Quiz #5: Methodological Individualism


Part I: Circle T or F depending on whether the sentence that follows is true or false (70 points, 7 points each).


F 1. The central claim of methodological individualism is that social entities are not real.

MI is a view concerning explanation, not ontology.


F 2. Methodological individualism repudiates all social-level explanations.

MI does not repudiate social-level explanations, but it denies that they are fully satisfactory or "rock-bottom."


F 3. According to Sensat the ideological claims of methodological individualism are pro-capitalist.

He uses the term "ideology" to refer to claims about what sorts of properties are allowed within individualistic explanations, not in the sense of any sort of political ideology.


F 4. The doctrine that Sensat calls "asocialism" denies that societies exist.

It is a constraint on the ideology of individualistic explanations, not an ontological claim.


T 5. Watkins argues for methodological individualism on the grounds that we typically need to know about individuals in order to know about social phenomena.


T 6. Watkins maintains that adhering to methodological individualism leads to progress in the social sciences.


F 7. An explanation of a firm's choice to hire fewer unskilled workers in terms of an increase in the minimum wage coupled with the firm's aim to maximize profits is an individualistic explanation.

this explanation relies on a claim concerning the aims of a social entity


F 8. If macro-level claims supervene on micro-level claims, then it must be possible to define the macro-level claims in terms of the micro-level claims.

Terms are generally not definable in the vocabulary of the micro-level phenomena upon which they supervene.


T 9. Hiliary Putnam's example of a square peg and a round hole is designed to show that micro-level explanations are not always superior to macro-level explanations.


T 10. Some Marxists maintain that individualism is a dominant view because it serves the interests of the capitalist class. This purported explanation would not be regarded as an individualistic explanation by methodological individualists.


Part II (30 points) Consumer choice theory explains a consumer's choice of what to purchase in terms of the consumer's preferences among different bundles of commodities, the consumer's incomes, physical constraints, and the prices of commodities. Do such explanations conform to methodological individualism? Regardless of what you conclude, be sure to give reasons why one might judge that they conform and why one might judge that they do not conform. Please write your brief answer on the back of this page.

Not an easy question. On the one hand, the theory puts the causal emphasis on the choices of the individual consumer, just as individualists want. But those choices depend on prices and incomes, and these require reference to social phenomena. The question reveals how difficult it is to delineate and to provide individualistic explanations.