Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Developmental Paradigm of Social Science - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1982, vol. 5, No. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
The Developmental Paradigm of Social Science - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1982, vol. 5, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Developmental Paradigm of Social Science
“Trends of Scholarship in the Social Sciences, 1980–2000.” In A Rededication to Scholarship: Papers Presented at the Dedication of the New Central Library, University of Cincinnati. Edited by James K. Robinson. Cincinnati: The University of Cincinnati Press, 1980, pp. 35–45.
In what direction are the social sciences tending to develop under the sway of newly emerging paradigm shifts? In the 30–40 years following World War II, the dominant paradigm, shared by such ascendant idea-clusters as Freudian psychology and Keynesian economics, was the “systematic” approach (systematic in the sense of seeking propositions universally applicable to human personalities and economic relations, respectively). Opposed to this systematic approach is the developmental emphasis: “the idea that time really matters in a deep and fundamental sense, so that what is possible at one moment in an evolving network of relationships is not possible before—or after.” The evolution of the system as a whole is affected in ways unforeseeable by human action in the present.
Among the more “developmental” sciences—anthropology, sociology, history, and political science—some succumbed during the 1920s and 1930s to a scientistic cult of fact-gathering and the “inductive method,” but this positivistic anti-theoretical faith has been dimmed since World War II by three kinds of developmental awarenesses: (1) Our subjective mind and sensibilities make “facts” relativistic to the observer and undermine the quest for an unattainable scientistic certainty; (2) The time dimension and our ability to understand human experience affect the way we observe as well as our conclusions; (3) The evolving vocabularies which social scientists use as observers powerfully affect what they see. These developmental perspectives seem more congenial than the statistical and mathematical aspiration to the “systematic” quest for universal truths and prognostication.
Methodological debate between systematizers and the developmental sciences seems likely to become “a major axis of growth” for the rest of this century. A second possible line of development would involve an effort to bring the social sciences in contact with the implications of man's biological nature. In particular the biological model of ecology may be useful for thinking about humans and their social relationships. In an ecological fashion, idea systems react to their environment, stabilize in new “niches” to form an equilibrium maintained by our symbolic culture within a larger ecological context.
Social science can never emancipate itself from ideology—the idea structure compatible with and sustaining some social structure. We should be aware, however, that the concepts of the social sciences that we accept and believe in will be a crucial factor in defining and determining ourselves and our society's future. It may be possible, through a natural competition for survival among ideas, that liberal, pluralist societies which tolerate diverse ideas can better grow and adjust to altered conditions.