MacIntyre—The Idea of a Social Science (Symposium)

vThe Idea of a Social Science (Symposium)

by Alasdair MacIntyre

[MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1967. “Symposium: The Idea of a Social Science.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes 41 (January): 95–114.]

Points

In very simple terms—MacIntyre takes Winch’s argument to be that we cannot go beyond a society’s self-description. MacIntyre has a couple of problems with this

  1. By focusing on the rule systems of agents involved in particular acts, Winch ignores the creative ways in which humans subvert, break, and disregard rules.
    1. Winch assumes obedience to these rules, thus missing a large part of human activity and misrepresenting the aims of social science in the first place.
  2. While descriptions of societies should begin with the societies’ own understandings, the social sciences need not (should not) stop there.
    1. By “translating” these rules and concepts, we can attempt to understand them ourselves
  3. These translations come at possible cost—in creating typologies and conceptual schemes, we run the risk of ending up with a bunch of lists with little contextual meaning
  • “One can set out Winch’s view of understanding and explanations in the social sciences in terms of a two-stage model. An action is first made intelligible as the outcome of motives, reasons, and decisions; and is then made further intelligible by those motives, reasons and decisions being set in the context of the rules of a given form of social life” (98).
  • “Winch’s contrast between explanation in terms of causal generalisations and explanations in terms of rules turns out to rest upon a version of the contrast between explanations in terms of causes and explanations in terms of reasons” (99).
  • “I can put my general point as follows. We can in a given society discover a variety of systematic regularities. There are the systems of rules which agents professedly follow; there are the systems of rules which they actually follow; there are causal regularities exhibited in the correlation of statuses and forms of behaviour, and of one form of behaviour and another, which are not rule-governed at all; there are regularities which are in themselves neither causal nor rule-governed, although dependent for their existence perhaps on regularities of both types, such as the cyclical patterns of development exhibited in some societies; and there are the inter-relationships which exist between all these. Winch concentrates on some of these at the expense of the others” (105).
  • “Unless we begin by a characterisation of a society in its own terms, we shall be unable to identify the matter that requires explanation. Attention to intentions, motives and reasons must precede attention to causes; description in terms of the agent’s concepts and beliefs must precede description in terms of our concepts and beliefs” (107).
  • “if we treat seriously, not what I take to be Winch’s mistaken thesis that we cannot go beyond a society’s own self-description, but what I take to be his true thesis that we must not do this except and until we have grasped the criteria embodied in that self-description, then we shall have to conclude that the contingently different conceptual schemes and institutional arrangements of different societies make translation difficult to the point at which attempts at cross-cultural generalisation too often becomes little more than a construction of lists” (113).

Annotation Summary for: MacIntyre – The Idea of a Social Science

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “THE IDEA OF A SOCIAL SCIENCE By ALASDAIR MACINTYRE”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “My aim in this paper is to express dissent from the position taken in Mr. Peter Winch’s book whose title is also the title of this Winch’s book has been the subject of a good deal of symposium. misunderstanding and he has been accused reviving familiar and long-refuted views and on the other of holding views so eccentric in relation to social science as it actually is that they could not possibly have any practical effect on the conduct of that science In fact, however, Winch articulates a position which is at least partly implicit in a good deal of work already done, notably in anthropology, and he does so in an entirely original way. ”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I “Wittgenstein says somewhere that when one gets into philosophical difficulties over the use of some of the concepts of our language, we are like savages confronted with something from an alien culture. I am simply indicating a corollary of this: that sociologists who misinterpret an alien culture are like philo- sophers getting into difficulty over the use of their own concepts.””

