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The Flight from Reality in the Human Sciences

Ian Shapiro

Publication Year: 2009

In this captivating yet troubling book, Ian Shapiro offers a searing indictment of many influential practices in the social sciences and humanities today. Perhaps best known for his critique of rational choice theory, Shapiro expands his purview here. In discipline after discipline, he argues, scholars have fallen prey to inward-looking myopia that results from--and perpetuates--a flight from reality.

In the method-driven academic culture we inhabit, argues Shapiro, researchers too often make display and refinement of their techniques the principal scholarly activity. The result is that they lose sight of the objects of their study. Pet theories and methodological blinders lead unwelcome facts to be ignored, sometimes not even perceived. The targets of Shapiro's critique include the law and economics movement, overzealous formal and statistical modeling, various reductive theories of human behavior, misguided conceptual analysis in political theory, and the Cambridge school of intellectual history.

As an alternative to all of these, Shapiro makes a compelling case for problem-driven social research, rooted in a realist philosophy of science and an antireductionist view of social explanation. In the lucid--if biting--prose for which Shapiro is renowned, he explains why this requires greater critical attention to how problems are specified than is usually undertaken. He illustrates what is at stake for the study of power, democracy, law, and ideology, as well as in normative debates over rights, justice, freedom, virtue, and community. Shapiro answers many critics of his views along the way, securing his position as one of the distinctive social and political theorists of our time.

Published by: Princeton University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

In revising the essays for this collection, I have made some links among them explicit, updated references and some of the commentary in the footnotes, and made other minor modifications. I have not, however, altered beyond this, even though I would write some of them differently were I starting afresh today. ...

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Introduction: Fear of Not Flying

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pp. 1-18

In Medieval England there was a curious gap between the study and practice of law. From the thirteenth century to the seventeenth, the main language used for pleading in common law courts was Law French. It seems to have developed because Latin, the language of formal records, carried too much historical freight from Roman law for the peculiarities of English circumstances, ...

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Chapter One: The Difference That Realism Makes: Social Science and the Politics of Consent

Ian Shapiro, Alexander Wendt

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pp. 19-50

All forms of social inquiry rest on beliefs about what counts as an explanation of social phenomena. Should explanations of social life be deduced from observable facts? Should they be grounded on peoples’ self-understandings? Should they be based on whatever enables us to intervene with effect in the world? ...

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Chapter Two: Revisiting the Pathologies of Rational Choice

Donald Green, Ian Shapiro

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pp. 51-99

The social sciences were founded amid high expectations about what could be learned through systematic study of human affairs, and perhaps as a result social scientists are periodically beset by intellectual crises. Each generation of scholars expresses disappointment with the rate at which knowledge accumulates and yearns for a new, more promising form of social science. ...

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Chapter Three: Richard Posner’s Praxis

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pp. 100-151

My purposes here are four. First, I reveal the internal logic of Richard Posner’s microeconomic conception of judicial efficiency to be fallacious, partly for reasons indigenous to his particular formulation of it and partly for reasons that have long been known by welfare economists and political scientists to attend various compensation-based theories of allocative efficiency. ...

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Chapter Four: Gross Concepts in Political Argument

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pp. 152-177

Political theoists often fail to appreciate that arguments about how politics ought to be organized typically depend on relational claims involving agents, actions, legitimacy, and ends. If they did, they would see that to defend the standard contending views in many of the controversies that occupy them is silly. ...

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Chapter Five: Problems, Methods, and Theories in the Study of Politics: Or What's Wrong with Political Science and What to Do about it

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pp. 178-203

Our mandate is to engage in navel-gazing about the condition of political theory.1 I confess that I find myself uncomfortable with this charge because I think political theorists have become altogether too narcissistic over the past half-century. ...

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Chapter Six: The Political Science Discipline: A Comment on David Laitin

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pp. 204-212

In “The Political Science Discipline,” David Laitin argues that there is an intellectual order to political science, but he laments that it is not reflected in the way in which we teach the discipline to undergraduates.1 He proposes to remedy this state of affairs by designing an introductory political science course that mirrors standard introductory courses in economics. ...

Index

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pp. 213-223


E-ISBN-13: 9781400826902
E-ISBN-10: 140082690X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780691134017
Print-ISBN-10: 0691134014

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: Course Book