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What's wrong with Social Science?

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David B Posted: Mon, Sep 3 2012 12:56 AM

Science and Technology are two different things.  But I think if we look closely at Praxeology we can find the dividing line between the two and that this dividing line solves some interesting problems we have with knowledge, especially in the social sciences.

The key to science is that it describes the rules.  Whatever you're looking at it describes the rules that govern the system you are examining - the systems that are governed by the science.  Technology is not rules however.  Technology is governed by the science, but is not itself science.

So I'm going to introduce three question words, and describe each domain.  The three words are how, what, and why.

How corresponds with science.  How describes how things happen.  Whatever the problem domain, whatever the system we are looking at How is the answer.

What corresponds with the phenomena of reality.  What we see happen in reality is the phenomena of reality.  

Now, before I get to the third quesiton, I'd like to take a brief detour.  The preeminent work of Taoism is called Tao Te Ching.    Which I've seen translated as How Things Happen, or How What Happens.  Tao was considered to be the invisible hand or force or spirit behind the world, and Te was the creation that flowed from the Tao.  The point was that when one looked at the world, one sees Te (the phenomena of the world) but behind the scenes there is a How that governs what you see.

The last question I proffered is Why.  Why did X happen?  If I ask Why about a naturally occuring phenomena, and earthquake or a volcano eruption or ice melting, there's no difference between between How and Why.  However, if I ask it of a man, when I ask "Why?, I'm asking what his purpose was.  To what end?  Why?  

So how does this inform us about what's wrong with Social Science?

So let's look back at our 3 questions How? What? and Why? and ask if they give us any insight into Science and Technology, and then look back at social science and see what they give us?

Science is the how.  Science tells us the rules of reality.  When we go to determine the rules, we are necessarily looking at some what in reality.  We are looking at a specific set of phenomena that do occur and asking what rules we can find that govern the phenomena.

But Technology always has purpose!  Whenever we architect a technical process, technological device, or a class of technology (group of processes and devices) we are necessarily aiming them at specific ends.  The technology becomes means to an end.  Every specific instance of technology contains an answerable Why?

Praxeology tells us that man acts, he uses means to an end.  The means are necessarily technology.  The means that satisfy our wants, that we use as ends, don't simply satisfy us by being around.  We actually employ a process or a technique or a technological device to satisfy our wants.

Think of water and air.  There is a technical process (a what, that answers a why, and is governed by how) that results in them satisfying us.  We breathe air, that's the what, the why is to get oxygen into the cells, and how is a deeply complex set of rules that govern all of the many whats that we can understand with science that explains the chemical and biological processes that occur, including how air pressure works with the diaphragm all  the way down to the krebs cycle releasing energy in the mitochondria.  The employment of water involves finding a supply and using any number of processes to make it safe and then a process (drinking) to get it into the body where autonomic functions take over.

So there are our 3 categories the rules, the phenomena, and the intention.

Science and Technology are different parts of the same field.  Social Science is not properly disconnected from Social Technology.

Our social interactions in all of their forms are governed by a how (Science), produce a What (phenomena and history) and can be explained by a Why(specific ends).

Now, I want to bring one last philosophical problem into the discussion, and then bind it to How, What and Why.  The Is-Ought Problem is one of the fundamental issues in philosophy.  

But if I'm asking the 3 questions, it becomes obvious what Ought is bounded by Why.  Without purpose, there is no ought to or ought not to...  It corresponds directly with purpose.  Is on the other hand, may describe a fundamental law (the unseen rule, the Tao, the How) or it may describe a known fact (a seen phenomena, the Te, the What).

Daniel Dennett in Darwin's Dangerous Idea describes what he calls design space.  It's a thought tool for thinking about the what that occurs in reality.  Specifically, it's the potential designs for a specific domain that could exist.  So if one were to describe the design space for all of reality, it would contain every single possible combination of distribution of energy and matter in all of it's possible states.  It's finite (assuming the universe is finite) but is incredibly huge.  

He also describes a design space for double helix DNA, and says that it contains every possible configuration of DNA.  Now in that space is every creature that has ever lived on earth, and every creature that could possibly exist.  Now the Tree of Life, is the family tree of every living organism that's ever inhabitet the planet from the origins of life, down to the present day.  He then argues that the evolutionary algorithm (replication, variation, selection) is essentially the search through the tree of life.  The next link in the tree must be something reachable in design space from the existing design space patterns that are implemented in reality.

Given these parts, I'll propose 3 interesting paradigms.

First, Epistemology.  It's the science of human knowledge.  It's scientific rules would explain how one produces knowledge, what knowledge is.  Praxeology informs us that the application of knowledge is intentional, and thus at some point in the process one can begin to ask why specific knowledge exists and to what end it is applied.  The design space for Epistemology is every possible configuration that a human brain could possibly have.   The evolution algorithm would walk this design space, by moving from one state to the next state.  But just like the tree of life, the algorithm can only reach points that are the one it's in.  Unlike the tree of life, the external conditioning is very different and much more dynamic.  Every sensory input conditions the brain.  The genetic material inside the neurons will help describe what's "close" in design space.  The knowledge that exists in one's social groups will also condition the "reachable" designs in design space.

Second, Ethics.  Praxeology informs us that man chooses means to ends.  That he has purpose and intention, things he wishes to achieve.  These things he wants are "good' and the things he avoids are "bad".  Knowledge formed (within the individual) to encapsulate the "good" and the "bad" conceptually are a specific field, and Ethics would be the Science that describes the rules about this specific class of knowledge.  Again this may or may not be a subset of the Epistemological design space.  But this class of knowledge will tend to be directly connected to how the value function inside a man that produces action will condition his preferences.  The technological products of a science of ethics would be specific normative propositions about how a man should behave, how he should arrive at decisions about what's good.

Third, Politics.  I've done this elsewhere, Politics for me is the value-free analysis of normative products of a social group that cover social human action.   Technology products of a science of politics are the institutions, techniques and artifacts of human government whether formal or informal.  Law is a specific product.

Lastly, I think there is an a priori fact of reality that one can point to that explains the existence of each of these three fields.

Epistemology is based in the fact that acting man requires knowledge in order to act.  He must know things, and the things he knows must be applied.  Technically, I think many of the categories of human action would also apply to animals.  However, we do communicate and think, it is intentional action and can be descrbed and shared as such, the fact that we form knowledge is sufficient for the entire class of questions about How to arise.

Ethics is based in the fact that in acting man chooses.  This essential towards a specific satisfaction or away from a specific dissatisfaction is inherent in acting and choosing.  The entire category of what is good, and questions of whether or not "good/bad" implies or describes "Good/Evil" arises out of the fact that man chooses.  In the case of religion and the Molyneux's/ Ayn Rand's, they don't realize that good/bad is an emergent property of action.

Politics is based in the fact that mutiple human beings acting in a shared environment encounter scarcity issues and each individual will use scientific knowledge, combined with specific ethical propositions (knowledge) to decide on action.  This still cannot prevent incompatible uses of means to achieve different ends of each man.

Still have a long way to go, to get all of this cleaned up...

Not sure how interesting a value-free science of Ethics would be.  But is learning/education about producing Epistemological Technology?  Perhaps Logic is a formal science describing part of the epistemological substrate?

This feels messy.  Might want to turn it into a variety of blog posts, until it gets cleaned up.

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Bogart replied on Mon, Sep 3 2012 3:41 PM

Follow the money.

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Follow the hookers and blow.

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