought, language, belief, custom, or experience. Instead Critical Realism advocates a structural realist and causal powers approach to natural and social ontology, with a focus upon social relations and process of social transformation.

Important movements within Critical Realism include the morphogenetic approach developed by Margaret Archer; Critical Realist economics developed by Tony Lawson; as well as dialectical Critical Realism (embracing being, becoming and absence) and the philosophy of metaReality (emphasising priority of the non-dual) developed by Roy Bhaskar.

For over thirty years, Routledge has been closely associated with Critical Realism and, in particular, the work of Roy Bhaskar, publishing well over fifty works in, or informed by, Critical Realism (in series including Critical Realism: Interventions; Ontological Explorations; New Studies in Critical Realism and Education). These have all now been brought together under one series dedicated to Critical Realism.

The Centre for Critical Realism is the advisory editorial board for the series. If you would like to know more about the Centre for Critical Realism, or to submit a book proposal, please visit www.centreforcriticalrealism.com.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General