Systemism. Parte 4

8. Interdisciplines

The interconnectedness of social facts ought to be reflected in the social sciences studies. That is, the frontiers among them ought to be trespassed, as Hirschman (1981) has insisted, because they are artificial. The reason is that all the social sciences refer to a single entity: society. In other words, we should promote the mongrel disciplines, or interdisciplines, such as socio-economics, political sociology, economic anthropology, sociolinguistics, and biological sociology (not to be mistaken for sociobiology). Robert Vogel’s (1994) work on the relations among economic growth, demography, physiology, and economic policy making, is a brilliant illustration of the rewards of interdisciplinarity.

As a matter of fact, the merger process started a century ago in the natural sciences, and is now in full swing in the social sciences (see, e.g., Smelser and Swedberg, 1994). Witness the following laundry list of intersciences, some basic and others applied: Physical chemistry, biophysics, biochemistry, cognitive neuroscience, neurolinguistics, biosociology, socio-economics, medical sociology, and legal sociology.

If the precursor disciplines are represented by circles, the corresponding interdiscipline is represented as the intersection between those circles. And the entire system of the sciences can be represented as a rosette of hundreds of partially overlapping petals.

Obviously, not every juxtaposition of disciplines will result in their combination. For example, geosociology and molecular economics are hopeless monsters. Let us sketch the conditions for the fertile marriage of two previously separate disciplines. Call 1 and 2 the precursors of an interdiscipline D12. Next, call R(D1) y R(D2) the respective reference classes (or collections of entities which they account for). Further, let C(D1) and C(D2) designate the sets of technical (or specific) concepts of the respective disciplines. Let us now propose a couple of definitions.

Definition 1. D12 is the interdiscipline comprised between D1 y D2 if, and only if,

   (a) R(D12) = R(D1) *[This character cannot be
   converted to ASCII text] R(D2) Not equal to *[This
   character cannot be converted to ASCII text];
   (b) C(D12) = C(D1) *[This character cannot be
   converted to ASCII text] C(D2) Not equal to *[This
   character cannot be converted to ASCII text];
   (c) there is a non-empty set P(D12) of bridge (or
   clamp) formulas, in which concepts of both C(D1) and
   C(D2) occur.

The semantic concept of reference is exactified elsewhere (Bunge, 1974). The idea of a specifc or technical concept, such as that of social structure in sociology, and demand elasticity in economics, hardly needs comment. By contrast, the concept of a bridge (or clamp) formula can do with some clarification, all the more since the same expression has been used with a different meaning in the philosophical literature on reduction. Let the following examples suffice.

 
    In biophysics: The velocity of circulation of blood
    increases as its viscosity decreases.
    In biopsychology: Speech = Specific activity of the
    Wernicke or Broca areas in the cerebral cortex.
    In bioeconomics: A renewable resource is exploited
    rationally if and only if its rate of renewal exceeds
    the rate at which it is farmed.
    In socio-economics: Labor productivity is inversely
    correlated to income inequality.
    In criminology (conceived of as a merger of sociology
    and law): The crime rate is a linear function of the
    unemployment rate.

These examples show that a bridge formula may be either a law or a definition. We may now resume the task of defining some concepts.

Definition 2. An interdiscipline is

 
   (i) an interscience if and only if it is scientific;
   (ii) an intertechnology if and only if it is technological.

Remark. For an interdiscipline to be scientific (or technological) it is necessary, though insufficient, that at least one of its precursors be scientific (or technological). That this condition is not sufficient, is proved by the existence of such pseudosciences as astrology (a hybrid of astronomy and folk psychology) and psychohistory (a cross of history with psychoanalysis), and such pseudotechnologies as faith healing and monetarist macroeconomics. In sum, pedigree is not enough: the claim to the scientific character of an interdispline must be established independently.

We are finally in a position to commit ourselves to a definite thesis about interdisciplinarity:

Postulate. Given any two disciplines, there is another discipline such that an interscience can be interpolated between the two.

In other words, there are no independent sciences or technologies. If a field of knowledge is disjoint from all the sciences, then it is nonscientific. For example, psychoanalysis and parapsychology are alien to experimental psychology and neuroscience: this suffices to prove that they are pseudosciences.

9. Conclusion

Neither of the two most influential approaches to the study and management of social affairs is completely adequate, let alone practically efficient. Individualism is deficient because it underrates or even overlooks the bonds among people, and holism because it plays down or even enslaves individual action. By contrast, systemism makes room for both agency and structure. Moreover, it emphasizes the role of the environment, and suggests studying or altering the mechanisms of both social stasis and social change. The consequence for political philosophy and social-policy design is that systemism takes into account social values (ignored by individualism) as well as individual values (held in contempt by holism). Hence, it is more likely than its rivals to inspire and defend policies that combine competition with cooperation, and enhance individual welfare and liberty while strengthening or reforming the requisite institutions.

 

References

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Boudon, R. (1998). The necessary evolution of rational choice theory. Am J Sociol, 104, 817-828.

Bunge, M. (1974). Treatise on Basic Philosophy, vol. 1: Sense and Reference. Dordrecht-Boston: Reidel [Kluwer].

Bunge, M. (1996). Finding Philosophy in Social Science. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Bunge M. (1998). Social Science under Debate. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bunge M. (1999). The Sociology-Philosophy Connection. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Card, D. (1995). Myth and Measurement: The New Economics of the Minimum Wage. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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de Tocqueville, A. ([1856] 1998). The Old Regime and the French Revolution, vol. 1. Transl. A. S. Kahan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Harrington, A. (1996). Reenchanted Science: Holism in German Culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hirschman, A. O. (1981). Essays in Trespassing: Economics to Politics and Beyond. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Latour, B., & Woolgar S. (1979). Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts. London-Beverly Hills: Sage.

Merton, R. K. (1973). The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Smelser, R., & Swedberg, R., (Eds). (1994). The Handbook of Economic Sociology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Soros, G. (1998). The Crisis of Global Capitalism. (Open Society Endangered). New York: Public Affairs.

Tilly, C. (1998). Durable Inequality. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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Bunge, Mario, Journal of Socio-Economics

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