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This passage (p. 114) epitomises a central part of Winch’s thesis with its splendid successive characterisations of the figure baffled by an alien culture; a savage at one moment, he has become a sociologist at the next.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “According to Winch the successful sociologist has simply learnt all that the ideal native informant could tell him; sociological knowledge is the kind of knowledge possessed in implicit and partial form by the members of a society rendered explicit and complete (p. 88).”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Malinow- ski, insisted that the Trobriander’s account of Trobriand society must be inadequate, that the sociologists’ account of institutions is a con- struction not available to the untutored awareness of the native informant.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The sociologist who relies upon that view, he says, “obtains at best that lifeless body of laws, regula- tions, morals and conventionalities which ought to be obeyed, but in reality are often only evaded. For in actual life rules are never entirely conformed to, and it remains, as the most difficult but indispensable part of the ethnographers’ work, to ascertain the extent and mechanism of the deviations” (op. cit., pp. 428-9).”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Malinowski makes a distinction between the rules acknowledged in a given society and the actual behaviour of individuals in that society, whereas Winch proclaims the proper object of sociological study to be that behaviour precisely as rule-governed.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “My purpose in this paper will be to defend against Winch’s, in defending Malinowski’s views on these points I must not be taken to be endorsing Malinowski’s general theoretical position.”

Page 4, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “on these matters Malinowski speaks with the consensus.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Winch’s argument the natural scientist makes the relevant judgments of identity according to his rules, that is the rules incorporated in the practice of his science; whereas the social scientist must make his judgments of identity in accordance with the rules governing the behaviour of those whom he studies. Their rules, not his, define the object of his study.”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “He says that although prediction is possible in the social sciences, it “is quite different from predictions in the natural sciences, where a falsified prediction always implies some sort of mistake on the part of the predictor: false or inadequate data, faulty calculation, or defective theory” (pp. 91-2).”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” points about prediction, if correct, reinforce Winch’sarguments about the difference between the natural sciences and the social sciences. For they amount to a denial of that sym- metry between explanation and prediction which holds in the natural sciences”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” one can set out Winch’s view of understanding and explanations in the social sciences in terms of a two-stage model. An action is first made intelligible as the outcome of motives, reasons, and decisions; and is then made further in- telligible by those motives, reasons and decisions being set in the context of the rules of a given form of social life. ”

Page 6, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” Winch’s contrast between explanation in terms of causal generalisations and explanations in terms of rules turnsout to rest upon a version of the contrast between explanations in terms of causes and explanations in terms of reasons.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “A case worth considering is that of two agents, eachwith the same reasons for performing a given action; one does not in fact perform it, the other does.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Here we can ask what made these reasons or some sub-set of them productive of action in the”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “one case, but not in the other?”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “post-hypnotic suggestion”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The chief objection to this view has been that the relation of reason to action is internal and conceptual, not external and contingent, and cannot there- fore be a causal relationship; but although nothing could count as a reason unless it stood in an internal relationship to an action, the agent’s possessing a reason may be a state of affairs identi- fiable independently of the event which is the agent’s performance of the action.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Thus it does seem as if the possession of a reason byan agent is an item of a suitable type to figure as a cause, or aneffect. ”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” it seems quite clear that the concept of ideology can findapplication in a society where the concept is not available to the members of the society, and furthermore that the application of this concept implies that criteria beyond those available in the society may be invoked to judge its rationality; and as such it would fall under Winch’s ban as a concept unsuitable for social science.”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “III”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “If I go for a walk, or smoke a cigarette, are my actions rule- governed in the sense in which my actions in playing chess are rule-governed?”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Winch says that “the test of whether a man’s actions are the application of a rule is . . . whether it makes sense to distinguish between a right and a wrong way of doing things in connection with what he does.” What is the wrong way of going for a walk? And, if there is no wrong way, is my action in any sense rule-governed? ”

Page 9, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “To ask these questions is to begin to bring out the difference between those activities which form part of a coherent mode of behaviour and those which do not.”

