Friday, September 16, 2011

purpose in social science

Richard S. Rudner, in his book 'Philosophy of Social Science' takes as an example of a false teleology the statement 'Smith's goal, e.g., graduating with honours, explains or causes his present behaviour, e.g., studying hard' (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1966, p 85).

Here, apparently, the cause (graduating with honours) comes after the effect (studying hard). This, he says, is clearly absurd; yet social explanations seem to rest on such statements.

He dissipates the problem by restating the statement: 'Smith's present hard work is explained or caused by his (present) desire to achieve the goal of graduating with honours (italics original)'.

He claims that this solves the problem: the cause no longer lies ahead of the effect.

But the cause and the effect are simultaneous: how can a cause be simultaneous with its effect? He has solved one problem by creating another.

Surely purpose or teleology plays an all-important role in the social science, and this role requires a separate methodology: suppose his mother comes to visit and tells him he shouldn't work so hard to graduate with honours.

Suppose he says: "But, Ma, I'm not working hard to graduate with honours; I'm working hard to learn the subject. I don't care whether I graduate with honours or not."

We won't know his motivation just by looking at his behaviour: we have to show empathy, put ourselves in his place (easily done by interviewing him) and then get the reason for his behaviour. We can't impose an hypothesis on his behaviour.

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