This activity aims to prepare a written work applying the concepts studied in this module. Go deeper into the topic(s) discussed in the module by answering the following question:
Module 6: Lecture Content- Neopositivism and its Notion of the Human Being
Neopositivism and its Notion of the Human Being
Auguste Comte made philosophical positivism the cornerstone of his sociological thinking. Comte asserts that sociology should be a science, and its methods should follow those of the natural sciences, especially the physical sciences. Neopositivism arises from the analogy between physical and social phenomena. Neopositivism takes phenomena of the physical world as models for social events and uses the laws of the former to explain the latter.
In his Studies in the Theory of Human Society (1922), Giddings offered a qualified defense of behaviorism, arguing that “psychology has become experimental and objective. It has discriminated between reflex and conditioning.” He also insisted that “sociology is a scientific, statistical method” and that “a true and complete description of anything must include measurement of it.” Similarly, Lundberg argued that sociology could be modeled on the natural sciences and should observe the behavior of human beings in social situations, but without reference to concepts such as feelings, ends, motives, values, and will. Like Giddings, Lundberg argued that science was concerned with exact descriptions and generalization, which required a “quantitative statement.”
To the extent that Neopositivism had a lasting influence on the development of American sociology, this is best seen in later mathematical sociology, for example, in Richard M. Emerson’s attempt to integrate mathematical theory and exchange theory (J. Berger et al., 1972).
Neopositivists regard sound scientific methodology as the first principle of sociological analysis. For them, the sound scientific methodology involves mathematical and other formal models that incorporate the formalization of variables: computer techniques and language, experimental logic, laboratory experiments, and computer simulation of human behavior. Among early thinkers, Pareto and Giddings emphasized the scientific nature of sociology and recommended using methods commonly adopted in the natural sciences. Dodd, Ogburn, and Zipf are considered the leading exponents of Neopositivism.
A. Main Characteristics of Neopositivism:
1. Positivist Epistemology
Neopositivism rejects a priori definitions of the essential nature of society, culture, social structure, and institutions and insists on the operational definition of concrete phenomena. The sequence of observable consequences forming a group of sensory impressions is treated as the proper subject of sociology.
Neopositivists are not satisfied with vague dictionary definitions and theoretical concepts. Each term must be precisely defined and translated into measurable variables. For neopositivists sociological theory is a systematic collection of concepts helpful in interpreting statistical findings.
3. Quantitative Analysis
Statistical analysis incorporating enumeration and measurement is basic to Neopositivism. Due to advances in computer technology, various methods and techniques are available. Therefore, the need is to assemble the pieces of information about the units of the social structure into a formal, mathematical system so that the relationship between the different variables can be achieved Morin, E. (1990).
Whether survey research or experimental observation, empirical work follows a standard pattern. The problem must be investigated by fact-finding research. Formulating a set of hypotheses that can be tested based on individual responses to a group of questions. Collection of answers in an interview schedule, structured questionnaire.
Because of the emphasis on operationalism and quantitative data, neopositivists tend to study the pattern of observable behavior, concentrating on specific instances of interaction, sometimes counting frequency and patterns of repetition. Substantive problems of social structure and the history of institutions and ideas are often ignored, the concrete behavior becomes the focus of sociological inquiry. Neopositivists develop non-subjective, non-voluntarist theories of action and interaction. Based on mechanistic and field-theoretic conceptions, extreme variants of Neopositivism can border on behavioral determinism.
6. Construction of the Mathematical Theory
Neopositivists commit to formal theory construction. They claim that the solid symbolic representation of a theory in terms of the formal logic of mathematics necessarily increases the precision of theoretical propositions. The system of formal logic in mathematics allows substantive propositions to be expressed in terms of precisely defined concepts and to express them logically. Formal theory-building appears in two different contexts. First, there is the formalization of well-developed substantive theories. The second specific findings of the empirical investigation are codified in mathematical terms and then organized into a formal theoretical system that establishes the mathematical relationship between the variable in symbolic terms. Most empirical studies conducted by sociologists fall into this category.
B. David Hume and His Philosophy of Social Justice
Hume is considered one of the most important English philosophers writers. David Hume (1711-1776) was also well-known as a historian and essayist in his own time. His major philosophical works include A Treatise on Human Nature (1739-1740), the Inquiries Concerning Human Understanding (1748), and the Principles of Morals (1751), as well as his posthumously published Dialogues on Natural Religion (1779).
Hume developed an original and revolutionary theoretical paradigm to explain the spontaneous emergence of the classical justice conventions: stable possession, transfer of property by consent, and the obligation to fulfill promises.
