Classification and Explanation at the Crossroads of the Social and Natural Sciences

  • Jessica M Laimann

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Abstract

This thesis looks at a number of debates relating to how practices of classification and explanation in the social sciences differ from those in the natural sciences. Against the background of an extant discussion that is fragmented and sometimes contradictory, my thesis develops the notion of hybrid kinds as a key unifying concept for understanding and resolving a range of debates on the relationship between the natural and social sciences. Chapter 1 sets out my account of hybrid kinds. By critically evaluating the discussion of Searle’s theory of social kinds, I argue that the social kinds in question are best understood as hybrid kinds that are constituted of a base kind and a status kind linked by a relation of status conferral. Chapter 2 applies the hybrid kind account to Epstein’s grounding-anchoring model of social kinds and argues that the latter is fundamentally flawed. Chapter 3 turns to the question of moral and political values in the semantics and ontology of social kinds and explores how the direct and indirect influence of such values could be justified. Chapter 4 marks the move from largely ontological considerations to exploring the role of hybrid kinds in scientific contexts. Against the widespread criticism of Hacking’s claim that human kinds cannot be natural kinds, I argue that an appropriate understanding of the epistemic role of natural kinds and of the capricious nature of social feedback effects renders his claim more viable than hitherto acknowledged. Chapters 5 and 6 use the previous findings on hybrid kind ontology and epistemology to advance a central debate at the crossroads of the natural and social sciences: the discussion on biological versus social explanations of gender differences in human behaviour and psychology.
Date of Award1 Oct 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SponsorsArts and Humanities Research Council
SupervisorSamir Okasha (Supervisor), John Dupre (Supervisor) & Karim Thebault (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Human kinds
  • Social kinds
  • Classification
  • Social ontology
  • Social science
  • social explanation

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