philosophy of social science

Without modifications to the social and material environment, there can be no change in mentalities. Here, we are in the presence of a circle that leads me to postulate the necessity of founding an “ecosophy” that would link environmental ecology to social ecology and to mental ecology.
—  Félix Guattari
Capitalism is to most of us about consumption, it is about mass produced consumer products: cars, houses, clothes, electronics or processed foods. But capitalism brings with it other products- global warming, dying oceans, poisoned air and water, corporate controlled  systems of governance and power, dislocations of communities, and grotesque income inequality. Capitalism is an ideology, the power of this ideology is so fierce that most of us can envision the collapse of the ecosystem before we can envision the collapse of capitalism
—  Chris Hedges 
“Le féminisme est basé sur l'imitation du modèle masculin.”

Classe préparatoire Lettres et Sciences sociales (BL) - En cours de philosophie.

Place matters to the relationships between people. Just as your place in time so obviously constrains and determines your life, so your place in space limits and creates the possibilities in your world. It is not the actual position in space, as it is not the actual position in time that does this, but who shares that place, who shares your time.
—  D. Dorling - ‘The Visualisation of Spacial Social Structure’ (2012)
Some thoughts on Flat Dreams

(Art by @owlapinart)

So. Flat Dreams. A fanfiction masterpiece by @pengychan that punched me in the gut and continued mercilessly kicking me when I was collapsed on the ground. It’s been a full month now, and I’m still not over it, oh no, not in the least. But I’ve somewhat managed to sort out the bajillion things and thoughts and emotions it awoke in me, so here’s a small fucking extensive analysis thingy.

Spoilers ahead, just to state the obvious. I’m a society junkie and life is a valley of agony and injustice and the fic is a work of art. Form your expectations accordingly. Enjoy.

Keep reading


laid back, easy going, calm, cool-headed, optimistic, carefree yet cautious, aloof yet open, reserved, solitary, observing, patient, discreet, flexible, modest, curious, intelligent, deep, complacent, content, instinctive, intuitive, aesthetic, trusting, private, enjoys the company of only a few people. Slow to judge. Not relationship obsessed. Hopeless romantic. Individualistic, independent and original. Likes difficult reading material. Interested in understanding people and humanity in general and enjoy bringing understanding. Shun conflict. Intellectually curious and interested in the arts, philosophy, literature and the social sciences. Excel in whatever they’re interested in. Kind, friendly and at times very gentle. Can appear cold and nonchalant. Unconcerned that people have trouble reading them. Introspective and reflective. Creatively expressive, imaginative and dreamy. Wants to blend in with the environment, seeking a peaceful and comfortable place. Live and let live attitude, Accepting and respecting each other’s views. Can easily see from different perspectives. Not likely to express anger. Hard to offend. Lower energy, energy comes in bursts. Cooperative rather than competitive. Not interested in leading. Question authority. Not superficial. Appear to be emotionally stable, but can be quite emotional internally. Tries to contain emotions. Enjoys melancholic moods. Likes both listening to and playing music. Easily overwhelmed and distracted.

More generally, qualitative methods such as interactive interviews and ethnography are necessary to abstract the causal mechanisms of which quantitative/statistical methods are oblivious. It should not be expected that these abstract causal mechanisms can explain events directly without any need for empirical research into the contingency of the concrete. To do so is to commit the error of ‘pseudo-concrete research’ that is common in radical structuralism such as Marxism (Sayer, 1992). Quantitative methods, on the other hand, are particularly useful to establish the empirical regularities between objects. Although these concrete regularities are not causal relations, they can inform the abstraction of causal mechanisms. Quantitative methods are also useful in drawing attention to the external and contingent relations between objects. Inferential statistical analysis can throw light on, for instance, the external relations between objects (e.g., employment and poverty) in society from a sample. One should bear in mind that these statistical generalizations are only 'universal’ at a specific temporal-spatial intersection. A serious problem of reductionism is incurred if one attempts to treat these contingent generalizations as necessary causal mechanisms.
—  Henry Wai-chung Yeun, “Critical realism and realist research in human geography: a method or a philosophy in search of a method?" Progress in Human Geography 21,1 (1997) p. 57
Bad Social Science

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One common example of this is “if they really made a better product, it would be wildly successful.” Don’t do this. It’s empirically empty; it relies on a baseless claim about the way people (or some idealized abstract notion thereof) would in fact behave if certain conditions obtained. No explanation of why product x is unsuccessful is offered apart from the fact that people aren’t buying it, which reeks of confirmation bias.

