Essays on Winch and Flyvberg

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Essay 1: Winch
Winch argues that the study of society is inextricably connected to philosophy, not the empirical, predictive realm that it tries in vain to appropriate in order to gain credibility. Winch builds his argument by illustrating the problems with past and existing ways of thinking about empiricism, the study of human behavior, and the role of philosophy while simultaneously laying the groundwork for an alternative way of approaching sociology. In order to make the case for the necessary tie between philosophy and sociology, Winch begins by showing the ways in which philosophy has been miscast as either an inferior rival to science or as filling a negative albeit fundamental role in the pursuits of other disciplines. These perceptions are largely based on a misunderstanding of the general aims and functions of philosophy. Winch argues that language is at the center of philosophy but a philosopher’s interest in language is not simply one of clarification (the aforementioned negative role of philosophy). Rather, language is at the center because it is the only means we have for making sense of the world around us and our place in it; one could say that language gives shape to our reality. Winch argues for the primacy of epistemology and metaphysics within philosophy, noting the central question of philosophy to be that of reality or what we can know or say about a world external to ourselves as well as how this might inform the way we live. This points to a clear distinction between philosophy and science in that philosophy does not take our experience of an external world and language for granted, while science builds off of an assumption regarding the ‘realness’ of an external world. Consequently, science and philosophy are far from ‘enemies’ but rather have two very different paths and interests. Winch further points out that the philosophy of science, religion, art, politics, etc. is not secondary to those particular fields, rather these should be understood as branches of philosophy. He reasons that the aim of philosophy is not to clarify matters for science, religion, or whatever the field, but rather to examine how that particular field works, the vocabulary used, how meaning and knowledge is generated (by what criteria), shared, and understood. With this perspective of philosophy it is easy to see the link to sociology. As sociologists, we are interested in these exact same things, all of which are built around language. Social relations require, build, maintain, and adapt language which is essentially shared meaning. Without some form of language, there is no means of communication, no means for understanding the world around us, and from an individual standpoint there would be no concept of oneself as a separate being. Language acquisition is where our world or at least our understanding of an external world begins, and it is the most basic element of society and by default any field of study, whether or not it is consciously recognized as such. For this reason, it is crucial for us to examine language itself as it serves as both a creator and a restrictor of our understanding of the world around us. This centrality of language is the very reason why human behavior cannot be studied and/or predicted in the same way as meteorology or some other natural occurrence because to study human behavior equates to studying meaning and meaning is dependent upon human beings. Reducing human behavior to any universal law is problematic if not impossible because of its very nature. Language/shared meaning are not static and they depend upon the context in which you find them. To study human behavior is to engage in a conversation of sorts. You become an interpreter and meaning maker, a participant, regardless of whether it is acknowledged or not. We cannot divorce ourselves from our subjects of study; we are part of and a product of a social web from which we cannot escape. The central...
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