The Subjective Character of the Data of the Social Sciences

Edited by Bruce Caldwell

in Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2010 | ISBN: 9780226321097
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226321127 | DOI:
The Subjective Character of the Data of the Social Sciences

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  • History of Economic Thought


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This chapter surveys the peculiar object and the methods of the social studies, which deal not with the relations between things, but with the relations between men and things or the relations between man and man. They are concerned with man's actions, and their aim is to explain the unintended or undesigned results of the actions of many men. The social sciences in the narrower sense, that is, those that used to be described as the moral sciences, are concerned with man's conscious or reflected action, actions where a person can be said to choose between various courses open to him, and here the situation is essentially different. That the objects of economic activity cannot be defined in objective terms but only with reference to a human purpose goes without saying. Neither a “commodity” nor an “economic good,” nor “food” nor “money,” can be defined in physical terms but only in terms of views people hold about things. That in this effort to reconstruct these different patterns of social relations we must relate the individual's action not the objective qualities of the persons and things toward which he acts, but that our data must be man and the physical world as they appear to the men whose actions we try to explain, follows from the fact that only what people know or believe can enter as a motive into their conscious action.

Keywords: social studies; conscious action; social phenomena; social interactions; positivists; social behavior; human behavior; economic planning

Chapter.  6119 words. 

Subjects: History of Economic Thought

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