Saturday, August 3, 2019

Interpretivism in the Social Sciences: A 21st Century Bibliography

I am compiling a bibliography about "interpretivist" approaches in the social sciences and their critics. Loosely stated, these approaches claim that social-scientific methodology differs profoundly from natural-scientific methodology. 

I largely restrict my focus to 21st-century sources in anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, sociology, and philosophy of the social sciences. It should be noted that the term "interpretivism" is used in other disciplines such as nursing, international relations, philosophy of mind, information systems, organizational studies, business, and law. To keep this bibliography manageable, I'm omitting these more "applied" fields.

I'll be building this bibliography as follows: owing to prior research, I have a very uneven selection of works on this topic already in my personal bibliography. That's the starting point. As time permits, I'll build it up by looking at individual years, starting with 2000 and making my way to the present. I will update incrementally. Currently, I would only deem my bibliographical information up through 2001 to be "complete."

If I've overlooked something (especially your own work!), please let me know, though please also note that if most of an edited book is pertinent, then I do not include its individual chapters as separate entries. 

  • Alexander, J. (2000). Theorizing the Good Society: Hermeneutic, Normative and Empirical Discourses. The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers canadiens de sociologie, 25(3), 271-309. doi:10.2307/3341644
  • Aronowitz, S., & Robert, A. (2000). A Critique of Methodological Reason. The Sociological Quarterly, 41(4), 699-719.
  • Bryant, J. M. (2000). On sources and narratives in historical social science: a realist critique of positivist and postmodernist epistemologies*. The British Journal of Sociology, 51(3), 489-523. doi:10.1111/j.1468-4446.2000.00489.x
  • Gadamer, H.-G. (2000). Subjectivity and intersubjectivity, subject and person. Continental Philosophy Review, 33(3), 275-287. 
  • Gomm, R., Hammersley, M., & Foster, P. (2000). Case study method: Key issues, key texts. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Groeben, N., & Scheele, B. (2000). Dialogue-hermeneutic Method and the "Research Program Subjective Theories. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 1(2). doi:10.17169/fqs-1.2.1079
  • Harrington, A. (2000a). In Defence of Verstehen and Erklären  Wilhelm Dilthey's Ideas Concerning a Descriptive and Analytical Psychology. Theory & Psychology, 10(4), 435-451. doi:10.1177/0959354300104001
  • Harrington, A. (2000b). Objectivism in Hermeneutics?: Gadamer, Habermas, Dilthey. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 30(4), 491-507. doi:10.1177/004839310003000401
  • Harrington, A. (2000c). Alfred Schutz and the ‘Objectifying Attitude’. Sociology, 34(4), 727-740.
  • Kleining, G., & Witt, H. (2000). The Qualitative Heuristic Approach: A Methodology for Discovery in Psychology and the Social Sciences. Rediscovering the Method of Introspection as an Example. 2000, 1(1). doi:10.17169/fqs-1.1.1123
  • Kögler, H. H., & Stueber, K. R. (Eds.). (2000). Empathy and agency: the problem of understanding in the human sciences. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  • Lapadat, J. C. (2000). Problematizing transcription: purpose, paradigm and quality. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 3(3), 203-219. 
  • Lewandowski, J. D. (2000). Thematizing Embeddedness:Reflexive Sociology as Interpretation. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 30(1), 49-66. doi:10.1177/004839310003000103
  • Madill, A., Jordan, A., & Shirley, C. (2000). Objectivity and reliability in qualitative analysis: Realist, contextualist and radical constructionist epistemologies. British Journal of Psychology, 91(1), 1-20. doi:10.1348/000712600161646
  • Madison, G. B. (2000). Critical Theory and hermeneutics: Some outstanding issues in the debate. In L. E. Hahn (Ed.), Perspectives on Habermas (pp. 463-482). Chicago: Open Court Publishing.
  • Martin, M. (2000). Verstehen: the uses of understanding in social science. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
  • Orbe, M. P. (2000). Centralizing diverse racial/ethnic voices in scholarly research: the value of phenomenological inquiry. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24(5), 603-621. doi:
  • Pettit, P. (2000). Winch’s double-edged idea of a social science. History of the Human Sciences, 13(1), 63-77. 
  • Phillips, D. C. (2000). The expanded social scientist's bestiary : a guide to fabled threats to, and defenses of, naturalistic social science. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Polkinghoime, D. E. (2000). Psychological Inquiry and the Pragmatic and Hermeneutic Traditions. Theory & Psychology, 10(4), 453-479. doi:10.1177/0959354300104002
  • Rennie, D. L. (2000). Grounded Theory Methodology as Methodical Hermeneutics: Reconciling Realism and Relativism. Theory & Psychology, 10(4), 481-502. doi:10.1177/0959354300104003
  • Richardson, F. C. (2000). Overcoming Fragmentation in Psychology: A Hermeneutic Approach. The Journal of Mind and Behavior, 21(3), 289-304. 
  • Risjord, M. (2000). Woodcutters and witchcraft: rationality and interpretive change in the social sciences. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Schwandt, T. A. (2000). Three epistemological stances for qualitative inquiry: Interpretivism, hermeneutics, and social constructionism. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 189–213). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Smaling, A. (2000). What kind of dialogue should paradigm-dialogues be? Quality and Quantity, 34(1), 51-63. 
  • Topper, K. (2000). In Defense of Disunity: Pragmatism, Hermeneutics, and the Social Sciences. Political Theory, 28(4), 509-539.
  • Williams, M. (2000). Interpretivism and Generalisation. Sociology, 34(2), 209-224.


