The Human Sciences Theory of Knowledge Awesome Quote “Maybe in order to understand mankind we have to look at the word itself. MANKIND. Basically, it’s made up of two separate words – ‘mank’ and ‘ind.’ What do these words mean? It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind.” - Jack Handey Definition The attempt to study human behavior in a systematic way Examples: psychology, economics, anthropology, sociology In what ways are human beings different from animals? Self-consciousness Language Reason Free will Creativity Soul? Challenges Observation Measurement Experiments Laws Observation Human behavior can be directly observed, but not human thoughts Human beings can tell others about their thoughts, but they tend to overestimate their strengths and underestimate their weaknesses withhold unpopular views be susceptible to loaded questions encouraging respondents to answer one way rather than another The Observer Effect People also tend to behave differently when they are being observed (think of so-called reality TV shows) To get around this, human scientists attempt to get those that they study habituated to themselves, though this runs its own risks, potentially reducing researcher objectivity Predictions, too, tend to affect human behavior* Measurement Difficult to measure thoughts Easier to measure behavior Measurements do not eliminate the need to interpret the measurements Often very difficult to measure different things on a common scale Experiments Often not possible in the human sciences because: The real-world situations they are attempting to study are often too complex Experiments would have a distorting effect on the human behavior under study Ethical considerations Experiments, con’td Human scientists can either wait for nature to provide them with appropriate experimental conditions OR Find ways around these challenges by devising their own ingenious experiments Laws Does our belief in free will conflict with the desire to identify predictable laws of human behavior? Much human behavior is predictable due to the law of large numbers, in which in a large population random variations tend to cancel one another out Laws in the human sciences are basically probabilistic in nature (though laws in the physical sciences probably are, too) Laws, con’td Nevertheless, the human sciences do not have a strong record as far as predictions are concerned Are human scientists uncovering mere trends, or actual laws? Human scientists may also sometimes be confusing the correlation of two different variables with causation Real-world situations are complex; often a large number of “causes” are combined Human vs. Physical Sciences Human sciences generally held in lower esteem than the physical sciences due to their lack of explanatory power Reductionism – the position that things can be understood by breaking them down into their constituent parts Holism – the position that things are better understood as a whole, since they are greater than the sum of their individual parts The physical sciences are basically reductionist, whereas the human sciences facilitate more holistic study It is likely that both positions are needed Verstehen German for ‘understanding’ Some human scientists argue that the role of the human sciences is purely to understand the meaning of various social practices from the inside out, rather than to explain and predict Context is important here, making the discover of some universal law unfeasible This approach fails to account for universals such as gossiping, joking, etc. Furthermore, people do not always have a full understanding of their own situation as the many unintended consequences of our actions attest Are the human sciences more prone to bias than the physical sciences are? Confirmation bias – only looking for evidence than confirms our pre-existing prejudices while ignoring evidence that contradicts them – is present in both Good human scientists, like good physical scientists, actively seek out disconfirming evidence so as not to succumb to this bias Human scientists do sometimes run the risk of “going native” and becoming too emotionally attached to the people that they are studying Reference van de Lagemaat, R. (2011). Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.