In a scenario of scarce external resources, Hume’s central idea is that developing the rules of justice responds to a sense of common interest that progressively dominates the destructiveness of natural self-love and expands the action of natural moral sentiments. By handling conceptual tools that anticipated game theory for centuries, Hume could break with rationalism, the natural law school, and Hobbes’ contractualism. Unlike natural moral sentiments, the sense of justice is valuable and achieves its full force within a general plan or system of actions. However, unlike game theory, Hume does not assume that people have transparent access to their motivations and the internal structure of the social world. In contrast, he combines ideas such as cognitive delusion, experiential learning, and coordination to construct his theory.
He emphasizes the distinction between natural and artificial virtues. Natural virtues, being humane, kind, and charitable, are character traits and behavioral patterns human beings exhibit in their natural condition, even if there is no social order. The artificial virtues, respecting people’s property rights, faithfulness in fulfilling promises and contracts, and loyalty to the government are dispositions based on social practices and institutions that arise from conventions.
Hume believes nature has provided many motives: parental love, benevolence, and generosity, making it possible for humans to live together peacefully in small societies based on kinship relations. One of his important insights is that nature has yet to provide all the motives needed to live together peacefully in large societies. He asks two momentous questions. What motivates people to establish the rules of justice that give rise to property rights? Why do they approve of people who obey these rules of justice? The first question concerns justice as a practice constituted by its rules. The second concerns justice as a virtue, the willingness of a person to obey the rules of justice.
The problem is that, given the concern for family and close friends, but material goods are scarce and portable, humans are tempted to take goods from strangers to give to family and friends. Disputes over these goods are inevitable, but if they are fought over, they lose the benefits of living together in society: greater power, capability, and security. The solution to the problem is to establish property rights. Make rules that specify who is entitled to what and agree to follow the rules, and keep your hands off each other’s property. Hume was one of the first to see that what is useful is the practice of justice rather than individual acts of justice. Like Hobbes, he believes that it is in the interest of human beings to have the practice of justice in place Morin, E. (1990).
C. Thomas Nagel and the Philosophy of Chance
The American philosopher Thomas Nagel was one of the first moral philosophers during the contemporary period to challenge Hume’s thesis that reason alone cannot motivate moral action. In The Possibility of Altruism (1969), Nagel argued that if Hume’s thesis is true, then the ordinary idea of prudence, i.e., the idea that one’s future pains and pleasures are as capable of motivating one to act (and act now) as one’s present pains and pleasures are, is incoherent.
Once one accepts the rationality of prudence, a very similar line of argument would lead one to accept the rationality of altruism, i.e., the idea that the pains and pleasures of other individuals are as capable of motivating one to act as being one’s pains and pleasures. This means that only reason can inspire moral action; therefore, appeals to self-interest or benevolent feelings are unnecessary.
“Moral Luck” (1979) states that Thomas Nagel claims that moral luck reveals a paradox in the concept of moral responsibility. According to Nagel, the central element in the human being’s concept of moral responsibility is the Control Condition which can be schematically represented: (CC) Agent S is morally responsible for action A only if A is under S’s control.
The paradox arises because one becomes aware that everything human beings do depends, at least partially, on factors beyond their control, many of which are due to luck (Nagel 1979). A consequence of the CC is that the person is not responsible for what is beyond his control, which allows him to say that certain factors such as coercion, involuntary movements, and ignorance excuse responsibility. Various answers have been attempted to address Nagel’s paradox. They fall into one or the other of two camps: on the one hand, defending CC and rejecting the influence of luck on moral responsibility; on the other hand, defending the influence of luck on moral responsibility and rejecting CC.
Module 6: Lecture Content- Critical Rationalism
II. Critical Rationalism
Critical rationalism is the philosophy developed by Karl Popper in the mid-20th century. Popper’s approach is based on the naturalistic idea that society has developed through problem-solving by trial and error. According to its adherents, it applies to all scientific disciplines, philosophy, and politics. A tentative theory is advocated to solve the problem in a problematic situation. After that, all efforts must be directed to show the falsity of this theory (falsification, elimination of errors). When this has been done, a new problematic situation is faced with increased knowledge. It has been learned by error. This optimistic belief in the possibility of the growth of knowledge justifies the label “rationalism.”
Moreover, this rationalism is “critical” since a prevailing theory must constantly be exposed to a maximum of criticism. This, of course, is a particularly demanding requirement for the theory builder. However, critical rationalism’s crucial purpose is to depersonalize research and its theories: “I may be wrong, and you may be right, and through critical discussion, we can approach the truth of the matter” Morin, E. (1990).
