Peter Winch and the Idea of Social Science

Tomáš Dvořák



Firstly, this article outlines the main points made by Peter Winch in his breakthrough book Th e Idea of a Social Science. Its fundamental thesis, inspired by Wittgenstein and his accounts on the relation between language and reality, is the assumption that social sciences engage in philosophical endeavor, because the problems they deal with are not empirical, but conceptual. Following Wittgensteinian line of thought he comes up with the idea that all social action can be explained as rule following and therefore it should be approached by conceptual means other than those used by natural sciences. Secondly, this article explores the impact that The Idea of a Social Science had on the discussion about the nature of social sciences. It outlines it‘s main critiques which deal with (1) Winch‘s conception of philosophy (2) the notion of rule following and (3) descriptive nature of Winch‘s approach. Finally, Winch‘s critique of positivism in social sciences is identifi ed as his main and lasting contribution to social thought.

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TEORIE VĚDY / THEORY OF SCIENCE – journal for interdisciplinary studies of science is published twice a year by the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences (Centre for Science, Technology, and Society Studies). ISSN 1210-0250 (Print) ISSN 1804-6347 (Online) MK ČR E 18677 web: /// email: