By Gwynne Nettler
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Additional resources for Boundaries of Competence: How Social Studies Makes Feeble Science
It means that our “laws” of human conduct are conditional and probabilistic, with the requisite conditions often unknown and the probabilities unspecified. 4. Nevertheless, social scientists look for some kinds of regularity. Among the regularities we conceive, we acknowledge that they propose degrees of “rulefulness,” and these vary. They vary because empirical rules receive more and less warrant. “Warrant” is a synonym for evidence pro and con the validity of an asserted connection. In turn, evidence is judged by the quantity and quality of observations adduced in support of, or in contradiction of, an empirical proposition.
Linguistic Follies 33 Criminology is a lively employer of unexamined abstractions. ” It does not. “Social disorganization” serves as a reified abstraction; it only summarizes the complex of behaviors it attempts to explain. ” When investigators accord a select trio of sources the status of “structural” cause—external to and independent of how people behave—their assignment adds no information to the description. Their attribution is rhetorical and redundant. 49 To this web of life, other researchers add a vast inventory of causal candidates.
The exercise that uses “culture” to explain itself is pretentious and uninformative. It employs one part of a web of life to explain other parts. But the explanandum—that which is to be explained—cannot be contained within the explanans—that which does the explaining. Despite the circularity of this practice it is popular among journalists and social scientists. If such application were to be useful, it would have to indicate that “culture” is a force—a cause—identifiable independently of how its 32 Boundaries of Competence carriers behave.