Language, Form, and Inquiry: Arthur F. Bentley's Philosophy of Social Science

Ward, James F.

Arthur F. Bentley has an honored, if misunderstood, place in the history of American academic political science, but his true stature as a philosopher of social science has never been properly recognized. In this study I propose to recover Bentley's teaching through a critical examination of his work as a whole and to present his views as accurately as possible. I do not speak for myself or present my own views on most of the issues with which his work is concerned. Moreover, I do not suggest that social science should be reoriented along Bentleyan lines. My belief that his views merit patient study and serious consideration does not entail their advocacy. Rather, I mean to clarify the central issues in Bentley's work and to explore his teaching on its own terms. I do not claim to know better than Bentley what social science should be and I have not attempted to correct his mistakes in the light of some superior teaching. This does not mean that he is beyond criticism or that his enterprise was successful. As I see it, the only proper basis for such assessments must be a correct account of his teaching. This study is not the last word on Bentley or on the basic problems of social science. I am not convinced that all philosophical issues in social science can or must be addressed through the study of Bentley. Recognition of the limits of his enterprise is as necessary to an adequate grasp of it as recognition of his own intentions

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