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Created: Created: April 14, 2001, August 7, 2002

Latest Update:January 27, 2003

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Site Teaching Modules Objectivity, Truth and Method
By Daniel Little, Colgate University.

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, January 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.

This essay is based on Daniel Little's article: Objectivity, Truth, and Method: A Philosopher's Perspective on the Social Sciences. Commentary.

One of the most confusing factors in studying theory for the first time is figuring out a road map of where each of the theorists is situated. Daniel Little's article helps with this. In his first paragraph he offers us one of the basic differences in orientation:

  • Some notes:

    • John Stuart Mill: 1840's - "empirical and causal" (Today: political scientists, analytic philosophers)
      • "empiricism"
      • "methodological individualism"
      • "causal explanation"

    • William Dilthey 1890's - "antiempirical and hermeneutic" (Today: anthropologists and interpretive sociologists, Continental philosophers)
      • "meaningfulness of human phenomena"
      • "method of verstehen"
      • "primacy of 'lived experience' "

  • The first paragraph of the text of the article:
    "John Stuart Mill offered one important view in the 1840s, endorsing empiricism, methodological individualism, and causal explanation as the dominant methodological commitments for the human sciences. Wilhelm Dilthey, in the 1890s, emphasized the meaningfulness of human phenomena and put forward the method of verstehen and the primacy of “lived experience” in the interpretation of human affairs. These two perspectives--empiricist and causal, anti-empiricist and hermeneutic, have set the stage for much current thinking about the logic and method of the human sciences since the nineteenth century. Political scientists on the whole treat their discipline in terms very reminiscent of Mill; whereas anthropologists and interpretive sociologists have much greater affinity with Dilthey. Likewise, analytic philosophers have much sympathy for Mill’s perspective, whereas Continental philosophers are more intrigued by the hermeneutic approach."

  • Some comments on note taking:

    Notice how easy it would be to study from my notes of the first paragraph. There were three factors I might want to recall:

    1. What were the two primary approaches of the social sciences in the 19th Century?
    2. Which theorists were the original proponents of these two approaches?
    3. Which social sciences favor each approach?
    4. What are the characteristics of each approach?

    Answers embedded in notes: Answers to Questions 1, 2, 3:

    • "empirical and causal" -- John Stuart Mills (1840's) -- political scientists, analytic philosophers
    • "antiempirical and hermeneutic" -- William Dilthey (1890's) -- anthropologists and interpretive sociologists, Continental philosophers

    Answer to Question 4:

    • Empirical and Causal Approach:

      • "empiricism"
      • "methodological individualism"
      • "causal explanation"

    • Antiempirical and Hermeneutic Approach:
      • "meaningfulness of human phenomena"
      • "method of verstehen"
      • "primacy of 'lived experience' "

      Notice that in each instance I am trying to compress as much information as possible, so I won't have to write everything out. That's why I answered questions 1, 2, and 3 together. When you try to study from your notes, you need them to be abbreviated. You won't have time to read all the material again, so drawing little tables, graphs makes sense, so you can review them quickly.