Human science faces serious fragmentation

After more than 50 years of studying economics, psychology, sociology and philosophy I have drawn the conclusion that our scientific study of human behaviour takes place in a dramatically inefficient way. If we continue this way, we will never keep pace with the bèta-sciences. This imbalance might work out very negatively for our societies. Many specialisations have come up, all developing strong vested interests. Most of them are not based on a well-grounded general analysis. Economics has reached a deadlock now; the crisis 2008 and the subsequent policy reactions illustrate this nicely. Sociology and psychology have never been able to take over the dominant position of economics.The opinion pages in the important daily journals show that every problem has its own experts, who all analyse ‘their’ problem in isolation. It unavoidably leads to a negation of other important interests and values.

A radical change is needed
The beginning of a radical change may start with the introduction of a pluralist course on philosophy of science. In this way students are offered a series of languages, by means of which scientists can communicate with each other. Universities should offer this course to the freshmen in the very first weeks of their study: “Welcome to the University: this is science”.

After a thorough study of a series of different perspectives in economics, I have made a (methodological) tour through psychology, sociology and philosophy. My conclusions were:

Philosophy is the logical beginning of science: thinking about the phenomena ‘human’ and ‘nature’, about human experiences, while introspection and empirical observation are the principal sources of knowledge. When philosophy stops, other sciences must go on, making more specified analyses, formulating more specified theories, and test them empirically, if the expert considers his theoretical constructure being quite realistic.

Economists have made an analysis of the economic aspect of human behaviour, thereby leaving the two other aspects, namely the psychic and the social aspect, to psychology and sociology, respectively.

Economic imperialism
Psychology is assumed to analyse the logic of the psyche, and sociology is supposed to do the same with social logic. Economists have never waited for the results of the two other disciplines. From the very beginning they have used their aspect-analysis as the theoretical foundation for their empirical research. They have claimed the economy as their ‘property’, and other disciplines should ‘occupy’ their own empirical fields. Later some of these economists entered other areas, and have claimed superiority in explaining human behaviour (‘economic imperialism’): ‘we don’t need disciplines such as business administration, pubic administration, and political science’.

The use of  an analysis of the economic aspect as the theoretical foundation for the analysis of the societal subsystem ‘economy’, is the most serious mistake made in the history of economics. Until today nobody has offered an alternative. Keizer (2015) is a first attempt to bridge the gap between theory under the ceteris paribus clause (‘other conditions are given’) on the one hand and real-world theory on the other hand. In the textbooks of today this major difference is not discussed at all.

Students must study causes economic crises
Philosophy of science can help us formulate a common basis for human science. In this discipline the core questions concern the ultimate source of knowledge (epistemology), its substance (ontology), and its structure (methodology in the narrow sense). Like every scientific discipline we find different strands of philosophy being in a continuing discourse. In a democracy students must be confronted with several of them. Competition and methodological transparancy are substantial characteristics in the world of science.

Current programmes in economics, psychology and sociology are quite silent about the more profound causes of economic crises, the desintegration of modern societies and modern persons – everything is context-bound. Uncertainty and aggression are the result; in the streets as well as in the offices. Modern science reacts by further specialisation, which makes the problem even worse.

Philosophy for human sciences
We can make a start with the process of re-integration by writing a syllabus “Philosophy for human sciences”. It should be part of the freshmen programme – in the very first weeks of their study. The most important concepts should be taught. A series of duals, which are often misunderstood are the following: analysis and theory (1), theory and the empirical world (2), deduction and induction (3), holism and reductionism (4), mind and body (5), atom and molecule, or individual and group (6),  ontology and epistemology (7), micro- and macro approach (8), structure and culture and agency (9), paradigm and ‘reality’ (10), mechanism and organism (11), closed and open sysyem (12) aspect-system and subsystem (13), a priori and a posteriori analysis (14), logic and history (15), form and content (16). This course can only be given to freshmen, if everything is illustrated by very explicitly formulated examples.

Rectores, it is up to you
After such a general course, every discipline can make his own subsequent syllabus. Ideally every course should start with an exposition of its methodological characteristics – also disciplines such as logic, mathematics and statistics.

The council of Rectores Magnifici – assumed that this organ does exist - must play an important role in the introduction of such a philosophical course. All Rectores should promote this idea in their university, and find out whether the beta-sciences are interested in participation in this project. Pluralism is key for success. Science can only flourish if critics of mainstream currents are not ignored in the programmes. Therefore many relevant paradigms should be discussed thoroughly, so as to make the students multi-lingual. Rectores, it is up to you.