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On the almost inconceivable misunderstandings concerning the subject of value-free social science


  • For comments on an earlier draft I thank Andrew Abbott, Earl Babbie, Bonnie Berry, Faruk Birtek, Moish Bronet, Bradley Campbell, Mark Cooney, Richard Felson, Ellis Godard, James Hawdon, John Herrmann, Janet Humston, Mark Kleiman, Jason Manning, Calvin Morrill, Scott Phillips, Roberta Senechal de la Roche, Roscoe Scarborough, Timothy Snyder, James Tucker, Jonathan Turner, Jeff Weintraub, Richard Wright, and several anonymous reviewers.


A value judgment says what is good or bad, and value-free social science simply means social science free of value judgments. Yet many sociologists regard value-free social science as undesirable or impossible and readily make value judgments in the name of sociology. Often they display confusion about such matters as the meaning of value-free social science, value judgments internal and external to social science, value judgments as a subject of social science, the relevance of objectivity for value-free social science, and the difference between the human significance of social science and value-free social science. But why so many sociologists are so value-involved – and generally so unscientific – is sociologically understandable: The closest and most distant subjects attract the least scientific ideas. And during the past century sociologists have become increasingly close to their human subject. The debate about value-free social science is also part of an epistemological counterrevolution of humanists (including many sociologists) against the more scientific social scientists who invaded and threatened to expropriate the human subject during the past century.

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