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Philosophy of social science is the scholarly elucidation and debate of accounts of the nature of the social sciences, their relations to each other, and their relations to the natural sciences (see natural science).
In broad terms, the social sciences are those that aim for a rational and systematic understanding of human society.
Émile Durkheim sought to define social sciences as those that attend to a special sort of fact, which he called a social fact. In his book The Rules of Sociological Method he said that a social fact can be recognized by "the power of external coercion which it exercises or is capable of exercising over individuals, and the presence of this power may be recognized in its turn either by the existence of some specific sanction or by the resistance offered against every individual effort to violate it."
Within the philosophy of social science, of course, that definition or any other is up for debate. What Durkheim meant to highlight, though, were the formal sanctions such as law, the informal sanctions such as shunning, and the norms of society that both sorts of sanction enforce.
A competing account of the subject matter of the social sciences is found in Max Weber's Economy and Society in which he proposed that social action in a technical sense he defined was the fundamental building block of social phenomena or, as Durkheim would say, social facts. Weber emphasized the understandability of social phenomena when considered at the level of the individual human beings involved.
A contemporary work in the philosophy of social science that takes up the debate between Durkheim and Weber is Margaret Gilbert's On Social Facts. Drawing on insights from Durkheim, Weber, and a third founder of sociology, Georg Simmel, she argues that central social phenomena including social norms and social groups in a central sense are a matter of joint commitment.
- Social sciences
- Philosophy of history
- Philosophy of economics
- Political philosophy
- Philosophy of psychology
- Hollis, Martin (1994). The Philosophy of Social Science: An Introduction, Cambridge. ISBN 0521447801.
- Little, Daniel (1991). Varieties of Social Explanation : An Introduction to the Philosophy of Social Science, Westview Press. ISBN 0813305667.
- Braybrooke, David (1986). Philosophy of Social Science, Prentice Hall. ISBN 0136633943.
- Philosophy of social sciences (Daniel Little's article for the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
- Philosophy of social science (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
- Philosophy of social sciences (Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online)
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