UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


HPSC2022 Philosophy of Social Science

Term 1 2013/2014

Course Lecturer: Dr Emma Tobin

E-mail: e.tobin@ucl.ac.uk


Teaching and Assessment:

Teaching Contents : 10 lectures + 10 accompanying seminars 

Workload : 1 x 3000 word essay, coursework for seminar and summer examination.

Conditions for credit : Attendance and participation in seminars; coursework essays written to set deadlines, passing the examination. 

Timetable: Specific timetable information is available on the UCL Common Timetable 

Course Description

What is the method of social science (e.g. anthropology, economics, sociology, psychology etc.)? Do all social sciences use the same scientific method and how does this compare to natural science? Should we even aspire to using the so called scientific method for investigating the social world, given its shortcomings in the value laden social sphere? Is there a compromise or must we renege on objectivity when faced with inquiry into the social world? These questions will be examined against the background of general topics in the philosophy of the social sciences including the explanation and interpretation of action; naturalist and hermeneutic social theory; reductionism and methodological individualism; rational choice theory and relativism. More general topics in philosophy of science, such as theories of scientific explanation, causation and laws will also be discussed in relation to social science.

As as example of a topic discussed on the course consider the following:

The Ultimatum Game:
Player 1, the proposer splits a sum of ten pounds, specifying how much he will keep himself (£6) and how much he will give to player 2 (£4). If player 2 agrees, each party gets what player 1 decided. If player 2 declines, then no one gets anything. What would you do, if you were player 2?

Should we assume that all humans are rational in their actions, i.e. that we would accept what player 1 decides?  If not, what role do independent concepts like equality and justice play in our actions? How are we to gauge the unpredictability of human beings in our social scientific explanations and to what degree is social knowledge de facto restricted and provisional because it concerns human beings? Examples like this will be used to ground our discussion of the impact of rationality on human action and the role this must be given in social scientific explanation and prediction.

If you would like to think and talk about these questions and issues please do come along and check out this BRAND NEW STS course at UCL. Please do get in touch if you would like more information or if there are any questions you would like me to answer.

E-mail: e.tobin@ucl.ac.uk

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