It’s very easy for a conditional statement to be true: all that needs to be the case is that the antecedent is false, and regardless of the truth value of the consequent, you have a true proposition. So modus tollens is invoked here to deny that the product really is better by merit of the fact that the product isn’t being bought. But ‘better’ here is quite vague (and it makes it easy to slip in some normative claims, which are discussed later), making it easy for the proposition to seem intuitively plausible. What constitutes a 'better’ product is not immediately clear, and any discussion of what makes it better must also be bracketed within what is perceived as better. Any distinction between the two is often explained away by lazy accounts of rationality: “since people are rational, they obviously know a better product when they see it” (which is itself another blithely asserted conditional claim). So the claim begins to fall apart as soon as your start to unpack it, but its intuitive appeal gives it rhetorical force.

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Two examples of this:

a) Making inferences to 'capitalism’ as the cause of things.

b) Invoking 'evolution’ to account for various human behaviors.

In the case of the former, this is pretty close to being empirically empty. Such explanations are compatible with any state of affairs in an ostensibly capitalist society, so they explain nothing about the specific conditions with which we face ourselves. This inference also rarely concerns itself directly with the responsible parties in making decisions that are allegedly the result of capitalist pressure or ideology or class connection (or whatever else is being invoked to make the inference seem more plausible), so it also fails to explain by lack of its specificity.

In the case of the latter, it’s plausible to think of evolutionary incentives for both cooperation and competition, thus allowing both to be explainable by reference to 'evolution' simpliciter. Notoriously, however, the vast majority of such explanations (especially those in the secondary literature and popular/colloquial discussions) fail to identify the specific pathways by which these allegedly evolutionary traits are expressed.

Both explanations (as do all 'just-so’ stories) fail because they rely far too much on vague concepts: any kind of empirical fact can be shoehorned into them. By relying on their own internal logic, these explanations seem more plausible to people because they dovetail nicely with certain intuitions (radical ones in the former, scientific ones in the latter). Once again, there is confirmation bias abound, because vagueness obscures falsifiability.

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Often, some course of action is cautioned against by an economist on the grounds that it is 'inefficient.’ The rhetorical force of this warning is amplified by an equivocation between two different senses of the word 'efficient:’

a) Pareto-optimal; maximizing total wealth relative to other possible outcomes

b) Achieving desirable results with a minimum of effort or expenditure of scarce resources

When empirical data or economic models are offered in support of the claim that the planned course of action is inefficient, it’s always in the 'thin’ sense of (a). But often people hear the stronger negative sense of (b). Indeed, there is often a tacit belief that the inefficiency entailed by (a) undermines, or takes normative priority over, the desired result of (b). For example, wealth redistribution is often criticized on the basis that it is inefficient [sense (a)]. But a more equitable distribution of wealth is the desired result implied by (b)- and it might be worth the trade-off. The equivocation between the two senses obscures the idea that a reduction in total wealth might be justified in the service of other policy goals. This is a particularly pernicious example of normative beliefs slipping in, given that economics purports to be value-free, in the manner of an ideal natural science. 

Another example (and an excellent one, at that), from a different theoretical perspective:

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A final problem is that hidden normative claims can increase the intuitive appeal of an argument for those who share similar normative beliefs without actually hashing out support for the argument in greater detail, or providing more evidence for empirical claims. A lot of damage can be done by hidden normativity: it can both mislead people and open an argument up to severe objections if it is recognized by a critic.

It is uncontested that in the sphere of human action social entities have real existence. Nobody ventures to deny that nations, states, municipalities, parties, religious communities, are real factors determining the course of human events. Methodological individualism, far from contesting the significance of such collective wholes, considers it as one of its main tasks to describe and to analyze their becoming and their disappearing, their changing structures, and their operation.
—  Ludwig von Mises, Human Action
…but it is harmful to overlook the fundamental identity of the social sciences with history, and to mutilate research into human affairs by remodeling the social sciences into deformed likenesses of physics.

Alan Donagan, “Historical Understanding and the History of Philosophy”

The writings on the philosophy of geography are pretty thin on the ground, but it seems that many approaches from the philosophy of history are relevant to the research I want to do. History and geography deal with the same conceptual schema in many cases: constraining structures, environmental and social conditions, agency, etc. Donagan’s work seems like a good place to start.

Puerto Rican living in Orlando, FL
single, buddhist, lover of tea, cigs, bud, tatted girls and long conversations about philosophy, science, religion, social problems, awareness, art and music. Books, guitars, vintage cars, radios and clothes… Food I almost forgot I love food.
Sc: raki1315
Kik: sailorhusky

interruptions  asked:

For me, the skepticism of human nature sorta just follows a fortiori from broader anti-essentialist commitments - just out of curiousity, where's it coming from for you?

For skepticism of human nature within a realist framework, see Leiter [2005]: “The Hermeneutics of Suspicion: Recovering Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud” and also perhaps [2008]: “The Epistemic Status of the Human Sciences: Critical Reflections on Foucault”