Finding Philosophy in Social Science

BUNGE, Mario, Buscar la filosofía en las ciencias sociales, 2ª ed., México: Siglo XXI Editores, 2005 [1999], pp. 588. ISBN 13: 968-23-2199-9.

New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996, pp. 448. ISNB 13: 978-0-300-06606-7 (hardback edition).

About the book (from the publisher)

Written by an eminent and original thinker in the philosophy of science, this book takes a fresh, unorthodox look at the key philosophical concepts and assumptions of the social sciences. Mario Bunge contends that social scientists (anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, economists, and historians) ought not to leave philosophy to philosophers who have little expertise in or knowledge of the social sciences. Bunge urges social scientists to engage in serious philosophizing and philosophers to participate in social research. The two fields are interrelated, he says, and important advances in each can supply tools for solving problems in the other.

Bunge analyzes such concepts as fact, cause, and value that the fields of philosophy and social science share. He discusses assumptions and misassumptions involved in such current approaches as idealism, materialism, and subjectivism, and finds that none of the best-known philosophies helps to advance or even understand social science. In a highly critical appraisal of rational choice theories, Bunge insists that these models provide no solid substantive theory of society, nor do they help guide rational action. He offers ten criteria by which to evaluate philosophies of social science and proposes novel solutions to social science’s methodological and philosophical problems. He argues forcefully that a particular union of rationalism, realism, and systemism is the logical and viable philosophical stance for social science practitioners.

About the book (this is an excerpt from Mario Bunge’s Preface)

This book has been written for social scientists curious about philosophy, as well as for philosophers interested in social studies. As suggested by its title, it focuses on the philosophy involved in social studies –albeit, usually in a tacit manner. I will argue that all social studies, whether scientific or literary, are crammed with philosophical concepts, such as those of fact, system, process, theory, test, and truth. They also contain or presuppose some philosophical assumptions, such as that societies are (or are not) mere aggregates of individuals, that people can (or cannot) choose and act rationally, and that social facts can (or cannot) be studied scientifically.

Regrettably, most students of society rarely pause to examine the philosophical ideas they adopt. When they do, they often fall under the influence of philosophies that do not match the practice of contemporary social science research. Most of the philosophers who have paid attention to the philosophy in or about social science have held some or all of the following three theses: that there is a clear divide between the social and the natural sciences, there being no mixed or socio-natural sciences; that science and philosophy are mutually disjoint, so cannot learn from one another; that the philosophy of social science is the same as that of the natural sciences –or else that the two are utterly disjoint. I will argue that all three, and many more received opinions, are false.

I will examine some of the key philosophical ideas inherent in the social (and socio-natural) sciences, as well as some of the topical philosophical problems raised by them. Thus I will elucidate the ontological notions of event and causation, the semantics concepts of meaning and truth, the epistemological ideas of hypothesis and indicator, the axiological notions of value and utility, and the ethical concepts of right and duty. Il will also wrestle with such classical controversies as individualism versus holism, idealism versus materialism, subjectivism versus realism, rationalism versus empiricism, explanation versus understanding, and nomothetic versus ideographic sciences” (pp. 11-12).

001 Finding Philosophy in Social Sciences AEL 140620 (2)BUNGE, Mario, Finding Philosophy in Social Science, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996,