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Title: Reconciling science and society : a critical historicist approach
Author: Kemp, Stephen
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2001
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This thesis criticises a pervasive dualism in the philosophy of social sciences, the division between natural science and society. It argues that analysis which relies on this division misrepresents both natural scientific investigation and other social activities. From a dualistic perspective, those activities that allow a successful interaction with the material world, typically associated with natural science, are held to have a non-social aspect. Their theories (or 'meanings') are said to have a ground outside of the historical development and change which is characteristic of other social practices. It is this ground which is held to explain the progressive character of science. Conversely, those activities that are seen as fully social in character are theorised as if they were not variably successful in the achievement of their goals. As an alternative to this division, a 'critical historicist' approach is developed, drawing on post-positivist philosophy of science. It is argued that all social activities, including scientific investigation, are constituted by meanings, develop historically (rather than having a non-historical foundation), and are variably successful in character. This conception of social activity is then used to criticise existing philosophies of social science for their dualistic approach. Both anti-naturalistic approaches, represented by structuration theory, and naturalistic approaches, represented by realism, are considered. Structuration theory argues that natural science and other social practices are distinct because the latter involve issues of meaning not encountered in the former. This claim is challenged, and it is argued that issues of meaning are the same in natural science and other social activities. Although realism's analysis of social life is inspired by natural scientific investigation, it also distinguishes the properties of the two, suggesting that social activity involves both an 'objective' (scientific) aspect and a 'social' aspect. The thesis argues that this separation leads to analytical incoherence, and an indefensible conception of both 'science' and 'society'. It is suggested that the adoption of a critical historicist approach would remove this incoherence.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available