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “If Winch were correct and rule-governed behaviour was not to be understood as causal behaviour, then the contrast could not be drawn between those cases in which the relation of socialstructure to individuals may be correctly characterised in terms of control or constraint and those in which it may not.”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Durkheim supposes, just as Winch does, that an investigation of social reality which uses the concepts available to the members of the society which is being studied and an investigation of social reality which utilises concepts not so available and invokes causal explanations of which the agents themselves are not aware are mutually exclusive alternatives.”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “But Durkheim supposes, as Winch does not, that the latter alternative is the one to be preferred.”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Yet his accept- ance of the same dichotomy involves him in the same inability to understand the different ways in which social structure may be related to individual action.”

Page 11, Underline (Red): Content: “Durkheim,”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Durkheim is unable to recognise social structure apart from the notions of constraint and control by the structure;Winch’s concept of society has no room for these notions. ”

Page 11, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Just as Winch does not allow for the variety of relationshipsin which an agent may stand to a rule to which his behaviour conforms, so he does not allow also for the variety of types of deviance from rules which behaviour may exhibit. ”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I can put my general point as follows. We can in a given society discover a variety of systematic regularities. There are the systems of rules which agents professedly follow; there are the systems of rules which they actually follow; there are causal regularities exhibited in the correlation of statuses and forms of behaviour, and of one form of behaviour and another, which arenot rule-governed at all; there are regularities which are in them- selves neither causal nor rule-governed, although dependent for their existence perhaps on regularities of both types, such as the cyclical patterns of development exhibited in some societies; and there are the inter-relationships which exist between all these. Winch concentrates on some of these at the expense of the others. ”

Page 12, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 12, Underline (Red): Content: “E. E. Evans-Pritchard,”

Page 13, Underline (Red): Content: “Edmund Leach,”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “IV”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The positive value of Winch’s book is partly as a corrective to the Durkheimian position which he rightly castigates.”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “But it is more than a corrective because what Winch characterises as the whole task of the social sciences is in fact their true starting-point. Unless we begin by a characterisation of a society in its own terms, we shall be unable to identify the matter that requires explanation. ”

Page 14, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Attention to intentions, motives and reasons must precede attention to causes; description in terms of the agent’s concepts and beliefs must precede description in terms of our concepts and beliefs.”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Winch says that Weber was confused because he did not realise that “a con- text of humanly followed rules . . . cannot be combined with a context of causal laws” without creating logical difficulties, and he is referring specifically to Weber’s contention that the manipu-lation of machinery and the manipulation of his employees by a manufacturer may be understood in the same way, so far as the logic of the explanation is concerned. So Weber wrote, “that in the one case ‘events of consciousness’ do enter into the causal chain and in the other case do not, makes ‘logically’ not the slightest difference””

Page 15, Underline (Red): Content: “Weber”

Page 18, Underline (Red): Content: “Malinowski,”

Page 18, Underline (Red): Content: “Leach”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Winch argues, consistently with his rejection of any place for causal laws in social science, that comparison between different cases is not dependent on any grasp of theoretical generalisations (pp. 134-6), and he sets limits to any possible comparison by his insistence that each set of activities must be understood solely in its own terms.”

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “intelligible in the context of, ways of living or modes of social life” (p. 100). Winch’sone substantial point of difference with Evans-Pritchard in his treatment of witchcraft among the Azande is that he thinks it impossible to ask whether the Zande beliefs about witches are true We can ask from within the Zande system of beliefs if there are witches and will receive We can ask from within the system of beliefs the answer “Yes”. of modern science if there are witches and will receive the answer But we cannot ask which system of beliefs is the superior “No”. in respect of rationality and truth; for this would be to invoke criteria which can be understood independently of any particular way of life, and on Winch’s view there are no such criteria.”

Page 20, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” if we treat seriously, not what I take to be Winch’s mis- taken thesis that we cannot go beyond a society’s own self- description, but what I take to be his true thesis that we must not do this except and until we have grasped the criteria embodied in that self-description, then we shall have to conclude that the contingently different conceptual schemes and institutional arrangements of different societies make translation difficult to the point at which attempts at cross-cultural generalisation too often becomes little more than a construction of lists. ”

Page 20, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 20, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “We may conclude not thatwe ought not to generalise, but that such generalisation must move at another level.”

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