Social Science as Practical Reason
Kenneth Prewitt begins his 1979–80 annual report as president of the Social Science Research Council with the sentence: “As the social sciences enter the 1980s, they move from a decade in which purpose or relevance became the dominant metaphor into a new decade characterized by the themes of performance, productivity, and usefulness.”1 The issue of the “usefulness” of social science might be less salient at the moment did it not bear so directly on decisions about funding that may have far-reaching consequences for American social science. Russell R. Dynes, executive officer of the American Sociological Association, in a recent letter addressed to graduate departments of sociology, urged a variety of forms of action to protest cuts proposed by the Reagan administration in the National Science Foundation budget for the social sciences. In that letter he says, “Again, the case has to be made for the importance and usefulness of support for the social sciences. Many of the goals of the present administration are informed by the social sciences.” Perhaps the goals of an administration that has embarked on programs profoundly different from any administration since 1932—programs that will have extraordinarily broad political, ethical, and human consequences—are indeed “informed by” social science. But does that thought not arrest us and move us to consider things entirely beyond the question of “usefulness?” Does it not raise questions about the ethical meaning of social science?
KeywordsSocial Science Practical Reason Welfare State American Sociological Association Free Society
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