  • Alexander, J., & Smith, P. (2001). The Strong Program in Cultural Theory: Elements of a Structural Hermeneutics. In J. H. Turner (Ed.), Handbook of Sociological Theory (pp. 135-150). Boston, MA: Springer US.
  • Andersen, H. (2001). Gender inequality and paradigms in the social sciences. Social Science Information, 40(2), 265-289. doi:10.1177/053901801040002004
  • Anderson, K., & Smith, S. J. (2001). Editorial: Emotional Geographies. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 26(1), 7-10.
  • Atkinson, P. (Ed.) (2001). Handbook of ethnography. Thousand Oaks, CA.: Sage Publications.
  • Attride-Stirling, J. (2001). Thematic networks: an analytic tool for qualitative research. Qualitative Research, 1(3), 385-405. doi:10.1177/146879410100100307
  • Baptiste, I. (2001). Qualitative data analysis: Common phases, strategic differences. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 2(3). doi:10.17169/fqs-2.3.917
  • Beeman, W., & Peterson, M. A. (2001). Situations and interpretations: Explorations in interpretive practice. Anthropological Quarterly, 74(4), 159-162. 
  • Boettke, P., & Koppl, R. (Eds.). (2001). Special Issue on Alfred Schütz Centennial, Review of Austrian Economics, 14 (2/3).
  • Bonner, K. M. (2001). Reflexivity and Interpretive Sociology: The Case of Analysis and the Problem of Nihilism. Human Studies, 24(4), 267-292. doi:10.1023/a:1012214826614
  • Bransen, J. (2001). Verstehen and Erklären, Philosophy of. In N. J. Smelser & P. B. Baltes (Eds.), International encyclopedia of the social and behavioural Sciences (pp. 16165-16170). Oxford: Elsevier Science.
  • Buzzoni, M. (2001). The Operationalistic and Hermeneutic Status of Psychoanalysis. Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 32(1), 131-165. doi:10.1023/a:1011204208271
  • Caplan, B. (2001). Probability, Common Sense, and realism: A reply to Hülsmann and Block. Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, 4(2), 69-86. 
  • Crinson, I. (2001). A realist approach to the analysis of focus group data. Paper presented at the 5th Annual IACR Conference, Roskilde University, Denmark.
  • Crossley, N. (2001). The Phenomenological Habitus and Its Construction. Theory and Society, 30(1), 81-120.
  • Cupchik, G. (2001). Constructivist Realism: An Ontology That Encompasses Positivist and Constructivist Approaches to the Social Sciences. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 2(1). doi:10.17169/fqs-2.1.968
  • Dennett, D. C. (2001). The Evolution of Culture. The Monist, 84(3), 305-324. 
  • Dobres, M.-A. (2001). Meaning in the making: agency and the social embodiment of technology and art. In M. B. Schiffer (Ed.), Anthropological perspectives on technology (pp. 47-76). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Flyvbjerg, B. (2001). Making social science matter : why social inquiry fails and how it can succeed again. Oxford, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Follesdal, D. (2001). Hermeneutics. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 82(2), 375-379. doi:10.1516/1d08-f6v9-yvpj-a79w
  • Forstater, M. (2001). Phenomenological and Interpretive-Structural Approaches to Economics and Sociology: Schutzian Themes in Adolph Lowe's Political Economics. The Review of Austrian Economics, 14(2), 209-218. doi:10.1023/a:1011164201386
  • Geertz, C. (2001). Empowering Aristotle. [Making Social Science Matter Why Social Inquiry Fails and How It Can Succeed Again. Bent Flyvbjerg. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001.]. Science, 293(5527), 53. doi:10.1126/science.1062054
  • Gordon, R. M. (2001). Simulation and Reason Explanation: The Radical View. Philosophical Topics, 29(1/2), 175-192.
  • Harrington, A. (2001a). Hermeneutic dialogue and social science : a critique of Gadamer and Habermas. London: Routledge.
