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12/06/2014

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Lisa

If things go on for a while, sociology turns into history - and yes, I absolutely think philosophers should do history of philosophy, to become aware of such mechanisms. Many accounts of (parts of) the history of philosophy describe processes of the kind you describe, and also the relation between philosophical developments, developments in other disciplines, and general historical developments. Whether or not one assumes that philosophy makes progress along the way is another question - in any case one gets a good sense of how contingent philosophical fashions can be.
I’m aware, of course, that there are ways of doing „history of philosophy“ that are silent on these dimensions. So I’m tempted to say: what you are after is history of philosophy, your examples just happen to be recent history. Or am I missing something?

Brad

There are already sociological studies of philosophy.

Randall Collins has a book *Sociology of Philosophies*. His notion of philosophy is broader than professional academic philosophy, and is really a study of competing schools of thought. He observes that there can only exist between 3 and 6 competing schools at any one time. His study is cross cultural, and covers a great range of time. It does include detailed discussions of ancient Greek philosophers, the early moderns, and the Vienna Circle, among others.

And I have done a few bibliometric and citation studies of philosophy and philosophy of science, including the following:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11192-013-1102-9

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11192-014-1465-6

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10670-010-9214-6

These studies do not speak to YOUR question directly. But it is worth looking at what has been done before you embark on your own study. These studies may suggest methods, and limitations, etc. which will save you time.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Lisa: Thanks for your comment! I think what I am proposing is different than standard history of philosophy--though I may of course be wrong. My impression is that history of philosophy tends to focus on substantive philosophical issues (i.e. who said what, clarifying what so-and-so's arguments actually were, examining those arguments, etc.). Although this is obviously a very brief and perhaps inaccurate picture of what historians of philosophy do--I am admittedly not a historian of philosophy myself--what I am advocating is something very different: namely, setting aside matters of content and just looking at sociological processes in a rigorous, empirically-based way, focusing on questions like: (1) were alternative intuitions on topic X ever actually engaged with in the dominant literature on X, or were they marginalized/ignored, (2) how, sociological speaking, did a given idea spread (was it initially advanced by a super-important person--for example, a Kripke--and then just sort of accepted as a dominant idea in the literature?).

This seems to me very different than standard history of philosophy. Whereas history of philosophy tends (it seems to me) on indivodual philosophers, individual ideas and arguments and what types of previous ideas arguments they were reactions to (viz. "Kant was reacting to Hume's idea..."), what I am proposing is a broader sociological study of precisely how ideas are introduced/filtered/advanced in the discipline--in ways that might unearth snowball effects, exclusion, etc. In other words, detailed macro and micro level empirical studies of which processes in particular periods led to the results the discipline has seen--facts which might, looking forward, lead us to adjust philosophical methods to prevent snowballing, exclusion, etc., thereby improving the entire discipline's epistemic properties (viz. philosophy might be more truth-apt/less subject to unjustified, snow-balling fads!).

Manuel "Armchair Sociologist" Vargas

The sociology of philosophy is fascinating, and there is already a nascent field of work up and running. Off the top of my head, here are some examples:

Randall Collins has a big book on it _The Sociology of Philosophy_, and he's a Real Sociologist. There is also the Kieran Healy work (but I don't know how much has been published).

There's a collection by Kusch on the _The Sociology of Philosophical Knowledge_.

Eric Schwitzgebel has frequently posted and sometimes published on it: http://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/search/label/sociology%20of%20philosophy

I've done some limited work in this vein, specifically focused on the literature on free will. For examples, see Ch. 1 of my _Building Better Beings_, and in connection to theism and libertarianism, this:

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2390260

I've also written about the sociological dimensions of the reception of Latin American philosophy here:

http://www.usfca.edu/fac-staff/mrvargas/Papers/RealPhil.pdf

So yeah, consider this enthusiastic agreement that it would be great if more people joined this conversation!

ambrose

But doesn't this just push the problem back? Sociology is no less vulnerable to the problems of groupthink, political pressure, bias (etc) than philosophy.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Ambrose: No less vulnerable? There seems to me an obvious reason to think that even if sociology is vulnerable to those things (as are all areas of human inquiry), sociological study is less vulnerable to those things than philosophy: empirical data. Unlike philosophy, which is just based on ideas and intuitions, sociological claims can be tested against actual data. And yes, while data collection and analysis can also be perniciously influenced by groupthink, bias, etc., further sociological study--further data--can reveal those biases in a way that a priori philosophy cannot.

