Karl Popper and the Social Sciences

By William A. Gorton

Subjects: Intellectual History
Series: SUNY series in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences
Paperback : 9780791466629, 157 pages, January 2006
Hardcover : 9780791466612, 157 pages, January 2006

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Table of contents


1. Popperian Situational Analysis


Building Models
Against Psychologism and Conspiracy Theories
Methodological Collectivism


2. Metaphysics, Realism, and Situational Analysis


The Vienna Circle’s Positivism
Verificationism, Empiricism, and Metaphysics
Popper’s Metaphysical and Scientific Realism
Realism, World 3, and Social Inquiry


3. Social Laws, the Unity of Scientific Method, and Situational Analysis


Causation, Covering Laws, and Realism
The Unity of Scientific Method
Falsification and Situational Analysis


4. Situational Analysis and Economic Theory


Rationality and Economic Theory
Situational Analysis and Economic Theory
Explaining Voter Turnout: Rational Choice versus Situational Analysis
Untangling Complex Patterns of Interaction


5. Popper’s Debt to Marx


Popper’s Critique of Marx
Popper’s Debt to Marx
Popper and the Analytical Marxists


6. The Shortcomings of Situational Analysis


The Limited Range of Situational Analysis
Irrationality and Situational Analysis
Elster’s Model of Revolutions



The first systematic treatment of Karl Popper’s contribution to the philosophy of the social sciences.


This is the first book-length exploration of Karl Popper's often-neglected contributions to the philosophy of social science. William A. Gorton situates Popper's ideas on social inquiry within the broader framework of his thought, including his philosophy of natural science, his ontological theories, and his political thought. Gorton places special attention on Popper's theory of situational analysis and how it aims to heighten our understanding of the social world by untangling the complex web of human interaction that produces unintended—and often unwanted—social phenomena. Situational analysis, Gorton contends, involves a significant departure from the method of the natural sciences, despite Popper's plea for the unity of scientific method. Gorton also addresses some common misconceptions concerning Popper's stance toward economics and Marxism, making the provocative claim that contemporary analytical Marxism provides the best current example of Popperian social science put into practice.

William A. Gorton is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Alma College, Michigan.