Assumptions about the Nature of Social Science
This chapter examines some of the philosophical assumptions which underwrite different approaches to social science. It argues that it is convenient to conceptualise social science in terms of four sets of assumptions related to ontology, epistemology, human nature and methodology. The chapter identifies perspectives in social science which entail a view of human beings responding in a mechanistic or even deterministic fashion to the situations encountered in their external world. The possible range of choice is indeed so large that what is regarded as science by the traditional ‘natural scientist’ covers but a small range of options. Positivist epistemology is in essence based upon the traditional approaches which dominate the natural sciences. The ideographic approach to social science is based on the view that one can only understand the social world by obtaining first-hand knowledge of the subject under investigation.