IDST-218-01 Foundations of Social Theory
Fall for 2013-2014
This seminar serves as an introduction to the Program in Social and Political Thought. The central purpose of the seminar is to examine and evaluate modern scholars’ efforts to study human beings scientifically. Achieving this purpose will require (1) that we gain a clear understanding of what scientific inquiry is, (2) that we consider what must be true about human beings, as both agents and inquirers, if we are to conclude that the scientific method is the most appropriate way to study human affairs, and (3) that we ask how the scientific study of human affairs furthers and/or hinders our efforts to make sense of our experience as human beings.
The course is organized chronologically. Because the leaders of the seventeenth century scientific revolution rebelled self-consciously against the Aristotelian mode of thinking, we will begin by trying to understand how Aristotle thought. After considering several key philosophical issues that lay beneath the scientific revolution, the remainder of the semester will be devoted to examining the writings of four influential social scientists: Adam Smith, William James, Max Weber, and Franz Boas. Critical analysis of these authors’ work will help us grasp the defining preoccupations of the various social scientific disciplines, assess whether practicing social scientists in fact accomplish that to which they aspire, and consider what has been gained and lost in moving the study of human affairs beyond Aristotle.
Other academic years
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