Het beste van Philosophies of Social Science

1093

Één keer in de zoveel tijd publiceert Girugten essays, papers en andere opdrachten die gemaakt zijn door studenten uit verschillende jaarlagen voor verschillende vakken. Één ding hebben ze met elkaar gemeen: het zijn de door de docent als beste of leukst bestempelde essays. Hierom is het eigenlijk zonde wanneer alleen de docent ze leest tijdens het nakijken en daarom bieden wij ze graag een podium in deze rubriek. Wil jij jouw artikel terugzien op de Girugten website? Dan weet je wat je te doen staat!

Philosophy of Social Science is een derdejaars vak waarin studenten kennis maken met de belangrijkste ideeën van de filosofie en de bijbehorende debatten. Studenten worden gevraagd een essay te schrijven waarin een bekend filosofisch debat centraal staat en kritisch te reflecteren op dit debat. Dat onze medestudenten grote denkers zijn, blijkt maar weer. Volgens de docent, Sander Verhaegh, zaten er essays tussen die zeker niet zouden misstaan op onze website! Daarom besteden wij in deze editie van ‘De beste van…’ aandacht aan de essays van Charlotte Delicaat, Michiel van Eerden en Karim Sahhar.

Auteurs:
Charlotte Delicaat is een derdejaars bachelor student Sociale Geografie en Planologie. Haar essay gaat over de verklaring die Karl Marx en Max Weber geven voor vervreemding in de maatschappij. Vervreemding is het gevoel niet in verbinding te staan als persoon met jezelf en de samenleving, waar beide denkers een andere verklaring voor hebben.

Michiel van Eerden is eveneens een derdejaars bachelor student Sociale Geografie en Planologie. Zijn essay gaat over de vraag: Moet de studie naar zelfmoord aan de hand van harde cijfers en wetten gebeuren zoals in de natuurwetenschappen, of is ieder geval van zelfmoord context-afhankelijk en per individu verschillend te interpreteren?

Karim Sahhar is ook een derdejaars bachelor student Sociale Geografie en Planologie. Zijn essay beschrijft de twee verschillende opvattingen over obesitas bij kinderen: zware botten of gewoon dik? Is het ‘nature’ of ‘nurture’?

Foto: Todayonline.com.

‘Alienation in society: A comparison between te view of Karl Marx and Marx Weber’

By Charlotte Delicaat

In this essay the concept of alienation will be explored. Alienationis aconcept whichoriginates as a philosophical concept from the nineteenth century. The concept has been explored and interpreted by different philosophers such as: Hegel, Weber and Marx (Stanford Encyclopedia, 2015). The following definition of alienation is provided by Encyclopaedia Britannica: ‘’the state of feeling estranged or separated from one’s milieu, work, products of work or self’’ (Saleem &Bani­ata 2013, p. 285). In line with the definition, the type of alienation discussed in this essay is the  experience of alienation on both the social and psychological level.

Both Max Weber and Karl Marx believe that modern society generates widespread alienation. But the authors blame the prevalence of alienation on a different reason. That lead to the main subject to this essay: how do Max Weber and Karl Marx compare on the cause of alienation?

For Karl Marx the central cause of alienation is class conflict. The separation between the working class and the elite, specifically in the 19th century, is for Karl Marx why alienation occurs amongst members of the working class in society (Mészáros, 1970). The separation between both classes makes the working class alienated, because they are essentially working for the profit of the capitalist system (and not their own good). The alienation takes place in a disidentification with the work, products of work and the species­being. The species being is a term coined by Marx which describes the capability of humans to make the world ‘theirs’     (Mészáros, 1970). Alienation of the species­being is thus the incapability to make decisions to change ones own situation. If Karl Marx would have defined alienation, a possible definition might be: ‘’a condition of oppression arising from loss of control over productive activity’’ (Boucher & Kelly 2009, p. 460). For Karl Marx, capitalism carries the threat of a complete‘’ loss of man’’  (Boucher & Kelly, 2009).

Max Weber argues that alienation occurs because people operate in an iron cage (Koch, 2006). Part of the alienation for Weber is that people lose their emotions and values. Emotions and values are the indicators for change. The loss of emotions there fore causes a continuum people living in an iron cage. It is a continuum because people can’t break out of the behaviour characterized by instrumental rationality in the capitalist system. Instrumental rationality is doing A to achieve objective B. So making rational decisions on how to achieve an objective and finding as much as possible instruments to do so.
An important aspect of the iron cage is bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is caused by instrumental rationality, which is linked to capitalism according to Max Weber. Bureaucracy means that formalized rational routines come up where the interaction among the individual members are regulated by rules of conduct (Koch, 2006). The use of instruments to achieve an end is the reason why in capitalism formalized routines come up. These routines are for Weber the reason why bureaucracy and capitalism develop hand ­in ­hand (Koch, 2006). Bureaucracy in turn  increases the process of alienation, because people feel detachment. For example, the alienation could occur in retail when a cashier is a bureaucrat of the product the consumer is buying. The relationship between the product and the customer is mediated by bureaucracy of the supermarket.

I am more inclined to identify with the way in which alienation is described by Max Weber.  The problem with Karl Marx is the centrality of labour in alienation. In my opinion, labour ­society  relationships cannot be the only determinator for a diverse and complex experience on the psychological level as alienation. The strength of Weber’s argument is the diversity. The instrumental rational way of achieving an end is method which can be applied in capitalism on all levels: in networks, factories and personal relationships. If capitalism is our system and instrumental rationality is part of capitalism, I consider the theory of Max Weber to be more omprehensive than the one of Karl Marx.

A critique on Max Weber’s argument of increasing bureaucracy might be that the internet provides a big source of information. Therefore the iron cage we are living in, which he is proposing might not be as much of a cage as he is suggesting. However, the internet itself is a big source of instrumental rationality as well. Internet is about networks in which you make a specific action to achieve something else. For example, you might visit a blog to get more information about a ‘vegan’ lifestyle, but in turn the blog gets revenues from a series of advertisements presented on the website. Although it may not lead to bureaucracy in the traditional form, internet may cause a new form of bureaucracy (for example online bureaucracy in internet data).

Also, I consider Karl Marx his argument to be quite contextual. His assumptions of an elite ­class division are not applicable in every society at every time. Looking at our current society for example, I would argue that the division is not as black and white as Marx is proposing. On the contrary Weber’s instrumental rationality is a principle. So a principle is measurable indifferent context, which makes for a more diverse interpretation of Weber’s argument than Karl Marx.

In short, there has been extensive thinking on the topic of alienation. Different philosophers have had different ideas about alienation and the cause of alienation. Two philosophers who have expressed their ideas about alienation are Karl Marx and Max Weber. Karl Marx focuses on how labour alienated the working class from the society. Max Weber focuses on instrumental rationality to explain why alienation occurs in capitalist societies. In my opinion, the view of Max Weber is the most extensive and diverse. In Max Weber his view, the principle of instrumental rationality is the leading cause of alienation. Since it is a principle, the theory can be tested in a wider context and is able to adapt to changes over time. Also, the theory of instrumental rationality is not labour­-centered like the theory of Karl Marx. I am therefore more inclined to  agree with Max Weber his view on alienation.

Bibliography: 

Boucher, D. & Kelly, P. (2009). Political Thinkers: From Socrates to the Present. Oxford: University Press.

Koch, A.M. (2006). Romance and Reason: ontological and social sources of alienation in the writings of Max Weber.  Oxford: Lexington Books.

Mészáros, I. (1970).  Marx’s Theory of Alienation.  London: Merlin Press.

Saleem, A. & Bani­ata, H. (2013). Theme of Alienation in Modern Literature. The Asian Conference on Arts and Humanities. 282­294.