Marcus Arvan

Brad: Thanks for drawing my attention to Collins' work, and our readers' attention to yours! I didn't mean to imply, by the way, that I intend to embark on my own study. I don't have the qualifications to perform a competent sociological study. My post was merely trying to advocate in favor of the idea.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Manuel: Thanks for drawing my, and our readers', attention to that stuff (including your own work in the area!). I've followed Eric's posts and very much like what Kieran Healy has been up to. That's precisely the kind of stuff I think might benefit our discipline, should it grow (as I hope it may) into an area of greater focus.

Paul L. Franco

HOPOS folk are interested in this topic. Here's a recent paper by Alan Richardson (not behind a paywall!) calling for a more empirical philosophy of science:

http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/664596

See also George Reisch's: "How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science."

http://www.amazon.com/How-Cold-Transformed-Philosophy-Science/dp/B008SM0XE0

Carlo Ierna

One interesting avenue for such research could be to compare how certain famous thought experiments and concepts, that were proposed, forgotten and later rediscovered, have fared in two dramatically different socio-cultural environments. The most prominent example, among those you cite, is indeed the Twin Earth thought experiment, which was proposed originally by Husserl in 1908. Why wasn't it picked up then and why did Putnam's later proposal become so influential?

Ambrose

"Unlike philosophy, which is just based on ideas and intuitions, sociological claims can be tested against actual data"

Ultimately, yes, philosophy must be based on "ideas and intuitions". So must every other field of human inquiry, and every field of human inquiry must also be based on some taken-for-granted metaphysical and epistemological and ethical conception. If philosophy has these weaknesses so does everything else, because everything is philosophy (although not everything is _just_ philosophy).

The problem is not just that the collection or analysis of data can be skewed by a zillion pernicious influences -- as it plainly is, and always has been, and always will be. The problem is that what _counts_ as "data" or "empirical evidence" or whatever is itself a philosophical problem, solved in practice by a generally mindless acceptance of whatever the prevailing philosophical presuppositions happen to be.

Martin Shuster

What you are describing, Marcus, has much in common with 'intellectual history' as it is understood by many. Furthermore, I think that many academics who are involved in European philosophical traditions (one thinks here of Marxism, critical theory, psychoanalysis, etc.) already approach philosophy exactly in the way you are describing (and also, for this reason, often find Anglophone approaches so, at best, peculiar, and at worst, naive).

Craig

Marcus, I think your point's important, and definitely this sort of sociology of philosophy could be revealing.

I'm not sure that you've explained how it will contribute to real philosophical progress though. Suppose we succeed in bringing in hitherto marginalized groups, so that we end up with a plethora of intuitions about a topic. What then? You need some mechanism for getting rid of the variety of intuitions again so that consensus is reached.

Isn't this just the whole problem about the use of intuitions in philosophy repackaged? Wouldn't it be best to just outlaw intuition-speak and get empirical in philosophy? But then, if you go that route, doesn't philosophy lose its distinctive character, and collapse into cog science, linguistics, or whatever the relevant science is?

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: I appreciate your skepticism, but here--as in other cases--I think it is a bit overblown. Yes, there are problems with bias in all forms of inquiry and data collection. The relevant question is what the *least* biased forms of inquiry are. And I don't think that your skepticism about scientific/empirical-data based inquiry is cogent.

You write: "The problem is that what _counts_ as "data" or "empirical evidence" or whatever is itself a philosophical problem, solved in practice by a generally mindless acceptance of whatever the prevailing philosophical presuppositions happen to be."

By my light, this seems like an uncharitable--and indeed, false--reading of how science operates. Physicists, biologists, empirical psychologists, etc., do not *mindlessly* accept presuppositions about what counts as data, or what is relevant. They are engaged in ongoing critical debates about these very questions--debates that are constrained by many bias-reducing features (i.e. double-blind experiments, etc.). And there are plenty of reasons to believe that these anti-bias measures exist in much greater measure in the sciences than in philosophy. Scientists, again, run double-blind experiments. We don't. The same people who pose thought-experiments are the ones who answer them, and with NO real controls on bias.

Andy

Twin Earth proposed originally by Husserl - fascinating! Might you have a reference for that, Carlo? (Or anyone else of course!)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Craig: Thanks for your comment. Here are a couple of thoughts in reply.

The proposal I'm making isn't simply to ensure that more perspectives are allowed into the picture. Rather, the proposal is that Sociology of Philosophy might unearth particularly problematic processes that might lead us to doubt whether a given idea/argument really emerged via (1) an appropriately open, critical dialogue (including people with contrary intuitions) as opposed to (2) a kind of internally-reinforcing snowball effect that marginalized contrary intuitions (without real argument) from the outset. Such results--say, if they revealed that Kripkean intuitions were never really defended but simply accepted by an in-group of people, who then excluded out-group intuitions--might serve as a corrective on what is considered "philosophical progress."

In terms of your second point--whether this would push us in the direction of cog sci--I think it could and probably *should*. Indeed, this is more or less what I think experimental philosophers are up to--and thus, that a Sociology of Philosophy and Experimental Philosophy together might be just the right kind of way to move the discipline away from an unhelpful, problematic form of intuition-mongering (which it has been all too often) to a less biased, more objective form of philosophical theory construction and debate on the basis of actually, you know...good data! :)

Craig

Hi Marcus, thanks for your reply.

On the first point - great, I'm all for it, really, and thanks for the more detailed description.

On the second: I don't think it addresses my worry. Perhaps moving towards the sciences IS the best thing to do, but my worry is this: What has philosophy got left to offer as an independent discipline if we do this? What do philosophers bring to the table that scientists don't already have? When you try to get students to study philosophy what will you tell them they'll learn from it that they couldn't have learned in a more rigorous way in a science major? (I suppose the exceptions to all this are those applied areas of philosophy - political philosophy, aesthetics, ethics etc. but I'm talking here about lemmings, which were the fields your blog post talked about).

Ambrose

Hi Marcus,
Setting aside my more overblown worries for the moment... Are you saying then that you think that _sociology_ is one of the "least biased forms of inquiry"? Or that sociology is less biased (politicized, groupthinky, etc.) than philosophy?

Brad Cokelet

Hi Marcus,

Have you read Gary Gutting's interview at 3AM? I think you will like it!

http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/what-philosophers-know/

SM

Neil Gross's Richard Rorty: The Making of an American Philosopher is quite good. And more than that, it gives a subtle account of how philosophy developed in the twentieth century, using as exemplary Rorty's struggles in moving from Weiss's historical sensitivity at Yale, to the analytic voice of Wellesley and Princeton, to socially-conscious humanistic pragmatism at the end. There's also a long and interesting discussion on appropriate sociological method, defense of which motivates the whole project.

P.D. Magnus

"All of which begs a rather obvious question..."

I'm not draconian about word usage, but no.

FT

Maybe this is simple minded, but it seems obvious to me that a sociological study will not and should not be expected to reveal substantive results about the correctness of philosophical theories. It will nevertheless have serious value insofar as it reveals which results are founded on sociologically suspect intuition consensus which will then provide good grounds for returning to certain foundational topics from the past that deserve some rethinking rather than just focusing on whatever the topic of the day happens to be. It gives us a tool for understanding the shape of our research programs by providing determinate results about which claims possess suspicious consensus and thus ought to help alleviate the worry that our work is merely positioned as a cog in a topical trend machine.

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: Thanks for your follow-up. No, I didn't mean to say that. Just like there's poorly supported, biased parts of psychology (e.g. psychoanalysis), so too is there poorly supported, biased approaches to sociology.

My suggestion is that just as *good*, rigorously tested psychology is less biased bad, poorly-supported psychology, we should try to do good, data-based sociology instead of bad, partisan sociology.

I do think there is a difference, and I think that people in psychology and sociology recognize that parts of their discipline are far more objective, less biased, and better supported by actual data than others.

Marcus Arvan

Brad & SM: Thanks for directing me/our readers to those sources!

Marcus Arvan

PD: Could you perhaps explain what you think is wrong with the statement? Suppose one points out that a discipline seems to simply bounce along from topic to topic. *Isn't* the following question a rather obvious one to ask: how, exactly, does it do so?

Here's an analogy. Suppose there were a mound of sand in the middle of the road. Isn't the obvious question to ask: why is it there?

