The Question of a Priori Knowledge in the Social Sciences : The Points of View of Simiand, Mises, and Simmel

Christian Robitaille

Table of Contents


Contemporary social sciences have abandoned the quest for true, non-relativistic, a priori knowledge. On the one hand, quantitative methods and methodological positivism have by and large rejected that this type of knowledge is possible. On the other hand, qualitative methods and hermeneutical approaches, when they do not explicitly seek to obtain a posteriori knowledge, are generally characterized by the adhesion to a skeptic form of apriorism according to which the adoption of any perspective or theoretical framework is considered equally valid. This article proposes to evaluate three perspectives on the possibility of a priori knowledge in the social sciences, i.e., that of François Simiand (critique of apriorism), of Ludwig von Mises (promoter of praxeological apriorism), and of Georg Simmel (initiator of formalistic apriorism). This comparative evaluation allows to put forward the scope and limits of apriorism with respect to the acquisition of knowledge in the social sciences. It allows, in the last analysis, to restore the nobility of apriorism and to thus facilitate its eventual comeback in a form that would escape the prevailing relativism.


  • Introduction
  • I. François Simiand et la critique de la connaissance a priori
    1. 1.1. Contre le finalisme
    2. 1.2. Le problème de l’abstraction à partir d’hypothèses non-démontrées
    3. 1.3. Vers une connaissance positive de lois a posteriori ?
  • II. Ludwig von Mises, la praxéologie et l’histoire
    1. 2.1. De la nécessité du finalisme en sciences sociales
    2. 2.2. Du statut a priori de la praxéologie
    3. 2.3. De l’insuffisance de la praxéologie et du rôle de l’histoire
    4. 2.4. La thymologie comme étude historique des fins et des motivations
  • III. Georg Simmel et l’apriorisme des formes sociales
    1. 3.1. Les formes sociales
    2. 3.2. Du caractère a priori des formes culturelles
    3. 3.3. Le relativisme
    4. 3.4. Des critères présidant au choix des formes dans l’analyse sociale
    5. 3.5. De la possible cohérence entre les approches de Mises et de Simmel
  • Conclusion


Codes JEL : A14, B31, B41, B53, Y80

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