Against Grand Theories: A (Cautionary) Tale of Two Disciplines

Petr Jedlička



In this paper, I combine an exposition of the historical development of sociology and the philosophy of science from the era of grand theories onwards, with an explication as to why the grand theories have failed. First, I trace some parallels in the history of each of the disciplines. After presenting their chronological development, I scrutinize the metatheoretical findings about the disciplines and examine the main ontological and epistemic reasons why attempts at these general theories or frameworks have not succeeded. Among them are the lack of a universal methodology and of a theoretical core, together with the impossibility of achieving a common objective view. On this basis I conclude that general theories or frameworks are not achievable in principle. As it turns out, however, some contemporary social theorists and philosophers still harbor hopes that they can be successfully formulated, or at the least do not rule out such a possibility. Thus, in closing, I argue that the critical points can also be applied to these latest attempts, as the call for grand theories or frameworks has never ceased and returns regularly with each new generation of social theorists and philosophers of science.


grand theory; metatheory in sociology; metaphilosophy of science; structural functionalism; logical empiricism; relational and analytical sociology

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