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Social scientific inquiry and meta-theoretical fantasy: the case of International Relations



The turn to the philosophy of scientific realism as a meta-theory for the study of International Relations manifests a reluctance to confront the basic problem of the relationship between philosophy and social scientific inquiry. Despite the realists' rejection of traditional empiricism, and particularly the instrumentalist account of scientific theory, the enthusiasm for realism neglects many of the same problems that, more than a generation earlier, were involved in the social scientific embrace of positivism. One of these problems was a lack of understanding regarding the character and history of the philosophy of natural science and its relationship and applicability to the study of social phenomena. Proponents of realism have also neither adequately articulated and defended realism as a philosophical position, and distinguished it from other perspectives, nor confronted the fundamental challenge to realism and other foundationalist philosophies which has been mounted by the contemporary critique of traditional representational philosophy.



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1 See, for example, Shapiro, Ian, Political Criticism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990) ; Topper, Keith, The Disorder of Political Inquiry (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005) .

2 See, for example, Harré, Rom, Varieties of Realism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986) .

3 Putnam, Hilary, The Many Faces of Realism (La Salle: Open Court, 1987) .

4 For example, Trigg, Roger, Reality at Risk (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989) .

5 Devitt, Michael, Realism and Truth (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984) .

6 Dummett, Michael, Truth and Other Enigmas (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978) ; The Logical Basis of Metaphysics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991) .

7 See Keat, Russell and Urry, John, Social Theory as Science (London: Routledge, 1975) ; Outhwaite, William, Realism, Hermeneutics, and Critical Theory (New York: St. Martin's, 1975) ; Layder, Derek, The Realist Image in Social Science (London: Macmillan, 1990) ; Sayer, A., Realism and Social Science. London: Sage, 2000) ; Lenin, V. I., Materialism and Empirio-criticism (London: Laurence and Wishart, 1950) .

8 Hahn, Hans, Neurath, Otto, and Carnap, Rudolf, The Scientific Conception of the World: The Vienna Circle, in Sakar, Sahotra (ed.), The Emergence of Logical Empiricism (New York: Garland, 1996) . See Gunnell, John G., ‘Ideology and the Philosophy of Science: An American Misunderstanding’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 14 (2009), pp. 317337 .

9 Hempel, Carl, Aspects of Scientific Explanation (New York: Free Press, 1965) .

10 For a discussion of the European origins of logical positivism, its migration into the field of political science, and its account of scientific explanation, see Gunnell, John G., The Descent of Political Theory: The Genealogy of an American Vocation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993) .

11 The Image of Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980) .

12 Progress and its Problems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977) ; Science and Relativism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990) .

13 Kuhn, Thomas, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962) .

14 Sellars, Wilfrid, Science, Perception, and Reality (New York: Humanities Press, 1963) ; Rorty, Richard, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979) ; Goodman, Nelson, Ways of World-Making (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1978) .

15 Hanson, Russell Norwood, Patterns of Discovery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958) .

16 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, On Certainty (New York: Harper, 1969) ; Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001) ; Davidson, Donald, Essays on Actions and Events (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980) ; Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984) .

17 Boyd, Richard, Gasper, Philip, and Trout, J. D. (eds), Philosophy of Science (Cambridge: MIT, 1991) .

18 Fine, Arthur, ‘The Natural Ontological Attitude’, in Leplin, Jarrett (ed.), Scientific Realism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984) .

19 Winch, Peter, The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958) .

20 For an extended discussion of relativism and its relationship to realist philosophy, see Gunnell, John G., The Orders of Discourse: Philosophy, Social Science, and Politics (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998) .

21 Hollis, Martin and Lukes, Steven (eds), Rationality and Relativism (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982) .

22 Searle, John, The Construction of Social Reality (New York: Free Press, 1995) .

23 Bloom, Alan, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988) .

24 Niiniluoto, Ilkka, Critical Scientific Realism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) .

25 Norris, Christopher, Reclaiming Truth (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1996) ; Resources of Realism (New York: St. Martin's, 1997) ; Hilary Putnam (New York: Macmillan, 2002) .

26 Bhaskar, Roy, A Realist Theory of Science (New York: Humanities Press, 1973) ; Scientific Realism and Human Emancipation (London: Verso, 1986) ; Archer, M. A., Bhaskar, R., and Lawson, T., Critical Realism: Essential Readings (London: Routledge, 1998) ; Danermark, B. et al. , Explaining Society: Critical Realism in the Social Sciences (London: Routledge, 2002) .

27 See, for example, Onuf, Nicolas, World of Our Making: Rules and Rule in Social Theory in International Relations (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989) ; Wendt, Alexander, ‘Anarchy is What States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics’, International Organization, 46 (1992), pp. 391425 ; Fierke, Karin M. and Jørgensen, Knud Eric, (eds) Constructing International Relations (Armonk: Sharpe, 2001) .

28 See, for example, Gregor, A. James, An Introduction to Metapolitics (New York: Free Press, 1971) ; Gunnell, John G., Philosophy, Science, and Political Inquiry (Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press, 1975) .

29 Joseph, Jonathan, Kurki, Milja, Wight, Colin, Chernoff, Fred, Brown, Chris, and Keeley, James F., ‘Scientific and Critical Realism in International Relations’, Millennium, 35 (2007), pp. 343440 .

30 Smith, Steve and Hollis, Martin, Explanation and Understanding in International Relations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990) .

31 Wendt, Alexander, Social Theory of International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) .

32 Wendt, , Social Theory of International Relations, pp. 4748, 58 .

33 Putnam, Hilary, The Three-fold Cord: Mind, Body, and the World (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999) .

34 Wendt, , Social Theory of International Relations, pp. 53, 66 .

35 Patomäki, Heikki, After International Relations: Critical realism and the (re)construction of world politics (London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 5, 79, 120, 123, 144 .

36 Wight, Colin, Agents, Structures, and International Relations (Cambridge: University Press, 2006), p. 26 .

37 Giddens, Anthony, The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration (University of California Press, 1984), pp. xvii, xxii .

38 Wight, Colin, ‘A Manifesto for Scientific Realism in IR: Assuming the Can-Opener won't Work’, Millennium, 35 (2007) .

39 Chernoff, Fred, The Power of International Theory (New York: Routledge, 2005), pp. 206, 54, 177 .

40 Chernoff, Fred, Theory and Meta-Theory in International Relations: Contending Accounts (New York: Macmillan-Palgrave, 2007), pp. 79, 131, 193 .

41 See Gunnell, John G., ‘Political Inquiry and the Metapractical Voice: Weber and Oakeshott’, Political Research Quarterly, 35 (2009), pp. 315 ; ‘Can Social Science Be Just?’, The Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 39 (2009), pp. 595621 .

42 See Hutchinson, Phil, Read, Rupert and Sharrock, Wes, There is No Such Thing as a Social Science (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008) ; Sharrock, Wes and Read, Rupert, Kuhn: Philosopher of Scientific Revolution (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002) .

43 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Culture and Value (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), p. 15 .

44 Diamond, Cora, The Realistic Spirit in Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and the Mind (Cambridge: MIT, 1991) .

Social scientific inquiry and meta-theoretical fantasy: the case of International Relations



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