1-4 of 4 Results

  • Keyword: scientific realism x
Clear all

Chapter

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

Critical Realism  

Uncovering the Shades of Grey

Dominik Giese and Jonathan Joseph

This chapter evaluates critical realism, a term which refers to a philosophy of science connected to the broader approach of scientific realism. In contrast to other philosophies of science, such as positivism and post-positivism, critical realism presents an alternative view on the questions of what is ‘real’ and how one can generate scientific knowledge of the ‘real’. How one answers these questions has implications for how one studies science and society. The critical realist answer starts by prioritizing the ontological question over the epistemological one, by asking: What must the world be like for science to be possible? Critical realism holds the key ontological belief of scientific realism that there is a reality which exists independent of our knowledge and experience of it. Critical realists posit that reality is more complex, and made up of more than the directly observable. More specifically, critical realism understands reality as ‘stratified’ and composed of three ontological domains: the empirical, the actual, and the real. Here lies the basis for causation.

Chapter

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

Ontology  

Eric Fabri

This chapter addresses ontology, which is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of being. As a branch of metaphysics, ontology is mainly concerned with the modes of existence of different entities (tangible and intangible). Every subdiscipline in the social sciences relies on an ontology that defines which elements really matter when it comes to explaining the phenomenon they set out to elucidate. A specific branch of ontology is devoted to the modes of existence of social phenomena: social ontology. Two main positions emerge: realism and constructivism. Scientific realism assumes that social phenomena have an objective existence, independent of the subject. By contrast, constructivism claims that social phenomena have no objective existence and are a construction of the human mind. Its fundamental axiom is that, even if reality exists outside the subject’s perception, the subject cannot reach it without perceiving it. This implies the mediation of imaginary structures, which are provided by social groups. It is important to note, however, that many other positions exist apart from realism and constructivism.

Chapter

Cover Political Research

2. Forms of Knowledge: Laws, Explanation, and Interpretation in the Study of the Social World  

This chapter focuses on fundamental assumptions that researchers make about how we can know and develop knowledge about the social world, such as assumptions about the nature of human behaviour and the methods appropriate to studying and explaining that behaviour. The main objective is how to carry out a systematic and rigorous investigation of social phenomena. The chapter considers three different answers to the question of how to approach the study of social phenomena: those offered by positivism, scientific realism, and interpretivism. It also explores the differences among these answers and their implications for conducting political research. Finally, it discusses the use of a positivist (rational choice) and interpretivist (constructivist) approach to the analysis of ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia in the 1990s.