Winch—The Idea of a Social Science

The Idea of a Social Science

by Peter Winch

[Winch, Peter. 1970. “The Idea of a Social Science.” In Rationality, edited by Bryan Wilson, 1–17. Key Concepts in the Social Sciences. London: Basil Blackwell.]

Points

The book as a whole represents an intervention into the ‘reasons and causes’ argument—the basic premise being that

  1. there are rules that regulate human activities. These rules “rest on a social context of common activity”
  2. In physical science, you are studying objects, these rules define how the scientists deal with the objects of study and how scientists relate to each other when involved in the study
    1. scientists understand these rules because they are developed through the process of doing science as scientists (regularities)
  3. In the social sciences, however, the object of study is not an object, but instead another layer of complex rules regulating human activity, which leads to the problem:
    1. Social scientists understand the rules of the social sciences—the rules that govern interactions with each other and the study but how can they claim to understand the rules regulating the subjects of their study?
  4. So, when we talk of “reasons,” we can really only talk about the rules that inform intention toward a particular act
  • “A regularity or uniformity is the constant recurrence of the same kind of event on the same kind of occasion; hence statements of uniformities presuppose judgements of identity. But this takes us right back to the argument according to which criteria of identity are necessarily relative to some rule: with the corollary that two events which count as qualitatively similar from the point of view of one rule would count as different from the point of view of another” (1).
  • “Even if it is legitimate to speak of one’s understanding of a mode of social activity as consisting in a knowledge of regularities, the nature of this knowledge must be very different from the nature of knowledge of physical regularities” (4).
  • “In the course of this argument I have linked the assertion that social relations are internal with the assertion that men’s mutual interaction ‘embodies ideas’, suggesting that social interaction can more profitably be compared to the exchange of ideas in a conversation than to the interaction of forces in a physical system” (12).
  • “So, even where it would be unnatural to say that a given kind of social relation expresses any ideas of a discursive nature, still it is closer to that general category than it is to that of the interaction of physical forces” (12).

Questionable: “a historian or sociologist of religion must himself have some religious feeling if he is to make sense of the religious movement he is studying and understand considerations which govern the lives of their participants” (4).

Annotation Summary for: Winch – The Idea of Social Science

Page 83 (100), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The Investigation of Regularities”

Page 83 (100), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “A regularity or uniformity is the constant recurrence of the same kind of event on the same kind of occasion; hence statements of uniformities presuppose judgements”

Page 83 (100), Highlight (Yellow): Content: “regularity”

Page 83 (100), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “of identity. But this takes us right back to the argument according to which criteria ofidentity are necessarily relative to some rule: with thecorollary that two events which count as qualitativelysimilar from the point of view of one rule would countas different from the point of view of another. So toinvestigate the type of regularity studied in a given kindof enquiry is to examine the nature of the rule accordingto which judgements of identity are made in thatenquiry. ”

Page 84 (101), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “rules, rest on a social context of common activity.”

Page 84 (101), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “So to understand the activities of an individual scientific investigator we must take account of two sets of relations: first, his relation to the phenomena which he investigates; second, his relation to his fellow-scientists. Both of these are essential to the sense of saying that he is ‘detecting regularities’ or ‘discovering uniformities’; but writers on scientific ‘methodology’ too often concentrate on”

Page 85 (102), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the first and overlook the importance of the second.”

Page 85 (102), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “To quote Rush Rhees: ‘Wesee that we understand one another, without noticingwhether our reactions tally or not. Because we agree inour reactions, it is possible for me to tell yousomething, and it is possible for you to teach mesomething’. (28.) ”

Page 85 (102), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In the course of his investigation the scientistapplies and develops the concepts germane to his”

Page 86 (103), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “particular field of study. This application andmodification are ‘influenced’ both by the phenomenato which they are applied and also by the fellow-workers in participation with whom they are applied.”

