Philosophy of social science is not widely considered a crucial or even indispensable implement in the toolbox of practicing sociologists, economists, political scientists, and others. Among the good reasons for this absence is the fact that much philosophy of social science is not particularly relevant for the working social scientist. It is in many cases just another highly specialized field that is only tenuously connected to the concerns of those whose practice it purports to study. The three books reviewed in this essay represent notable exceptions to this rule.
Mario Bunge is a scientist's philosopher of science. His works are not distant reflections of a philosopher who is far removed from the problems encountered by scientists in the field. Rather, in his studies, which also cover an astounding range of disciplines in the natural sciences, his approach is to describe and analyze scientific research, and identify and criticize its philosophical presuppositions. See Bunge's Philosophy of Physics (Dordrecht: Riedel, 1973); with Martin Mahner, Foundations of Biophilosophy (Berlin/Heidelberg/New York: Springer, 1997); with Ruben Ardila, Philosophy of Psychology (New York: Springer, 1987). Unlike most philosophers of science, he works from the "inside Out," taking as his point of departure the practice and problems of the disciplines he investigates.
At the same time, however, Bunge is also a philosopher's philosopher of social science. His eight-volume Treatise on Basic Philosophy, (published between 1974 and 1989 by Reidel) his early work on causality; his later work on Scientific Materialism and The Mind-Body Problem, taken together constitute perhaps the most comprehensive and systematic philosophy of the twentieth century Bunge's philosophical mission is to help restore the unity of knowledge in an age when much of academic philosophy is divorced from the sciences, or has even turned against them, and when the unity of the sciences is threatened from within by their fast-paced growth and increasing specialization. In Bunge's work, philosophy and science are part of the same project, and it is this that makes his philosophy of science of such general significance for the working scientist.
Bunge's forays into the social sciences in the three books reviewed here should be placed in this larger context. Finding Philosophy in Social Science is a systematic application of his general philosophy of …