Stanford Encyclopedia (2014). Existentialism. Accessed on 06­04­2016 via http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/existentialism/#Bib. Stanford: Stanford University.

‘Naturalism vs interpetivism – Suicide’

By Michiel van Eerden                                               

Naturalists and interpretivists have had different ideas on how to study the social sciences for quite some time. A subject that has caught the particular interest of naturalists as well as interpretivists is the act of suicide. Durkheim initiated the debate by publishing a book about it in 1897, but it was only in the second half of the twentieth century that the interpretivists came with different approaches to studying the self-homicidal act. Since this debate has been going on within the Naturalism vs. Interpretivism debate for over a century, the main question in this essay will be; which approach is more useful in studying suicide, the naturalist or the interpretivist?

Naturalism in social science refers to the argument that social science should also use the methods used in natural science. Naturalists think it is possible to make value-free judgements in social science, using general laws. Durkheim could be named as one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the naturalist approach. In hisRules on the Sociological Method he argues that impartiality should be the most important requirement for sociological observation, meaning that this observation does not include bias or prejudice and is completely objective. A term Durkheim invented is ‘Social facts’. By this he means that the everyday social life of individuals is led by a set of external, general ways of acting. These ´social facts´ can be observed and measured in ways common in the natural sciences, and so, laws in social science can be formed. For example, Durkheim wanted to prove that the social sciences were a scientific discipline by arguing that every society had a natural tendency towards a certain rate of suicide, as long as basic conditions for this social fact remained the same (Durkheim, 2005 [1897]). This way, suicide rates could be explained and predicted. Suicide could, in a naturalist’s view, also be explained and predicted by, for example, a systematic approach of behaviour, known as behaviourism. Although there have been some different versions (e.g. Watson, Skinner, Quine) within the behaviourism movement over the last century , the general goal is to explain human behaviour by observation, without any reference to an inner state or independent mind.

Opposite to Durkheim’s approach and the behaviourist approach in the social sciences is interpretivism. Interpretivists aim to understand human action rather than to predict it. Numbers are not seen as a plausible argument for interpretivists to explain a social phenomenon. Interpretivism is about understanding human action instead of explaining (Weber’s Erklären vs. Verstehen). As an example of interpretivism applied to suicide we can look at Douglas (1970). He saw suicide numbers only as the number of times the coroner had interpreted the death of a human as a self-homicide, and therefore was a matter of interpretation. Moreover, he argues that one should study an individual suicide case to know how the individual constructed his own actions, and therefore, it can only be studied qualitatively (interviews, notes, diaries etc.). However, Douglas did categorize four different meanings behind suicide. Developing on Douglas’ work, Jean Baechler (1979) believed that suicide could only be explained through personal (internal) factors, and made a distinction between four types of suicide (all personal); escapist, aggressive, oblative and ludie. Furthermore, Atkinson (1978) argues that the coroner’s decision to mark something as a suicide is socially constructed, as they are a reflection of the coroner’s assumptions. In these interpretivist approaches, interpretation of the social phenomenon, a suicide, is ought to be more important than the explaining of numbers of suicides by Durkheim’s external power, influencing individuals.

The main criticism on both the interpretivist and the naturalist approach to studying suicide is that they both lack understanding of the complexity of the act of suicide. In my opinion, Durkheim’s theory is the one that lacks the most complexity, because the aim in creating a scientific law is to be able to generalise. All the interpretivist approaches mentioned above at least try to look at suicide as more complex human acts, and eventually try to form groups out of individual alleged suicide cases (e.g. Douglas’ four distinct meanings of committing suicide or Baechler’s four types of suicide). However, if one truly wants to understand individual suicide cases according to Atkinson (1978), one can only see a verdict of suicide as the coroner interpreting the case based on his ‘taken-for-granted assumptions’. Although Douglas and Baechler are both called interpretivists, Atkinson’s approach is, in my opinion, the true meaning of interpretivism.  I do not find this approach very useful in suicide studies as there can be no progress if one accepts that suicide is only a matter of personal interpretation. On the other hand, If the number of self-homicides is seen as the result of ‘social facts’ influencing a society, this number is seen as a fact, which would be difficult to change. However, this does not mean that naturalist thinking cannot be useful in suicide studies, as for example behaviourism can be seen as one of the main pillars for pharmacological therapy, and is therefore helping to prevent suicide.