How is the question I pose any less obvious? (Or, perhaps, if it isn't actually an obvious question to many people, *shouldn't* it be?)

Marcus Arvan

FT: Thanks for your comment! I think, broadly speaking, that that's what I was trying propose. The idea wasn't that sociology can be used to evaluate substantive philosophical results, but rather that it can draw attention to seemingly problematic features of how certain ideas/trends arise...which should then lead us to reflect on suspicious forms of consensus, shape how we think about them, etc.--which is exactly what you are suggesting. :)

dmf

this would be most welcome if done along the lines of the sorts of studies of labs and all done in STS (science&tech studies) and ANT (actor-network-theory), maybe you can get Paul Rabinow and co. to work on the task as he is a bit of a native traveler:
http://anthropos-lab.net/


Carlo Ierna

Re: Andy
Husserl's "Twin Earth" example is actually from a manuscript dated more precisely on 1911, later published together with his lectures on theory of meaning from 1908.

The crucial passage reads: "Wie ..., wenn auf zwei Himmelskorpern zwei Menschen in vollig gleicher Umgebungserscheinung 'dieselben' Gegenstande vorstellen und danach 'dieselben' Aussagen orientieren? Hat das 'dies' in beiden Fallen nicht eine verschiedene Bedeutung?"

Translation (from Beyer): "[I]magine two people on two distinct celestial bodies who have exactly the same kind of appearances of their respective surrounding and who are both representing ‘the same’ object and making, on the basis of these representations, ‘the same’ assertion. Hasn’t the ‘this’ got a different meaning in each of these cases?"

The discussion regarding the example then runs on for several pages.

References:
Critical edition in: Edmund Husserl, Vorlesungen über Bedeutungslehre. Sommersemester 1908., edited by Ursula Panzer, Husserliana XXVI (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1987), pp. 211 f..

But it was discussed also earlier than that through citations from the manuscript.

For the english translation and discussion, see e.g. Christian Beyer, “Noematic Sinn”, in: Filip Mattens, editor, Meaning and Language: Phenomenological Perspectives, Phaenomenologica 187 (Dordrecht/Boston/London: Springer, 2008).

As far as I know, Beyer was the first to explicitly link Husserl's and Putnam's examples in his 1996 "Von Bolzano zu Husserl - Eine Untersuchung über den Ursprung der phänomenologischen Bedeutungslehre", ch. 3.3.

Matthew J. Brown

Marcus, I think PD objects to the use of the phrase "begs the question" for "suggests the question" or "raises the question." We should probably reserve "begs the question" for the informal fallacy.

Marcus Arvan

Matthew: Thanks for that. I was wondering if that was what PD's objection was. But in that case it seems to me that he is being rather draconian about word usage. "Beg the question", as I used it, is a very common turn of phrase--an idiom--which nobody (I think) conflates with informal fallacy by the same name. To object to my usage is, I think, akin to objecting to that the common idiom "kick the bucket" is strictly false when applied to death and should instead be reserved for situations involving buckets! ;)

Eugene

For whatever it may be worth, Marcus, I cringe every time you use 'begs the question' in the "common" way. This is a philosophy blog, after all!

Marcus Arvan

Point taken, Eugene. I suppose I'll stop using the phrase. It still seems to me a bit draconian to kill the idiom...but I'll live! ;)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Craig: Sorry for taking so long to reply!

You write: "Perhaps moving towards the sciences IS the best thing to do, but my worry is this: What has philosophy got left to offer as an independent discipline if we do this? What do philosophers bring to the table that scientists don't already have? When you try to get students to study philosophy what will you tell them they'll learn from it that they couldn't have learned in a more rigorous way in a science major? (I suppose the exceptions to all this are those applied areas of philosophy - political philosophy, aesthetics, ethics etc. but I'm talking here about lemmings, which were the fields your blog post talked about)."

I guess my frank answer is: I don't think there *should* be a clear-cut distinction between philosophy and science--but there can still be a distinct role for philosophy!

First, I think scientists tend to be good at some things (empirical theorizing/data collection), but not so good at others (interpreting their findings well philosophically). To see what I mean, take a look at Stephen Hawking's and Lawrence Krauss' recent attempts to draw philosophical conclusions from physics. Pretty misguided stuff, in my opinion.

Second, I tend to think that philosophers are trained to think much better about the philosophical implications of scientific findings (Indeed, it has philosophers of physics like David Albert--philosophers who know physics but are trained in philosophy--to set physicists straight philosophically!).

Finally, I think that a priori philosophy by and large amounts to unconstrained intuition-mongering over irreducibly vague concepts with no clear satisfaction-conditions. For more on this, see:

http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2014/06/analytic-philosophy-continental-philosophy-and-natural-philosophy.html ,

http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2014/06/misled-by-language.html , and

http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2014/06/a-posteriori-necessity-misled-by-language.html

For these reasons, I'm inclined to think that for philosophy and science to both be done well, they should go *together*. Philosophers of mind should be cognitive scientists, helping neuroscientists and such think through the philosophic implications of neuroscience. Similarly, as I've argued in my own work, I think philosophers working on free will should be engaging with the frontiers of physics and neuroscience. In my view, these are the kinds of things we should be doing--engaging with our best scientific theories, and grappling with their philosophical implications. I'm inclined to say, in other words, that philosophy (at least, the lemming areas) should return to its more traditional "handmaiden of science" role instead of being a largely autonomous, a priori discipline separated from science.

Henrik Lundberg

Here you find an article that I have written on Randall Collins and Pierre Bourdieus sociologies of philosophies.https://gu-se.academia.edu/HenrikLundberg

Craig

Hi Marcus, thanks for the detailed reply.

I basically agree with you, I just wanted to tease out the full weight of (y)our view.

It has really serious consequences if right. For one thing, it means we currently train philosophers in completely the wrong way. It's incredibly hard and time consuming to learn your way around the relevant sciences, and today's trainee philosophers have neither the time nor the instruction with which to do so. You mention David Albert and we could add Tim Maudlin and David Wallace... these guys all studied physics degrees. It should worry us that the guys who are doing the best philosophy (on our conception of what makes good philosophy) weren't produced by philosophy departments! (A more general phenomenon is that many of the people who rise to the top of philosophy's reputational hierarchy didn't study only philosophy: Timothy Williamson, Kit Fine, David Chalmers...) Perhaps we should think about just getting rid of pure philosophy majors/PhDs and making philosophy something that's only studied alongside other subjects.

(Also, you picked, like, the two worst physicist-philosophers as examples, which is kind of unfair on the scientists. You might instead have mentioned Einstein or Gödel, who were pretty good at drawing philosophical significance from their work in physics and mathematics. Today, people like Roger Penrose are no worse than the majority of philosophers working in philosophy of mind.)

Ambrose

Hi Marcus,
In a way your view is just clearly reasonable. We should try to avoid bias, etc. to the extent that we can. When there's relevant empirical data, we should take it into account. And no doubt some sociological facts or theories can shed some light on the nature or value of some philosophy and history of philosophy. Still, I'm not sure that these sensible points are enough to address my (possibly overblown) skeptical doubts. One noteworthy fact about the history and practice of the social sciences (and philosophy too, of course) is that at any given time there are dominant theories and presuppositions and political incentives that very badly distort the whole field.

Think of one of your examples, Freudianism. Looking back on the heyday of psychoanalysis, it seems flatly incredible to most of us that any of these ideas or theories were treated with such seriousness and reverence. And yet for many experts whose thinking shaped the whole field, these ideas apparently seemed to be very well confirmed, entirely reasonable and coherent, etc. These views of theirs -- to us, very irrational views -- partly determined what would count as evidence, how the evidence was to be interpreted or evaluated, etc. I'm pretty sure than in some times and places it was simply not possible to get anything like a fair hearing for the objections to psychoanalytic theory that we find so reasonable. That's one example but there are lots of others, of course, and it's a safe bet that much of what goes in sociology (or philosophy, or whatever) right now is similarly skewed and irrational in ways that are not apparent to people involved in the discipline.

So while of course it's true that, in principle, there are ways of correcting for bias to some extent, it's doubtful that this is typically _possible_ given the culture of the discipline. Yes, double-blind studies are better than some other kinds. But there may be so many biases or other irrational factors at work in determining what gets studied, and how, and for what purpose, etc., that any significant advantages to double-blinding are effectively cancelled out. The actual in-practice methods of social scientists might often have no advantages over the better kinds of armchair philosophizing, all things considered. And then, in addition, there's the foundational problem that any such sociological inquiry into philosophy will itself have to rest on some taken-for-granted philosophy which probably has all the defects of the philosophizing it is about.

