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Title: A critical examination of the notion of 'policy science'
Author: Fay, Brian
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1971
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The basic aim of this thesis is to attack on logical grounds the doctrine that there can be a policy science which, through the objective application of the laws of social science, will be able to scientifically solve a great many of the political problems of modern society. First, however, there is a long Historical Review (Part I) which traces the development of this doctrine in the history of social science, hoping to reveal thereby both its deeper assumptions as well as its connections with social science itself. After a brief Introduction (chapter l), which explains the reasons for the Historical Review (1.1) and its organization (1.2), and which tries to indicate in a prefatory way the political implications of the idea of an ethically neutral social science (l.3), Part I is divided into two major sections, the Empiricist Tradition (chapter 2) and the Weberian Tradition (chapter 3). In both of these chapters I attempt to draw a connection between each Tradition's conception of science, its related ideas concerning social science, the particular methodological prescriptions of some of its more important thinkers, its ideas about the role values must play in the new science, and finally its political implications. The key figure in the Empiricist Tradition is Saint Simon; he is discussed in section 2.2. This section relates his desire for a 'social physiology' both to his understanding of the social problems of the day (the chaos wrought by fundamental economic changes, and the need for order based on rational solutions to political and social problems) and to the intellectual requirements of the time (the Law of the Three Stages). Section 2.3 continues with his direct successor, Auguste Comte; his work is discussed in broadly the same terms, except that his methodological remarks regarding social science are more emphasized. Section 2.4 begins with a discussion of John Stuart Mill, who is important for this thesis by introducing the distinction between facts and values and relating it to the distinction between ends and means; in so doing he profoundly alters the political role which the future policy scientist will play, deflating it from that of a saviour to that of an engineer. This section ends with a few brief remarks on Modern Empiricism. Section 2.5 is also a continuation of a line of thought begun in Comte, his remarks on Functionalism. Here the most important figure is Emile Durkheim (2.5.1); Durkheim's methodological analyses are directly related to his ideas about values and also to his opinions regarding the role social science ought to play in political life. This section ends with a few brief remarks on Modern Functionalism (2.5.2): first by demonstrating how the modern functionalist meets the argument that his method betrays a conservative bias, and thus is not value-free; and secondly, by introducing into Durkheim's thought the distinction between facts and values, thereby bringing it into line with modern conceptions. The Weberian Tradition (chapter 3) opens with a discussion of the hypethetico-deductive conception of science and relates this conception to the Weberian concentration on human action (section 3.1). Max Weber is discussed in section 3.2. Here I begin with a discussion of his remarks regarding the relationship of social science to politics through an understanding of his remarks on facts and values; these remarks rest, in turn, on his conception of social science being value free, and they therefore lead forward to a consideration of his views on this question. In order to understand these views, however, it is necessary to analyze first the logical peculiarities which he assigns to social science, and only then to see how -- basically by drawing a distinction between value-reference and value-freedom -- despite these peculiarities the social sciences can be objective. This chapter ends with a note on the Modern Weberians, listing many examples, briefly singling out Myrdal and Mannheim, and relating this tradition to an 'ally' in the United States, the pragmatism of American social science. In order to fulfill my ambition of also uncovering the assumptions about man and society contained in the notion of a policy science, it was necessary in chapter 2 to discuss some of the forerunners of social science, and since this chapter's pivotal figure was Saint Simon, I confined my remarks to those thinkers who influenced him most deeply: Francis Bacon, Fontenelle, the Abbe Saint Pierre, Condillac, Montesquieu, the Ideologues and Turgot very briefly, and finally Condorcet. There (2.1) I was interested in showing how each of these theorists contributed some important idea to the developing conception of, and hopes for, a social science which would do for men in society what the physical sciences were doing for man's relations with nature. This ambition of uncovering the basic pre-suppositions of the notion of a policy science continues throughout the rest of chapter 2 and chapter 3, in which particular social scientists are analyzed at greater length, but in a more indirect and implicit way. It is only in chapter 4 that this aspect again comes to the fore; in this chapter (entitled "The Doctrine of Ethical Neutrality and Technological Society: the Ideology of Social Science"), I attempt to draw the Historical Review to a close by bringing together the separate strands of all the thinkers into a coherent picture of the aspirations for, and the nature of, a policy science which will in some senses rationalize the social affairs of man by eliminating a large area of politics. In all of this I am much concerned with the assumptions implicit in the belief in a policy science because, by criticizing this belief, I also hope to thereby undermine what I call, throughout this thesis, the technological approach to man's social affairs. Part II, the Analytic Critique, is an attempt to refute, on logical grounds, the basic elements which comprise the notion of a policy science. Broadly speaking, I attack the doctrine of the ethical neutrality of the social sciences (chapters 5 and 6); I attempt to rebut the idea that political policy, even that designed as a means to an end, can be decided on solely technical grounds (chapter 7); and finally, I critically examine the whole notion of replacing politics with some sort of science, and try to elucidate some of its political ramifications (chapter 8). Chapters 5 and 6 go together, for their purpose is to show the logical impossibility of a social science being value-free, chapter 5 arguing that there can be no description of social action which does not in part reflect the moral stance of the describer, chapter 6 claiming that there can be no explanation of social action which does not in part depend on the explainer's moral views towards his fellow men and which is not meaningless apart from these views. Chapter 5 begins with a discussion of the need for what I call action and group concepts in the description of human social behaviour; the rest of the chapter is taken up with arguing that these types of concepts are necessarily value-laden. By value-laden is meant two distinct things: first, that whether or not these concepts apply cannot be decided by reference merely to external facts without reference to rules and purposes; and second, that their use implies a value stance towards the agent(s) one is describing by means of them, by which is meant that one establishes standards in terms of which the worth of the act must be judged, as well as that one creates a set of expectations which, in the absence of countervailing moral considerations, would force one to a particular moral judgement. The arguments supporting these contentions are developed slowly, analyzing each of the two separate categories of action concepts (5.1), conventional action concepts (5.1.1), which are those descriptive terms which invoke social rules, and intentional action concepts (5.1.2), which are those descriptive terms which connote some purpose on the part of the actors; finally, I then turn to group concepts (5.2), by which is meant those terms used to refer to any collection of persons distinct from others because they are socially related in certain ways, and to which these individuals belong as members. The chapter ends with a general summing-up under the title 'Description and Social Action' (5.3), although there is some new material, in the form of some general remarks on the nature of description in general, at the beginning of 5.3.1. Generally, section 5.3.1 attempts to show how social action concepts are what I have been calling 'subjective' , and section 5.3.2 attempts to show how they are not morally neutral. The conclusion of this chapter is that the very subject matter which the social scientist marks out for study already includes valuational elements, and that therefore a social science cannot serve as the objective foundation for an ethically neutral policy science. Chapter 6 consists of a detailed examination of the three sorts of explanation which I discussed in Part I, namely, verstehen explanation (6.1), causal explanation (6.2), and functional explanation (6.3). Chapter 7 leaves the discussion of the nature of social science behind; in fact, in it I explicitly assume that there can be a value-free science of man. Instead, I now proceed to analyze the claim that there can be a science of policy which applies the laws of this new science to objectively solving those political problems concerned with the means to the accomplishment of an already prescribed end. Chapter 8 takes the argument a step further; for it attempts to show that the whole notion of a policy science objectively determining even the best means to a prescribed end rests on a profound misconception about the role which politics plays in social life.
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Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
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