If we take preventing suicide from happening in the future as the ultimate goal of suicide studies, the interpretivist approach does not seem very useful at first sight. If suicide numbers only depend on the interpretation of the coroner, then there will never be any ‘real’ suicide numbers. However, the groups based on qualitative methods proposed by for example Douglas and Baechler do give important insight in ‘grouped’ meanings of suicide. Naturalist thinking does also not seem very useful in suicide studies at the first sight, because it does not focus on understanding individual cases, but rather on explaining and predicting suicide numbers. It is, however, necessary to have a framework to form behavioural groups and ‘real’ suicide numbers to improve research for improving therapy, pharmacological as well as psychological. Therefore, I argue that both strong naturalism (Durkheim) and strong interpretivism (Atkinson) are not particularly useful in suicide studies, but they do provide a solid ground for combined approaches.

To summarise; the naturalist approach focuses too little on understanding individual behaviour, and the purely interpretivist approach focuses too little on trying to find common ground between individual suicide cases. The groups that Douglas and Baechler created are, however, an example of how I think suicide studies should be performed and future studies should continue figure out finding common grounds based on understanding individuals, to help prevent suicide. But the question remains in which approach one could fit this way of studying, as it relies on both interpretivist methods as well as naturalist methods.

Literatuur

Atkinson, J Maxwell. (1978). Discovering Suicide: Studies in the Social Organisation of Sudden Death. London: Macmillan

Baechler, Jean. (1979). Suicides. New York City: Basic Books.

Douglas, Jack D. (1970). The Social Meanings of Suicide. Princeton University Press.

Durkheim, Emile. (2005 [1897]). Suicide – A Study in Sociology. Taylor & Francis e-Library.

Taylor, Steve. (1982). Durkheim and the Study of Suicide. Macmillan

‘Childhood Obesity: Nature or Nurture?’

By Karim Sahhar    

In this essay I would like to discuss the underlying causes of childhood obesity in the perspective of nature versus nurture. Therefore the central question in this essay states: ‘Is childhood obesity a result of nature or nurture?’ To answer this question I will first shortly summarize the two contrary positions of the nature versus nurture debate and after that I will elaborate more on its relevance to childhood obesity.

In short “Nature is all that a man brings with himself into the world; nurture is every influence from without that affects him after his birth.” (Galton 1874, p. 12). In other words, nature is what we are born with whereas nurture is how we are raised. Consequently the first focuses on a person’s genetics that determine who we are while the latter dictates who we are by the person’s environment. This is what Fine (1990) calls two polar sources of understanding which are heredity (nature) and environment (nurture).

Today a lot of scientist, like Englbrecht (2014), argues that it’s not nature versus nurture that determines what makes us an individual but rather it’s a combination of both; nature and nurture. However, especially in the context of childhood obesity there are very distinct arguments supporting either nature or nurture. To begin with the nature side of the story, sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists can argue that obesity is a result of the reason why we (humans) like certain types of food. Evolutionary psychologists argue that people have an urge for fatty and sweet food because humans come from a hunting/gathering era where food was very scares and therefore it was necessary to hunt and gather as much food as we can to survive. Consequently we developed a detection mechanism that made us think that sweet and fatty food is very tasteful. Furthermore because we only recently live in a time where there is an abundance of food and therefore you can pick whatever food you want we still have an urge for sweet and fatty food because we evolved in the era where this was necessary to survive. Another argument on the nature side for childhood obesity is the commonly used saying ‘it runs in the family’. This argument is partly supported by Clancy & Newell (2011) who conclude in their article that a large number of specific obesity genes (and diabetes genes) may be inheritable.

