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Chapter 1

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University of Toronto St. George
Margaret Gassanov

Chapter 1: Human Inquiry and Science Looking For Reality - How can you really know what’s real? - Answer: science - A scientific assertion must have both logical and empirical support - It must make sense, and it must not contradict actual observation - Epistemology is the science of knowing - Methodology (a subfield of epistemology) might be called the science of finding out Ordinary Human Inquiry - In looking at ordinary human inquiry, we need to distinguish between prediction and understanding - Cause and effect are probabilistic in nature – effects occur more often when the causes occur than when the causes are absent – but not always Tradition - Tradition offers some clear advantages to human inquiry - By accepting what everybody knows, we are spared the overwhelming task of starting from scratch in our search for regularities and understanding - Tradition many hinder human inquiry - It rarely occurs to most of us to seek a different understanding of something we all “know” to be true Authority - Like tradition, authority can both assist and hinder human inquiry - Inquiry can be greatly hindered by the legitimate authorities that err within their own province - Inquiry is also hindered when we depend on the authority of experts speaking outside their realm of expertise - Both tradition and authority are double-edged swords in the search for knowledge about the world - They both provide us with a starting point for our own inquiry, but can lead us to start at the wrong point and push us off in the wrong direction Errors in Inquiry and Some Solutions 1. Inaccurate Observations  Most of our daily observations are casual and semi-conscious  Scientific observation is a conscious activity  Both simple and complex measurement devices help guard against inaccurate observations  They add a degree of precision well beyond the capacity of the unassisted human senses 2. Overgeneralization  We overgeneralize on the basis of limited observations  Tendency to overgeneralize is the greatest when the pressure to arrive at a general understanding is high  When overgeneralization occurs, it can misdirect or impede inquiry  Scientists guard against generalization by committing themselves in advance to a sufficiently large and representative sample of observations  The replication of inquiry provides another safeguard  Replication means repeating a study and checking to see whether the same results are produced each time 3. Selective Observation  One danger of overgeneralization is that it may lead to selective observation  Racial and ethnic prejudices depend heavily on selective observation for their persistence  Sometimes a research design will specify in advance the # and kind of observations to be made, as a basis for reaching a conclusion 4. Illogical Reasoning  What statisticians have called the gambler’s fallacy is an illustration of illogic in day- to-day reasoning  Often we assume that a consistent run of either good or back luck foreshadows its opposite  Scientists try to avoid illogical reasoning by using systems of logic consciously and explicitly  Logical reasoning is a conscious activity for scientists  Science attempts to protect its inquiries from the common pitfalls in ordinary inquiry  Accurately observing and understanding reality is not an obvious or trivial matter What’s Really Real? - “naïve realism” is to describe the way most of us operate in our daily lives - 3 views on reality: 1. The Pre-modern View  This view of reality has guided most of human history  Early ancestors all assumed that they saw things as they really were  This assumption was so fundamental that they didn’t even see it as an assumption 2. The Modern View  This view accepts such diversity as legitimate  “different strokes for different folks”  Accepts that different people may have different views  This view acknowledges the inevitability of human subjectivity 3. The Postmodern View  All that’s real are the images we get through our points of view  There’s nothing out there, it’s all in here  According to this view, there is no book, only various images of it from different points of view, and all the different images are equally true  There is ultimately no way people can totally step outside their humanness to see and understand the world as it “really” is – that is, independently of all human viewpoints  There is no objective reality to be observed, there are only our several subjective views  Established scientific procedures sometimes allow us to deal effectively with this dilemma  We can study people without being able to view reality directly  Different philosophical stances suggest a powerful range of possibilities for structuring our research The Foundations of Social Science - Scientific understanding of the world must 1. Make sense 2. Correspond to what we observe - Both elements are essential to science and relate to 3 major aspects of the social scientific enterprise: theory, data collection, and data analysis - Scientific Theory deals with the logical aspect of science,  Theory is a systematic explanation for the observations that relate to a particular aspect of life: juvenile delinquency, for example, or perhaps social stratification or political revolution - Data collection deals with the observational aspect - Data analysis looks for patterns in observa
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