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Instructor Class Description

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Margaret Alison Wylie
PHIL 566
Seattle Campus

Seminar in Philosophy of the Social Sciences

Class description

The pivotal question in philosophical debates about the social sciences has long been that of whether human, social subjects can be studied scientifically or require, instead, a distinctively interpretive methodology. The aim of this course is to assess a number “anti-naturalist” arguments and associated models of interpretive goals and practice in the social sciences. The point of departure is Ian Hacking’s Taming of Chance (1990): a jointly historical and philosophical account of how the development of social statistics shaped the idea that social phenomena might be a tractable subject for scientific investigation. We then turn to a selection of classic articles in which the philosophical rationale for these naturalist ambitions are articulated (e.g., by Hempel on historical explanation, and by Rudner on hypothesis evaluation), and to the anti-naturalist reaction in which they are disputed by the Wittgensteinian critic Peter Winch. Two issues central to the debate generated by Winch’s Idea of a Social Science are the focus of subsequent sections of the course: the relativist implications of Winch’s position; and the interactive effects by which social scientific inquiry transforms its subject. In connection with the first we discuss successive attempts to account for the possibility and the limits of cross-cultural translation/interpretation: an early exchange between MacIntyre and Winch provides a jumping-off point for considering recent reappraisals of this debate by Henderson, who argues that translation should be understood as a species of explanation, and by Risjord who proposes an erotetic account of ethnographic interpretation. In connection with the second, we return to Hacking to consider his account of “looping effects” and their role in constituting social kinds, and juxtapose with this recent reappraisals of social identity constructs due to Alcoff, Martin, and Moya.

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General method of instruction

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Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Isha Zubeidi
Date: 06/01/2006