The Methodology of the Social Sciences

  • Norman P. Barry


Throughout his career as an economist and social philosopher Hayek has been perhaps the leading advocate of the view that the methods of the physical sciences are fundamentally different from those of the social sciences, and he has argued with great trenchancy, and not a little passion, that serious harm results from the attempt to use the same tools of explanation for these two divergent subject areas. The harm is both intellectual and political. The intellectual harm is the retarding of the growth of knowledge in the social sciences caused by the replacement of those methods which have yielded the most fruitful results of social enquiry by methods artificially transplanted from a quite different field; while the political harm has been in this century the dominance of the ‘engineering’ type of mind, the mind that regards a social whole as a suitable object for direct control in the same way that objects in the physical world can be directly controlled. Of course, Hayek does not claim that there is a logical connection between methodological statements and political values but he does point out the very strong non-logical connections between what he regards as mistaken methodologies and certain authoritarian and illiberal value systems.


Physical Science Marginal Utility Austrian School Economic Science Empirical Content 
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  1. 4.
    K. R. Popper, The Poverty of Historicism, London, 1957, pp. 130–43.Google Scholar
  2. 44.
    L. von Mises, The Ultimate Foundations of Economic Science, New York, 1962, p. 69.Google Scholar
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    Cf. K. R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, London, 1945, Vol. II.Google Scholar
  4. 58.
    Cf. E. Nagel, The Structure of Science, New York, 1961, pp. 484–5.Google Scholar

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© Norman P. Barry 1979

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  • Norman P. Barry

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