Critical Theory: The Human Being Takes the Stage Again

Critical Theory: The Human Being Takes the Stage Again

Derya Guler Aydin (Hacettepe University, Turkey) and Itir Ozer-Imer (Hacettepe University, Turkey)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1037-7.ch004


Based on the historical developments in the philosophy of science, it can be claimed that the method of social sciences is mainly dominated by the method of the natural sciences. Social sciences, especially, economics have been affected by the method of physics. From a critical viewpoint, this study aims to scrutinize the method of social sciences by taking into account the concept of devaluation of human beings. The study puts forward that mainstream economics devalue human being at the level of its methodology by excluding the real creator of value from the analyses and by disregarding social and historical factors. The study demonstrates that by taking into consideration the neglected cultural, political and historical factors in addition to the economic ones, the critical theory includes human being and his/her values in the analyses, and hence, it unifies scientific knowledge with human behavior, which is the intentional behavior behind all economic decisions.
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Epistemology, within the framework of its own criteria, deals with the demarcation between science and non-science. According to the positivist approach, philosophy is an unscientific task since it contains relative knowledge, and the aim of science is to achieve objective results. Within this context, positivist theory of knowledge argues that reality can only be produced through sense experiences. Therefore, as suggested above, positivism considers metaphysical factors as unscientific. With modernity, the God-centered universe has been transformed to the human-centered universe, and reason and science have come to the fore. Scientific progress has continued its development in the rationalist and empiricist line, which is appreciated as the source of knowledge. Empiricism, which comprises sense, perception, observation, and experiment, has gotten ahead of rationalism with the prominence of the criteria of reality and universality in the theory of knowledge. Accordingly, scientific propositions should be verifiable (Hollis & Nell, 1975). In this context, positivism has, in fact, influenced social scientists as a theory of knowledge that includes both naturalism and empiricism.

The development of the social sciences in the modern period has been to imitate the method of the natural sciences, in other words, to maintain a framework based on experimentation, observation and confirmation like in the natural sciences. With Auguste Comte (1798-1857), who is accepted as the founder of sociology, positivism was thought to be the only method of natural and social sciences, and developments in the philosophy of science proceeded from the line of methodological monism. According to positivism, sciences may differ according to their fields; for example, a physicist investigates the matter, a biologist examines the plant, while a social scientist scrutinizes topics based on the human being. Although the research subjects are different, scientific knowledge can be produced by a single method.

Social sciences, which take the human being as the basis, are aware of the abstract value of the human being. However, for the social scientists, who adopted the positivist method, the application of methodological monism has been in the form of explaining the human being’s abstract, immeasurable values within the framework of the concrete, physical and biological existence, and they have even proceeded by reducing these values to a concept such as social physics. A similar concept called social engineering, which is used in sociology, and the atomistic individual, who represents the individual of the neoclassic school are the concepts adopted within this context. According to the positivists, social sciences should produce knowledge by experiment and observation, while taking into account the phenomenon like in the natural sciences, and this process should be independent of metaphysical factors. Because, in the case of metaphysical factors, one cannot mention scientific inquiry. Values and meanings are the subject field of philosophy, not of science, and according to the positivist social scientists, the main purpose of social science is not to find a meaningful link between concrete events as in natural sciences, but is to find the causal link. In other words, positivism is the theory of knowledge that adopts observation and human causality understanding. The existence of a causal link between events refers to the explanation of regularities and continuities regarding social reality. It is unscientific to go beyond this explanation, that is, to go beyond the realities perceived by sense experiences. Hence, according to the positivist understanding of scientific knowledge, the outside world can be perceived through our senses.

From the viewpoint of the social sciences, however, an important problem arises since their research subject is the human being. Experiences of human beings cannot be shaped independent of their values /value judgements and thoughts. In this context, thoughts come into prominence rather than the phenomena. The adoption of positivism by social scientists refers to the exclusion of subjectivity, values, in other words, the human being, who is a social entity. For this reason, as mentioned above, in their analyses, social sciences have used concepts that are specific to natural sciences and have preferred to investigate the human being as an abstract entity, who is independent of his/her values. In this way, the human beings have been regarded as the passive actors of the physical world, who are devoid of any subjective and personal differences (Bhaskar, 1978).

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