Philosophy of Social Science: A Contemporary Introduction, 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

Philosophy of Social Science

A Contemporary Introduction, 1st Edition

By Mark Risjord


288 pages

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pub: 2014-05-27
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The Philosophy of Social Science: A Contemporary Introduction examines the perennial questions of philosophy by engaging with the empirical study of society. The book offers a comprehensive overview of debates in the field, with special attention to questions arising from new research programs in the social sciences. The text uses detailed examples of social scientific research to motivate and illustrate the philosophical discussion. Topics include the relationship of social policy to social science, interpretive research, action explanation, game theory, social scientific accounts of norms, joint intentionality, reductionism, causal modeling, case study research, and experimentation.


"Crisply written, comprehensive and packed with examples, Mark Risjord's new Philosophy of Social Science: A Contemporary Introduction is a wonderful achievement. What is most remarkable is how deeply the philosophical account is embedded in and informed by contemporary empirical work in behavioral economics, evolutionary psychology and cognitive science; to pull this off without sacrificing accessibility is something of a miracle. This is just what philosophy of social science should be and both teacher and student will benefit accordingly."

—Lee McIntyre, Boston University

"This book is a rare accomplishment—it is comprehensive, judicious, and clear. It is comprehensive in its coverage of the central issues in the philosophy of social science and thorough in its treatment of the central responses to each of these issues. It is judicious in that it provides a careful and sympathetic exposition of the various positions, and gives motivated ways of thinking about the relevant debate. It is clear, so that the reader is not unnecessarily tired by the dialectic. It reflects both traditional issues in the philosophy of social science and recent developments in the field. Both initiates and veteran investigators in the philosophy of science can benefit from reading it. It will provide a standard against which general texts in the philosophy of social science will be judged. I must say that I am very happy with the result, and I plan to use this book in my classes and recommend it to others."

—David Henderson, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

1.1. What is the Philosophy of Social Science?

The Democratic Peace

Azande Witchcraft

Freedom Riders and Free Riders

Philosophy in the Social Sciences

1.2. A Tour of the Philosophical Neighborhood





2. Objectivity, Values, and the Possibility of a Social Science

2.1. The Ideal of Value-Freedom

The United States Census

Dimensions of Value-Freedom

A Moderate Thesis of Value-Freedom

2.2. Impartiality and Theory Choice

Risk and Error

What About Objectivity?

2.3. Essentially Contested Ideas

Value-Neutrality and Emancipatory Research

Objection: Values and the Logic of Discovery

Value Presuppositions and Implicatures

2.4. Wrap up

Chapter Summary

Discussion Questions

Further Reading

3. Theories, Interpretations, and Concepts

3.1. Aggression, Violence, and Video Games

3.2. Defining theoretical concepts

  • The Empiricist View of Concepts and Theory Structure
  • Realism, Instrumentalism, and the Problem of Construct Validity

3.3. Interpretivism

  • Ideal Types and Verstehen
  • Hermeneutics and Meaning
  • Thick Description and its Challenges

3.4. Realism and Social Concepts

  • Social Constructions
  • Realism about Social Kinds
  • Looping Effects

3.5. Wrap up

  • Chapter Summary
  • Discussion questions
  • Further Reading

4. Interpretive Methodology

4.1. Evidence for Interpretation

  • Qualitative Research Methods and Their Presuppositions
  • Authority and Authenticity
  • Reflexivity

4.2. Rationality, Explanation, and Interpretive Charity

  • The Problem of Apparent Irrationality
  • Relativism and Rationality
  • The Principle of Charity

4.3. Cognition, Evolution, and Interpretation

  • Bounded and Unbounded Rationality
  • Cognitive Roots of Culture
  • Interpretation and Cognitive Explanation
  • The New Questions of Naturalism

4.4. Wrap up

  • Chapter Summary
  • Discussion questions
  • Further Reading
  • Notes to Chapter 4

5. Action and Agency

5.1. Explaining Action

  • Admiral Tryon and Instrumental Rationality
  • The Function of General Laws in History
  • Reasons and Causes
  • Re-enactment: Verstehen Revisited

5.2. The Games People Play

  • Rationality and Utility
  • Games and Strategies
  • Equilibria
  • Nash Equilibria and the Battle of the Bismarck Sea
  • Multiple Equilibria and Coordination Problems

