Philosophy 521, Philosophy of the Social Sciences

Term Paper Topics

I would like to ask you please to submit to me by Monday, October 31 a brief description of what they would like to accomplish in their term papers, so that I can give you some feedback and make sure that your projects are feasible.

I have provided a rather limited list of topics, because it will be hard for you to write on issues that we will not get to until late in the semester.  But you are free to write on any topic whatsoever that is relevant to the course – provided that, on the basis of the brief description, I approve your topic.

1. Most of the students in the course have at one time or another taken a course in psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, political science, history or ... .  There are two ways in which you might be able to make use of this experience in writing a term paper for Philosophy 521.  The first involves thinking about the methodology that is implicit in some study of some aspect of psychology or society, while the second involves thinking about the views on methodology that are often explicitly presented and defended in social science texts.

A.  Write a paper discussing the methodology that is implicit in some article or book chapter that you read for a social science course (or possibly on your own).  By "methodology," I mean the views on confirmation, explanation, theory choice, the goals of science, the objectivity of science, the relations between theory and observation, and so forth.  Relate that methodology specifically to either to some aspect of Smith's methodology, to Mill's views on how to do social science (and how not to do it), or to Marx's views on method. Feel free to appraise the methodology that is implicit in the work you are discussing or to use conclusions about that methodology to offer an appraisal of Mill's or Marx's views.

B. Write a paper discussing specifically methodological views defended in some article or book chapter that you read for a social science course.  By "methodological views," I mean views on confirmation, explanation, theory choice, the goals of science, the objectivity of science, the relations between theory and observation, and so forth.  Compare or contrast the views on method in the text you are discussing to Mill's views on how to do social science (and how not to do it) or to Marx's views on method. 

If you decide to write on 1A or 1B, please give me a xerox of the article or book chapter you plan on writing on at the same time as you hand in your brief description of your term paper project.

2.  Write an essay addressing the question of whether Adam Smith's practice in the Wealth of Nations conforms to Mill's views concerning the proper methods of the social sciences.  Be sure to be very specific both about some particular aspect of Smith's economics and about the methodological views that Mill defends with which you are concerned.

 3.  Write an essay addressing the question of whether Adam Smith's practice in the Wealth of Nations conforms to Marx's views concerning the proper methods of the social sciences.  Be sure to be very specific both about some particular aspect of Smith's economics and about the methodological views that Marx defends with which you are concerned.

4.  Compare and  contrast does aspect of Mill's discussion of the methodology of the social sciences in Book VI of A System of Logic with some aspect of Marx's views in his "Outline of the Critique of Political Economy".

5.  Read the selections from Durkheim that are assigned later in the semester and write an essay contrasting the conclusions Durkheim draws from social regularities such as the suicide rate to the conclusions that Mill draws in Chapter 11 of Book VI of A System of Logic.  Which, if either, do you think is right, and why?

6.  Mill and Marx apparently disagree radically concerning the driving force of history. Write a paper discussing whether this apparent disagreement is real, what the source of the disagreement may be, how the disagreement might be resolved, what implications the disagreement has concerning some specific historical event or era, or who is right.  Clearly you cannot discuss all of these questions in a single paper, and you may want to discuss a very narrow question related to their disagreement.