PHL 472-B01


Why look at social science from the perspective of philosophy?

  • there are a number of interrelated reasons for examining social science from a philosophical approach. These include but are not limited to:
    • looking at knowledge claims of soc.sci.
    • analyzing ethical issues raised by soc.sci.
    • analyzing assumptions
    • exploring competing approaches
    • exploring the language
    • looking at the connection between soc.sci. and its history

Harriet Martineau on observation

  • 1837, HM (English writer of travel books and other works) published a short, mostly forgotten work entitled How to Observe Morals and Manners
  • book based on her own approach in the first systematic work on empirical observation of human behavior in natural settings to appear in English
  • wrote book after doing observations in the US and Middle East
  • book is diffficult to read because she addresses topics for which language had not yet been developed (she uses language of utilitarianism for the most part)
  • fundamental are some basic rules for limiting individual and cultural biases in the drawing of conclusions
  • points out that most travel books merely critique the people being observed for being different from the observer
  • her approach, in more current language, included the following:
    • observation of cultural traits must be systematic and not casual
    • observe prior to formulating questions so you will know what to ask
    • no cultural trait can be understood in isolation, but must be seen in relation to other traits
  • a trait which on first look appears to be irrational may make sense in the context in which it exists
  • a behavior we accept as “normal” may not fit in a society that is very different from our own
  • all conclusions should be seen as tentative and subject to modification based on further observation
  • a person from a different background is likely to ask different questions and draw different conclusions
  • be wary of suggesting changes because of possible latent consequences
  • Martineau lays a foundation for a social science view of the world. This view is now commonplace, but is itself of historical origin and did not exist in most places and at most times

Non-European Proto-Social Science

  • Sun Tsu (Sun Wu, Master Sun) is the name ascribed to the author of an ancient Chinese work that is generally translated into English as The Art of War
  • The Art of War usually dated from 5th century BCE (contemporary of Plato/Socrates in GR)
  • Sun Tsu generally presented as having been a highly successful military general in an era of ongoing warfare
  • Art of War usually organized into chapters covering a variety of topics (as with most ancient writings a variety of versions exist) followed by comments from later writers from ancient times into the Middle Ages
  • widely studied in ancient times throughout Asia, earliest translation into a Western Language (FR) did not occur until a little more than 200 years ago (early version said to have been the personal property of Napoleon)
  • in the 20th century its approach was utilized by Japanese businessmen as they constructed their impressive economy from ashes of WWII
  • while on the surface Art of War might appear to be simply a series of maxims for waging a successful military campaign, it is much more than that
    • Chinese scholars have shown that it reflects many of the ideals of ancient Taoist thought in its emphasis on harmony and in other aspects
    • for our concerns in this course it presents a consistent proto-social science approach
  • proto-soc.sci. feature of the Art of War include:
    • a naturalistic approach that assumes cause and effect outcomes without the interference of supernatural agencies
    • a generalizing approach that assumes that there are no constant features of socisety that are predictable and understandable
    • instrumentalist approach (general knowledge can be applied to produce desired outcomes in future particular cases)
    • holistic approach that sees society as an integrated whole in which an action in one area has an impact on actions in others
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