On a previous thread, my counter-intuitive claim that verbal definitions are superfluous to science survived objections. I have been wondering if some further unconventional notions would survive a Troppodile attack.
Because natural science is effective, I suggested that we should do social science the same way. For example science does not define things but works out relationships between two or more objects (or concepts). That is, the only way we know if a concept (mass, time, heat, pulse, blood group…) exists is if we know its relationship to something else. Science also measures rather than counts and of course—of course!—scientific knowledge is falsifiable.
Social science is very far from this. Mel complained, with reference to the concept of power: “nothing like a consensus on anything ever emerges and … abstract and incomprehensible theory [increases].”
That sums up the position throughout social science (except economics). In addition, almost nothing has ever been shown to be false—or could be. After a century (or two and a half millennia) of such failure would it not make sense to adopt the methods that have proved so efficacious in natural science? Here is an illustration of that efficacy.
First, take power. Clarify initially by excluding “power-to.” This comes from technology, is always increasing, and is not social science per se. Our problem concerns “power-over”—power over people. This is social (and zero-sum). Consider the first chapter of David Knoke, 1990, Political networks: the structural perspective. Knoke nominates two kinds of power-over he calls influence and domination. Many have made a similar distinction but Knoke suggests a relationship. He points out that two propositions give four combinations (“truth values” as the logicians say): 1: only influence, 2: both influence and domination, 3: neither influence nor domination, 4: only domination. From these Knoke deduces the four kinds of social environments where each power combination would be found. I will paraphrase his results as 1: free market, 2: hierarchy, 3: egalitarianism, 4: fatalism. This is standard natural science deduction from a hypothesised relationship. Is it valid? Set “power” aside for the moment.
Second, consider page 86 of economist Sam Bowles, 1998, “Endogenous preferences: the cultural consequences of markets and other economic institutions.” Journal of Economic Literature XXXVI:75-111. Bowles reckons there are two kinds of human interaction: impersonal and durable. He sets out the four truth values, namely: the first only, both, the second only, and neither. He deduces the kind of social interaction which follows from each. These he calls 1: ideal market, 2: bureaucracy, 3: community, 4: ascribed market—which I call fatalism. Different starting hypothesis but the same four types as Knoke. Now set Bowles aside.
Third, consider a famous paper by organisation theorist William Ouchi, 1980, “Markets, bureaucracies and clans.” Administrative Science Quarterly 25(1):129-141. He sees two kinds of economic exchange conditions which he calls “goal incongruence” and “performance ambiguity” whereby the former refers to everyone having their own different goals and agendas, and the latter is where it is difficult to distinguish individual contribution such as with complex teamwork. He sets out three of the four truth values: the first only, both, and the second only, and he deduces 1: markets, 2: bureaucracies, 3: clans. He doesn’t mention the fourth value (i.e., neither of his two conditions) but it is readily seen to be fatalism.
Three people hypothesising three different pairs of issues all getting the same four types. I have found a total of eight theorists who have taken two social relationship concepts (mostly quite idiosyncratic and not confined to modern society) and deduced four types. Save for a couple of reasoning errors they all get the same four.
A relevant digression: these four types are not only theoretical. Unlike personality types or any other psychology classification, we can actually see examples. Politically, we might characterise them as: 1: Hayekian dries, 2: Burkean wets, 3: the Rousseauian left, and 4: Homer Simpsonesque populism. Sociologically they’d be: individualism, hierarchy, egalitarianism, fatalism. They are visible everywhere people are free to interact.
Apparently, the four are the only coherent social worldviews and social arrangements (i.e., ideologies) that are possible. Apparently, the four types are “natural kinds” which is to say they exist, like the objects of natural science, independent of human perception. They are patterns of perceptions yet they exist independent of my, or any theorist’s, perceptions.
The same applies to the relational pairs. If all pairs only ever yield these four types, then the pairs of issues are inflexibly related to each other. Thus the relationship of every rational social issue to every other rational, social issue is specified. For example, because they yield the same division of the four types, Knoke’s “influence” is in a sense the same as Bowles’s “impersonal” and the same as Ouchi’s “goal incongruence.” So those concepts are also natural kinds. “Same” means a logical person must hold the same belief on all—agree with them all or reject all.
Evidently, a social science theory can be constructed by adhering to the natural science paradigm. Falsification criteria are obvious: just find a pair of rational, social items that don’t fit with those four types or which deductively yield some other types. Potential falsifications are countless. It’s classic Popper: any number of confirmations cannot prove the theory but a single case—a single pair of items—could falsify it.
Since the theory encompasses every social view and social structure, the four types are specified in considerable detail so empirical falsification is fairly straightforward: find types in the real world which conflict with them. Alternatively, find organisations or individuals whose beliefs or preference sets are coherent but contradict the theory.
So—a solution to social science’s ancient problem. Achieved by doing as natural science does, namely the theoretical deduction of relationships and avoidance of definitions. Notice, incidentally, that as in natural science, observation plays no role.