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Title: Theories of knowledge and the American human sciences, 1920-1960
Author: Isaac, J. T.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2006
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During the middle decades of the twentieth century the American human sciences were marked by a sustained engagement with the theory of knowledge. Discoveries in physics and mathematics had come to emphasize the artificial nature of scientific conceptual schemes. Spurred by this development, philosophers, sociologists, and economists began to conceive of their respective disciplines as forms of constructive "analysis" on the model of the mathematical sciences. This study examines the origins and development of analysis—conceived as a distinct mode of inquiry—in the human sciences, by focussing on the ideas and careers of the philosopher W. V. Quine, the social theorist Talcott Parsons, and the economist Kenneth J. Arrow. It shows how analysis emerged in response to three major social and intellectual trends of the interwar years: the growing esteem among humanistic thinkers for the cognitive principles of the mathematical sciences, the waning of progressive thought in the academy, and the gradual de-Christianization of American intellectual life in the 1920s and 1930s. It then describes how and why analysis became prominent during the post-World War II era. The reasons for the ascendancy of analysis in the postwar period include: an ongoing commitment to the "cognitive modernism" of the mathematical sciences, the continuing accommodation of Jewish and other non-protestant groups in the American university, the increasing importance of disciplinary consensus in the postwar research economy, and the demand from Cold War policymakers and think-tanks for scientific knowledge of human behaviour. In contrast with a number of other studies of the analytical human sciences in postwar America, however, this thesis rejects the claim that the success of analysis can be attributed to Cold War expediency or professional interests alone. Instead, it argues that analysis served a variety of needs for an intellectual culture in the grip of a profound ideological and institutional transition. Finally, it shows that the epistemological concerns of mid-century analysts in philosophy, sociology, and economics belong to a tradition of conjectures regarding the principles of knowledge which has characterized modern Western thought.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available