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The Flight from Reality in the Human Sciences [Kindle Edition]

Ian Shapiro
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In this captivating yet troubling book, Ian Shapiro offers a searing indictment of many influential practices in the social sciences and humanities today. Perhaps best known for his critique of rational choice theory, Shapiro expands his purview here. In discipline after discipline, he argues, scholars have fallen prey to inward-looking myopia that results from--and perpetuates--a flight from reality.

In the method-driven academic culture we inhabit, argues Shapiro, researchers too often make display and refinement of their techniques the principal scholarly activity. The result is that they lose sight of the objects of their study. Pet theories and methodological blinders lead unwelcome facts to be ignored, sometimes not even perceived. The targets of Shapiro's critique include the law and economics movement, overzealous formal and statistical modeling, various reductive theories of human behavior, misguided conceptual analysis in political theory, and the Cambridge school of intellectual history.

As an alternative to all of these, Shapiro makes a compelling case for problem-driven social research, rooted in a realist philosophy of science and an antireductionist view of social explanation. In the lucid--if biting--prose for which Shapiro is renowned, he explains why this requires greater critical attention to how problems are specified than is usually undertaken. He illustrates what is at stake for the study of power, democracy, law, and ideology, as well as in normative debates over rights, justice, freedom, virtue, and community. Shapiro answers many critics of his views along the way, securing his position as one of the distinctive social and political theorists of our time.

Editorial Reviews


[B]oth political scientists and politicians can learn something from Shapiro's thoughtful reflections on the state of his discipline.


In these probing essays . . . Ian Shapiro offers a disturbing portrait of contemporary social science. . . . [He] calls for academics to reconnect the academic enterprise to the real world by returning to problem-driven social inquiry--an urging that scholars of international relations and other fields should indeed ponder. (G. John Ikenberry Foreign Affairs )

Have you ever had difficulty talking to a political scientist about politics? If so, this book is for you. In a searing indictment of over-professionalization in the humanities and social sciences, Yale University's Ian Shapiro argues that across disciplines, academics have abandoned truth, so to speak, for method. . . . The Flight from Reality lays the foundation for reengaging scholarship with the historical world, by reminding us of its necessary role in public life. (Tikkun Magazine )

[B]oth political scientists and politicians can learn something from Shapiro's thoughtful reflections on the state of his discipline. (Alan Wolff Chronicle of Higher Education )

Shapiro's book is an important addition to recent debates about the proper practice of social inquiry. Its central thesis is undeniably important, and its engagements with influential thinkers and ideas is consistently stimulating. It therefore merits the careful attention of anyone who is interested in the state of the human sciences today. (Keith Topper Ethics )

Shapiro's book provides a very well annotated and fascinating, although not always easy to read, argument framework with easy to express practical implications. (Armando Geller JASSS )

Product Details

  • File Size: 1455 KB
  • Print Length: 236 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0691134014
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 9, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002WJM60E
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #871,394 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fall into reality August 10, 2006
Shapiro's book is an excellent overview on the major trends in US regarding methodology in social science. This book's aim is to stress the importance of not ignoring the reality and empirical evidence when producing the theories in social science. Shapiro dared to say what majority of students think and this book can serve as a starting point for everyone who is starting PhD research and it is confused whether to choose quantitative or qualitative approach. In summary, Shapiro advocates more liberal and creative approach to studying contemporary world.
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38 of 53 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flight from Science February 4, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Mancur Olson's Logic of Collective Action (1965) was the start of a revolution in political thought, known as the rational choice school. Olson applied a simple economic logic to the question: when will a rational individual join in collective action, at personal cost? His answer is that, unless the group is very small so that the individual's contribution to the success of the action is great, or some external sanction is applied to the individual for failing to participate, the rational individual will not join. In 1994, some three decades later, Ian Shapiro coauthored Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory, asserting that this school had produced nothing of importance, and its commitment to a universalist model of human behavior precludes it ever from doing so. This book, The Flight from Reality, includes several follow-up essays, including a reply to the rational choice critics of his earlier book, and a long critique of Judge Richard Posner, the most prominent rational choice theorists among legal scholars.

It is hard not to sympathize with Shapiro's "show me the beef" approach to political theory. Rational choice theory has not revolutionized political science in the same way it has revolutionized economics. By and large, rational choice theorists have taken hold of the "high theory" segment of political science departments, but their methods are honored mostly in the breach when students go on to study real political problems. However, it is also hard (at least for this writer) not to sympathize with the intention of political theorists to ground their subject analytically, as has been done in economics and biology. The rational choice theorists in political science may not yet have succeeded, but they cannot be faulted for attempting to build an analytical political theory.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Logical Empiricism is not at fault November 30, 2012
By Nozama
Shapiro's argument that logical empiricism (LE) is the cause of flight is at the time LE scholars were promoting LE the logical component of LE was assumed. E.g. of course a scientific theory must be logical . . . duh! But then, with advancements in computational efficiency, beginning in the '60s, the pendulum swung too far in the other direction. Boldfaced and reckless empiricism becam incorrect, or at least misleading. From the perspective that most social scientists are not actually adhering to LE, it is unfair to blame LE. By and far, most of social science practitioners are just empiricists; believing that data speaks for itself and empirical analysis is not open to alternative interpretations. On the (so-called) formal/logical side, practitioners build "models," not theories. Like data, mathematics and mathematical models say noting about content. What a term represents is intuited, not formally explicated. E.g. game theory is constructed upon mathematical axioms, thus making solutions feasible, but make no intelligent or sensible assumptions about how humans actually behave.

Rationalists are completely dismissive of such criticisms, asserting the nonsensical claim that assumptions need not be realistic, but only useful. (Right, useful to project their paradigm and publishing enterprise.) Yes, assumptions must be realistic. Unrealistic assumptions should not be confused with abstract assumptions. Rational choice assumptions are abstract (as they are mathematical axioms), but they are in no way realistic- not individually, nor collectively.
e the mainstay of social science research (and still is more than ever). And, it had the advantage of bolstering the pet theories of leading scholars by training graduate students to be technicians and not philosophers and theorists.
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8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A breath of fresh air March 14, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a political theorist and global studies scholar, I deeply sympathize with Shapiro's call for a return to problem-driven social inquiry that can illuminate the central questions of our global era. The book is written in an accessible, lucid style and offers strong arguments for a "middle way" between the Scylla of jargonistic metatheory and the Charybdis of quantative abstraction. A must read for those who think that politics matters!
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