EXPLANATION / Vol. 56, No. 2 (Summer 1989)
Arien Mack, Editor
[reprinted in 70th Anniversary issue, 71:3]
This is an issue-raising, question-mongering paper. Many more questions will be asked than will, in fact, be answered. The intention is to propose a broad-based critique of contemporary economic methodology
starting off from the recognition of the deep-seated heterogeneity of the subject matter of economics.
The concept of explanation is too complex and elusive, and the modes of explanation in different disciplines are too diverse, to permit a thoroughgoing treatment of this subject in a paper of moderate compass. The object here is therefore more modest, namely, to convey some broad impressions of recent changes in the discussion of problems of explanation in economics and history influenced by the reaction against "positivist" philosophy.
Has there been explanatory progress in the social sciences? Alexander Rosenberg, in his Sociobiology and the Preemption of the Social Sciences, regards it as evident that there has been none.
This paper is concerned with the epistemological status of psychoanalytic theory. I am not at all certain that it belongs in an issue devoted to methodology in the social sciences. The fact is, however, that there has been more discussion about the epistemological status of psychoanalysis during the last forty or fifty years than perhaps of any other discipline in the social sciences.
Writing to Freud while putting the final touches on Die Traumdeutung, Freud compared his view of the book to a walk in the country. "First comes the dark wood of the authorities (who cannot see the trees), where there is no clear view and it is very easy to go astray."
Do narratives explain? The view defended here is that they do, and do so as narratives and not, for example, by paraphrase into some more formal model which does the actual work of explanation. The sort of cases I take as instances of narrative explanations include histories, ethnographies, and psychoanalytic case studies.
Postmodernism aims to supersede the age-long distinction between Geisteswissenschaft and Naturwissenschaft, between intelligibility and causation, between explanation and understanding. It does not attempt to solve the problem of what the right strategy in social science is by a close examination of the alternatives, their goals and methods. Rather, it purports to pull the rug out from under both sides.
In many theories of perception, the subject-object relation is often very problematic because of the assumed separation between the internal mental subject and the external physical world. In this essay I suggest a conceptual framework which overcomes to a great extent some traditional difficulties in the subject-object relation.