This philosophy is centered on a series of interpreted theses of critical rationalism:
· Reality exists “out there” (philosophical realism).
· Life is too short to argue about the meaning of words or concepts (anti-essentialism).
· Although reality exists, it is difficult to understand; there are no “facts” per se (anti-positivism or anti-inductivism).
· Theories should be frugal; the simpler one should be preferred between two theories with equal explanatory power (the virtue of simplicity).
· Theories, to be scientific, must, in principle, be falsifiable (falsificationism).
· The development of society should not be explained based on traits or motives of individuals or groups within it (reductionism) nor based on emergent properties of society as a whole (holism). Instead, revealing unintended consequences is the way forward for social and political science.
· Belief in historicist process laws is the basis of modern totalitarianism, whether of a Marxist or fascist nature. Conversely, the reform of the “open society” must be guided by fragmentary social engineering.
The natural and social sciences have developed from such problem-solving and have progressed by subjecting potential theories to vigorous testing and criticism. Popper calls for a society conducive to such problem-solving, a society that allows bold theorizing followed by unrestricted criticism, a society in which there is a genuine possibility of change in the light of criticism: an open society. Falsified theories are rejected.
A. Kuhn, Laudan, and Feyerabend
1. Historical Turn in the Philosophy of Science
Various scientists, philosophers, and laypeople have regarded science as the only human enterprise that successfully escapes the contingencies of history to establish eternal truths about the universe through a special and rational method of investigation. Historians oppose this view. In the 1960s, several historically informed philosophers of science challenged the then-dominant accounts of the scientific method advanced by Popperians and positivists (the positivists and logical empiricists) as not conforming to historical, scientific practice and failing to take account of significant scientific change.
The “Battle of the Great Systems” of the 1960s and 1970s, involving historicists such as Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos, Paul Feyerabend, and Larry Laudan, finally gave way to a realist reaction, as many philosophers rejected the perceived skepticism and potential relativism of the historicist movement, now reinforced by the new wave sociology of science. The 1990s featured the so-called Science Wars, as philosophers attempted to defend truth, rationality, objectivity, and scientific progress from the perceived threats of science and technology studies inspired by rapidly developing sociology and postmodern influences.
Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962/1970a) was the original manifesto of the historicist philosophy of science and remained the main reference point. Kuhn believed that “history is seen as a repository of something more than anecdote or chronology, which could produce a decisive transformation in the science picture we possess.” Thus, his work provides the most helpful platform for recounting early historicist efforts and their difficulties.
Kuhn modeled the history of science as a succession of dogmatic periods of “normal science” under one “paradigm,” separated by “revolutionary” transitions to the next paradigm. A new paradigm introduces changes at all levels, from the established databases and instrumentation to the conceptual framework, objectives, standards, institutional organization, and research culture. Some older professionals need help to recognize the new paradigm in their field. According to Kuhn, such a break with the past rejuvenates an area that had stagnated under the weight of anomalies that it no longer seemed to have the resources to resolve.
2. Methodological Anarchism
In his early work, Feyerabend (1962) appealed to historical cases to reject Nagel’s parallel account of inter-theoretical reduction (traditionally postulated mechanisms of cumulative progress) because, in actual historical practice, the change of meaning occurs from one major theory to its successor. Reductionism thus fails. Feyerabend introduced his conception of incommensurability. Competing theories should be multiplied and tested against each other because, in this way, more empirical content is brought to light than by testing theories in isolation. In his work, Feyerabend (1975, 1987, 1989) vehemently distanced himself from the positions of the Popper school. He strongly rejected the idea of a scientific method that makes science superior to other cultural enterprises. According to his “methodological anarchism,” any so-called methodological rule, including logical consistency, could be fruitfully violated in some contexts. His well-known slogan, “Anything goes,” was widely understood as more radical than intended by Morin, E. (1990).
Feyerabend subsequently stated that his primary goal was humanitarian, not epistemological, so it was not his purpose to defend the rationality of science. His attack on dogmatic and scientific conservatism, both within and outside scientific communities, has methodological, albeit negative, significance.
Feyerabend was one of the first to emphasize the solid historical contingency of scientific work, both in the context of justification and discovery. He also defended this contingency at the methodological level.