Page 86 (103), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Understanding Social Institutions”

Page 86 (103), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The concepts and criteria according to which the sociologist judges that, in two situations, the same thing has happened, or the same action performed, must be understood in relation to the rules governing”

Page 87 (104), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “sociological investigation.”

Page 87 (104), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “But here we run against adifficulty; for whereas in the case of the naturalscientist we have to deal with only one set of rules,namely those governing the scientist’s investigationitself, here what the sociologist is studying, as well ashis study of it, is a human activity and is thereforecarried on according to rules. ”

Page 88 (105), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Putting the point generally, even if it is legitimate tospeak of one’s understanding of a mode of socialactivity as consisting in a knowledge of regularities, thenature of this knowledge must be very different from thenature of knowledge of physical regularities.”

Page 88 (105), Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 88 (105), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “If we are going to compare the social student to an engineer, we shall do better to compare him to an apprentice engineer who is studying what engineering—that is, the activity of engineering—is all about. His understanding of social phenomena is more like the engineer’s understanding of his colleagues’ activities than it is like the engineer’s understanding of the mechanical systems which he studies.”

Page 88 (105), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “common-senseconsiderations ”

Page 88 (105), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “: that a historian orsociologist of religion must himself have somereligious feeling if he is to make sense of the religiousmovement he is studying and understand considerations which govern the lives of theitsparticipants.”

Page 88 (105), Stamp (Question Mark (?, Red))

Page 111 (128), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Max Weber: Verstehen and Causal Explanation”

Page 111 (128), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “It is Max Weber who has said most about the peculiar sense which the word ‘understand’ bears when applied to modes of social life.”

Page 111 (128), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “his conception of sociological understanding (Verstehen).”

Page 111 (128), Highlight (Yellow): Content: “(Verstehen).”

Page 111 (128), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Weber never gives a clear account of thelogical character of interpretative understanding. Hespeaks of it much of the time as if it were simply a”

Page 112 (129), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “psychological technique: a matter of putting oneself in the other fellow’s position.”

Page 112 (129), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Popper argues that although we may use ourknowledge of our own mental processes in order toframe hypotheses about the similar processes of otherpeople, ‘these hypotheses must be tested, they must besubmitted to the method of selection by elimination.”

Page 112 (129), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Weber is very insistent that mere ‘intuition’ is not enough and must be tested by careful observation.”

Page 112 (129), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Weber says: Every interpretation aims at self-evidence or immediate plausibility (Evidenz). But an interpretation which makes the meaning of a piece of behaviour as self- evidently obvious as you like cannot claim just on that account to be the causally valid interpretation as well. In itself it is nothing more than a particularly plausible hypothesis. (33: Chapter I.)”

Page 113 (130), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Weber is clearly right in pointing out that the obvious interpretation need not be the right one.”

Page 113 (130), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “But I want to question Weber’simplied suggestion that Verstehen is something whichis logically incomplete and needs supplementing by adifferent method altogether, namely the collection ofstatistics. Against this, I want to insist that if aproffered interpretation is wrong, statistics, thoughthey may suggest that that is so, are not the decisiveand ultimate court of appeal for the validity ofsociological interpretations”

Page 113 (130), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “What is then needed is a betterinterpretation, not something different in kind.”

Page 114 (131), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “sociologistswho misinterpret an alien culture are likephilosophers getting into difficulties over the use oftheir own concepts.”

Page 115 (132), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As I have indicated, Weber often speaks as if the ultimate test were our ability to formulate statistical laws which would enable us to predict with fair accuracy what people would be likely to do in given circumstances. In line with this is his attempt to define a ‘social role’ in terms of the probability (Chance) of actions of a certain sort being performed in given circumstances.”

Page 115 (132), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The difference isprecisely analogous to that between being able toformulate statistical laws about the likely occurrencesof words in a language and being able to understandwhat was being said by someone who spoke thelanguage.”

