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Positivism and Social Inquiry

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1 Positivism and Social Inquiry
Auguste Comte and modern epistemology Logical positivism Post-positivist philosophy of science Karl R. Popper – The Logic of Scientific Discovery Thomas S. Kuhn – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Social inquiry King, Keohane and Verba – Designing Social Inquiry Rational choice theory Philosophical origins Economics Psychology Political science International relations

2 Positivism Enlightenment philosophy Science vs. metaphysics
Empiricist epistemology David Hume ( ) Reason and knowledge (deductive and inductive reasoning) Rationalist, analytic, a priori statements, true by definition Empirical, synthetic, a posteriori statements, true by experience Differential epistemology Auguste Comte ( ) Law of three phases (social progress) Theological → Metaphysical → Scientific (positive) Envisaged “sociology” as last and greatest science Scientific knowledge as a historical process

3 Differential theory of science (Comte)
No universal method or scientific monopoly Nature of science depends on historical phase/stage, and on subject matter Increasing complexity and decreasing generalizability Astronomy (geometry and mechanics) Physics (physical forces) Chemistry (chemical affinities) Biology (organization of living bodies) Sociology (human capacity to learn) Historical development of sciences Stepwise acquisition of knowledge (from simple to complex subject matters)

4 Logical positivism Refuting the foundational nature of philosophy
Moritz Schlick (Vienna circle) Bertrand Russell Early Ludwig Wittgenstein (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) Refuting the foundational nature of philosophy “Exact sciences” are paradigmatic, produce knowledge and certainty Revolutionary scientific advances make previous philosophies untenable Materialism Philosophical naturalism Empiricism Verifiability principle

5 Scientific practice Karl R. Popper (1902-1994)
The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934) Metaphysical does not equal meaningless Unfalsifiable (hence unscientific) approaches are neither wrong (they cannot be as long as they remain unfalsifiable) nor do they have to permanently remain unfalsifiable and unscientific What renders a statement, proposition, or theory scientific is its falsifiability No theory can ever be verified! Science progresses by means of elimination (of falsified theories)

6 History and ideology of science
Thomas S. Kuhn ( ) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) Normal science ‘tradition-bound activity’; shared commitment to a paradigm ‘predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like’ Normal science is puzzle-solving, i.e. discovering what is known in advance Research: ‘a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes provided by professional education’ ‘One of the things a scientific community acquires with a paradigm is a criterion for choosing problems that, while the paradigm is taken for granted, can be assume to have solutions.’ Crisis Discrepancy between theory and fact Normal science ‘ridden by dogma’, paradigms entrenched Only obvious inability of current paradigm to account for observed anomalies provides opportunity for scholarly criticism of existing theory

7 Scientific development
Thomas S. Kuhn ( ) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) ‘The successive transition from one paradigm to another via revolution is the usual developmental pattern of mature science’ Scientific revolutions Kuhn rejects idea that scientific progress is gradual and cumulative Paradigmatic differences cannot be reconciled; are philosophically incompatible ‘the normal scientific tradition that emerges from a scientific revolution is not only incompatible but often actually incommensurable with that which has gone before’ Changes of world views (ideological nature of science?) Invisibility of paradigm shifts

8 Social inquiry King, Keohane and Verba (1994) Designing Social Inquiry. Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research. Characteristics of scientific research in social sciences The goal is inference The procedures are public The conclusions are uncertain The content is the method Theory and data Data collection guided by observable implications of theory Reporting uncertainty Criteria of good science Validity Reliability Replicability

9 Rational choice theory
Positivist paradigm in political/social science? Philosophy – conceptual origins Economics – homo economicus Psychology – bounded rationality Political Science – formal theory and pathologies of application International Relations – game theory, realism and deterrence

10 Philosophical origins – reason, rationality, utility
Enlightenment Demystification of the world Overcoming superstition, and unity of church and state Emancipating individuals from resignation to god-given fate Proclaiming ‘free will’ Educational function of science Transforming individuals into mature, rational beings Enabling autonomous individuals

11 Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) Motivation and reason
Actions driven by our appetites and aversions Will is ‘the last appetite, or aversion, immediately adhering to the action, or the omission thereof’ When different appetites or aversions draw towards mutually exclusive courses of action, reason (deliberation) functions to solve internal conflict Language of reason: consequentialist Language of desire: imperative Reason tells how to best satisfy goals, but cannot be a motive force State of nature and social contract Felicity (precursor to utility): continuous, perpetual desire State of nature: continuous war amongst men, driven by ceaseless individualistic desires Ultimate desire: preservation of life Reason dictates to follow general rules, accept common, absolute authority (Leviathan, ‘a common power to keep all in awe’) that guarantees peace and order Forfeiting immediate need satisfaction for continuity and safety ‘Reason is the pace; increase of science, the way; and the benefit of mankind, the end.’

