With the world of social science, there are many different ways for one to understand the people who make up that world. Social scientists spend tremendous time breaking down their own theories so they can gain a better and fuller understanding of the issues at hand. With this in mind, a few dominant theories have emerged. Among them are naturalism and interpretationalism. These two theories are somewhat different and propose a different way of both questioning and understanding the subjects who will make up the social scientific inquiries. Interpretationalism suggests that through the process of interpretation—or transcribing a person’s attitudes—much can come to be understood about that person. Under this formulation, it is the interpretation itself that becomes most important for understanding the thing that is being interpreted. Naturalism, on the other hand, is a term that describes the infusion of natural science with the world of social science. Following some of the scientific discovery that took place in the 17th Century, people wanted to then apply the rules of the natural world to social science. From this, naturalism was born, and it is a general term that applies to the sense that natural science can govern the social world and explain the behaviors of human beings, just as it can explain physical phenomena. There is one central difference between the two that makes interpretationalism less useful as a theory. Interpretationalism asserts that the human mind is not necessarily governed by the rules of natural science, and this has turned out to be less and less true the long social science has gone on.
Interpretationalism believes that one can understand more about the speech from the way it is transcribed and interpreted. The focus then is put on the interpreted himself rather than on the speaker. The rules are relatively clear in that regard. There are some important insights baked into this theory. Namely, the idea that being interpretable, or capable of being interpreted, is a necessary component to having an idea and possessing it. This means that one can understand the interpretation and the belief in the same way because the interpretation is of such a nature that it demands the possession of an attitude or belief. However, the theory goes one step farther. It asserts that the fact that a person’s attitude can be interpreted means that the person must hold it. When looking at this theory, one sees a simple structural problem that must not be ignored. Namely, interpretationalism sees the human mind as being static and stuck in space. It is a single entity that is not moving, and once people hold an idea, they are thought to possess it in the same way that one can possess any object. This seems to exclude the reality of how the human mind works. Namely, that ideas are not necessarily suspended in time or space. They are instead amorphous, moving targets that will change over time according to various environmental considerations. To the extent that interpretationalism tends to provide a sense that one can extract a specific attitude or belief at a specific time, it does not see the human mind as moving and evolving as some might otherwise see it.
Naturalism, on the other hand, is a concept that the rules of the natural or physical world can be applied to the world of social science. If there are insights that allow one to understand how the galaxy exists and operates, for instance, then human beings, their thoughts, their beliefs, and their relations must be governed by a similar set of rules. Where this particular theory shines in comparison to interpretationalism is that it sees the brain and mind as being scientific entities. While interpretationalism does not see the human mind as being scientific, naturalism believes that the mind, however complex and amorphous, can be explained in some ways by science. This has proven to be correct over time, as more and more becomes known about people and why they make their decisions. It has become apparent that people make decisions not because of anything mystical and hokey, but rather, because of the ways in which their past experiences tend to influence their current interactions. One of the things that confirms this way of thinking is the discipline of psychology. The belief that the way people interact is shaped by their past traumas and past conditioning is something that suggests the natural rules of science can be applied to the mind and to human interactions just as it can be applied to experiments involving sunlight and plants. While many do not want to believe that the mind can be governed by these rules because they seek to understand the mind as being unbound by constraints, social science is affirmed when the mind is understood in a more scientific way.
Ultimately naturalism and interpretationalism both provide a means of understanding the social world. They both have merit and ensure that people can understand how and why the world operates. However, naturalism and interpretationalism also have significant differences in the way they must be understood. Naturalism is a better theory because it has proven to be correct more often than not. It stresses order by trying to apply a specific set of rules to a social world that may seem hectic and chaotic at times. Still, the social world needs this order, and thus, naturalism is the better theory that tends to have more applicability.