  • Harrington, A. (2001b). Dilthey, Empathy and Verstehen: A Contemporary Reappraisal. European Journal of Social Theory, 4(3), 311-329. doi:10.1177/13684310122225145
  • Harrison, J., MacGibbon, L., & Morton, M. (2001). Regimes of trustworthiness in qualitative research: The rigors of reciprocity. Qualitative inquiry, 7(3), 323-345. 
  • Hein, S. F., & Austin, W. J. (2001). Empirical and hermeneutic approaches to phenomenological research in psychology: A comparison. Psychological methods, 6(1), 3-17. 
  • Kleining, G., & Witt, H. (2001). Discovery as basic methodology of qualitative and quantitative research. Paper presented at the Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research.
  • Lewandowski, J. D. (2001). Interpreting culture : rethinking method and truth in social theory. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Marsh, D., & Smith, M. J. (2001). There is More than One Way to Do Political Science: on Different Ways to Study Policy Networks. Political Studies, 49(3), 528-541. doi:10.1111/1467-9248.00325
  • Martin, J., & Sugarman, J. (2001). Interpreting Human Kinds:Beginnings of a Hermeneutic Psychology. Theory & Psychology, 11(2), 193-207. doi:10.1177/0959354301112003
  • Meyer, C. B. (2001). A case in case study methodology. Field methods, 13(4), 329-352.
  • Morse, J. M., Swanson, J. M., & Kuzel, A. J. (Eds.). (2000). The nature of qualitative evidence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Nentwich, J. C. (2001). The process of understanding in qualitative social research. In M. Kiegelmann (Ed.), Qualitative research in psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 240-245). Schwangau: Ingeborg Huber Verlag.
  • Outhwaite, W. (2001). History of hermeneutics. In N. J. Smelser & P. B. Baltes (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. (pp. 6661-6665). London: Elsevier.
  • Rantala, K., & Hellstrom, E. (2001). Qualitative comparative analysis and a hermeneutic approach to interview data. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 4(2), 87-100. doi:10.1080/13645570118545
  • Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (2001). Handbook of action research : participative inquiry and practice. London ; Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Reason, P., & Torbert, W. R. (2001). The action turn: Toward a transformational social science. Concepts and Transformation, 6(1), 1-37. doi:10.1075/cat.6.1.02rea
  • Reckling, F. (2001). Interpreted Modernity: Weber and Taylor on Values and Modernity. European Journal of Social Theory, 4(2), 153-176. doi:10.1177/13684310122225055
  • Roberts, J. (2001). Dialogue, Positionality and the Legal Framing of Ethnographic Research. Sociological Research Online, 5(4), 1-14. doi:10.5153/sro.542
  • Schreier, M. and Fielding, N. (Eds.) (2001). Qualitative and Quantitative Research: Conjunctions and Divergences A New FQS-Volume. Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung, 26(1 (95)), 187-218.
  • Schneider, K. J., Bugental, J. F. T., & Pierson, J. F. (2001). The handbook of humanistic psychology : leading edges in theory, research, and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Scott, J. W., & Keates, D. (2001). Schools of thought : twenty-five years of interpretive social science. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Sharkey, P. (2001). Hermeneutic phenomenology. In R. Barnacle (Ed.), Phenomenology (pp. 16-37). Melbourne: RMIT University Press.
  • Travers, M. (2001). Qualitative research through case studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Valsiner, J. (2001). The First Six Years: Culture’s Adventures in Psychology. Culture & Psychology, 7(1), 5-48. doi:10.1177/1354067x0171002
  • Walker, G. (2001). Society and culture in sociological and anthropological tradition. History of the Human Sciences, 14(3), 30-55.

  • Baert, P. (2002). Pragmatism versus sociological hermeneutics. In J. Lehmann (Ed.), Critical theory: Diverse objects, diverse subjects (pp. 349-365). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
  • Barbalet, J. M. (2002). Emotions and sociology. Oxford ; Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub./Socological Review.
  • Bevir, M., & Rhodes, R. A. W. (2002). Interpretive Theory. In D. Marsh & G. Stoker (Eds.), Theory and methods in political science (2nd ed., pp. 131–152). London: Palgrave.
  • Boettke, P. J., & Storr, V. H. (2002). Post-classical political economy: Polity, society and economy in Weber, Mises and Hayek. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 61(1), 161-191. 
  • Breckner, R., & Rupp, S. (2002). Discovering biographies in changing social worlds: the biographical-interpretive method. In P. Chamberlayne, M. Rustin, & T. Wengraf (Eds.), Biography and social exclusion in Europe-experiences and life journeys (pp. 289-308). Bristol, UK: Policy Press.
  • Carver, T. (2002). Discourse analysis and the ‘linguistic turn’. European Political Science, 2(1), 50-53. 
  • Clarke, S. (2002). Learning from experience: psycho-social research methods in the social sciences. Qualitative Research, 2(2), 173-194. doi:10.1177/146879410200200203
  • Davis, J. B., & Schwandt, T. A. (2002). [Verstehen: The Uses of Understanding in Social Science, Michael Martin]. Contemporary Sociology, 31(2), 236-237. doi:10.2307/3089546
  • Dostal, R. J. (2002). The Cambridge companion to Gadamer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Fairclough, N., Jessop, B., & Sayer, A. (2002). Critical Realism and Semiosis. Aletheia, 5(1), 2-10. 
  • Finch, J. H., & McMaster, R. (2002). On categorical variables and non‐parametric statistical inference in the pursuit of causal explanations. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 26(6), 753-772. doi:10.1093/cje/26.6.753
  • Flick, U. (2002). Qualitative research-state of the art. Social Science Information, 41(1), 5-24. 
  • Gadamer, H.-G., Malpas, J., Arnswald, U., & Kertscher, J. (2002). Gadamer's century : essays in honor of Hans-Georg Gadamer. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Green, P. (Ed.) (2002). Slices of Life: Qualitative Research Snapshots. Melbourne: RMIT University Press.
  • Greenhouse, C. J. (2002). Introduction: Altered states, altered lives. In C. J. Greenhouse, E. Mertz, & K. B. Warren (Eds.), Ethnography in unstable places: everyday lives in contexts of dramatic political change (pp. 1-34). Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Guignon, C. (2002). Hermeneutics, authenticity and the aims of psychology. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 22(2), 83-102. doi:10.1037/h0091216
  • Habermas, J. (2002). On the pragmatics of social interaction: Preliminary studies in the theory of communicative action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Halas, E. (2002). Ethical Dilemmas of 'Verstehen' in Sociology: Theodore Abel's Encounter with Nazism. Polish Sociological Review(138), 173-187. Retrieved from
  • Hałas, E. (2002). Symbolism and Social Phenomena: Toward the Integration of Past and Current Theoretical Approaches. European Journal of Social Theory, 5(3), 351-366. doi:10.1177/136843102760513947
  • Hitzler, R. (2002). The Reconstruction of Meaning. The State of the Art in German Interpretive Sociology. 2002, 3(2). doi:10.17169/fqs-3.2.867
  • Huberman, A. M., & Miles, M. B. (2002). The qualitative researcher's companion. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Kim, K.-M. (2002). On the Failure of Habermas's Hermeneutic Objectivism. Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies, 2(2), 270-298. doi:10.1177/153270860200200216
  • Lerner, B. D., & Winch, P. (2002). Rules, magic and instrumental reason : a critical interpretation of Peter Winch's philosophy of the social sciences. London New York: Routledge.
  • Marsh, D., & Furlong, P. (2002). A skin not a sweater: ontology and epistemology in political science. In V. Lowndes, D. Marsh, & G. Stoker (Eds.), Theory and methods in political science (pp. 17-41). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Martin, J. (2002). Hermeneutic psychology: Understandings and practices. In S. P. Shohov (Ed.), Advances in Psychology Research (pp. 14--97): Nova Science Publishers.
  • May, T. (2002). Qualitative research in action. London: Sage.
  • McAllister, J. W. (2002). Historical and Structural Approaches in the Natural and Human Sciences. In P. Tindemans, A. Verrijn-Stuart, & R. Visser (Eds.), The Future of the Sciences and Humanities (pp. 19-62). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • Moules, N. J. (2002). Hermeneutic Inquiry: Paying Heed to History and Hermes An Ancestral, Substantive, and Methodological Tale. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1(3), 1-21. doi:10.1177/160940690200100301
  • Pleasants, N. (2002). Wittgenstein and the idea of a critical social theory: A critique of Giddens, Habermas and Bhaskar. London: Routledge.
  • Ratner, C. (2002). Subjectivity and Objectivity in Qualitative Methodology. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 3(3). doi:10.17169/fqs-3.3.829
  • Rennie, D. L., Watson, K. D., & Monteiro, A. M. (2002). The rise of qualitative research in psychology. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 43(3), 179-189. 
  • Roth, W. D., & Mehta, J. D. (2002). The Rashomon Effect:Combining Positivist and Interpretivist Approaches in the Analysis of Contested Events. Sociological Methods & Research, 31(2), 131-173. doi:10.1177/0049124102031002002
  • Rubaie, T. A. (2002). The rehabilitation of the case-study method. European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling, 5(1), 31-47. doi:10.1080/13642530210159198
  • Schatzki, T. (2002). Social Science in Society. Inquiry, 45(1), 119-138. doi:10.1080/002017402753556652
  • Smith, D. G. (2002). Hermeneutic Scholar. Counterpoints, 183, 183-200. 
  • Strauss, D. F. M. (2002). Understanding in the humanities: Gadamer’s thought at the intersection of rationality, historicity, and linguisticality–with special reference to the dialectics of causality and history. South African journal of philosophy, 21(4), 291-305. 
  • Toulmin, S. (2002). The Hermeneutics of the Natural Sciences. In B. E. Babich (Ed.), Hermeneutic Philosophy of Science, Van Gogh’s Eyes, and God: Essays in Honor of Patrick A. Heelan, S.J. (pp. 25-29). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

  • Millar, A. (2004). Understanding people: normativity and rationalizing explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Risjord, M. (2005). Reasons, Causes, and Action Explanation. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 35(3), 294-306. doi:10.1177/0048393105277987
  • Stueber, K. R. (2006). Rediscovering empathy: agency, folk psychology, and the human sciences. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.


  • Hollan, D. (2008). Being There: On the Imaginative Aspects of Understanding Others and Being Understood. Ethos, 36(4), 475-489. 
  • Hollan, D., & Throop, C. J. (2008). Whatever happened to empathy?: Introduction. Ethos, 36(4), 385-401. 
  • Reed, I. (2008). Justifying Sociological Knowledge: From Realism to Interpretation. Sociological Theory, 26(2), 101-129. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9558.2008.00321.x
  • Stueber, K. R. (2008). Reasons, generalizations, empathy, and narratives: the epistemic structure of action explanation. History and Theory, 47(1), 31-43. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2303.2008.00434.x


  • Beatty, A. (2010). How Did It Feel for You? Emotion, Narrative, and the Limits of Ethnography. American Anthropologist, 112(3), 430-443. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1433.2010.01250.x
  • Feest, U. (2010). Historical Perspectives on Erklären and Verstehen: Springer.


  • Martin, J. L. (2011). The explanation of social action. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Reed, I. (2011). Interpretation and social knowledge : on the use of theory in the human sciences. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Mantzavinos, C. (2012). Explanations of meaningful actions. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 42(2), 224-238. 
  • Stueber, K. R. (2012). Understanding versus explanation? How to think about the distinction between the human and the natural sciences. Inquiry, 55(1), 17-32. doi:10.1080/0020174X.2012.643621
  • Stueber, K. R. (2013). The causal autonomy of reason explanations and how not to worry about causal deviance. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 43(1), 24-45. 
  • Turner, S. P. (2013). Where explanation ends: understanding as the place the spade turns in the social sciences. Studies in history and philosophy of science part A, 44(3), 532-538. doi:10.1016/j.shpsa.2012.12.001
  • Beatty, A. (2014). Anthropology and emotion. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 20(3), 545-563. doi:10.1111/1467-9655.12114
  • Turner, S. P. (2014). Evidenz: The Strength of Weak Empathy. In S. P. Turner (Ed.), Understanding the Tacit (pp. 184-200). London: Routledge.
  • Watts, D. J. (2014). Common Sense and Sociological Explanations. American Journal of Sociology, 120(2), 313-351. doi:10.1086/678271
  • Lichterman, P., & Reed, I. A. (2015). Theory and contrastive explanation in ethnography. Sociological Methods & Research, 44(4), 585-635. 
  • Matta, C. (2015). Interpretivism and Causal Explanations: A case from educational research. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 45(6), 543-567. 
  • Fay, B. (2016). Verstehen and the Reaction against Positivism. In L. McIntyre & A. Rosenberg (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Social Science (pp. 49-60). London: Routledge.
  • Grimm, S. R. (2016). How Understanding People Differs from Understanding the Natural World. Philosophical issues, 26(1), 209-225. doi:10.1111/phis.12068
  • Grimm, S. R. (2017). Why Study History? On Its Epistemic Benefits and Its Relation to the Sciences. Philosophy, 92(3), 399-420. doi:10.1017/S003181911700002X
  • Turco, C. J., & Zuckerman, E. W. (2017). Verstehen for Sociology: Comment on Watts. American Journal of Sociology, 122(4), 1272-1291. doi:10.1086/690762
  • Watts, D. J. (2017). Response to Turco and Zuckerman’s “Verstehen for Sociology”. American Journal of Sociology, 122(4), 1292-1299. doi:10.1086/690763


  • Khalifa, K. (2019). Is Verstehen Scientific Understanding? Philosophy of the Social Sciences. doi:10.1177/0048393119847104
  • Mantzavinos, C. (2019). A Dialogue on Understanding. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 49(4), 307-322. doi:10.1177/0048393119847106
  • Stueber, K. R. (2019). Empathy. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 ed.).
  • Stueber, K. R. (2019). The Ubiquity of Understanding: Dimensions of Understanding in the Social and Natural Sciences. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 49(4), 265-281. doi:10.1177/0048393119847103
  • Turner, S. (2019). Verstehen Naturalized. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 49(4), 243-264. doi:10.1177/0048393119847102

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Book's Debunking Move

Petri Ylikoski has very kindly reviewed my book. His review raises three interesting questions that I address here.

1. The relevance of epistemology to philosophy of science
Here is Ylikoski’s overarching assessment of the book:
I confess that I have always been doubtful of the relevance of analytical epistemology for philosophy of science. I think Khalifa's book demonstrates this with respect to theories of understanding. (I don't know if he himself would agree with this.) However, I am happy that somebody has worked through the literature.
To be honest, I don’t know if I agree with this either. I mean this quite literally: I have insufficient information to tell you whether I agree with Ylikoski’s claim that epistemology is irrelevant to philosophical theories of scientific understanding. 

Allow me to explain. Give or take a few niceties, what I hoped to “demonstrate” in my book is that understanding is scientific knowledge of an explanation. Objections to that thesis come from both epistemologists and philosophers of science. I would have thought that objections are relevant to a thesis. That would entail the exact opposite of what Ylikoski claims: if successful, the book would have shown that epistemology is relevant to theories of scientific understanding. 

Perhaps Ylikoski meant that none of the answers to these objections required extensive appeal to epistemology. However, as I argue in Chapter 2, an epistemological concept—safety—most sharply distinguishes my view from that of our fellow philosopher of science, Henk de Regt. It’s also difficult for me to see how my discussions of luck (in Chapter 7) and epistemic value (in Chapter 8) don’t involve some epistemological theorizing. So, I think that epistemology is relevant in this sense, too.

What can be gleaned from my book is that philosophers interested in what explanations are and what makes one explanation better than another ought not find understanding especially "deep." Alternatively stated: 
  • Philosophers would be better served by constructing a theory of understanding out of our best theories of explanation and explanatory power than the other way around. 

Call this the (book’s main) debunking move. I stand by that claim, and if Ylikoski thinks that I’ve demonstrated that, then I’ve succeeded in the book’s overarching mission.

There is a certain sense in which the debunking move shows that epistemology is irrelevant to philosophy of science. In the philosophical division of labor, theories of explanation and of explanatory power fall mainly under the purview of philosophers of science. So, if the debunking move is sound, then there would be little left for epistemologists to contribute to a theory of understanding. I suspect that Ylikoski would welcome this result.

2. How much abstraction is too much?
Ylikoski’s main misgiving with my book is that my account of understanding is “too abstract… to consider things like (theoretical or practical) trade-offs between different dimensions of explanatory goodness, or various relations between explanations.” I am puzzled by this assessment. Ylikoski does not indicate how any of my arguments requires a story about these tradeoffs. Indeed, he voices no misgivings about any of the book’s arguments. This suggests that my account of explanation is not too abstract to perform the tasks to which I set it.  Indeed, not only do these tradeoffs play no role in establishing a theory of understanding, the debunking move suggests that understanding should play no role in accounting for these tradeoffs. So, I fail to see why Ylikoski thinks that I should be addressing this issue.

3. The sense and varieties of understanding
The debunking move’s targets are not just epistemologists working on understanding—it also includes philosophers of science working on understanding. Since this seems to include some of Ylikoski's work, I suspect that he thinks this is a bridge too far. This suspicion is confirmed by the two issues he raises as loci for further philosophical theorizing about understanding: 

(a) “It seems that some kind of sense (or feeling) of understanding has an important regulative role in our cognitive lives. It tells us when we need acquire more knowledge and when we have enough understanding to provide an explanation.” 

(b) “We understand both scientific representations (theories, models, graphs, etc.) and phenomena with the help of those representations.” I only address the second of these kinds of understanding.

Ylikoski and I are just going to have disagree about how interesting these issues are. I admit that these probably signal differences in taste more than anything else.

Regarding (a): my view is that the most interesting way of determining whether we have enough understanding isn’t from the sense of understanding; it’s from the conversational context. That may have more to do with agents’ social statuses (as experts communicating to laypersons, for example) than anything going on in their heads. Because none of the book’s arguments hinged on developing these ideas, they were mentioned only in passing (especially in Chapters 1 and 6.) Furthermore, contra Ylikoski, I don’t see why the (philosophically interesting) sense of understanding isn’t reducible to beliefs about what one understands. 

Regarding (b): When it comes to understanding, I can easily see why the explanations and predictions to which scientific representations contribute are of philosophical interest. By contrast, I do not see what’s philosophically interesting about scientific representations’ “legibility” or “user-friendliness.” Emily Sullivan and I briefly discuss our skepticism about legibility's epistemic value in our recent paper.

Despite these disagreements, I am grateful to Ylikoski for prompting me to state the debunking move a bit more explicitly than I did in the book.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Why Can't Empiricists Explain The Success of Science?

I'm teaching my course on scientific realism again. I especially enjoy it as an opportunity to re-trace the historical evolution of the realist and antirealist positions. In particular, I'm struck by the following: an earlier version of a realist argument might have been quite cognizant that it blunted a certain line of criticism (call it X), but then that argument is revised in response to something else in a manner that makes realists vulnerable to X. Here's one that's really struck me re-reading early versions of the "No Miracles Argument.":

  • Originally, scientific realists claimed that they, but not empiricists, could explain science's empirical success. Very roughly, the thought was that the realist could claim that the approximate truth of a theory best explains its empirical adequacy, but the empiricist was stuck claiming that a theory's empirical adequacy explains its empirical adequacy, which is no explanation at all.
  • However, owing to the pessimistic induction, the realist's explanandum became restricted to high-grade empirical success, such as novel prediction. Hence, the revised realist claim is that a theory's approximate truth explains its high-grade empirical success.
  • However, to my knowledge, few have noted that this means that empiricists thereby have an explanation of high-grade success. Empiricists can claim that a theory's empirical adequacy explains its high-grade empirical success. This is no longer circular, and indeed seems to be part of a general class of "success explanations," X's general reliability in domain D explains why X achieved a high-grade success in D. Ex. LeBron James' athleticism and basketball prowess explains why he was able to run down the shooter and block the latter's shot.
  • At this point, however, one may note that empirical adequacy, at least as defined by van Fraassen, is unlikely to be the true of any theory. However, so long as the empirical success in the explanans is more encompassing than the high-grade empirical success, empiricists can explain the high-grade empirical success. Let's call this general kind of empirical success which explains high-grade success empirical reliability, which is roughly akin to "approximate empirical adequacy."
  • What I can't see quite clearly is whether this empiricist explanation of high-grade success is better or worse than the realist explanation. But, of course, this has always been a difficulty with using Inference to the Best Explanation to adjudicate anything.
  • Friday, June 8, 2018

    Why I Do Not Want A Tight-Knit Middlebury Community

    Many colleagues at my institution think that, unlike larger universities, we at Middlebury College ought to be a tight-knit community. In a series of posts, I hope to describe and recommend an alternative, loose-knit community that I envision. Since I am most familiar with the academic faculty’s role in the College’s community, I focus on this, though future posts may anticipate some of its implications for other members of the community. Ideally, each post would stimulate discussion, which in turn would help me to sharpen my formulations, so that I (and perhaps others) might better understand the costs and benefits of different communal structures at liberal arts colleges in general, and Middlebury in particular.

    In this post, I first clarify the distinction between tight- and loose-knit faculty communities. I then consider and reject the idea that faculty members' obligations to teach effectively entails a further obligation to form and maintain tight-knit communities. I conclude by providing some general contours for other arguments in favor of tight-knit faculty communities that I intend to criticize in future posts.

