The Flight from Reality in the Human Sciences

Princeton University Press
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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.

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About the author

Ian Shapiro is the Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University, where he also serves as Henry R. Luce Director of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies. Among his many books are Containment [Princeton], The State of Democratic Theory and, with Michael J. Graetz, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth (Princeton); and The Moral Foundations of Politics.
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Additional Information

Princeton University Press
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Published on
Feb 9, 2009
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Education / Higher
Education / Philosophy, Theory & Social Aspects
Social Science / General
Social Science / Research
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In this powerfully argued book, Ian Shapiro shows that the idea of containment offers the best hope for protecting Americans and their democracy into the future. His bold vision for American security in the post-September 11 world is reminiscent of George Kennan's historic "Long Telegram," in which the containment strategy that won the Cold War was first developed.

The Bush Doctrine of preemptive war and unilateral action has been marked by incompetence--missed opportunities to capture Osama bin Laden, failures of postwar planning for Iraq, and lack of an exit strategy. But Shapiro contends that the problems run deeper. He explains how the Bush Doctrine departs from the best traditions of American national-security policy and accepted international norms, and renders Americans and democratic values less safe. He debunks the belief that containment is obsolete. Terror networks might be elusive, but the enabling states that make them dangerous can be contained. Shapiro defends containment against charges of appeasement, arguing that force against a direct threat will be needed. He outlines new approaches to intelligence, finance, allies, diplomacy, and international institutions. He explains why containment is the best alternative to a misguided agenda that naively assumes democratic regime change is possible from the barrel of an American gun.

President Bush has defined the War on Terror as the decisive ideological struggle of our time. Shapiro shows what a self-defeating mistake that is. He sets out a viable alternative that offers real security to Americans, reclaims America's international stature, and promotes democracy around the world.

In this book Ian Shapiro develops and extends arguments that have established him as one of today's leading democratic theorists. Shapiro is hardheaded about the realities of politics and power, and the difficulties of fighting injustice and oppression. Yet he makes a compelling case that democracy's legitimacy depends on pressing it into the service of resisting domination, and that democratic theorists must rise to the occasion of fashioning the necessary tools. That vital agenda motivates the arguments of this book.

Tracing modern democracy's roots to John Locke and the American founders, Shapiro shows that they saw more deeply into the dynamics of democratic politics than have many of their successors. Drawing on Lockean and Madisonian insights, Shapiro evaluates democracy's changing global fortunes over the past two decades. He also shows how elusive democracy can be by exploring the contrast between its successful establishment in South Africa and its failures elsewhere--particularly the Middle East. Shapiro spells out the implications of his account for long-standing debates about public opinion, judicial review, abortion, and inherited wealth--as well as more recent preoccupations with globalization, national security, and international terrorism.

Scholars, students, and democratic activists will all learn from Shapiro's trenchant account of democracy's foundations, its history, and its contemporary challenges. They will also find his distinctive democratic vision both illuminating and appealing.

A state-of-the-art meditation on relations, theoretical and practical, among a familiar triad of themes: comunitarianism, liberalism, and democracy.
--American Political Science Review

A collection of distinguished contributors, from a wide range of disciplines, examine the implications of the resurgence of interest in community. The chapters in Democratic Community consider the fundamental issues that divide liberals and communitarians, as well as the structure of communities, the roles of freedom and democratic institutions in sustaining one another, the place of a democratic civil society in a democratic polity, and the contributions of feminist thinking.

This thirty-fifth volume in the American Society of Political and Legal Philosophy series is devoted, as is each volume in the series, to a single topic-- in this case, the implications for human nature and democratic theory of the resurgence of interest in community. Democratic Community deals not only with fundamental issues that divide liberals and communitarians, but is also concerned with the structure of communities, the roles of freedom and democratic institutions in sustaining one another, the place of a democratic civil society in a democratic polity, and the contributions of feminist thinking to the great debate. The collection of distinguished contributors, from a wide range of disciplines, includes: Richard J. Arneson (University of California, San Diego), Jean Baechler (University of Paris, Sorbonne), Christopher J. Berry (University of Glasgow), Robert A. Dahl (Yale University), Martin P. Golding (Duke University), Carol C. Gould (Stevens Institute of Technology), Amy Gutmann (Princeton University), Jane Mansbridge (Northwestern University), Kenneth Minogue (London School of Economics), Robert C. Post (University of California, Berkeley), David A. J. Richards (New York University), Gerald N. Rosenberg (University of Chicago), Bruce K. Rutherford (Yale University), Alan Ryan (Princeton University), and Carmen Sirianni (Brandeis University).

With 16 original essays all published here for the first time, Theory and Practice focuses on the relationship between philosophical tradition and everyday life in the Western tradition. In this comprehensive volume, Ian Shapiro and Judith Wagner DeCew have gathered contributions from some of the most influential thinkers of our generation including Cass Sunnstein, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Martha Nussbaum, Jeremy Waldron, and Kent Greenwalt.

What are the relations between philosophical theories and everyday life? This question, as old as it is profound, is the central focus of Theory and Practice. The contributors include some of the most influential thinkers of our generation, among them Cass Sunnstein, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Martha Nessbaum, Jeremy Waldron, and Kent Greenwalt. In sixteen chapters--all published here for the first time—the authors examine major attempts to reconcile theory with practice in the Western tradition from Herodotus, Plato, and Aristotle to Kant and Heidegger.

Considerable attention is devoted to the role of theory in judicial decision-making, debates between defenders of the value of pure theory and those who argue for the priority of practice, the political implications of theory, practical problems such as global warming, and the theoretical commitments of practitioners from Karl Marx to Vaclav Havel. One of the most expansive volumes in the NOMOS series to date, Theory and Practice will be of interest to philosophers, lawyers, and social scientists from a wide range of disciplines.

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