3. The Pragmatic and Problem-Solving Approach
In his paper, Progress and Its Problems (1977), Laudan opened with the claim that providing an adequate model of rationality is the primary business of the philosopher of science but that no existing methodology fits real science. His idea was a good fit with a selection of intuitively strong historical instances for which any adequate theory must account. (Laudan 1984 and 1996) His response to the rationality question was to propose a comprehensive, explicitly pragmatic, problem-solving account of science. Problem-solving had been an important element in earlier accounts, notably Kuhn and Popper. Still, Laudan inverted the usual account of scientific progress as a temporal
succession of timeless rational decisions. Instead of defining progress in terms of rationality, one should define rationality in terms of progress. One cannot measure progress regarding approximation to a final, unknowable metaphysical truth. Still, one has reliable progress markers regarding numbers and the relative importance of empirical and conceptual problems solved by long-term “research traditions.” Just as Lakatos’ research programs were a compromise between Popper and Kuhn, Laudan’s “research traditions” incorporate elements of his major historicist predecessors while departing sharply from other work tenets.
Be that as it may, since progress is a historical concept (charged with history), so is rationality in Laudan’s conception. The temporality of his account led Laudan to introduce an important distinction between the acceptance of a theory and the quest that would explain how rational transitions to a new research tradition are possible. Scientists should accept the theory with the greatest overall success in solving problems but follow the tradition that now enjoys a higher success rate.
Laudan (1984) agreed with Kuhn that the goals, standards, and methods of science change historically to make theoretical and observational claims, but his “reticulations model” rejected as historically inaccurate Kuhn’s claim that sometimes they all change together to constitute a (Kuhnian) revolution.
A dramatic change in one place must avoid seriously disrupting fixation in another place and rarely if ever, does. Moreover, Laudan argued that his reticulations model overcomes the hierarchical problem that has led thinkers like Poincaré and Popper to make the goals of science arbitrary (the top of the hierarchy and thus the unjustified justifier of what comes below), e.g., mere conventions. These authors have no way of rationally evaluating the goals themselves, leaving their positions trapped with an account of merely instrumental reason: efficiency concerning a given, arbitrary goal. By contrast, in Laudan’s model, the elements constrain each other and adjust each other. None has absolute priority over the others. Thus, some goals are irrational because present, foreseeable knowledge and methods cannot achieve them or measure progress toward them. Advances in substantive or methodological expertise may rationalize adopting new standards and objectives.
III. The Knowledge Revolution
The various visions of science presented above stand on the threshold of a truly revolutionary era of discovery in which the world finds itself today. This threshold ranges from the universe’s origins to new states of matter and microscopic machines, from a new understanding of the oceans and biological connections across the earth’s species to the workings of the human brain and the origins of consciousness. This “golden age” of discovery, with frequent breakthroughs occurring virtually every field, induces far-reaching societal changes. We are experiencing a social and economic revolution that coincides with the impact of the agricultural and industrial revolutions. This is a “knowledge revolution” driven by knowledge and the technologies to process and communicate it Burawoy, M. (2005).
Knowledge is an intangible public good. It is privately produced and replaces land and machines as the main factors of production prevalent in the agricultural and industrial revolutions. This alters the terms of the debate between capitalism and socialism, leading to a human-centered state society with different types of markets, corporate structures, and financial structures. Property rights over knowledge are key. Human capital is the engine of development. Markets require an equal distribution of wealth for efficient functioning. With its voracious and unequal use of the earth’s resources, the golden age of industrial society is reaching its logical limits. A new pattern of economic growth, knowledge-intensive growth, replaced the resource-intensive patterns that prevailed since World War II. This leads to a vision of a society that is highly innovative in the use of knowledge and highly conservative in the use of the earth’s resources, a new society centered on diversity and human capital and offering the prospect of substantial economic progress without damaging the ecosystems that sustain life on earth.
IV. The New Role of the Social Worker as an Agent of Change in the Reform Process
Over the past several decades, social work practice in the United States and the industrialized world has become increasingly politicized due to political-economic, ideological, demographic, and cultural changes. This new political environment is reflected in all aspects of social work practice. Its underlying assumption influences how all participants in the service process define needs, implement alternative helping strategies and evaluate their effectiveness. However, persistent misunderstandings about the meaning of the policy and its relationship to professional practice present significant obstacles to developing effective responses to this dramatic transformation. At the organizational and societal level, these misunderstandings discourage challenges to the institutional status quo. At the micro-level, they rationalize existing hierarchies between social service agencies and service users and between workers and clients Burawoy, M. (2005).
All types of social workers focus on helping people overcome difficult life situations. Social workers are part counselors and part facilitators of help. The vast majority of social work practices work with individuals or small family groups, assisting people in learning to overcome problems by empowering themselves and taking advantage of social services provided through government entities and nonprofit organizations. Many social workers are also advocates, lobbying governments to change harmful laws, supporting government assistance programs, and starting new nonprofit and for-profit initiatives aimed at helping people in difficult times Burawoy, M. (2005).