On the other hand, the main argument supporting the nurture side that causes childhood obesity is due to the child’s environment. Anderson et al. (2007) argue that child-specific environments (e.g. schools, childcare facilities and playgrounds) play a vital role in the outcomes of a child’s weight. For instance certain schools could have high priority for providing healthy food for children, whereas other schools are not aware or don’t care about having a healthy menu for their pupils. Consequently depending on in which environment a child is raised this is likely to have a negative influence on the child’s health. Moreover, childhood obesity is a fast growing health concern as child obesity rates have increased in just 30 years (from early 1970s to early 2000s) from 5% to 15% (Anderson et al. 2007). This shows that childhood obesity a very recent problem and according to Professor Jones (2015) this negative development is caused by the increasing availability of cheaper fast food. As a result this will impact the child’s environment in which the child is raised and therefore supporting nurture being and becoming a bigger cause of childhood obesity.

In my view, I think that the nurture argument for child obesity is the most plausible one. This is because I think that the environment in which a child is raised has a way bigger influence on a child´s physical outcome like child obesity. I have to say that I don´t know much about biology and therefore I can´t say too much about the inheritance of genes (nature argument) and its propensity for child obesity, but first of all what I do know is that recent discovery tells us that our bodies are not entirely governed by genes we inherit (Clancy & McVicar, 2009 in Clancy & Newell, 2011). Moreover for the ‘large amount of specific obesity genes’ that may be inherited, Clancy and Newell (2011) conclude their article by pointing out that physical activity can have a great effect on those genes. Therefore, if a certain environment stimulates or makes it possible for a child to engage in physical activity this will influence the chances for getting childhood obesity. This is also supported by Anderson et al. (2007) whom points out the earlier mentioned child-specific environments like the accessibility to playgrounds.  Besides the fact that there are a lot of environmental factors, I believe that the family that raises the child is one of the most significant environmental influences on childhood obesity.  This is because every family has their own way of bringing up their children which results in an identical set of norms and values which can differ greatly from one family to another. To clarify this I’ll give an example. In a case where a child is born in an environment where the whole family is obese, the chances of childhood obesity are very high. This is because the culturally transmitted (nurture) norms, values and attitudes concerning for example ones weekly diet and physical activity is passed on from grandparents to parents  to children and therefore they don’t know anything different. So the argument used ‘it runs in the family’ is like a double edged sword. On the one hand you can say obesity genes are hereditable but on the other hand it’s about specific family environment in which a child is brought up.

To conclude, there are two contrary positions in the debate about the causes of childhood obesity, namely nature and nurture. Both have their very own views which results in very distinct arguments. On the one hand the nature approach argues that childhood obesity is something you are born with via inheritance. Arguments covered are the urge for sweet/fatty food because it origins from our ancestors from the hunter/gather era and the inheritability of obesity genes. On the other hand the nurture approach argues that childhood obesity is caused by the child’s environment and the way the child is brought up. Arguments here are also the recent increasing development of cheaper fast food and other child-specific environments.

References

Anderson, M.P., Butcher, F.K., Schanzenbach, W.D. (2007). Childhood Disadvantage and Obesity: Is Nurture Trumping Nature? Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Clancy, J. & Newell, (2011). Diabetes and obesity: perspective of the nature/nurture debate. Harrow: RCN Publishing Company.

Englbrecht, C. (2014). Nature v. Nurture. Geraadpleegd op 05-04-2016 via http://www.amnh.org/learn/resources/genetics_resource1.php. Coursera.

Fine, A. (1990). Causes of Variability: Disentangeling Nature and Nurture. Midwest studies in Philosophy.

Galton, F. (1874). English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture. London: Macmillan & Co.

Jones, S. (2015). Nature, Nurture or Neither? The view of the genes. Geraadpleegd op 06-04-2016 via http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/nature-nurture-or-neither-the-view-from-the-genes. London: Gresham College.