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Relativism and the social sciences / Ernest Gellner

Main Author Gellner, Ernest, 1926-1995 Country Reino Unido. Publication London : Cambridge University Press, cop. 1985 Description VIII, 200 p. ; 22 cm ISBN 0-521-26530-4 CDU 301
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Item type Current location Call number Status Date due Barcode Item holds
Monografia Biblioteca Geral da Universidade do Minho
BGUMD 145942 Available 37305
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

This volume of essays deals with the problem of relativism, in particular cultural relativism. If our society knows better than other societies, how do we know that it knows better? There is a profound irony in the fact that this self-doubt has become most acute in the one civilisation that has persuaded the rest of the world to emulate it. The claim to cognitive superiority is often restricted, of course, to the limited sphere of natural science and technology; and that immediately raises the second main theme of this volume - the differences between the human and natural sciences. These essays reach towards a new style and mode of enquiry - a mixture of philosophy, history and anthropology - that promises to prove more revealing and fruitful.

Table of contents provided by Syndetics

  • Editorial preface (p. v)
  • Introduction (p. I)
  • 1 Positivism against Hegelianism (p. 4)
  • 2 The gaffe-avoiding animal or A Bundle of Hypotheses (p. 68)
  • 3 Relativism and universals (p. 83)
  • 4 The scientific status of the social sciences (und leider auch Sociologie) (p. 101)
  • 5 What is structuralisme? (p. 128)
  • 6 No haute cuisine in Africa (p. 158)
  • 7 Concepts and community (p. 167)
  • Sources (p. 187)
  • Bibliography of Ernest Gellner (III): supplements and additions (p. 188)
  • Name index (p. 194)
  • Subject index (p. 196)

Reviews provided by Syndetics


In this book Gellner continues to articulate a number of central ideas that give his life work its unity. Specifically, he extends and enhances the epistemological critiques of relativism that appeared in his book Cause and Meaning in the Social Sciences (CH, Feb '74). Gellner is committed to the defense of empiricism against several foes: the holistic and antipositivist positions of Hegelianism, Wittgensteinian hermeneutics, and the structuralist paradigm of the Cambridge school of anthropology. He views the empiricist vision (which he admits fits the historical reality of an orderly, unitarian, and science-oriented Protestantism) as incommensurable with global or synoptic visions. Gellner uses the debate between Karl Popper and Theodor Adorno (cf., The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology, 1976) as a point of departure to argue for the cognitive superiority of our particular science-carrying culture. Gellner is a harsh critic of hermeneutical positions in social science that deny extra-customary norms as a basis for judging concepts. He argues that empiricism in social science should not be faulted for its methods but rather for its minimal effects on society. Gellner's book addresses the concerns that social scientists and students have about the foundations of the empiricist method in an age of resurgent romanticism. Upper-division undergraduates and above.-E. Schaffer, SUNY College at Plattsburgh

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