A Realist Philosophy of Social Science

Explanation and Understanding

A Realist Philosophy of Social Science

This 2006 introduction to the philosophy of social science provides an original conception of the task and nature of social inquiry. Peter Manicas discusses the role of causality seen in the physical sciences and offers a reassessment of the problem of explanation from a realist perspective. He argues that the fundamental goal of theory in both the natural and social sciences is not, contrary to widespread opinion, prediction and control, or the explanation of events (including behaviour). Instead, theory aims to provide an understanding of the processes which, together, produce the contingent outcomes of experience. Offering a host of concrete illustrations and examples of critical ideas and issues, this accessible book will be of interest to students of the philosophy of social science, and social scientists from a range of disciplines.


"With this book Manicas has filled a major need in the philosophy of social science, which has not given adequate critical attention to the problem of explanation. His argument that understanding not explanation as such is the primary goal of the sciences entails a wider assessment of the philosophy of the social sciences. This is an original contribution as well as being an important and very convincing statement of realism. It is likely to become a key work in the field." --Gerard Delanty Professor of Sociology, University of Liverpool

“Despite their protestations to the contrary, scientists have always been influenced, often to the detriment of their projects, by philosophy. In this timely volume Peter Manicas offers a systematic defence of scientific realism as the philosophical framework for the social sciences. Parallel to the way the natural sciences propose explanations by causal mechanisms, the social sciences should propose their own form of 'causality', active agents making use of systems of meaningful actions to accomplish their ends. In his comprehensive study of how the social sciences might be, Manicas works out this insight in various contexts with powerful effect. One can only hope that, at last, the spectre of naïve empiricism will finally be exorcised from the social sciences.”--Horace R. Harre Distinguished Research Professor, Georgetown University

“Neo-positivist, interpretive, and postmodernist social science are often seriously confused about fundamental issues of explanation, causation, interpretation, and understanding. Critical realism offers the best alternative account of the social scientific task and the most sensible resolution of our widespread confusions. Peter Manicas makes an important contribution to developing such a critical realist approach to social science that can help to re-orient our scholarly visions in smarter, more realistic, and fruitful directions.” --Christian Smith Professor of Sociology, University of Notre Dame

It is easy to be enthusiastic about A Realist Philosophy of Science. The book is not only a comprehensive treatment of "explanation" in the social sciences but has the merit of being well written, factual, and informative. Manicas is the voice of wisdom and sanity in a field where positivistic assumptions regarding the nature of science often go unchallenged. --Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly