Philosophy of Science

An Introduction

Sixth Edition

Thomas J. Hickey

© Copyright 1995, 2005, 2016, 2020 by Thomas J. Hickey


This concise and accessible book is a synthesis of the basic principles of the contemporary pragmatist philosophy of science.  It discusses the aim of basic science, the methods of scientific discovery, the criteria for scientific criticism, and the nature of scientific explanation. Included is a description of a newly emergent specialty called computational philosophy of science, in which computerized discovery systems create and test new scientific theories.

It also examines the essentials of the underlying pragmatist philosophy of language that has made philosophy of science a coherent and analytical discipline, and that has given new meaning to such key terms as “theory”, “observation” and “explanation”.


This book sets forth the elementary principles of the contemporary pragmatist (a.k.a. New Pragmatist or neopragmatist) philosophy of science including its underlying neopragmatist philosophy of language, and it briefly describes the new and emerging area of computational philosophy of science.  Computational philosophy of science is not something outside of philosophy of science; it is twenty-first century philosophy of science.  Obviously this brief introduction can make no claim to completeness.

          My previous books include Introduction to Metascience: An Information Science Approach to Methodology of Scientific Research (1976), History of Twentieth-Century Philosophy of Science (1995), and the e-book Twentieth-Century Philosophy of Science: A History (2016). This introductory book is also available both as an e-book, as a print book and in the Internet web site, which offers my books as free pdf downloads.

In his magisterial Types of Economic Theory (1967) Wesley Clair Mitchell (1874-1948), Columbia University American Institutionalist economist and founder of the prestigious National Bureau of Economic Research wrote that the process that constitutes the development of the social sciences is an incessant interaction between logically arranged ideas and chronologically arranged events. Since modern science is an evolving cultural institution with a history and a future, this memorable Institutionalist refrain can be adapted for philosophy of science: The process that constitutes the development of philosophy of basic science is an episodic interaction between analyses in philosophy and developments in science.  Modern philosophy was formed in response to the historic Scientific Revolution commencing with Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) and completed by Isaac Newton (1642-1727).  In fact nearly all modern-era philosophy of science could be called a footnote to Newton. 

Since the demise of positivism, there has been an institutional change in philosophy of science.  The institution-changing developmental episodes that produced the contemporary pragmatist philosophy of science are the scientific revolutions created by Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and especially by Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976).  These revolutions produced basic revisions in philosophy of language as well as in physics.  And the philosophy of language is not just for sp-called scientific objects; it is for all language.  Quantum physics has made philosophy a brave new world.  In fact contemporary pragmatist philosophy of science could be called a footnote to Heisenberg.

Willard van Quine once said that there are two kinds of philosophers: Those who write philosophy and those who write history of philosophy.  Most books on philosophy of science treat philosophy of science in an anecdotal historical perspective.  Of course I am indebted to many earlier writers, but this book is not a history of philosophy; it is a work in philosophy – a coherent and synthetic exposition of the contemporary ascendant neopragmatist philosophy of science.  Nor is this book a survey of the great variety of ideas that philosophers have advanced about science.  Such a work would be an encyclopedia.

Both during and before the positivist era the aim of philosophy of science was typically viewed in terms of justifying the superior epistemic status of empirical science.  Today few philosophers of science perceive any imperative for such justification of science, and often dismiss such efforts as merely pedantic exercises.  Now the aim of philosophy of science is seen to characterize the practices that have made the empirical sciences so unquestionably successful.  As stated below in the first chapter of this book: The aim of contemporary pragmatist philosophy of science is to discover principles that explain successful practices of basic-science research, in order to advance contemporary science by application of the principles (Section 1.01).

My writing has benefited greatly from my more than thirty years of practical research experience as an econometrician working in both business and government.  This practical research has included application of my METAMODEL mechanized discovery system for most of my career.  I have therefore concluded that the philosopher of science must get his hands dirty with data, in order to have a realistic appreciation of the practices of empirical science. 

 And I add that contrary to my early expectations I can now say in retrospect that the contemporary pragmatist philosophy has been more enabling for my successful practical economic research than my graduate-level economics lessons in that textbook caricature called homo economicus.  I have found that academic theory has too much imputed fantasy and too little investigative realistic empiricism.  I hope therefore that this short introductory book offers benefit to research social scientists as well as academic philosophers of science.

