Quality & Quantity 37: 135–150, 2003.
© 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Social Scientiﬁc Explanations?
On Quine’s Legacy and Contextual Fallacies
and WILLEM J. SCHEPER
Department of Innovation Studies;
Department of Computer Science, Utrecht University, P.O.
Box 80125, 2508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands
Abstract. Generally valid scientiﬁc explanations of observable social phenomena are still hardly
available. By applying philosophical insights generated by Quine and derived from semiotics to
social research methodology three kinds of context dependencies accompanying theory formation
within social science are identiﬁed. The third context dependency is mostly not attended in theory
formation about social phenomena thereby producing a “connotation fallacy”, which leaves almost
all social theories undetermined and fallible. These context dependencies should be taken into ac-
count in the research design and be tested for using statistical criteria comprising a new methodology
presented in this article.
Key words: scientiﬁc explanation, validity criteria, context dependencies
Depending on the circumstances and situations wherein they are observed, social
phenomena have multiple empirical appearances. This multiplicity has stimulated
the development of different disciplines within social science. For example, psy-
chology studies criminal behavior as, among others, a typical form of deviant
behavior. Within sociology such behavior may be investigated as the result of the
prevailing income distribution within society, whereas economics conceptualizes
criminal behavior as a problem of costs and revenues in monetary terms. So,
the object of social scientiﬁc research, i.e., the behavior of human beings within
their social (and natural) environment, has been fragmented into disciplinary ob-
jects of research during the scientiﬁc quest for explanations.
The consequence of
this fragmentation is that the disciplinary explanatory models contain only partial
explanations of observable social phenomena. In order to restore this fragmenta-
tion, interdisciplinary approaches in social scientiﬁc research have been advocated.
Analysis of these approaches demonstrated that interdisciplinary social science
should rest on psychological theories of observable elementary social phenomena.
Furthermore, it was concluded that a comprehensive and empirically valid psy-
Author for correspondence: Department of Innovation Studies, Utrecht University, P.O. Box
80135, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands.