Laws in the social sciences

Author/s: Catherine Greene, PhD
Availability: Open Access
Type: Thesis
Year: 2017
Category: Social Sciences
Institution: University of London

Abstract: The social sciences are often thought to be inferior to the natural sciences because they do not have laws. Bohman writes that “the social sciences have never achieved much in the way of predictive general laws—the hallmark of naturalistic knowledge—and so have often been denied the honorific status of ‘sciences’” (1994, pg. vii). Philosophers have suggested a number of reasons for the dearth of laws in the social sciences, including the frequent use of ceteris paribus conditions in the social sciences, reflexivity, and the use of ‘odd’ concepts. This thesis argues that the scarcity of laws in the social sciences is primarily due to the concepts that social scientists often work with. These concepts are described as Nomadic and are characterised by disagreement about what can reasonably be included within the scope of a concept. The second half of the thesis explores the implications of this analysis. It argues firstly, that counterfactual analysis is problematic when using Nomadic concepts. Secondly, it argues that taking an intentional perspective on behaviour often involves the use of Nomadic concepts so, if social scientists do hope to formulate laws, then they are more likely to succeed if they focus on behaviour that is not intentional

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Thesis (Ph.D.) - La Trobe University, 2011 Submission note: "A thesis submitted in total fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy [to the] Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora".

Over the past 14 years, working independently and with other original thinkers, I have produced works that have on two fronts contributed to the evolving understanding of ethnic relations in contemporary Britain. The first is around social/community cohesion, media and representation as well as counter-terrorism policy as explored through the social sciences. The second domain covering the same themes is couched within the humanities, in particular, the production of literary fiction.