Scientific rationality and anomaly

Understanding Society

Some discussion of the empirical status of social science theories and hypotheses in the past has revolved around Karl Popper’s formulation of the doctrine of falsifiability. However, this criticism is almost always misplaced in the context of the social sciences. This is true for several reasons: sociologists rarely offer unified deductive theories of social phenomena; the heterogeneity of the social world implies that explanations of social outcomes almost always need to be multi-causal; and as a result of these two features, social explanations and theories can usually be supported through piecemeal empirical investigation — not through their distant global deductive consequences (link). Sociology is not physics.

Popper’s requirement is that all scientific hypotheses must in principle be falsifiable: that is, it must be possible to specify in advance a set of empirical circumstances which would demonstrate the falsity of the hypothesis. Popper writes, “A theory which is not…

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