Week 1 Seminar Synopsis and Reading List: Introduction

This week we introduce the key concepts for the seminar: politics, ethics, and ontology, and more generally the question of the relationship between philosophy and social science. To do so, we present on the following three texts:

Hans Joas, Social Theory, chapter 1, “What is Theory?” (Ike Sharpless)
This reading investigates the relationship between social theory and empirical social inquiry. The author situates the question within the history of the philosophy of science and argues for a continuum between the “metaphysical environment” and the “empirical environment.” According to Joas, social theories respond to three questions: What is action? What is social order? What determines social change?

Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self, chapter 1, “Inescapable Frameworks” (Razvan Amironesei)
In this chapter, Taylor introduces the concept of a “moral ontology” as a background picture for modern identity: what it means to be a human agent, a person, a self. He argues that selfhood and morality are deeply intertwined. He positions his approach against what he calls “naturalism”– the claim that there are no fundamental distinctions to be made between the natural sciences and the social sciences.

Jürgen Habermas, Theory and Practice, chapter 7, “Dogmatism Reason and Decision: On Theory and Practice in our Scientific Civilization” (Caleb Scoville)
In this chapter, Habermas provides a response to the question: What are the commitments of reason? The positivist answer to this question has been a resounding, “none.” Habermas argues that this is not only incoherent; it is politically dangerous. Supported by a genealogy of the relationship between reason and praxis in Western thought, he calls for self-awareness of reason’s investment in the “interest in the progress of reelection toward adult autonomy.” Click here for a longer discussion of this text.

Habermas, Jürgen. Theory and Practice. Boston: Beacon, 1973.
Joas, Hans, Wolfgang Knöbl, and Alex Skinner. Social Theory: Twenty Introductory Lectures. Cambridge UP, 2009.
Taylor, Charles. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Harvard UP, 1989.

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