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Social Research Theorists


Explanations > Social Research > Social Research Theorists


Methods and philosophies of social research are based on the practice and writings of key theorists and philosophers who have influenced the approaches to looking into people and the way they live. Of course there have been many great and good people in this field. This is just a few.

In chronological order of birth:



Key ideas

Associated philosophies

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) Distinguished between memory, imagination, and reason.

Key text: Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning Divine and Humane (1605)

René Descartes (1596-1650) Challenge of knowledge based on authority, sense and reason.

Key text: A Discourse of a Method for the Wel-guiding of Reason, and the Discovery of Truth in Sciences (1649)




John Locke (1632-1704) Metaphysics is meaningless. All knowledge comes from experience.

Key text: Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)



David Hume (1711-1776) Strict approach. Challenged empiricist use of values.

Key text: Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1784)

Denis Diderot (1713-1784) Philosophe - group who sought truth.

Key text: Encyclopdie (1751)



Georg Hegel (1770-1831) The finite world is a reflection of the mind.

Key text: Wissenschaft der Logik (Science of Logic) (1812-16)

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) We create metaphysical theories first that we empirically test later.

Key text: the Kritik der reinen Vernunft (The Critique of Pure Reason) (1781)

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) People seek optimum happiness: 'felcific calculus'.

Key text: An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789)

Auguste Comte (1798-1857) Systems of knowledge should stick to what can be experienced and measured.

Key text: Cours de philosophie positive (1830-42)

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) People seek optimum happiness.

Key text: Utilitarianism (1861)

Samuel George Morton Measured skull volume with lead shot to 'prove' differences in intelligence of races.

Key text: Crania Americana (1839)

John Knox Race as foundation of culture, literature, art.

Key text: The inequality of the human races (1854)

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) Used positivism and 'greater good' of utility to justify inequality in industrial revolution and empire. Utilitarianism
Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) First psychology lab (Leipzig, 1879) Neo-Kantianism
Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) Associated physical features with criminal tendencies.

Key text: L'Uomo Delinquente (1911)

Standard Positivism
Carl Menger (1840-1921) Methodological individualism. Focus on individual decision-makers (Microeconomics). Key text: Problems of Economics and Sociology (1883) Neo-Kantianism
Wilhelm Windleband (1848-1915) Nomothetic vs. idiographic thought (universalism vs. particularism). Key text: Hisotry and Natural Science (1894) Neo-Kantianism
Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) Each discipline has distinct objects of analysis. Empirical study yields facts. Progress is not guaranteed. Studied suicides. Founded French sociology.

Key text: The Rules of Sociological Method (1995)

Heinrich Rickert (1863-1936) Criticism of Positivism in social research. Neo-Kantianism
Richard Von Mises (1883-1953) Mathematician who attempted to establish a nomothetic science of human action.

Key text: Positivism: A Study in Human Understanding (1951)

Logical Positivism


Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) We are both separate and a part of the world.

Key text: Sein und Zeit (Being and Time, 1962)

Hermeneutics, Phenomenology, Existentialism
Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) Seek uninterpreted basic experience.

Key text: Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations) (1900-01)

Max Weber (1864-1920) Unifying disciplines. Ideal type.  
Cyril Burt (1883-1971) Linked criminality with hereditary factors.

Key text: The Young Delinquent (1925)

Standard Positivism
Rudolph Carnap (1891-1970) Physicalism: one language for the one physical set of things to study.

Key text: The Unity of Science (1932)

Logical Positivism
Alfred Schűtz (1899-1959) Seeing things as 'the Stranger'. Postulate of Adequacy (link experience to knowledge). Empiricism
Karl Popper (1902-1992) Prove theories through falsification.

Logik der Forschung (1934), The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959)

Critical Rationalism
Oskar Morgenstern (1902-1977) Applied game theory to business competition.

Key text: Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (1944) (with von Neumann)

Game Theory
John von Neumann (1903-1957) Multi-disciplinary scientist. Invented game theory and minimax situation (minimising maximum loss).

Key text: Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (1944) (with Morgenstern)

Game Theory
Carl Hempel (1905-1997) Deduction as approach to finding likely laws (which are then tested). Standard Positivism
Ferdinand de Saussure (1913-1987) Semiotics, the variable meaning of words in language.

Key text: Course in General Linguistics (1916)

Roland Barthes (1915-1980) Denotation (simple meaning) and connotation (deep and cultural meaning).

Key text: Mythologies (1973)

Hans Eysenck (1916-1997) Used IQ tests to show white Americans as more intelligent than African Americans. Key text: Intelligence and Education (1971) Standard Positivism
Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) Science progresses in fits and starts between paradigms.

Key text: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962)

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) Discourse as regulation of meaning. Classifying people by the principle of exclusion, such as sane and insane.

Key text: Madness and Civilisation (1961)

Paul Feyerabend Science is messy and discontinuous. Don't throw out ideas because they don't fit.

Key text: Against Method (1975)

Lakatos Popper is viewed too simply. Conventionalism
Jaques Derrida (1930-) Philosophy is useless. We understand through language. Deconstructionist. Linguistics


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