Philosophy of Science

Part VIII: Conclusion – Are the Social Sciences Sciences?

A world without science would be filled with cynical, self-absorbed humans, disoriented in the social sphere. Nevertheless, naturalistic method applied to the social sciences will not be able to give full explanations of what it means to be human or the reflexive ability humans have, taking part of the scientific research in comparison to an object that does not have such a capability. Causal explanations fall flat when taking on intent, and natural selection does not cover the social forces shaping human behaviour. Naturalistic form of explaining does not cover a contextual and social dimension, and without this ability we are not able to fully understand and so cannot call it knowledge about human behavior. The concept of science must then be widened to include context and thought-processes behind actions, whereas the Aristotelian three-folded definition of science or concept of phronesis, are two of the suggested approaches.

In history, we have seen how old and new elites struggle over power, as are the naturalists in the scientific sphere, trying to hold on to their right to the concept of science. Still, this is not in favor of a powerful science, which needs creativity and challenge to stay relevant to humans and society of whom without it seizes to exist.

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Philosophy of Science

Part V: The dimensions of context and moral

The questions regarding the choices one makes in everyday life in the Western world, also indicates the meaning of context. There are several different levels which people pass through in acquiring a skill and knowledge, in going from the technical to the intellectual, as indicated by phenomenological studies (Flyvbjerg, 2006). These imply that having the skill of something at an expert level, really knowing it, requires not just experience but also include intuition and judgment. If an experienced driver tries to explain the knowledge of driving only in techniques and rules, it would leave out dimensions of his skill. This shows how a naturalistic explanation would fail in explaining the knowledge of an experienced human action. Naturalistic form of explaining does not cover a contextual and social dimension, and without that we are not able to fully understand and so we cant really call it knowledge about human behavior. It might possibly be knowledge about human biological behavior, but still that hardly goes all the way in knowledge, and absolutely not as social science aim is improving human condition. Naturalistic explanations are missing the creative intellect that find solutions without restricting to given rules, thus it cannot be considered complete knowledge, yet perhaps information about certain parts.

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Another dimension missing from the naturalistic explanation is the moral one. Again, social science wants to improve human condition, whereas natural science wants technical innovation, and this entails social scientists to make moral choices about what an improvement is and what is not. The research on human behaviour is a minefield of questions about what is acceptable treatment of research subjects: for instance, can a social scientist lie to people in the experiment in order to not interfere with their normal behaviour? Is it tolerable to expose people to physical or mental harm if it is in the interest of the project? Should a scientist conduct a research which result can be used for interests that might be harmful to others? These are questions for philosophy, where social science must have its natural starting point in deciding on method and limits of the research. But the moral dimension is also very much a part of human action. The moral choices involved in the thought-processes behind the action are a part in shaping the behaviour, and must be a part of the explanation for the action as well, otherwise it will not give us the full knowledge. Naturalistic method applied to the social science is like knowing a third of a recipe: it tells parts of what is needed, but it is not enough to actually achieve the result of a perfect cake for there are still ingredients missing.

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