The Debate Between Methodological Individualism And Holism

2153 words - 9 pages

Explain and evaluate the debate between methodological individualism and holism. Introduction
The explanatory variants of MI and holism are likely to be interdependent; both individualists and holists contribute meaningfully to the nature of social explanations. MI states that social phenomena are fully explained only when there is reference to the behaviour and action of individuals. Holism states that it is the study of collective forces, groups, and organisations that dictates the explanation of social phenomena . ‘Dictates’ implies that all social entities and theories in the world may not be reducible to individualist explanations; for example, the study of individual behaviour in Schelling’s neighbourhood segregation model may not be explained from a holist’s perspective, because the model can be reducible to individualist explanations, namely ‘individual innocuous preferences for like neighbours leads to complete segregation’. Additionally, social facts are ‘things’ that exist independently in and of themselves, irrespective of individuals’ actions.
I contest that proponents of MI and holism conventionally present some or all of the following three arguments, of which I will refute individually. Notably, I only propose that the explanatory variants of MI and holism are both useful and can be employed symbiotically, and not that either MI or holism are superior to its counterpart. While the latter may logically follow from my refutation of the proceeding arguments, this is fallacious, because there are alternative theories such as functionalism and structuralism, whereby there is an attempt to strike a middle ground between the extremes of MI and holism. Since the superiority of either MI or holism is not a logical consequence, further justification is required; limited space restricts me from arguing for the superiority of either MI or holism.

Reducibility of Individualism
The first argument is an ontological justification of MI, whereby MI works because individuals are driven by one’s nature, behaviour, and impulses; there are no social entities that have a nature of their own, and hence it is individuals and their properties that construct social entities. J. W. N. Watkins believes that ‘rock-bottom explanations’ about social phenomena are rejected unless such explanations accounts for a first-order understanding of the phenomenon, where one ‘deduce[s] an account… about the interrelations and situations of individuals’ . For instance, when the young woman Kitty Genovese was raped and murdered in the early morning of March 13, 1964, thirty-eight bystanders—although Stein will argue that due to time and informational constraints, only two bystanders could realistically assist Genovese’—failed to intervene until the murderer had left and Genovese had died. Whilst this murder case reflects widespread societal apathy and indifference, such phenomena cannot arguably be analysed in depth without...

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