An Essay on the Philosophy of Social Science
1. A predictive capability is not necessary to a science. For example, the classification of plants and animals introduced by Carolus Linneaus in 1735 was purely descriptive yet still a science because it brought order into the observed phenomena and was widely regarded as doing so. Whether his classification corresponded to "reality" was less important than the fact that those who used his classification in their observation of plants and animals believed that they understood the phenomena better for doing so, and this belief has not been invalidated since then.
2. As shown by Imre Lakatos in his work in the 1960s in the philosophy of mathematics.
3. There is a related sense of "objectivity" pertaining to the attitude of a scientist to his or her work. A scientist who is "objective" is neutral concerning the results to which his or her enquiries will lead, and follows his investigations wherever they lead. He does not begin with preconceived ideas as to what results he intends to arrive at. For example, a person with racist prejudices who sets out to show that IQ test scores demonstrate the intellectual inferiority of black people is not being objective. Also a person who criticised those results on the basis of a belief that one ethnic group should never be shown to be inferior to another also would not be objective in his evaluation.
4. Society is normally considered to consist of human individuals, but the term as defined above may apply to other kinds of assemblies of individuals, e.g., ants, bees, etc. Thus we can speak non-metaphorically of a termite society, although the study of such a society is not normally considered as part of social science but as part of biological science. There may also exist societies of advanced non-human forms of life. However, in this essay, we shall confine our attention to human societies.
5. One may certainly influence the quality of one's experience. This is done by means of one's actions, which often influence others, whose actions affect one's experience of them and the world. However, one's experience does not constitute a reality, not even "one's own reality".
6. As an example of scientific "orthodoxy" we have only to look at the received theory as to the origins of humans. The "Darwinians" assert that the development of the human species must be explicable purely in terms of natural selection and other natural processes (the effects of climate change, etc.) despite being unable to provide any plausible explanation for the development of distinctively human qualities such as language, conceptual representation, art and civilisation (other than "it just happened naturally", which is no explanation of anything). No scientist can hope to obtain funding for research into the origins of humans if it is suspected that he might, heretically, seek explanations outside this framework of Darwinian orthodoxy.
7. However we may note in passing that this tendency to reify an overarching aspect of society can sometimes be done with some plausibility, as exemplified by a book by Alan J. Schwartz [Sch]. In the Preface to this book we read: "This book warns of how an energy system greater than the individual, a Greater System, has come into existence and threatens our freedom and the energy of our spirit. This Greater System was created and is nourished by greed. … Awareness of its power and being able to struggle against it is our hope for the future. … [In Part 2 of the book] we meet the Greater System, my identifying name for a death force that we have created from the aggregation of greed. It is a force that rules all of us, which actually recreates our personalities."
8. All quotations of Weber in this essay are from this book, [Web].
9. This view, however, ignores an alternative interpretation of predestination, according to which the elect may behave in any way they wish, since whatever they do cannot change the fact that they are saved. According to some Gnostics of the early Christian centuries the person who has attained salvation may do as he wishes, in fact, may even be expected to do so as a sign of freedom from all worldly constraints. This "libertine" tradition was continued in the Middle Ages by such sects as the Brethren of the Free Spirit, and in 17th Century England by the Ranters, as documented in [Coh].