Why the Social Sciences are Irreducible

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Abstract

It is often claimed that the social sciences cannot be reduced to a lower-level individualistic science. The standard argument for this position (usually labelled explanatory holism) is the Fodorian multiple realizability argument. Its defenders endorse token-token(s) identities between “higher-level” social objects and pluralities/sums of “lower-level” individuals (a position traditionally called ontological individualism), but they maintain that the properties expressed by social science predicates are often multiply realizable, entailing that type-type identities between social and individualistic properties are ruled out. In this paper I argue that the multiple realizability argument for explanatory holism is unsound. The social sciences are indeed irreducible, but the principled reason for this is that the required token-token(s) identifications cannot in general be carried through. In consequence, paradigmatic social science predicates cannot be taken to apply to the objects quantified over in the lower-level sciences. The result is that typical social science predicates cannot even be held to be co-extensive with individualistic predicates, which means type-type identifications are ruled out too. Multiple realizability has nothing to do with this failure of co-extensiveness, because the relevant social science predicates are not multiply realized in the sense intended by the explanatory holists, a sense which presupposes reductive token-token(s) identifications.

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  • Philosophy
Original languageEnglish
JournalSynthese
Early online date2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2017
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes

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