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Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Scientific Realism  

Heikki Patomäki

This chapter addresses scientific realism. After the heyday of empiricism in the interwar period and its immediate aftermath, many critical reactions to empiricism seemed to suggest scientific realism. It was widely agreed that scientific theories make references to things that cannot be directly observed (or at least seen), and thus emerged the issue of the status of non-observables. As scientific realism became increasingly dominant, new philosophical stances such as Bas C. van Fraassen’s constructive empiricism were often defined in opposition to it. Van Fraassen understands scientific realism as a claim that science aims to give us, in its theories, a literally true story of what the world is like; and acceptance of a scientific theory involves the belief that it is true. More in line with established forms of scientific realism, Ilkka Niiniluoto talks about verisimilitude, or truth-likeness. This concept is supposed to avoid the consequences of claiming to have access to the truth itself. The chapter then considers how the social sciences seem to pose difficulties for scientific realism.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Behaviourism  

Olga Herzog

This chapter focuses on behaviourism, which is a methodological approach that involves the observable measurement of individual behaviour. It is closely related to the epistemology of positivism and empiricism, which emphasize the observation and verifiability of individual or social phenomena to generate knowledge. Hence, behaviourists focus on the study of perceptible reactions of humans or animals to different situations. Behaviour is understood as reflexive or conscious reactions to different stimuli and does not presume an underlying rationality. Ultimately, behaviourism follows the logic of the natural sciences, by relying on objective, observable information based on sensory experiences. The chapter then traces the origins of behaviourism and its use across disciplines.

Chapter

Cover Research Methods in the Social Sciences: An A-Z of key concepts

Positivism, Post-positivism, and Social Science  

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson and Lucas Dolan

This chapter highlights positivism and post-positivism in the social sciences. ‘Post-positivism’, much like ‘positivism’, is a notoriously imprecise term that nonetheless does significantly effective work in shaping academic controversies. Post-positivist approaches are loosely organized around a common rejection of the notion that the social sciences should take the natural sciences as their epistemic model. This rejection, which is a dissent from the naturalist position that all the sciences belong together and produce the same kind of knowledge in similar ways, often also includes a rejection of what are taken to be the central components of a natural-scientific approach: a dualist separation of knowing subjects from their objects of study, and a limitation of knowledge to the tangible and measurable. To get a handle on ‘post-positivism’, the chapter discusses these three rejections (naturalism, dualism, and empiricism) in turn.