I expect that the reader may have the same difficulty assimilating this introductory book that I have had in writing it.  The contemporary pragmatist philosophy set forth herein is an integrated system of inter-related concepts that are mutually defined by the context constituting the metatheory.  Its exposition therefore cannot simply be linear, because any beginning presupposes concepts that follow.  My attempt to cope with this circularity has been to approach the system in a sequence of levels of presentation.  This treatment of circularity has occasioned some repetition in the exposition and some overlap among the chapters, in order to provide context and continuity for understanding.  I have made the table of contents more detailed than the brief outline of levels shown below.

Chapter 1 is definitional: it sets forth several strategic concepts used throughout the book.

Chapter 2 is historical: it contrasts the basic features of neopragmatism with comparable ideas in the two older twentieth-century romantic and positivist philosophies.

Chapter 3 is essential: it describes the new contemporary pragmatist (or neopragmatist) philosophy of language that is central to and distinctive of the neopragmatist philosophy of science.

Chapter 4 is synthesizing: it describes the architectonic of the subject in terms of the four functional topics that are characteristic of basic-research science and the underlying neopragmatist philosophy of language.

A reviewer of an earlier edition called this book a “manifesto”.  The book is explicitly addressed to academic philosophers and their students, and it does indeed advocate both the contemporary pragmatist philosophy of science and the new specialty called computational philosophy of science.  Thus it has an explicit agenda.  It furthermore proposes to benefit many academics in the philosophically retarded social sciences.  Therefore, this brief introductory monograph might well be construed as a contemporary pragmatist philosophy-of-science manifesto.


                                                       Thomas J. Hickey, Econometrician

                                     February 2020                                    



Chapter 1. Overview

1.01 Aim of Philosophy of Science
1.02 Computational Philosophy of Science
1.03 Two Perspectives on Language
1.04 Dimensions of Language
1.05 Classification of Functional Topics
1.06 Classification of Modern Philosophies

Chapter 2. Modern Philosophies

2.01 Romanticism
2.02 Positivism
2.03 Contemporary Pragmatism

Chapter 3. Philosophy of Language

3.01 Synchronic and Diachronic Analysis
3.02 Object Language and Metalanguage
3.03 Dimensions of Language
3.04 Syntactical Dimension
3.05 Syntactical Rules
3.06 Mathematical Language
3.07 Logical Quantification in Mathematics
3.08 Semantical Dimension
3.09 Nominalist vs. Conceptualist Semantics
3.10 Naturalistic vs. Artifactual Semantics
3.11 Romantic Semantics
3.12 Positivist Semantics
3.13 Positivist Thesis of Meaning Invariance
3.14 Positivist Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy
3.15 Positivist Observation-Theory Dichotomy
3.16 Contemporary Pragmatist Semantics
3.17 Pragmatist Semantics Illustrated
3.18 Rejection of the Observation-Theory Dichotomy
3.19 Rejection of Meaning Invariance
3.20 Rejection of the Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy
3.21 Semantical Rules
3.22 Componential vs. Wholistic Semantics
3.23 Componential Artifactual Semantics Illustrated
3.24 Semantic Values
3.25 Univocal and Equivocal Terms
3.26 Signification and Supposition
3.27 Aside on Metaphor
3.28 Clear and Vague Meaning
3.29 Semantics of Mathematical Language
3.30 Semantical State Descriptions
3.31 Diachronic Comparative-Static Analysis
3.32 Diachronic Dynamic Analysis
3.33 Computational Philosophy of Science
3.34 An Interpretation Issue
3.35 Ontological Dimension
3.36 Metaphysical and Scientific Realism
3.37 Ontological Relativity Defined
3.38 Ontological Relativity Illustrated
3.39 Causality
3.40 Ontology of Mathematical Language
3.41 Pragmatic Dimension
3.42 Semantic Definitions of Theory Language
3.43 Pragmatic Definition of Theory Language
3.44 Pragmatic Definition of Test-Design Language
3.45 Pragmatic Definition of Observation Language
3.46 Observation and Test Execution
3.47 Scientific Professions
Chapter 4. Four Functional Topics

4.01 Institutionalized Aim of Science
4.02 Positivist Aim
4.03 Romantic Aim
4.04 More Recent Ideas
4.05 Aim of Maximizing "Explanatory Coherence"
4.06 Contemporary Pragmatist Aim
4.07 Institutional Change
4.08 Philosophy's Cultural Lag
4.09 Cultural Lags among Sciences
4.10 Scientific Discovery
4.11 Discovery Systems
4.12 Types of Theory Development
4.13 Examples of Successful Discovery Systems
4.14 Scientific Criticism
4.15 Logic of Empirical Testing
4.16 Test Logic Illustrated
4.17 Semantics of Empirical Testing
4.18 Test Design Revision
4.19 Empirical Underdetermination
4.20 Scientific Pluralism
4.21 Scientific Truth
4.22 Nonempirical Criteria
4.23 The "Best Explanation" Criteria
4.24 Nonempirical Linguistic Constraints
4.25 Cognition Constraint
4.26 Communication Constraint
4.27 Scientific Explanation




