The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Knowing and the Known

October 16, 2011

Although the majority of the offerings in the European Consortium on Political Research’s inaugural Winter School in Methods and Techniques (to be held in Cyprus in February 2012) are pretty firmly neopositivist, at the risk of sound like a shameless self-promoter I’d like to call your attention to course A6, “Knowing and the Known: Philosophy and Methodology of Social Science,” which I am teaching. The short description of this course is:

“The social sciences have long been concerned with the epistemic status of their empirical claims. Unlike in the natural sciences, where an evident record of practical success tends to make the exploration of such philosophical issues a narrowly specialized endeavour, in the social sciences, differences between the philosophies of science underpinning the empirical work of varied researchers produces important and evident differences in the kind of social-scientific work that they do. Philosophy of science issues are, in this way, closer to the surface of social-scientific research, and part of being a competent social scientist involves coming to terms with and developing a position on those issues. This course will provide a survey of important authors and themes in the philosophy of the social sciences, concentrating in particular on the relationship of the mind to the social world and on the relationship between knowledge and experience; students will have ample opportunities to draw out the implications of different stances on these issues for their concrete empirical research.”

Further details, including the long course description, below the fold.


The First ECPR Winter School in Methods and Techniques – REGISTER NOW!
Eastern Mediterranean University, Famagusta, North Cyprus
11th – 18th February 2012

We are very pleased to announce that registration for the first Winter School in Methods and Techniques (WSMT) is now officially open!

This year’s school is being held at the Eastern Mediterranean University in the beautiful surroundings of Famagusta. Register for your course(s) before 1st November and you will receive a special ‘Early Bird Discount’. All information, including registration form, to be found via (move your cursor on “Winter School” –> “2012 – Cyprus” to consult the various pages.

The Winter School will be an annual event that is complementary to the ECPR’s Summer School and there will be a loyalty discount for participants who wish to take part in the 3 step programme at both of these schools (further details on the “course fees” page).
The comprehensive programme consists of introductory courses and advanced courses, in a one-week format, suitable for advanced students and junior researchers in political science and its adjacent disciplines. There will also be the opportunity to participate in one of the software training courses.
Intermediate-level courses will continue to be held at the 2012 Summer School in Methods and Techniques in Ljubljana, in either one two-week or two consecutive one-week courses.

If you have any questions or require any further information please contact Denise Chapman, Methods School Manager on +44 (0)1206 874115 or by email:

Best regards,
Profs. Benoît Rihoux & Bernhard Kittel, Academic convenors


This course is a broad survey of epistemological, ontological, and methodological issues relevant to the production of knowledge in the social sciences. The course has three overlapping and interrelated objectives:

  • to provide you with a grounding in these issues as they are conceptualized and debated by philosophers, social theorists, and intellectuals more generally;
  • to act as a sort of introduction to the ways in which these issues have been incorporated (sometimes— often—inaccurately) into different branches of the social sciences;
  • to serve as a forum for reflection on the relationship between these issues and the concrete conduct of research, both your own and that of others.

That having been said, this is neither a technical “research design” nor a “proposal writing” class, but is pitched as a somewhat greater level of abstraction. As we proceed through the course, however, you should try not to lose sight of the fact that these philosophical debates have profound consequences for practical research. Treat this course as an opportunity to set aside some time to think critically, creatively, and expansively about the status of knowledge, both that which you have produced and will produce, and that produced by others.

The “science question” rests more heavily on the social sciences than it does on the natural sciences, for the simple reason that the evident successes of the natural sciences in enhancing the human ability to control and manipulate the physical world stands as a powerful rejoinder to any scepticism about the scientific status of fields of inquiry like physics and biology. The social science have long laboured in the shadow of those successes, and one popular response has been to try to model the social sciences on one or another of the natural sciences; this naturalism forms one of the recurrent gestures in the philosophy of the social sciences, and we will trace it through its incarnation in the Logical Positivism of the Vienna Circle and then into the “post-positivist” embrace of falsification as the mark of a scientific statement. Problems generated by the firm emphasis on lawlike generalizations through both of these naturalistic approaches to social science lead to the reformulated naturalism of critical realism, as well as to the rejection of naturalism by pragmatists and followers of classical sociologists like Max Weber. Finally, we will consider the tradition of critical theory stemming from the Frankfurt School, and the contemporary manifestation of that commitment to reflexive knowledge in feminist and post-colonial approaches to social science.

While not an exhaustive survey of the philosophy of the social sciences, this course will serve as an opportunity to explore some of the perennial issues of great relevance to the conduct of social-scientific inquiry, and will thus function as a solid foundation for subsequent reading and discussion—and for the practice of social science. Throughout the course we will draw on exemplary work from Anthropology, Economics, Sociology, Political Science; students will be encouraged to draw on their own disciplines as well as these others in producing their reflections and participating in our lively discussions.

website | + posts

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson is Professor of International Studies in the School of International Service, and also Director of the AU Honors program. He was formerly Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of International Relations and Development, and is currently Series Editor of the University of Michigan Press' book series Configurations: Critical Studies of World Politics.