Sociology, history, and epistemology

More than 50 years ago, Quine suggested that epistemology must be “naturalized.” Here is Kwame Anthony Appiah explaining this idea in his book Thinking It Through: To claim that a belief is justified is not just to say when it will be believed but also to say when it ought to be believed. And we …

A short definition of power

From Power for All, by Julie Battilana and Tiziana Casciaro: There are two common threads across these definitions [of power across the social sciences]. The first is that the authors view power as the ability of a person or a group of people to produce an effect on others–that is, to influence their behaviors. This …

Governance, growth, and equity

When I studied environmental issues, I was taught three lenses through which to understand them: The neo-Malthusians emphasized resource scarcity, natural limits, and scientific management. Most conservationists and environmental scientists fit this perspective. The Cornucopians emphasized markets, technology, and humanity’s ability to invent its way out of shortages. Their ranks include lots of economists and …

“Thin” and “thick” causality

Kathryn Paige Harden’s book The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality includes a really nice primer on causality, including a distinction between “thin” and thick” versions of it. The book is about genetics, but that’s not what I’m interested in this post; more about the book here and here. Here are some excerpts …

Prediction, preparation, and humility

Sheila Jasanoff of Harvard has a really interesting essay in Boston Review titled “‘Preparedness’ Won’t Stop the Next Pandemic.” The whole thing is worth a read, but here’s the gist: Humility, by contrast, admits that defeat is possible. It occupies the nebulous zone between preparedness and precaution by asking a moral question: not what we …

Objectivity as a social accomplishment

Here is an excellent characterization of scientific objectivity as a social practice, from Naomi Oreskes in her book Why Trust Science: Sociologists of scientific knowledge stressed that science is a social activity, and this has been taken by many (for both better and worse) as undermining its claims to objectivity. The “social,” particularly to many …

Better markets, but more or less?

Luigi Zingales has a good op-ed in Project Syndicate that summarizes a case he’s been making for years: But this opposition of state and market is misleading, and it poses a major obstacle to understanding and addressing today’s policy challenges. The dichotomy emerged in the nineteenth century, when arcane government rules, rooted in a feudal …