This essay presents a concise analysis of the methodological problems that undermine the sociological disciplines and prevent the transition from social philosophy to social science.
The main among these problems is the failure to understand the difference between intuitive and experimental knowledge. Although science’s achievements show that only the Galilean method possesses explanatory capabilities, the Aristotelian perspective still influences our culture. Contemporary experts on social disciplines no longer speak of Aristotle, yet everything is Aristotelian in the most accredited and popular notions of man and society. The notion of social science as knowledge by demonstration endures; it characterizes, by the way, historicism, phenomenology, and functionalism. The approach to knowledge in terms of “what is it?” endures; it binds knowledge to the preconception that phenomena could be known “per se.” Social and psychological research are considered mostly, even nowadays, as investigations about “essences;” attempts are made to give them a methodological form that validates them as scientific within their respective languages. The perspective endures that individuality, as absolutely unique, is not definable, in principle, and cannot be an object of science. Last but not least, the Aristotelian perspective of induction endures, which underlies the view that statistics is the only method to be used in social research.
The acritical postulate of the radical incompatibility of the natural-science methods and social phenomena is a sort of “mental block” that prevents scholars from reading the “great book of social nature.” It is the same Aristotelian perspective that hindered the scientific knowledge of nature for two millennia.
Le scatole vuote della sociologia
[Empty sociological boxes]
[Empty sociological boxes]
1/10«The arguments advanced to attempt to justify the sociological Aristotelianism are of two types: arguments finding their origin in epistemology and arguments relating to the image of the human being conveyed by the philosophical tradition. These arguments, which complement each other, are specified in a large set of pseudo-explanatory corollaries.» IT
2/10«Arguments of the first type assume - on an intuitive basis - that every research method necessarily implies some value judgment. Consequently, these arguments deny intersubjectiveness to the scientific discourse, qualified by the functional relation between (independent and dependent) variables and by the experimental verification. Thereby, the problem of applying the Galilean method to the social sciences, considered value-based by definition, becomes meaningless.» IT
3/10«Arguments of the second type assume—still on an intuitive basis—that self-consciousness determines a radical differentiation between “human being” and “nature.” Consequently, these arguments consider human behavior irreducible to any analysis based on the natural science methods, insofar as human behavior is “free,” “voluntary,” and “historicized,” that is, “aleatoric,” given the massive number of unknowable variables that would characterize it.» IT
4/10«Galileo contrasts intuition as the “principle of science” with the experimental method qualified by the functional relation and demonstrates how “principles” can be justified within science. To found science on the “abstractive induction,” namely intuition, means to deny science, as intuition (characterized by subjectiveness) makes different observers’ standpoints not comparable, in principle. Furthermore, the single event is of primary importance for Galileo because the controlled (laboratory) experiment refers to specific phenomena under the assumption of their accordance with the law.» IT
5/10«Aristotle answers the question “what is that event” and conceives of science as knowledge by demonstration based on “causes” as “necessary essences.” Instead, Galileo answers the question “how does that event (dependent variable) work” with respect to other events and conceives of science as knowledge by relation based on causes as independent variables.» IT
6/10«There is a great deal of “essences” in psychology, which are sometimes called “intervening variables” or “cognitive variables.” Psychoanalysis rests on “essences,” and maybe that is why it enjoys considerable success.» IT
7/10«Sociology works on “essences” indiscriminately. Durkheim’s “social fact,” Weber’s “ideal type,” phenomenological conceptualizations, Parsons’s pattern-variables, and Merton’s “latent interest,” to name only some paradigmatic examples, are all essences. Other commonly used “essences” are: “spirit” (whence the “sciences of the spirit”), “will,” “freedom,” “family,” “State,” and “law,” conceived as universals. Formulating universals of this type often leads to considering some historical behaviors (hatred, violence, selfishness, altruism, religious sense) as characteristics of human nature.» IT
8/10«The thesis of the radical separation between natural sciences and human sciences, often endorsed uncritically by methodologically ill-equipped natural scientists, is re-proposed in a seemingly non-philosophical way when it is stated that two types of science exist, both characterized, in principle, by the functional relation: the natural science, which admits experimental verification, and the social science which, not being able to admit experimental verification, should only use the statistical method.» IT
9/10«The concept of statistical law in physics differs from the concept of statistical law in sociological and economic analyses. In relation to social phenomena, unlike physics, it is assumed that the application domain for the correlations between variables and empirical generalizations is limited in time and space.» IT
10/10«It is attributed to the “human phenomenon,” unlike natural phenomena, the “ability” or “possibility” to “create” one’s own culture and therefore to “influence” those same “laws” that statisticians will detect in their investigations. From the commonsense intuition that the human being would “create” its own culture and behavioral models in an aleatoric way, it follows that seeking general laws such as the “laws of nature” would be pointless in the social field, thereby arbitrarily confining the scientific analysis of human being to the study of stochastic functional dependencies concerning historically and culturally determined behavioral repertoires.» IT