Chapter 1. Overview


Both successful science and contemporary philosophy of science are pragmatic.  In science, as in life, realistic pragmatism is what works successfully.  This introductory book is a concise synthesis of the elementary principles of the contemporary pragmatist (a.k.a. neopragmatist) philosophy of science, the philosophy that the twentieth century has bequeathed to the twenty-first century.  This chapter defines some basic concepts. 

1.01 Aim of Philosophy of Science

Traditionally the purpose of philosophy of science was viewed in terms of justifying a superior epistemic status for empirical science.  But on the contemporary pragmatist view today the aim of philosophy of science is to characterize the practices that have made the empirical sciences so unquestionably successful.  Therefore:

The aim of contemporary pragmatist philosophy of science is to discover principles that describe successful practices of basic-science research, in order to advance contemporary science by application of the principles.

The principles are set forth as a metatheory, which is sketched in this book.  Basic science creates new language: new theories, new laws and new explanations.  Applied science uses scientific explanations to change the real world, e.g., new technologies, new social policies and new medical therapies.  Philosophy of science pertains to basic-science practices and language.  However, applied science in the real world offers a positive feedback to basic science.  Academics often have their pet ideas that motivate them to reject alternative but empirically warranted laws.  But successful application of a wrongly rejected scientific law will eventually influence even the most obdurate academic naysayer making him a pragmatic realist in spite of himself.

1.02 Computational Philosophy of Science

Computational philosophy of science is the design, development and application of computer systems that proceduralize and mechanize productive basic-research practices in science.

Philosophers of science can no longer be content with more hackneyed recitations of the Popper-Kuhn debates of half a century ago, much less more debating ancient futile ethereal metaphysical issues such as realism vs. idealism.

Contemporary philosophy of science has taken the computational turn.  Mechanized information processing (a.k.a. “artificial intelligence”) has permeated almost every science, and is now intruding into philosophy of science.  Today computerized discovery systems facilitate investigations in both the sciences and in philosophy of science in a new specialty called “computational philosophy of science”.  For example in his Extending Ourselves (2004) University of Virginia philosopher of science and cognitive scientist Paul Humphreys reports that computational science for scientific analysis has already far outstripped natural human capabilities and that it currently plays a central rôle in the development of many physical and life sciences. 

1978 Nobel-laureate economist Herbert Simon (1916-2001), a founder of artificial intelligence, called such systems “discovery systems”.  In the 1970’s Hickey (1940) in his Introduction to Metascience: An Information Science Approach to Methodology of Scientific Research (1976) called the mechanized approach “metascience”.   In the 1980’s philosopher of science Paul Thagard (1950) in his Computational Philosophy of Science (1988) called it “computational philosophy of science”, a phrase that is more descriptive and therefore will probably prevail.

The pragmatist philosophers Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) and Norwood Russell Hanson (1924-1967) had described a nonprocedural analysis for developing theories.  Peirce called this nonprocedural practice “abduction”; Hanson called it “retroduction”.  Today in computational philosophy of science procedural strategies for the rational construction of new theories are coded into computer systems.

Mechanized simulation of successful developmental episodes in the history of science is typically used to test the plausibility of discovery-system designs.  But the proof of the pudding is in the eating: application of computer systems at the frontier of a science, where prediction is also production in order to propose new empirically superior theories, further tests the systems.  Now philosophers of science may be expected to practice what they preach by participating in basic-science research to produce empirically adequate contributions.  Contemporary application of the discovery systems gives the philosopher of science a participatory and consequential rôle in basic-science research.

1.03 Two Perspectives on Language

Philosophy of language supplies an organizing analytical framework that integrates contemporary philosophy of science.  In philosophy of language philosophers have long distinguished two perspectives called “object language” and “metalanguage”.

Object language is discourse about nonlinguistic reality including domains that the particular sciences investigate as well as about the realities and experiences of ordinary everyday life.

Metalanguage is language about language, either object language or metalanguage.

