Piketty defends the social sciences

2015-01-04

in Books and literature, Economics, Politics, Writing

Given this dialogue of the deaf [between experts with opposing views about inequality], in which each camp justifies its own intellectual laziness by pointing to the laziness of the other, there is a role for research that is at least systematic and methodical if not fully scientific. Expert analysis will never put an end to the violent political conflict that inequality inevitably instigates. Social scientific research is and always will be tentative and imperfect. It does not claim to transform economics, sociology, and history into exact sciences. But by patiently searching for facts and patterns and calmly analyzing the economic, social, and political mechanisms that might explain them, it can inform democratic debate and focus attention on the right questions. It can help to refine the terms of the debate, unmask certain preconceived and fraudulent notions, and subject all positions to constant critical scrutiny. In my view, this is the role that intellectuals, including social scientists, should play, as citizens like any other but with the good fortune to have more time than others to devote themselves to study (and even to be paid for it – a signal privilege).

Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. (Translated by Arthur Goldhammer) 2014. p. (hardcover)

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

. September 3, 2015 at 2:43 pm

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Treason

Milan March 23, 2017 at 8:25 pm

This Thomas Piketty quote strikes a good middle ground between accepting too uncritically that science is a suitable model for the study of politics and entirely rejecting the idea that the study of politics can be
scientific.

This ties into the notion of the study of politics as applied history. We need the data and methods of history (which I posit don’t really differ from those of the study of politics) to find the patterns and mechanisms he describes, but it’s our normative motivation to alter future events
that defines us as different from traditional historians only seeking
to explain what past causes led to past effects. Putting political science into the same breath as “economics, sociology, and history” makes sense to me as well.

. March 29, 2017 at 8:15 pm

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