Page 115 (132), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “‘Understanding’, in situations like this, is grasping the point or meaning of what is being done or said. This is a notion far removed from the world of statistics and causal laws: it is closer to the realm of discourse and to the internal relations that link the parts of a realm of discourse.”

Page 128 (145), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Discursive and Non-Discursive ‘Ideas’”

Page 128 (145), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In the course of this argument I have linked theassertion that social relations are internal with theassertion that men’s mutual interaction ‘embodiesideas’, suggesting that social interaction can moreprofitably be compared to the exchange of ideas in aconversation than to the interaction of forces in aphysical system. ”

Page 128 (145), Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 128 (145), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “because the use of language is so intimately, so inseparably, bound up with the other, non-linguistic, activities which men perform, that it is possible to speak of their non-linguistic”

Page 129 (146), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “behaviour also as expressing discursive ideas.”

Page 129 (146), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “there is no sharp break between behaviourwhich expresses discursive ideas and that which doesnot; and that which does not is sufficiently like thatwhich does to make it necessary to regard it asanalogous to the other. ”

Page 129 (146), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “So, even where it would be unnatural to say that a given kind of social relation expresses any ideas of a discursive nature, still it is closer to that general category than it is to that of the interaction of physical forces.”

Page 129 (146), Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 130 (147), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “societies”

Page 130 (147), Highlight (Yellow): Content: “societies”

Page 131 (148), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “in which much goes on besides eating, seeking shelterand reproducing; in which life is carried on in termsof symbolic ideas which express certain attitudes asbetween man and man. These symbolic relationships,incidentally, will affect the character even of thosebasic ‘biological’ activities: ”

Page 131 (148), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “activities: one does not throw muchlight on the particular form which the latter may takein a given society by speaking of them inMalinowski’s neo-Marxist terminology as performingthe ‘function’ of providing for the satisfaction of thebasic biological needs.”

Page 131 (148), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The Social Sciences and History”

Page 131 (148), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This view of the matter may make possible a new appreciation of Collingwood’s conception of all human history as the history of thought. Collingwood is right if he is taken to”

Page 132 (149), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “mean that the way to understand events in humanhistory, even those which cannot naturally berepresented as conflicts between or developments ofdiscursive ideas, is more closely analogous to the wayin which we understand expressions of ideas than it isto the way we understand physical processes.”

Page 133 (150), Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” Ihave ”

Page 133 (150), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “tried to show that social relations really existonly in and through the ideas which are current insociety; or alternatively; that social relations fall intothe same logical category as do relations betweenideas.”

Page 133 (150), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “It follows that social relations must be anequally unsuitable subject for generalizations andtheories of the scientific sort to be formulated aboutthem. ”

Page 134 (151), Highlight (Cyan): Content: “so it can be misleading to think of the behaviour of people in remote societies in terms of the demeanour to which we are accustomed in our own society.”

Page 137 (154), Underline (Red): Content: “COLLINGWOOD, R.G., The Idea of History, OUP, 1946.”

Page 138 (155), Underline (Red): Content: “POPPER, KARL, The Open Society and Its Enemies,Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1945. POPPER, KARL, The Poverty of Historicism,Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957. ”

Page 138 (155), Underline (Red): Content: “RHEES, RUSH, ‘Can There be a Private Language?’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume XXVIII.”

Page 138 (155), Underline (Red): Content: “SIMMEL, GEORG, Conflict, Glencoe, Free Press, 1955.”

Page 138 (155), Underline (Red): Content: “WEBER, MAX, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft,Tübingen, Mohr, 1956. WEBER, MAX, Gesammelte Aufsätze zurWissenschaftslehre, Tübingen, Mohr, 1922.”

Page 139 (156), Underline (Red): Content: “ITTGENSTEIN, LUDWIG, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Kegan Paul, 1923. WITTGENSTEIN, LUDWIG, Investigations, Blackwell, 1953. WITTGENSTEIN, LUDWIG, PhilosophicalRemarks on theFoundations of Mathematics, Blackwell, 1956. “

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