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The value-oriented bias of social society

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Is social inquiry always value-oriented?

  • In how far does value-free social inquiry exist
    • Exploration of the bias of social inquiry in this respect


It is “absurd to expect the social sciences to exhibit the unanimity common among natural scientists concerning what are the established facts and satisfactory explanations for them” (Nagel, 1994, p.571)


  • Argument 1: things a scientist selects for his study are determined by his conception of what are socially important values => method for the selection of problems
    • The orientation towards values is always inherent when choosing material for investigation
    • Example: Culture = value concept when its meaningfulness to become an object of investigation is determined
    • The social scientist mainly pays attention to matters he finds important because of their relevance to his cultural values in the process of investigation
      • The interest of a scientist determines what he selects for his inquiry
      • However, the inquiry itself is still objectively controlled
  • Argument 2: the social scientist is always affected by considerations of right or wrong, his own notion of what is a good social order and his personal standard for judging society (Nagel, 1994, p.571/572) => he determines the contents of the conclusion
    • Relative standards (ends sought, standards employed)
    • absolute standards (evaluation of the end result only)
    • Social science has a strong inclination towards moral and reform as “disguised recommendations of social reform” (Nagel, 1994, p.573)

 Importance of own values when doing social research is undeniable => prevention if emotional attachment not easy => automatic influence of personal values into social inquiry

    • The means for achieving the anticipated result of the inquiry are always value influenced
    • Possibility of the elimination of the bias through invention, exchange, criticism, competition
    • Only those conclusions that survive critical examination and receive common acceptance survive

 reliable knowledge of human affairs is not attainable because it is always value-oriented

  • Argument 3: distinction between facts and values is not completely possible when analyzing human behavior => question of how to identify the relevant objective facts from those influenced by values

 Ethical neutral science is impossible because of a fusion of facts and values in the course of social inquiry

    • Need for a complete understanding of the examined field but always attachment of values to end and means

 Two understandings of value judgment

    • Approval/disapproval => appraising judgments
    • Estimation => characterizing judgments, evaluation of the evidence

 Social sciences and natural sciences both are composed of a description and a value-judgment

  • Argument 4: value-free social science is not possible because values always enter the assessment of the evidence (Nagel, 1994, p. 578)
    • Determination of what is satisfactory evidence differs between scientists depending on their personal standards
    • Example: Hypothesis-testing and its mistakes => What risk is the scientist willing to take with his decision to reject or accept a hypothesis? What is more important to him personally?
      • Value commitments always enter the rules for assessing the evidence of a statistical hypothesis (Nagel, 1994, p.580)
    • Hegel: dialectic nature of human history => logical connection perspective and standards
      • The perspective of the scientist and widely accepted standards for assessing human behavior both enter the social inquiry
      • “though ‘absolute objective’ knowledge of human affairs is unattainable, a ‘relational’ form of objectivity called ‘relationism’ can nevertheless be achieved” (Nagel, 1994, p.582) => But how does relational objectivity differ from the normal one?


  • Complete objectivity: impossible in social science => conclusions in social sciences never objectively establish what they simulate to (Nagel, 1994, p.582)
  • Importance to pay attention to practical difficulties encountered in these disciplines

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