Harvard Educational Review
  1. Winter 1974 Issue »

    The Edge of Social Science

    Paul Starr
    The author, seeking to define what is special about social science, finds its distinctiveness in its questions and aims rather than its methods. He argues that precisely because social science is different in its concerns from other modes of social thought, it does not constitute a complete or a sufficient education about society. The essay begins with a comparison of idealized conceptions of social science and social criticism. It then considers self-conscious attempts to combine science and criticism in Marxism and policy research and examines ways in which science becomes a form of criticism. It argues that while science must be critical, criticism itself can never be a science. Next it explores the dialectic between attacks on the legitimacy of social science and efforts within social science to defend it by mimicking the pure sciences. It concludes by rejecting the positivst movement to reduce the social studies to social science and expel moral concerns, arguing that in practice moral convictions and objective understanding are not only compatible, but necessary complements of each other. While the essay directly concerns social science, much of it is equally pertinent to education.

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