Foundations of “new” social science: Institutional legitimacy from philosophy, complexity science, postmodernism, and agent-based modeling
Since the death of positivism in the 1970s, philosophers have turned their attention to scientific realism, evolutionary epistemology, and the Semantic Conception of Theories. Building on these trends, Campbellian Realism allows social scientists to accept real-world phenomena as criterion variables against which theories may be tested without denying the reality of individual interpretation and social construction. The Semantic Conception reduces the importance of axioms, but reaffirms the role of models and experiments. Philosophers now see models as “autonomous agents” that exert independent influence on the development of a science, in addition to theory and data. The inappropriate molding effects of math models on social behavior modeling are noted. Complexity science offers a “new” normal science epistemology focusing on order creation by self-organizing heterogeneous agents and agent-based models. The more responsible core of postmodernism builds on the idea that agents operate in a constantly changing web of interconnections among other agents. The connectionist agent-based models of complexity science draw on the same conception of social ontology as do postmodernists. These recent developments combine to provide foundations for a “new” social science centered on formal modeling not requiring the mathematical assumptions of agent homogeneity and equilibrium conditions. They give this “new” social science legitimacy in scientific circles that current social science approaches lack.