Reasoned criticism is the life-blood of any scholarly discipline. Most people, whatever their level of commitment to their intellectual endeavours, probably find it easier to provide criticism rather than to receive it. But everyone working in an academic milieu must be prepared to be the subject of critique as well as offering critical appraisals of the writings of others. Of course, criticism can be shrill and dismissive, in which case it may very easily block rather than further the debates upon which the evaluation of ideas depend. I am fortunate indeed that all the contributors to this volume have produced critical assessments of my writings which, hard-hitting though some of them are, form positive contributions to discussion of the position and prospects of the social sciences. Few authors are privileged enough to be the subject of such sympathetic, yet exhaustive, examination from their critics, and I am grateful to all of the contributors for the diligence with which they have pursued their inquiries. I hope I can respond with the same degree of competence and seriousness of intent which they have displayed.
The chapters of this book range over many issues, and raise a diversity of objections to my views. If I were to reply to every point made, the result would inevitably be a quite superficial survey – or would result in a work as long as all the chapters put together. Instead of adopting such a tactic, I shall concentrate upon themes which one or more contributors have made central to their papers, and try to deal in at least some depth with the major questions posed.
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