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Philosophy of Social Science in a nutshell: from discourse to model and experiment


The debates on the scientificity of social sciences in general, and soci- ology in particular, are recurring. From the original methodenstreit at the end the 19th Century to the contemporary controversy on the legitimacy of “regional epistemologies”, a same set of interrogations reappears. Are social sciences really scientific? and if so, are they sci- ences like other sciences? How should we conceive “research programs” (Lakatos [LAK 78]) or “research traditions” for Laudan [LAU 77]) able to produce advancement of knowledge in the field of social and human phenomena? Is the progress of knowledge in social sciences similar to the one generally observed in natural sciences? Is it possible to evaluate the relative merits of each one of these research programs? These debates are important vectors of social and intellectual polarization. The historical divide between the positivist and the hermeneutics poles precedes the structure of the contemporary debate around the epistemic space of social sciences. It is not only a question of reconducting the opposition between a monist view of sciences (e.g. [MCI 96]) and a dualistic one (e.g. [GEE 73]) or even a trialist view of sciences (e.g. [LEP 85]). It is also a question of asserting dichotomies transformed into framework (including when it is a question of exceed- ing them): nature–culture, nomothetic–idiographic, models–narrative, structure–history, cause–reason, explanation–comprehension. In this short introduction, we provide, in section A.2.2., a first overview of this epistemological debate in social science. Section A.2.3. proposes a different standpoint on the same questions, by introducing both ontological and methodological aspects in this basic epistemo- logical debate. Namely, following [HOL 94] oppositions of the explana- tion/understanding, causes/meaning, etc., types discussed in the first section are comparatively examined together with oppositions of the structure/action, holism/individualism types. This allows us to discuss how multi-agent design, by integrating various dimensions and stand- points in the same framework can help us to shift these boundaries, and to bypass these oppositions. As model building and ontology design are at the core of this process, Section A.2.4 discusses various issues of the art of modelling, starting both from economists’ and sociologists’ current standpoints.
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halshs-04004485 , version 1 (24-03-2023)


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Denis Phan, Michel Dubois. Philosophy of Social Science in a nutshell: from discourse to model and experiment. Denis Phan; Frederic Amblard. Agent-based Modelling and Simulation in the Social and Human Sciences, The Bardwell Press, pp.393-431, 2007, Gemas Studies in Social Analysis, 13: 978-1-905622-01-6. ⟨halshs-04004485⟩
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