Winch Peter(1926-97) British philosopher, in the analytic tradition of WITTGENSTEIN, who has written primarily in moral philosophy, and, early in his career, on the philosophy of social science. His early contributions, notably The Idea of a Social Science (1958), have been enormously influential. Winch attacked the dominant form of sociology, which was a broadly positivist and functionalist one, arguing that fundamental investigations of social life must be philosophical (and ethical) rather than aping the natural sciences. For Winch social action is a matter of following (and breaking) the rules and conventions which underlie the meanings of actions, and which can be grasped or ‘understood’ by sociologists (see also RULES AND RULE FOLLOWING). Winch wanted specifically to exclude causation’ (in the sense of‘constant conjunction’ in David HUME's theory of causality). Social life, he suggested, is more like the unfolding of discourse than of chains of causation. He argued that the heart of philosophy – EPISTEMOLOGY – rests on rules and conventions (Wittgenstein's FORMS OF LIFE) and that philosophical and sociological investigations are therefore inseparable. His insistence on the variety of ways of living, each with a differently based epistemology also seemed to result in the notion of‘truth’ being ‘relativized’ leading Winch to be regarded as a social and cognitive relativist. The refutation of Winch's arguments has been attempted by many. The most successful have challenged his Humean notion of science, arguing that a logical line cannot be drawn between ‘causal’ science and non-science, and that ‘forms of life’ cannot finally be circumscribed in the way that Winch suggests.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000