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The Flight from Reality in the Human Sciences
Ian Shapiro

Paperback | 2007 | $31.95 | £26.95 | ISBN: 9780691134017
232 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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In this captivating yet troubling book, Ian Shapiro offers a searing indictment of many influential practices in the social sciences and humanities today. Perhaps best known for his critique of rational choice theory, Shapiro expands his purview here. In discipline after discipline, he argues, scholars have fallen prey to inward-looking myopia that results from--and perpetuates--a flight from reality.

In the method-driven academic culture we inhabit, argues Shapiro, researchers too often make display and refinement of their techniques the principal scholarly activity. The result is that they lose sight of the objects of their study. Pet theories and methodological blinders lead unwelcome facts to be ignored, sometimes not even perceived. The targets of Shapiro's critique include the law and economics movement, overzealous formal and statistical modeling, various reductive theories of human behavior, misguided conceptual analysis in political theory, and the Cambridge school of intellectual history.

As an alternative to all of these, Shapiro makes a compelling case for problem-driven social research, rooted in a realist philosophy of science and an antireductionist view of social explanation. In the lucid--if biting--prose for which Shapiro is renowned, he explains why this requires greater critical attention to how problems are specified than is usually undertaken. He illustrates what is at stake for the study of power, democracy, law, and ideology, as well as in normative debates over rights, justice, freedom, virtue, and community. Shapiro answers many critics of his views along the way, securing his position as one of the distinctive social and political theorists of our time.


"In these probing essays . . . Ian Shapiro offers a disturbing portrait of contemporary social science. . . . [He] calls for academics to reconnect the academic enterprise to the real world by returning to problem-driven social inquiry--an urging that scholars of international relations and other fields should indeed ponder."--G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs

"Have you ever had difficulty talking to a political scientist about politics? If so, this book is for you. In a searing indictment of over-professionalization in the humanities and social sciences, Yale University's Ian Shapiro argues that across disciplines, academics have abandoned truth, so to speak, for method. . . . The Flight from Reality lays the foundation for reengaging scholarship with the historical world, by reminding us of its necessary role in public life."--Tikkun Magazine

"[B]oth political scientists and politicians can learn something from Shapiro's thoughtful reflections on the state of his discipline."--Alan Wolff, Chronicle of Higher Education

"Shapiro's book is an important addition to recent debates about the proper practice of social inquiry. Its central thesis is undeniably important, and its engagements with influential thinkers and ideas is consistently stimulating. It therefore merits the careful attention of anyone who is interested in the state of the human sciences today."--Keith Topper, Ethics

"Shapiro's book provides a very well annotated and fascinating, although not always easy to read, argument framework with easy to express practical implications."--Armando Geller, JASSS


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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix

INTRODUCTION: Fear of Not Flying 1
CHAPTER ONE: The Difference That Realism Makes: Social Science and the Politics of Consent by Ian Shapiro and Alexander Wendt 19
CHAPTER TWO: Revisiting the Pathologies of Rational Choice by Donald Green and Ian Shapiro 51
CHAPTER THREE: Richard Posner's Praxis 100
CHAPTER FOUR: Gross Concepts in Political Argument 152
CHAPTER FIVE: Problems, Methods, and Theories in the Study of Politics: Or, What's Wrong with Political Science and What to Do about It 178
CHAPTER SIX: The Political Science Discipline: A Comment on David Laitin 204

Index 213

This book has been translated into:

  • Czech
  • Russian

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Ian Shapiro:


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