Inductive Social Metaphysics—A Defence of Inference to the Best Explanation in the Metaphysics of Social Reality: Comments on Katherine Hawley



How is metaphysics related to the empirical sciences? Should metaphysics in general be guided by the sources, methods and results of the sciences? And what about the special case of the metaphysics of the social world: should it likewise be guided by the sources, methods and results of the social sciences? In her paper “Social Science as a Guide to Social Metaphysics?”, K. Hawley raises the question: If we are sympathetic to the project of naturalising metaphysics, how should we approach the metaphysics of the social world? She proceeds by discussing three approaches to social metaphysics: (SM-1) inference to the best explanation (IBE) from current social science, (SM-2) descriptive conceptual analysis, and (SM-3) normative, especially ‘ameliorative’ projects. At the end of her discussion, she reaches a rather pessimistic conclusion, especially as regards the IBE approach: “a number of phenomena indicate that the prospects for securely basing social metaphysics via inference to the best explanation from social science are currently faint. […] We need to look elsewhere if we are to develop a metaphysics of the social world.” In my comments on her paper, I try to re-animate the program of an inductive metaphysics by defending the idea that the method of inference to the best explanation (IBE method) should be the central method of justification for metaphysics in general and for social metaphysics in particular.


Meta-metaphysics Social metaphysics Inference to the best explanation Scientific realism 



I gratefully acknowledge support by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Project Grant No. Scho 401/6-1: How Is Metaphysics of Science Possible?). For helpful comments I want to thank the members of the research group Causation, Laws, Dispositions and Explanation at the Intersection of Science and Metaphysics (CLDE) as well as Katherine Hawley and two anonymous reviewers.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyWestfälische Wilhelms-Universität MünsterMünsterGermany

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