ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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A Critique of the Logical Foundations of Experimentalism in the Social Sciences

Ali Mesbah

Last modified: 2011-12-23


Experimentalism (and Naturalism) was the first approach to catch the eyes of the specialists in the domain of the human and social sciences. Despite all serious critiques regarding the appropriateness and sufficiency of this methodological approach in the human sciences, it has secured its place in social researches till now. The pros and cons of experimentalism in the social sciences take advantage of a variety of strategies in establishing their ideas and disqualifying their opponents: from altering the subject matter of the social sciences, to changing their objectives, to replacing their ontological and epistemological foundations. It seems that one key issue which is forgotten or overlooked by the critiques of experimentalism is scrutinizing the nature of the subject matter of the social sciences and its methodological requisites, which can shed some light on the deficiency of experimental methodology in the realm of the social sciences.
The starting point of this article is the methodological principle that the method of any discipline depends on its subject matter, and the nature of the subject determines the appropriate method for research in that area. On this basis, I will try to analyze the nature of the themes in the social sciences and to show the incongruity of experimental method with such concepts. The strategy of this article is to logically analyze those concepts that serve as subjects in the social sciences. I will show that such concepts represent a variety of conceptual categories such as first intelligibles, secondary philosophical intelligibles, and purely conventional concepts, and to study each one of them, one needs to employ a different methodology. Therefore, my suggestion is that although experimental methodology has its limited privileges in studying some of the issues in the social sciences, it cannot represent the only suitable and useful methodology in the domain of the social sciences.