Cause, Teleology, and Method

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This chapter discusses the reformulation of the ideas of cause and teleology before and during the period of John Stuart Mill and Auguste Comte, and its aftermath, up to the twentieth century in the thinking of founding figures of disciplinary social science. Methodological writings on social science set out from the traditional tenets of natural law theory, a teleological or purposive mode of theorizing about the social world. Comte's struggle against teleology included many attempts to absorb and explain, in nonteleological terms, the phenomena that the defenders of teleology held to be proof positive of the ineliminability of purposes. Some important thinkers of the next period, such as Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim, are in the end difficult to classify. Both vigorously rejected teleology, but both employed many terms used by teleologists and suggested that they could be understood causally. Max Weber, whose significance in German thought was comparable to Durkheim's in France, provided a critique and synthesis of ideas.

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Cause, Teleology, and Method, in T. M. Porter & D. Ross (Eds.), The Cambridge History of Science, Cambridge University Press, p. 57-70