The logic of the social sciences

Fritz Wotruba, Untitled Homage to Picasso (Hommage à Picasso), 1973.


Commentary on the book by Jürgen Habermas

The book The logic of the social sciences, brings together two texts, brought together in the same volume by the author in the German edition of 1982. The first, originally published in the magazine Philosophische Rundschau, in February 1967, and later as a book, in 1970, actually constitutes the body of the volume and gives it its title. This is Habermas’ intervention in the debate led by Karl Popper and Theodor Adorno on “the logic of the social sciences”, initiated at the meeting of the German Sociological Association, in Tübingen, in October 1961.

Popper's and Adorno's participation, together with the contributions of other participants in the discussion, including two other interventions by Habermas himself, were later collected in the book Controversy over positivism in German sociology, never published in full in Portuguese.

The second text, “The pretense of universality of hermeneutics”, consists of Habermas' participation in a book in honor of the 70th birthday of Hans-Georg Gadamer. Habermas maintained a fruitful debate with Gadamer, compiled in part in the Brazilian edition of Dialectics and hermeneutics (L&PM).

The logic of the social sciences occupies a particular place in Habermas' body of work, in that it is perhaps his only substantial text that directly addresses methodological or epistemological questions. Despite this peculiarity, the book presents some of the characteristics that became predominant in his mature work, with special emphasis on his concern with building a social theory that goes beyond unilateral approaches, whether positivist or hermeneutic.

Habermas' argument is guided by the intention to establish a peculiar place for the social sciences in the face of the dualism that separates the natural sciences and the human sciences into two approaches that are juxtaposed, in the practice of research, as two systems that can ignore each other . Although this dualism does not seem to have major implications for Popper's analytic theory of science or even for Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics, it cannot be ignored by the social sciences.

For Habermas, the social sciences, and especially sociology, cannot be satisfied with following the models of the natural sciences, claiming for themselves the status of nomological science and ignoring the problem of interpreting the subjective meaning of social action, as the positivists want. But, on the other hand, they also cannot give up the contributions of functionalism to the intellection of contexts of action marked by the presence of self-regulated systems, as some interpretive approaches intend, such as Gadamer's hermeneutics.

In order to demonstrate the implications of his thesis, Habermas reconstructs in its main features the long debate, which already at the end of the 1960th century opposed authors such as H. Rickert and W. Windelband and which apparently culminated in the aforementioned controversy between Popper and Adorno at the beginning of the decade. from XNUMX.

In the text on the logic of the social sciences, in addition to the aforementioned dualism that is the subject of his first chapter, Habermas discusses, in chapter II, the methodologies of various general theories of social action, from empirical-analytical approaches to functionalist ones; in contrast, chapter III is dedicated to the problem of understanding subjective meaning, focusing its analysis on phenomenological (Alfred Schütz), linguistic (Peter Winch) and hermeneutic (HG Gadamer) aspects; and, finally, in chapter IV, when addressing sociology as a theory of the present, he discusses the limits of a linguistic-comprehensive sociology and concludes by referring to the problem of the relationship between theory and practice, a theme dear to critical aspects of sociology and science social.

In the text that deals with the pretension of universality of hermeneutics, the argument goes in the direction of contesting this pretension, to which he opposes a model of critical theory inspired by Freudian psychoanalysis.

The unfolding of this argument appears clearly in knowledge and interest, from 1968, where Habermas elaborates a model of critical theory that links each of the main approaches discussed in the book reviewed here to a type of constitutive interest.

Thus, while the empirical-analytical sciences correspond to the cognitive interest in the technical control of objective processes, the historical-hermeneutic sciences correspond to the practical interest achieved through the interpretation and understanding of meaning; On a methodological level, the two approaches refer respectively to the themes of explanation and understanding in the social sciences, without resolving the old problem of dualism.

For Habermas at the time, only a social science founded on the idea of ​​the critique of ideology and whose constitutive interest was human emancipation would be able to overcome that dualism through a productive synthesis that went beyond the two approaches, without ceasing to appropriate itself. critically of the specific contributions of both.

Therefore, despite presenting The logic of the social sciences as a review of the literature on the subject, as can be seen in the preface to the German edition of 1982 (unfortunately, not translated in this edition), Habermas does not limit himself to a reconstruction of the debate. More than that, it also intends to continue Adorno's critique of positivism and contribute to the restructuring of social theory, conceived as a critical theory of society.

This model of critical social theory, marked by methodological and epistemological concerns, was abandoned during the 1970s as the theory of language or communicative competence came to occupy the center of his project to elaborate a theory of communicative action, whose content intersubjective is anchored in the pragmatics of language and no longer in the model of psychoanalytic theory.

Finally, it should be noted that, in addition to the strictly historical interest in the place it occupies in Habermas' extensive work, this book continues to be an important reference for the debate on methodology and philosophy of the social sciences.

* Joshua Pereira da Silva is professor of sociology at Unicamp and author of Work, citizenship and recognition (Annablume).

Originally published in Jornal de Resenhas n.o. 6, October 2009.


Jurgen Habermas. The logic of the social sciences. Translation: Marco Antônio Casanova. Petrópolis, Voices, 336 pages.


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