The Individualist and ‘Compositive’ Method 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 Individualist and ‘Compositive’ Method of the Social Sciences

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The special difficulties of the social sciences, and much confusion about their character, derive precisely from the fact that, in them, ideas appear in two capacities, as it were, as part of their object and as ideas about that object. While in the natural sciences the contrast between the object of our study and our explanation of it coincides with the distinction between ideas and objective facts, in the social sciences it is necessary to draw a distinction between those ideas that are constitutive of the phenomena we want to explain and the ideas which either we ourselves or the very people whose actions we have to explain may have formed about these phenomena, and which are not the cause of, but theories about, the social structures. This chapter carefully distinguishes between the motivating or constitutive opinions on the one hand and the speculative or explanatory views that people have formed about the wholes; confusion between the two is a source of constant danger.

Keywords: compositive method; social science; constitutive; social phenomena; social interactions; positivists; social behavior; human behavior

Chapter.  5176 words. 

Subjects: History of Economic Thought

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