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McMaster University
Political Science
Todd Alway

Political Science 3N06 2013 Lecture 2a: What is the social world made of and how can we know it? - Political research, no matter how specific, parochial, and mundane, always starts with assumed answers to big-picture questions Ontology: What is the nature of reality? What is the nature of the social world? - What is the world made of? There are certain objective properties of the outside world. - A) Foundationalist - There is an objective world “out there” that is what it is regardless of how we perceive it. If you take the example of gender, you can say that there are distinct differences between men and women and they hold strong regardless of social problems/nature - B) Anti-foundationalist - Reality is socially constructed and therefore socially variant. If you take this view, you don’t make any assumptions that these things have central properties, you look at the world as the product of the mind rather than “out three.” Epistemology: Regardless of what the world is made of, how can we know that world? How can we know it given the fact that we are all social creatures that don’t exist outside society? - What can we know about the world, regardless of what it is ultimately made up of? Methodology: - How do we gather knowledge about the world - What techniques can we use to access true knowledge Positivism (the list is a bit of a simplification of a complex philosophy of knowledge, but…): A) Naturalism: There can be only one: The social world and the natural world is very similar, we mean this in a ontologist sense. The social world works in the same way it has the same patterns. If we want to understand the social world we should do the same thing as what scientists do in the natural world. In the context of naturalism then is that there is only one way/ world. 1 - The social world is analogous to the natural world - It is patterned, and governed by laws in the same essential way - Consequently, the social world can be studied and understood using the same techniques as in the natural sciences - Physical science (physics), Animal science (biology), Human science (social science): “All sciences share a common set of principles and logic” B) Nomothetic analysis: there is a planatory and a predictory element of this. - Nomothetic analysis is oriented towards uncovering general laws o Whether the laws governing chemistry o Or those governing human behaviour - Laws that hold across time and space - Uncovering cause-effect relationships will allow us to explain and predict behaviour in the social world - Goal is to find the social facts that connect what is and what ought to be C) Facts and Values are (in principle) Separable - Scientific knowledge is (and must be) value free - Distance, objective, dispassionate, neutral – these are the watchwords - We can find objective facts about the world based on a combination of: - I) Empirical observation (Classical Positivism) - We can observe the world as it really is o In the sense that what you see is what actually is - General laws are discovered by observing empirical facts and then uncovering the regularities and patterns amongst those facts (induction) - II) Logic (Logical Positivism) - Start with a theory and see whether the empirical evidence supports it (deduction) - If the evidence supports the theory, the theory is verified - Scienti
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