Module 6: Lecture Content- Intersubjectivity and Social Policies
V. Intersubjectivity and Social Policies
Intersubjectivity is a concept central to human interaction, broadly understood as the exchange of minds. Social thinkers often use the concept of intersubjectivity to point to a problem of theoretical sociology and apply collective solutions to common social issues.
As standard economic theory predicts, the ability to cooperate is not just a matter of groups sharing interests, incentives, and values but a prior and shared understanding of the constituent elements of problems and possible solutions. From this point of view, the lack of collective action may be due, in part, to the failure of the relevant groups to attribute a common intersubjective meaning to situations, processes, and events.
Intersubjective meaning refers to how relevant actors share a common understanding of the problems they face and possible solutions to those problems. For example, in the face of persistent questions about the legitimate use of public resources, it matters whether key actors consider giving such resources to partners as corruption or a social norm (Rosen 2010). As an ethical value and political aspiration, all parties may share a desire for public officials to be prudent stewards of resources, even when their responses to this desire and their perceived legitimacy by internal and external actors may vary considerably. Or consider land administration. For most contemporary development practitioners, “land” is a commodity to be bought, sold, and “improved,” an economic resource with an exchange value determined by the security of title (“property rights”) and its prevailing market price. That is undoubtedly one meaning of “land.” Still, both in the past (Cronon 1983) and even today, land can mean something completely different, which can be a basis for serious conflict when these different meanings interact Burawoy, M. (2005).
For some time, it has been evident that the quality of governance is crucial for development outcomes, that, as Rodrik et al. (2004) put it, “institutions govern.” As a result, current development practice and analysis’s stated goal is often less about “getting the prices right” than getting institutions right. But it is already recognized that if institutions are to be understood as “the rules of the game” (North 1990), the rules consist not only of the formal, written rules that govern the functioning of organizations but of the informal practices and “political cultures” that shape the behavior and expectations of the people who interact with those organizations (Fukuyama 2004). This means that the external analyst, or policymaker, cannot and should not recommend institutional change based simply on how new formal incentives are expected to affect behavior. They must also analyze the repeated practices and shared meanings that underlie them; however, their basis in observable incentives needs to be clarified. Intersubjective meaning applies to development thinking and practice: collective action to develop the rule of law and the management of common resources.
VI. Functionalism and Notions of Social Equilibrium
The functionalist approach is a perspective in sociology that views society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability. It asserts that lives are guided by social structures, which are relatively stable patterns of social behavior. Social structures shape, for example, families, the community, and religious organizations.
Each social structure has social functions or consequences for the functioning of society. Education, for example, has several important social functions, such as socialization and learning. Functionalism also asserts that society is like an organism, made up of different parts working together. Therefore, one of the key ideas in functionalism is that society comprises groups or institutions, which are cohesive, share common norms, and have a definite culture.
Robert K. Merton argued that functionalism is about society’s more static or concrete aspects, such as government or religion. Functionalism explains how society is organized most naturally and efficiently to organize itself.
Another key feature of functionalism is that it sees society as constantly striving to be in equilibrium, suggesting an inherent drive within human societies to cohere or hold together. Societies strive for balance, not through the dictatorial mandate of societal leaders but because societies’ social structure encourages equilibrium Burawoy, M. (2005). This is known as the cohesion problem.
Functionalism does much to explain why certain aspects of society continue as they always have, even though some phenomena are less beneficial to society. However, functionalism falls short in explaining opposition to social institutions and structure by those who are being oppressed.
VII. The Role of the Unbiased Mediator for Intervention in Social Work
Over the past several years, increasing attention has been paid to the various roles that direct professionals play in carrying out their responsibilities.
Roles subsumed under this category include social workers meeting face-to-face with clients or client groups to deliver services.
· Individual casework or counseling (case manager, intake worker, crisis worker): Social workers can simultaneously provide individual case management and counseling.
· Couples and family therapy: This may include sessions with individuals, joint sessions, and group sessions.
· Group work services: Support groups, therapy groups, self-help groups, assignment groups, and skills development groups.
· Educator/information disseminator: Social workers may provide essential information in individual, joint, or group sessions or make educational presentations to consumers or the public. For example, professionals may conduct educational sessions dealing with parenting skills, marital enrichment, stress management, or various aspects of mental health or medical care (Dore, 1993).
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