Neutrality In The Social Sciences: On Bhaskar’s Argument For An Essential Emancipatory Impulse In Social Science

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Journal For The Theory Of Social Behaviour


Suppose that one accepts a theory that proposes that a certain group’s holding of a false belief is co-caused by (e.g.) a specified social structure. Then, Bhaskar has argued, one is rationally committed, ceteris paribus, to adopting a negative value judgment of that structure (the theory is not value neutral) and a positive value judgment of activity directed towards removing it (the theory is partial towards emancipation). Contrary to Bhaskar, I argue that any rational move from accepting a theory to value judgments is mediated either by further value judgments, or by the role played by value-impregnated theoretical terms. Furthermore, I argue (drawing upon a well known argument of Rudner), Bhaskar’s argument tends not to be applicable in the case of theories that assign certain kinds of causal roles to social structures. Reflection on Bhaskar’s argument, however, leads to a deeper grasp of the relations between accepting theories in the social sciences and adopting value judgments.


Reprinted in: (1998). Critical Realism: Essential Readings. 473-502.