Much of the discourse in philosophy of science is in the metalinguistic perspective.  Important metalinguistic terms include “theory”, “law”, “test design”, “observation report” and “explanation”, all of which are pragmatic classifications of the uses of language.  For example in the contemporary pragmatist philosophy a theory” is a universally quantified hypothesis proposed for empirical testing.  A “test design” is a universally quantified discourse presumed for the empirical testing of a theory in order to identify the subject of the theory independently of the theory and to describe the procedures for performing the test.  The computer instructions coded in discovery systems are also metalinguistic expressions, because these systems input, process and output object language for the sciences.

1.04 Dimensions of Language

Using the metalinguistic perspective, philosophers analyze language into what Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970) called “dimensions” of language.  The dimensions of interest to neopragmatist philosophers are syntax, semantics, ontology, and pragmatics.

Syntax refers to the structure of language. Syntax is arrangements of symbols such as linguistic ink marks on paper, which display structure.  Examples of syntactical symbols include terms such as words and mathematical variables and the sentences and mathematical equations constructed with the terms.

Syntactical rules regulate construction of grammatical expressions such as sentences and equations out of terms, which are usually arranged by concatenation into strings or in some cases organized into matrices or arrays.

Semantics refers to the meanings associated with syntactical symbols.  Syntax without semantics is literally meaningless.  Associating meanings with the symbols makes the syntax “semantically interpreted”. 

Semantical rules describe and analyze the meanings associated with elementary syntactical symbols, i.e. terms.  In the metalinguistic perspective belief in semantically interpreted universally quantified sentences such as the affirmation “Every crow is black” enables sentences to function as semantical rules displaying the complex meanings of the sentences’ component descriptive terms.  Belief in the statement “Every crow is black” makes the phrase “black crow” redundant, thus displaying the meaning of “black” as a component part of the meaning of “crow”.  The lexical entries in a unilingual dictionary are an inventory of semantical rules for a language.  This is not “rocket science”, but there are philosophers who prefer obscurantism and refuse to acknowledge componential semantics. 

Ontology refers to the aspects of reality described by the perspectivist semantics of interpreted sentences believed to be true, especially belief due to experience or to systematic empirical testing.  This is the thesis of ontological relativity.  Ontology is typically of greater interest to philosophers than to linguists.

Semantics is knowledge of reality, while ontology is reality as known, i.e. semantics is the perspectivist signification of reality, and ontology is the aspects of reality signified by semantics.  Ontology is the aspects of mind-independent reality that is cognitively captured with a perspective revealed by term’s semantics.

Not all discourses are equally realistic; the semantics and ontologies of discourses are as realistic as the discourses are empirically adequate.  Since all semantics is relativized and ultimately comes from sense stimuli, there is no semantically interpreted syntax of language that is utterly devoid of any associated ontology.  If all past falsified explanations were completely unrealistic, then so too are all currently accepted explanations and all future ones, because they are destined to be falsified in due course.  Better to acknowledge in all explanations the limited degree of realism and truth that they have to offer.  Scientists recognize that they investigate reality and are motivated to do so.  Few would have taken up their basic-research careers had they thought they were merely constructing fictions with their theories or fabricating semantically vacuous discourses.

Pragmatics in philosophy of science refers to how scientists use language, namely to create and to test theories, and thereby to develop scientific laws used in test designs and in scientific explanations.  The pragmatic dimension includes both the semantic and syntactical dimensions, such that the dimensions of language are telescoped as illustrated diagrammatically below:


1.05 Classification of Functional Topics

Basic-science research practices can be classified into four essential functions performed in basic research.  They are:

1. Aim of Basic Science

The institutionalized aim of basic science is the culturally shared aim that regulates development of explanations, which are the final products of basic-scientific research.  The institutionalized views and values of science have evolved considerably over the last several centuries, and will continue to evolve episodically in unforeseeable ways with future advancements of science.

2. Discovery

Discovery is the construction of new and empirically more adequate theories.  A scientific theory is a universally quantified statement proposed for testing.  The semantics of newly constructed theories reveal new perspectives and ontologies.

A mechanized discovery system produces a transition from an input-language state description containing currently available information to an output-language state description containing generated and tested new theories.

Contemporary pragmatism is consistent with computerized discovery systems, which aim to proceduralize and then to mechanize new theory construction, in order to advance contemporary science.   The computerized discovery system is not a psychological theory; it is a constructional linguistic metatheory.  To borrow a phrase first used in philosophy by Carnap in his Aufbau (1928) but with a different meaning for computational philosophy of science: it is a dynamic diachronic linguistic constructional procedure called a “rational reconstruction” of the discovery process, when historical discoveries are simulated.

In the “Introduction” to his magisterial Patterns of Discovery: An Inquiry into the Conceptual Foundations of Science (1958), Hanson wrote that earlier philosophers of science like the positivists had mistakenly regarded as paradigms of inquiry finished systems like Newton’s planetary mechanics instead of the unsettled, dynamic research sciences like contemporary microphysics.  Hanson explains that the finished systems are no longer research sciences, although they were at one time.  He states that distinctions applying to the finished systems ought to be suspect when transferred to research disciplines, and that such transferred distinctions afford an artificial account of the activities in which Kepler, Galileo and Newton were actually engaged.  He thus maintains that ideas such as “theory”, “hypothesis”, “law”, “causality” and “principle” if drawn from what he calls the finished “catalogue-sciences” found in undergraduate textbooks will ill prepare one for research science.

Both romantics and positivists define “theory” semantically, while contemporary pragmatists define “theory” pragmatically, i.e., by its function in basic-research science.  Neopragmatists recognize the nontruth-functional hypothetical-conditional schema for expressing proposed theories.

The pragmatics of theory language is empirical testing to discover laws.

For pragmatists “theory” is universally quantified language that is proposed for testing, and “test-design” is universally quantified language that is presumed for testing.

For pragmatists scientific laws are former theories that have been tested with nonfalsifying test outcomes.

 Pragmatists identify theory language pragmatically as universally quantified statements proposed for testing, but they individuate theories semantically.  Two theory expressions are different theories either (1) if the expressions have different test designs so they address different subjects, or (2) if the expressions make contrary claims about the same subject as defined by the same test design.

3. Criticism

Criticism pertains to the criteria for the acceptance or rejection of theories.  The only criterion for scientific criticism that is acknowledged by the contemporary pragmatist is the empirical criterion, which is  operative in an empirical test. 

Syntactical transformations of the surface structure of theories produce the nontruth-functional conditional logical form that exhibits the deep structure of the theory language in a test thereby explicitly displaying the essential empirical contingency.  Given the variety of surface structures the deep structure serves, as it were, as the common denominator for testing.  The logic operative in the deep structure of an empirical test is a modus tollens deduction with the surface structure of the tested theory transformed into a nontruth-functional conditional statement.  In practice, however, the surface structure actually used by scientists may be more convenient for empirical tests.

 Test-designs are universally quantified statements that are presumed for testing.  Test designs characterize the subject of the test, and describe procedures for execution of the test.  They also include universal statements that are semantical rules for the test-outcome statements, which are asserted with particular quantification, when the test design is executed and the test outcome is produced.

Observation language is particularly quantified test-design and test-outcome statements with their semantics defined in the universally quantified test-design language including the test outcome language.  Unlike positivists, pragmatists do not recognize any natural observation semantics.  For believers in a theory, the theory language may also contribute to the observational semantics, but that semantical contribution cannot operate in reporting the test outcome without violating the test’s contingency.  Unlike the logical positivists, pragmatists do not recognize the truth-functional conditional logic for scientific criticism, because the logic of empirical testing is not truth-functional.

On the pragmatist thesis of relativized semantics and ontological relativity, semantics and ontologies can never trump the empirical criterion for criticism, because acceptance of ontologies in science is based upon empirical adequacy of a theory especially as demonstrated by repeated nonfalsifying empirical test outcomes.  Thus contrary to romantics, pragmatists permit description of intersubjective mental states in social-science theories and explanations, but unlike many sociologists and economists pragmatists never require or employ such description as a criterion for criticism.

4. Explanation

An explanation is language that describes the occurrence of individual events and conditions that are caused by the occurrence of other described individual events and conditions according to law statements.

Syntactical transformations producing the nontruth-functional conditional logical argument form generate the deep structure underlying the surface structure in the language of explanation.  The logic operative in the deep structure of an explanation is a modus ponens deduction with the surface structure of the explaining law transformed into a nontruth-functional conditional statement thereby explicitly displaying the expression of empirical conditionality in the constituent laws.  Whenever possible the explanation is predictive of future events or for evidence of past events due to the universality claim of the explaining law.  Scientific laws are not unconditional, nor are explanations historicist or prophesying.

 In some cases laws may be said to be “explained” in the sense that a set of laws may be arranged into a deductive system with some laws derived from other laws.

1.06 Classification of Modern Philosophies

Twentieth-century philosophies of science may be segmented into three generic classes.  They are romanticism, positivism and pragmatism.  Romanticism is a philosophy for social and cultural sciences.  Positivism is a philosophy for all sciences and it originated in reflection on Newtonian physics. Contemporary pragmatism is a philosophy for all sciences, and it originated in reflection on quantum physics. 

Each generic type has many representative authors advocating philosophies expressing similar concepts for such metalinguistic terms as “theory”, “law” and “explanation”.  Philosophies within each generic classification have their differences, but they are much more similar to each other than to those in either of the two other types.  The relation between the philosophies and the four functional topics can be cross-referenced as follows:



Aim of Science




















Chapter 2. Modern Philosophies

    This second chapter briefly sketches three generic types of twentieth-century philosophy of science in terms of the four functional topics.  Philosophy of language will be taken up in chapter 3.  Then all these elements will be integrated in a detailed discussion of the four functional topics in chapter 4.

2.01 Romanticism

Romanticism has no representation in the natural sciences today, but it is still widely represented in the social sciences including economics and sociology.  It has its roots in the eighteenth-century German idealist philosophers including notably Immanuel Kant (1770-1831), progenitor of romanticism, and especially Georg Hegel (1724-1804) with the latter’s emphasis on ideas in social culture.  The idealist philosophies are of purely antiquarian interest to most philosophers of science today. 

Romantics have historically defaulted to the positivist philosophy for the natural sciences, but they reject using the positivist philosophy for the social sciences.  Romantics maintain that there is a fundamental difference between sciences of nature and sciences of culture.

Aim of science

For romantics the aim of the social sciences is an investigation of culture that yields an “interpretative understanding” of “human action”, by which is meant explanation of social interactions in terms of intersubjective mental states, i.e., shared ideas and motives, views and values including the economists’ rationality postulates, that are culturally shared by members of social groups.

This concept of the aim of science and of explanation is a “foundational agenda”, because it requires reduction of the social sciences to a social-psychology foundation, i.e., description of observed social behavior by reference to culturally shared intersubjective social-psychological mental states.


Romantics say “social theory” is language describing intersubjective mental states, notably culturally shared ideas and motivations, which are deemed the causes of “human action”. 

 For romantics the creation of “theory” in social science may originate either:

(1)     in the social scientist’s introspective reflection on his own ideas and motivations originating in his actual or imaginary personal experiences, which ideas and motives are then imputed to the social members he is investigating, or

(2)     in empirical survey research reporting social members’ overtly verbally expressed intersubjective ideas and motivations.

Some romantics call the imputed motives based in introspective reflection “substantive reasoning” or “interpretative understanding”.  But all romantic social scientists deny that social theory can be developed by data analysis exclusively or by observation of overt behavior alone.  Romantics thus oppose their view of the aim of science to that of the positivists’ such as the sociologist George Lundberg (1895-1966) and the behavioristic psychologist B.F. Skinner (1904-1990).  Romantics say that they explain consciously purposeful and motivated “human action”, while behaviorists say they explain publicly observable “human behavior”. 


For romantics the criterion for criticism is “convincing interpretative understanding” that makes substantive sense” of conscious motivations, which are deemed to be the underlying “causal mechanisms” of observed “human action”. 

Causality is an ontological concept, and nearly all romantics impose their mentalistic ontology as the criterion for criticism, while making empirical or statistical analyses at most optional or supplementary.

Furthermore, many romantic social scientists require as a criterion that a social theory must be recognizable in the particular investigator’s own introspectively known intersubjective personal experience. In Max Weber’s (1864-1920) terms this is called verstehen. It is the thesis that empathetic insight is a necessary and valuable tool in the study of human action, which is without counterpart in the natural sciences.  It effectively makes all sociology what has been called “folk sociology”.


Romantics maintain that only “theory”, i.e., language describing intersubjective ideas and motives, can “explain” conscious purposeful human action.

Motives are the “mechanisms” referenced as “causal” explanations, which are also called “theoretical” explanations.  Observed regularities are deemed incapable of “explaining”, even if they enable correct predictions.

Some formerly romantic social scientists such as the institutionalist economist Wesley C. Mitchell (1874-1948) and the functionalist sociologist Robert K. Merton (1910-2003) have instead chosen to focus on objective outcomes rather than intersubjective motives.  This focus would institutionalize testability and thus validate the scientific status of sociology.  But the focus on objective outcomes still represents a minority view in academic social science.  Romanticism still prevails in academia.



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