    1.    Drawing a Distinction

    I begin by characterizing the distinction between tight- and loose-knit faculty communities.
    As a first pass, we might think that an ideal tight-knit community is one in which every community member knows every other community member. Knowing another means having accurate information about his/her motivations and beliefs, at least as concerns the workings of the College. I should say that some colleagues seem to suggest that knowing a coworker also requires knowing that coworker outside of his/her professional capacities. However, this strikes me as rather invasive. I take it as obvious that not every coworker should know about every other coworker’s personal life. I do not know if all of my colleagues share this opinion.

    As mentioned above, I focus on faculty members’ role in the College community. Faculty members’ responsibilities fall into three broad categories: teaching, research, and service. Thus,
    to know a faculty member in his/her professional capacity is to know his/her motivations and beliefs about his/her own teaching, research, and service. So, as a utopian ideal, every faculty member of a tight-knit community would have accurate information regarding every other faculty member’s motivations and beliefs regarding teaching, research, and service. Of course, a more realistic goal for a tight-knit community would only require most faculty members to have accurate information about majority opinions of the faculty regarding these three domains of faculty responsibility. Hereafter, I shall take this less utopian description of a tight-knit community as my working definition.

    So, let’s simply take a loose-knit community as the negation of a tight-knit community: it’s a community in which no more than a few faculty members have accurate information about the majority opinions of faculty concerning teaching, service, and research. Note that a loose-knit community need not entail that every faculty member is completely ignorant of every other faculty member. For instance, a loose-knit community might consist of several tight-knit sub-communities who are unaware of other sub-communities’ institutional motivations and beliefs. One obvious loose-knit community that has this structure is one in which the only tight-knit sub-communities are departmental, but this is neither the only such loose-knit community of this kind, nor do I think it is the best of this kind.

    Finally, there are some imprecise terms in these formulations. What counts as “many” and “few” faculty members? As it turns out, very little will hinge on this. Indeed, my arguments below will mostly work the extreme case of a loose-knit community in which no individual has knowledge of majority opinions among the faculty. One might also worry about how to characterize a “majority opinion.” Is it a simple majority or a supermajority or something else? However, in a realistic tight knit-community, we should not expect a faculty member to have anything more than imprecise knowledge, e.g. “A majority of faculty members believe that…, but some have argued to the contrary on the grounds that…,” even if they cannot quantify “majority” or how many are opposed.

    2.    Do Tight-Knit Communities Improve Teaching?

    In this post, I critique one argument for a tight-knit community. I conclude this post with a framework for generating other arguments in favor of tight-knit communities. In subsequent posts, I hope to criticize these arguments as well.

    The following assumption animates much of what I say. Forming and maintaining loose-knit communities is less resource-intensive than forming and maintaining tight-knit communities. In short, in loose-knit communities, time and effort spent getting to know faculty opinions can be allocated to other pursuits. Hence, unless there must be sizable benefits to a tight-knit community in order to offset these costs. I shall argue that there is nothing so obviously beneficial of a tight-knit community that fits this job description. Hence, faculty members are under no obligation to form and maintain a tight-knit community.

    I think it obvious that there is at least one aim shared by all College constituencies: the teaching of students. No other institutional aim enjoys this kind of consensus. As a result, an argument that tight-knit communities are an effective means of improving teaching would be especially persuasive. So, let us consider whether tight-knit communities produce better teaching than loose-knit communities in such a manner as to obligate faculty members to form and maintain such a community. (Spoiler alert: this argument does not work.)

    One might think that if most faculty members knew what other colleagues were doing pedagogically, then everyone would have more resources for improving their own teaching. In short, there would be a repository of best practices that could be shared among the faculty. However, this rests on the following assumption, which I will call the Principle of Pedagogical Transferability (PPT):

    A teaching practice successfully wielded by one liberal arts college professor in a particular class, discipline, etc. has a high probability of succeeding when wielded by another liberal arts college professor in a different class, discipline, etc. 

    Ultimately, PPT is an empirical proposition that, to my knowledge, has not been confirmed, and would be difficult to confirm without clear methods of individuating teaching practices, classes, and pedagogical success. Indeed, my own experiences tell me that a teaching practice wielded by me in one philosophy class doesn’t have a high probability of being successful when wielded by me in another philosophy class. In slogan form: most pedagogy is local.

    Since PPT is not obviously true, the question then becomes one of whether the resources allocated for achieving a tight-knit community are worth it given that the prospects of pedagogical improvement are uncertain. It seems to me that there can be reasonable disagreement about this. Hence, there is no obligation to participate in a tight-knit community on the (shaky) grounds that it will improve your teaching. Hence those who do not opt in to a tight-knit community have done nothing wrong or bad.

    Furthermore, one might very well boost the probability in question by devoting more time and effort to getting to know only those faculty members who have teaching practices that look most relevant to one’s own. Hence, it may very well be that the best way to improve one’s teaching is to form tight-knit sub-communities, and to largely ignore what those in vastly different pedagogical contexts are doing. 

    Thus, I conclude that the argument that tight-knit communities should be formed and maintained in order to improve teaching is unsound.

    3.    A Look Ahead

    As mentioned above, this is only one of several arguments in favor of tight-knit communities to consider (and in my case, criticize.) I conclude by providing a framework for generating other arguments of this sort. 

    First, one may offer different definitions of a tight-knit community. I have opted for one that seems to impose relatively modest demands on the faculty, in the hopes that any shortcomings with this definition would apply, a fortiori, to more demanding conditions. However, since my arguments are of a cost-benefit variety, there may be a sweet spot where a more demanding conception of a tight-knit community would yield greater benefits. An interesting question is whether such conceptions are realistic or feasible. 

    Second, one may challenge my claim that forming and maintaining loose-knit communities are less resource-intensive than tight-knit communities. I personally do not see how this could be defensible, but this may merely reflect a lack of imagination on my part.

    Third, one may look for other potential benefits of tight-knit communities than their effects on teaching. I think that this is the most fruitful source of generating more arguments for tight-knit communities. Here, I briefly sketch a typology of such benefits. Above, I considered an argument in which tight-knit communities are a means to better teaching. However, tight-knit communities might be a means to other ends. Since I’m focusing on faculty’s obligations to contribute to a tight-knit community, it would be natural to explore arguments for tight-knit communities as a means to better research and better service. Additionally, it may be that a tight-knit faculty community does not serve the faculty’s ends, but serves some other College constituencies ends (such as the Trustees’, administration’s, staff’s, or students’). And, finally, it may be that tight-knit faculty communities are not a means to some further end, but are ends unto themselves. More on these arguments in the future.

    Thursday, December 7, 2017

    Stop the Non-Confrontational Bullshit

    I have recently been struck by a segment of the population that holds the following commitments:
    (a)  The Free Speech Principle: Free speech should not be restricted, even in cases where this involves the expression of racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. ideas.
    (b)  The Anti-Bigotry Principle: Racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. are bad, and we should seek to eliminate them.
    (c)   The Non-Confrontational Principle: Because discussions about racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. are uncomfortable, we should seek to avoid them.
    The tension between these three principles should be evident. In particular, the tension between free speech and anti-bigotry are the topic of much debate. For the sake of argument, I will grant that they can somehow be reconciled, such that we know how to handle the tough cases in which they offer conflicting counsel. Let me also say that, even beyond the sake of argument, I am sympathetic to both.
                I am more interested in how the non-confrontational principle interacts with these two commitments. The non-confrontational principle doesn’t have quite the air of moral authority of the free speech and anti-bigotry principles. Of course, ceteris paribus, we should not make people uncomfortable, but very rarely is ceteris paribus in any discussion that matters. For instance, we should not avoid talking about colon cancer because thinking about someone’s ulcerated GI tract makes some of us squeamish. Similarly, we should not avoid talking about racism simply because highlighting its mechanisms and effects makes some of us self-conscious.
    There is also something especially hypocritical about outspoken advocates of free speech and anti-bigotry being non-confrontational. After all, if one believes that free speech is important enough that one is willing to grant it to bigots, whom one recognizes are doing a bad thing that should be eliminated, then it seems very odd to discourage others from exercising their free speech with the aim of identifying bigotry and its effects—these would appear to be good things given one’s opposition to bigotry.
    Yet, I think that a nontrivial segment of the left espouses precisely these three commitments. Given that the non-confrontational principle does not appear to enjoy the same status as the free speech and anti-bigotry principles, and also seems to invite legitimate charges of hypocrisy, why would one hold it? I speculate that, in some cases at least, a plausible explanation is the phenomenon known as white fragility. Robin DiAngelo nicely summarizes the core of this phenomenon:
    White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.
    If white fragility is in place, then the non-confrontational principle is a plausible ideology for reinforcing “white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress.” If we’re to avoid uncomfortable conversations about race, as the non-confrontational principle recommends, then real talk about race is taboo, uncouth, etc.
    However, I want to point out that white people aren’t alone in this. Many victims of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. also want to recruit the non-confrontational principle. However, there are good reasons to think that there is no black, female, etc. fragility that explains their invocation of the non-confrontational principle. First, people in marginalized groups do not enjoy the same kind of “comfort” that DiAngelo attributes to those exhibiting white fragility. Second, members of marginalized groups experience racial (and other kinds of) stress more routinely than those who exhibit white fragility. Third, one’s opportunities to display emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation, are often an artifact of not being the victim of racism, sexism, etc., i.e. of privilege. (To choose an example close to home: an Arab guy with a shaved head, deep voice, etc. is only allowed to display a limited range of anger and frustration before he comes across as ‘intimidating,’ ‘threatening,’ etc.) I think that all of this points against the idea that non-white fragilities explain marginalized individuals’ use of the non-confrontational principle.
    Now, perhaps these considerations make marginalized individuals’ invocation of the non-confrontational principle more justified. Furthermore, members of marginalized groups are generally more consistent than their more fragile counterparts: they frequently deny that bigots should have unlimited free speech. This removes much of the hypocrisy. However, it does not erase the initial shortcomings of the principle, namely that it lacks a sound justification. For instance, even if one is routinely made uncomfortable by discussions of other people’s GI tracts, that is no reason to avoid talking about colon cancer. Similarly, even if one is the victim of routine bigotry, that is no reason to avoid conversations about bigotry.

    For my part, I remain committed to giving everyone fairly august rights to free speech. I want to know what the bigots are thinking, and want to use every means of nonviolent expression available to tell them the twenty-seven different ways that they’re horrible people. I also want to tell all those fragile white people to get over themselves. So, I say to everyone: let’s stop it with all this non-confrontational bullshit.