Methodological individualism

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Methodological individualism Empty Methodological individualism

Post by ronaldjjjnooo on Sat Oct 30, 2010 9:04 am

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Methodological individualism is a widely-used term in the social sciences. Its advocates see it as a philosophical method aimed at explaining and understanding broad society-wide developments as the aggregation of decisions by individuals. The term was originally coined by Joseph Schumpeter (1908, 1909).

Methodological individualism does not imply political individualism, although methodological individualists like Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper were opponents of collectivism. Detaching methodological individualism from political individualism, Max Weber's position, argued at the start of the twentieth century that if a properly-functioning communist regime were to arise, it too would have to be sociologically understood on methodological individualist principles. But the conflation of methodological with political individualism (i.e., liberalism of the laissez-faire variety) is common, by friends and foes of the former alike.

Importantly, there are different formulations of the term and some of the differences have crucial implications (Udéhn 2001, 2002, Hodgson 2007). It is sometimes confused with ontological individualism, with statements such as "society consists of individuals", or the "whole" is nothing but the "sum of its parts" (atomism). Ontology is about existence. Methodology, by contrast, is about explanation. (Lukes 1968, Epstein 2009).

Even in methodological terms there are serious ambiguities. Some accounts are unclear whether methodological individualism means (a) explanations in terms of individuals alone, or (b) explanations in terms of individuals plus relations between individuals. The Nobel economist Kenneth Arrow (1994) proposes that the narrower version (a) is not achieved in practice.

It has also been regarded as a form of "methodological reductionism",[1] a reduction of the explanation of all large entities by reference to smaller ones. On the other hand, the broader version (b) would be rejected by very few social scientists. In version (b) "relations between individuals" amount to social structures (by prominent definitions of "social structure"). Hence version (b) amounts to the rule that explanations should be in terms of both individuals and social structures. The question, then, is why this should warrant the description of "methodological individualism", as social structure is an equally vital part of the story (Hodgson 2007).


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