Study/Discussion Questions on Sensat, "Methodological Individualism and Marxism"

Some crucial points to get clear on:

1. What is the difference between the "ontological" and the "ideological" content of methodological individualism?

2. What is it for one set of statements to "supervene" on another?

Discussion questions:

1. Sensat distinguishes between the "theoretical basis" of methodological individualism and its "regulative authority". What is he talking about? Is it possible to accept the theoretical basis of methodological individualism and to favor non-individualist social theories and explanations?

2. Sensat discusses four "ideological constraints": psychologism, generality, cardinality, and asocialism. What are each of these constraints? In the case of generality and cardinality the connection to individualism is not obvious. How are these constraints relevant to methodological individualism?

3. On pp. 198-99, Sensat mentions that contemporary work in the philosophy of language might undermine methodological individualism. Though we probably will not have time to go into these issues, can you restate the problem?

4. Hiliary Putnam points out that a microphysical reduction apparently does not enhance our explanation of why a square peg will not fit into a round hole. How do considerations such as these bear on the argument for methodological individualism (201-3)?

5. Are those who maintain that the relationships between claims about social entities and properties and claims about individual entities and properties is one of supervience really individualists? (See particularly p. 202.)

6. On pp. 210-212, Sensat discusses a criticism of individualism that Marx makes. What is that criticism? Is it a good one? Does it refute methodological individualism?

7. In contemporary work in macroeconomics, most economists construct models in which features of the economy result from the rational choices of a single "representative agent." Indeed many economists refuse even to consider models unless their conclusions can be linked to the choices of a representative agent. Is this methodological constraint an instance of methodological individualism? Is this constraint justified?