Mapping Reality

An Evolutionary Realist Methodology for the Natural and Social Sciences

By Jane Azevedo

Subjects: Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences
Paperback : 9780791432082, 322 pages, January 1997
Hardcover : 9780791432075, 322 pages, February 1997

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Table of contents

List of Figures



I. The Problems


1. Sociology Today
1.1 The Diversity of Sociological Method
1.2 The Patterns of Diversity
1.3. The Problems of Diversity


2. Issues in the Metatheory of Sociology


2.1 Can Sociology Be Scientific?
2.2 The Status of the Social Sciences vis-a-vis the Natural Sciences: Naturalism versus Humanism
2.3 Scientific Knowledge and Validity
2.4 The Naturalist Realist Strategy


II. Tools for a Solution

3. Theories as Maps of the World


3.1 Sciencing as a Human Activity
3.2 A Naturalist Realist Model of Scientific Theory


4. The Nature of Validity


4.1 The Adequacy of Maps
4.2 The Adequacy of Theories
4.3 The Mapping Model of Knowledge


III. The Tools Applied

5. Validity and Reality in the Social Sciences


5.1 Cause and Reality
5.2 Structure, Function, and Cause in Sociology
5.3 Distinguishing Causal and Functional Explanations
5.4 The Relationship between Causal and Functional Theories
5.5 Reasons and Causes
5.6 The Status of Rational Explanations
5.7 Conclusion


6. Knowing in a Complex World


6.1 The Complex Nature of Reality
6.2 Reducing Complexity in a Complex and Changing World
6.3 The Ontological Consequences of a Pluralist Methodology
6.4 The Fragmentation of Knowledge


7. The Unification of Knowledge


7.1 Epistemic Values and the Unification of Knowledge
7.2 Reductionism and Unification
7.3 The MMK and Unification
7.4 Answering the Relativist Challenge to Realism


IV. The Conclusion

8. The MMK and the Metatheory of Sociology




Using the insights of evolutionary epistemology, the author develops a new naturalist realist methodology of science, and applies it to the conceptual, practical, and ethical problems of the social sciences.


With postmodernism and postructuralism sweeping the social sciences and humanities, a whole generation of students from disciplines as diverse as history, English literature, philosophy, sociology, and anthropology are learning that "truth" is bogus--a tired old liberal humanist fiction. Language is incapable of telling the truth, and science, nothing but a socially constructed discourse, functions to maintain the status quo. There is much to be said for this point of view, but ironically, relativists face precisely the same quandary, for if all claims to knowledge are equally valid, then de facto the knowledge claims of the most powerful are the ones disseminated and acted upon. This timely book offers a way out of the current realist/relativist impasse. Azevedo uses the insights of evolutionary epistemology to develop a naturalist realist methodology of science, the "mapping model of knowledge," and applies it to solving the conceptual, practical, and ethical problems faced by sociology as a discipline. The model is developed from the practice of the natural sciences, and comes with an easily applied and powerful heuristic based on mapping, filling the gap left by the downfall of positivist and empiricist methodologies. It shows the inescapably social nature of science, but argues that scientific theories can in fact be validated in perspective-neutral ways --not despite the social and interest-driven nature of science, but because of it.


"Azevedo sets out a case for an evolutionary realism that supports pluralism without acceding to relativism. She gives appropriate historical and contextual consideration to contemporary discussions of relativism and other forms of realism and introduces her own theory in the context of examining the appropriateness of different maps for different purposes. Rather than subscribing to one or another of the traditional 'unity of science' themes, she proposes a complementarity based on diverse purposes of inquiry." -- Lenore Langsdorf, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.