5.3. Agency

  • The Psychological Plausibility of Rational Choice Theory
  • Rational Fools?
  • Game Theory in the Laboratory
  • Instrumentalism and Structuralism

5.4. Wrap up

  • Chapter Summary
  • Discussion questions
  • Further Reading

6. Reductionism: Structures, Agents, and Evolution

6.1. Explaining Revolutions

6.2. Social Theory and Social Ontology

  • The Individualism-Holism Debate
  • Definition and Theoretical Reduction
  • Supervenience
  • Methodological Localism

6.3. Agents and Social Explanations

  • Methodological Individualism
  • Microfoundations and Moderate Explanatory Individualism
  • Agency and Mechanistic Explanation

6.4. Evolutionary Explanations

  • Functions in Evolutionary Perspective
  • Selectionist Explanations of Cooperation and the Evolution of Norms
  • Consequences of Selectionism for the Social Sciences

6.5. Wrap up

  • Chapter Summary
  • Discussion questions
  • Further Reading

7. Social Norms

7.1. Disenchanting the social world

  • Is and Ought
  • Normativism
  • Good Bad Theories

7.2. Norms and Rational Choices

  • Convention
  • Conventionality and Normativity
  • Social Norms

7.3. Normativity and Practice

  • Norms and practices
  • Problems for Practice Theory
  • Practices Without Regularities

7.4. Reductionism and Naturalized Normativity

  • Normativism and Holism
  • Norms, Naturalism, and Supervenience
  • Prospects for Naturalized Normativity

7.5. Wrap up

  • Chapter Summary
  • Discussion questions
  • Further Reading

8. Intentions, Institutions, and Collective Action

8.1. Agency and Collective Intentionality

  • Team Reasoning
  • Joint Commitment
  • Group agency

8.2. Joint Intentionality

  • Cooperation Again: Ontogeny and Development
  • Plans and Joint Intentions
  • We-intentions and the We-mode
  • Acting as a Group Member

8.3. Intentions and Institutions

  • The Strange Tale of the Druid Penny
  • Function and Rules in Institutions
  • Explaining Social Institutions

8.4. Wrap up

  • Chapter Summary
  • Discussion questions
  • Further Reading

9. Causality and Law in the Social World

9.1. The Democratic Peace Hypothesis

9.2. Are There Social Scientific Laws?

  • Characteristics of Natural Laws
  • Creativity and Complexity

9.3. Conceptualizing Causation

  • Constant Conjunction
  • Linear Equation Modeling and Causal Regularities
  • Interventionism
  • Capacities and Nomological Engines

9.4. Models and Mechanisms

  • Secret Springs and Principles
  • Correlations, Black Boxes, and Processes
  • Middle Range Theory and Agent-Based Models

9.5. Wrap up

  • Chapter Summary
  • Discussion questions
  • Further Reading

10. Methodologies of Causal Inference

10.1. Bayesian Networks and Causal Modeling

  • Confounds and Common Causes
  • Bayesian Inference
  • Challenges to Causal Modeling

10.2. Case Studies and Causal Structure

  • The Apparent Value of Case Studies
  • Epistemological Challenges of Case Studies
  • Justification and Discovery

10.3. Experimentation

  • What Can We Learn From Social Scientific Experimentation?
  • Quasi-Experiments and Randomized Controlled Trials

10.4. Extrapolation and Social Engineering

  • Evidence-based Policy
  • The FCC Auction
  • Breaking the Extrapolator’s Circle
  • Performativity and Social Engineering

10.5. Wrap up

  • Chapter Summary
  • Discussion questions
  • Further Reading

About the Author

Mark Risjord is Professor of Philosophy at Emory University.

About the Series

Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy

An innovative, well structured series, the Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy are designed for students who already have completed an introductory-level course in philosophy.  Each book introduces a core general subject in contemporary philosophy and offers students an accessible but substantial transition from introductory to higher-level college work in that subject.  The series is accessible to non-specialists and each book clearly motivates and expounds the problems and positions introduced.  An orientating chapter briefly introduces its topic and reminds readers of any crucial material they need to have retained from a typical introductory course.  Considerable attention is given to explaining central philosophical problems of a subject and the main competing solutions and arguments for those solutions.  The primary aim is to educate students in the main problems, positions and arguments of contemporary philosophy rather than to convince students of a single position.

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