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Laws in the social sciences

Greene, Catherine (2017) Laws in the social sciences. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.wwrs1wazvp70


The social sciences are often thought to be inferior to the natural sciences because they do not have laws. Bohman writes that “the social sciences have never achieved much in the way of predictive general laws—the hallmark of naturalistic knowledge—and so have often been denied the honorific status of ‘sciences’” (1994, pg. vii). Philosophers have suggested a number of reasons for the dearth of laws in the social sciences, including the frequent use of ceteris paribus conditions in the social sciences, reflexivity, and the use of ‘odd’ concepts. This thesis argues that the scarcity of laws in the social sciences is primarily due to the concepts that social scientists often work with. These concepts are described as Nomadic and are characterised by disagreement about what can reasonably be included within the scope of a concept. The second half of the thesis explores the implications of this analysis. It argues firstly, that counterfactual analysis is problematic when using Nomadic concepts. Secondly, it argues that taking an intentional perspective on behaviour often involves the use of Nomadic concepts so, if social scientists do hope to formulate laws, then they are more likely to succeed if they focus on behaviour that is not intentional.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Catherine Greene
Library of Congress subject classification: K Law > K Law (General)
Sets: Departments > Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
Supervisor: Bovens, Luc and Alexander, J Mckenzie

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