The problem seems inescapable, unless there is something we can trust in that goes beyond a collection of methods or processes or whatever.

Lurker

Hi Marcus, I just have a brief question for you:

One of the reasons you think a sociology of philosophy would be good is that it could help philosophers see whether ideas and intuitions gained acceptance through a snow-balling groupthink or through open and critical debate.

To be honest, I'm not sure what, specifically, you have in mind in terms of intuitions snow-balling into dominance. Doesn't the Philpapers survey conducted a few years back show that philosophy is a very fragmented discipline on pretty much all major issues? You might get arbitrary ideas of what quality work and thought is among certain subgroups of philosophers, but the discipline (to me, as an outsider) as a whole is very fragmented and adversarial to a degree that really isn't comparable to any of the hard or social sciences, so it doesn't seem plausible that groupthink could be a problem in the entire discipline. Philosophers frequently dispute how intuitive certain ideas are, for instance. There is also great methodological disputes (see the Churchlands viciously opposing any sort of "armchair" philosophy, just for example). It's not a case of why arguments win out over others, but a case of whether arguments win out at all (in any sustainable way).

Marcus Arvan

Hi Lurker: Thanks for your question.

I think the "snowball hypothesis" is perfectly consistent with the philpapers survey and the fact that philosophy is very fragmented, and for several reasons.

First, the philpapers survey is very coarse-grained. It reports opinions on really, really big issues (rationalism/empiricism, mental content internalism/externalism, etc). Philosophy can (and I think probably has) snowballed on a lot of smaller issues not covered in the survey. Consider, for instance, recent work on norms of assertion. Not covered in the survey, but (I would argue) the dominance of the knowledge-norm may be a snowball case.

Second, I actually think many of the actual results in the philpapers survey may be the result of snowballing. Consider the mental content issue: externalism comes out far on top (56.4%), compared to only 28.9% other and 20% internalism. The entire trend towards externalism seems (to me, at any rate) to be set in motion by a few thought-experiments that *some* famous people (Putnam, Davidson, Burge, etc.) found intuitive, but which other people don't find intuitive.

Third, even if philosophy is fragmented, that's no reason to think that "it doesn't seem plausible that groupthink could be a problem in the entire discipline." It could well be that every or most of the areas in our fragmented discipline each have their own independent "snowball areas."

Finally, while you're right that "philosophers frequently dispute how intuitive certain ideas are", and that, "There is also great methodological disputes (see the Churchlands viciously opposing any sort of "armchair"), (A) some intuitions still become more dominant than others, and (B) there may be snowballing on both sides of any methodological debate (e.g. Churchlands viciously oppose the armchair, get followers, their followers get followers, etc; Williamson viciously *defends* the armchair, he gets followers; etc.).

While, again, it's possible that these debates are driven by arguments more than snowballing, this is an empirical question. That's the point!

Lurker

Thanks for responding, Marcus! It take your points.

Andy

Thanks, Carlo. And so sorry the delay - I totally forgot I'd asked until I saw a link to the same Husserl-Putnam issue on Leiter.

James

Philosophical sociology is also an invitation to reflect on the role of the normative in social life by looking at it sociologically and philosophically at the same: normative self-reflection is a fundamental aspect of sociology's scientific tasks because key sociological questions are, in the last instance, also philosophical ones. For the normative to emerge, we need to move away from the reductionism of hedonistic, essentialist or cynical conceptions of human nature and be able to grasp the conceptions of the good life, justice, democracy or freedom whose normative contents depend on more or less articulated conceptions of our shared humanity. The idea of philosophical sociology is then sustained on three main pillars and I use them to structure this article: (1) a revalorization of the relationships between sociology and philosophy; (2) a universalistic principle of humanity that works as a major regulative idea of sociological research, and; (3) an argument on the social (immanent) and pre-social (transcendental) sources of the normative in social life. As invitations to embrace posthuman cyborgs, non-human actants and material cultures proliferate, philosophical sociology offers the reminder that we still have to understand more fully who are the human beings that populate the social world.

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