Considering Weber’s social scientific realism

I spent the last couple of days reading. I am making efforts to reword Weber’s methodological stance through concepts I am familiar with. Here I would love to refer to entity realism and structural/causal realism. I tried to concieve what Weber would think and say in these terms.

Entity realism: this comes from the philosophy of physics, currently applied to social sciences. At the bottom line this idea is very simple: our scientific terms refer to entities that are real. There are electrons in reality and they have the properties we attribute to them. This problematic, I know. No theoretical description is full, so when an entity realist characterize electrons, he can portray only ’a slice of reality’ at best. An entity realist is unable to seize all the features of electron, but – and this is important – he attributes features to the electron that it really has. I think Weber would be an entity realist. I found a very interesting paragraph in Ringer’s Max Weber’s methodology. Referring to Mommsen, on page 118 the author writes: ideal types cannot be constructed without regard for realities. So, and this is very essential to me, Weberian abstract-theoretical ideal types are constructed (and should be constructed) so that the researcher examines reality and seize those features of the entities that are important to him as for his research interest. As I concieve ideal types, an ideal type is constructed from real features. Rationality of the homo oeconomicus is the rationality of everyday human beings – but in reality this rationality is corrupted or disturbed by a lot of mental, psychological and social (and so forth) factors. But rationality is ’out there’, it is a part of our complex picture. Following Weber we are interested in partial truths, but the elements we exaggerate in ideal types are real features of our fellow agents.

Structural/causal realism: this also comes from the philosophy of physics. To simply put, the causal/structural connections we depict in theories are real. If I tried to conceive neoclassical economics in a Weberian fashion and according to structural/causal realism, I would say: Weber is a structural realist. In these terms, however, we have only partial truths again: treading Weber’s footsteps, we seize some causal mechanisms of the complex real causal structure – but these mechanisms are real and effective causal mechanisms. I think Weber would say: in the Marshallian cross, an increase in the price would really reduce demand. That is, the mechanism underlying this basic model of market exchange is about an effectice cause-and-effect connection – much more than an empirical regularity. When I read Whimster and Bruun’s brilliant foreword to the collected methodological writings, I found a passage that seems to support my idea: on page xxvi they trace Weber’s causal notion back to Radbruch and place Weber’s causality in the context of legal responsibility. So, I think, Weber is interested in real and objective causal connections.

As far as the realism-instrumentalism debate is considered, I believe Weber is important part of the context. Let’s have Friedman’s instrumentalism: with his parable in F53 on the leaves acting as if they were able to rationally consider their positions, Friedman gives up entity realism. He argues for assumptions that can be set up neglecting the real features of entities he ’portrays’. Thus, Friedman abandons the idea of entity realism (even as partial truths). It is questionable whether Friedman was a causal realist. Accordig to Kevin Hoover, he was, but I don’t think so (I think entity realism and causal realism is a package, causall realism cannot be achieved without entity realism). To simply put, with his emphasis on predictive performance of theories, he pays no attention to the causal connections behind macro-social phenomena. I think the whole F53 paper is devoted to the idea that researchers should be uninterested in the causal connections, and it is only predictive performance that matters. In these terms, Hausman rightly debates Friedman’s methodological stance.

To have an example: there is a widely cited anecdote in statics about a ’model’ in which the number of storks is the independent and the number of newborn babies is the dependent variable. For Friedman, such a model is a useful model as long as it provides good predictions. For Weber, such a model, I think, would be unacceptable for such a model would say nothing about the real causal connections.

Is this hairrising…?



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