12 David Hume (1711-1776) All action product of reason and desire
‘Reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will’ ‘Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions’ Ultimate ends are not subject to rational criticism Practical reason: conditional imperative (evaluate actions with regard to whether they are best capable to bring about desired ends)

13 Immanuel Kant ( ) Categorical imperative: ‘act only on that maxim which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law’ Moral philosophy/psychology: reason as motive to the will Rationality: moral, autonomous individual who must respect autonomy of others Actions should be judged by their motives not their consequences (which necessitates that reason is a motive force) The public use of reason

14 Jeremy Bentham (1749-1832) Principle of utility:
‘approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question’ Rational action is result-oriented Reason is not just slave to desires (as in Hume), more active, can override passion, if overall balance of happiness is served Rational choice becomes an exercise in maximisation Utilitarianism contains a psychological hypothesis about the nature of desires or pleasures

15 Economics – homo economicus
Motivations JS Mill: higher and lower pleasures Neoclassical economists: rational agents driven solely by self-interest Pareto: indifference curves, allowing to indicate the likelihood of a person preferring one consumption good over another at a given price Utility maximisation: choosing in accordance with given set of preferences ‘the theory of economic science thus acquires the rigour of rational mechanics; it deduces its results from experience, without bringing in any metaphysical entity’ Substantive/objective rationality Game against nature Considering only constraints that arise from external situation Rational behaviour – adaptive to given choice situation Preferences: transitive Deterministic (or probabilistic) model of behaviour

16 Economics - markets Assuming perfect competition, information
Just price theory: Demand and supply determine optimal prices for producer and consumer Invisible hand mechanism Markets are self-regulating entities Even assuming asocial, self-interested individuals, their interaction is assumed to be socially beneficial

17 Psychology – bounded rationality
Classical model of rationality Logic ‘is nothing if not the physics of thought’ (Theodor Lipps) Treating probability theory and logic as approximations of human inference Measuring human performance in inferential tasks (Kahnemann & Tverski) Bounded rationality Limitations of human knowledge and computing power Uncertainty Potentially rendering human reasoning incapable of making objectively optimal choices Choices can only be as effective as human decision-making and problem-solving means permit Bounded rationality: decision-making adaptive to constraints imposed both by external situation and by capacities of decision-maker Satisficing

18 Political Science: formal theories
Formal rational/public choice theory Deductive Parsimonious Neither normative, nor descriptive, but positive Methodological individualism Instrumental rationality Economic definition of rationality: ‘rational as efficient’; ‘never applied to an agent’s ends but only to his means’ (Downs) Exogenous, fixed preferences Unitary, paradigmatic theory Challenging behaviouralist paradigm Modelling voters, politicians, parties, governments as self-interested agents Political markets Minimalist theory of democracy Invisible hand mechanism in politics Responsible party model Less elitist, more ‘optimistic’ model of democracy than Schumpeter

19 Political Science: modelling behaviour
Applications of rational choice in political science Collective action (Mancur Olsen) Voting/party competition (Kenneth Arrow, Anthony Downs, Duncan Black, William Riker) Minimalist theory of democracy Pathologies Free riding Paradox of voting Vote cycles Sophisticated voting

20 International relations – from reason to rationality
Reason and world politics Liberal materialism: human reason offers collective mastering over forces that precipitated world war Realism (Morgenthau): ‘our civilization assumes that the social world is susceptible to rational control conceived after the model of natural sciences, while the experiences, domestic and international, of the age contradict this assumption’ Realism and rationality Anarchist international system National self-interest Temporary nature of alliances Application of Hobbesian ‘state of nature’ State rationality Treating the polity ‘as unitary actor, with coherent and stable values, well-grounded beliefs, and a capacity to carry out its decisions’ (Elster)

21 Strategy in foreign affairs
Game theory Rational choice – game against nature Taking strategic behaviour of others into account Benefits from (feasibility of) actions may partly depend on chosen strategy of others Modelling interaction under uncertainty Applications Deterrence theory Use of specific games (e.g. prisoner’s dilemma) to analyse historical conflicts (e.g. Cuban missile crisis) Deducing political predictions/judgments (e.g. Kenneth Waltz’ argument that nuclear capability will render North Korea’s foreign politics more reasonable)

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