Instructions

The passage below is accompanied by a set of questions. Choose the best answer to each question.

We begin with the emergence of the philosophy of the social sciences as an arena of thought and as a set of social institutions. The two characterisations overlap but are not congruent. Academic disciplines are social institutions. . . . My view is that institutions are all those social entities that organise action: they link acting individuals into social structures. There are various kinds of institutions. Hegelians and Marxists emphasise universal institutions such as the family, rituals, governance, economy and the military. These are mostly institutions that just grew. Perhaps in some imaginary beginning of time they spontaneously appeared. In their present incarnations, however, they are very much the product of conscious attempts to mould and plan them. We have family law, established and disestablished churches, constitutions and laws, including those governing the economy and the military. Institutions deriving from statute, like joint-stock companies are formal by contrast with informal ones such as friendships. There are some institutions that come in both informal and formal variants, as well as in mixed ones. Consider the fact that the stock exchange and the black market are both market institutions, one formal one not. Consider further that there are many features of the work of the stock exchange that rely on informal, noncodifiable agreements, not least the language used for communication. To be precise, mixtures are the norm . . . From constitutions at the top to by-laws near the bottom we are always adding to, or tinkering with, earlier institutions, the grown and the designed are intertwined.

It is usual in social thought to treat culture and tradition as different from, although alongside, institutions. The view taken here is different. Culture and tradition are sub-sets of institutions analytically isolated for explanatory or expository purposes. Some social scientists have taken all institutions, even purely local ones, to be entities that satisfy basic human needs - under local conditions . . . Others differed and declared any structure of reciprocal roles and norms an institution. Most of these differences are differences of emphasis rather than disagreements. Let us straddle all these versions and present institutions very generally . . . as structures that serve to coordinate the actions of individuals. . . . Institutions themselves then have no aims or purpose other than those given to them by actors or used by actors to explain them . . .

Language is the formative institution for social life and for science . . . Both formal and informal language is involved, naturally grown or designed. (Language is all of these to varying degrees.) Languages are paradigms of institutions or, from another perspective, nested sets of institutions. Syntax, semantics, lexicon and alphabet/character-set are all institutions within the larger institutional framework of a written language. Natural languages are typical examples of what Ferguson called ‘the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design’[;] reformed natural languages and artificial languages introduce design into their modifications or refinements of natural language. Above all, languages are paradigms of institutional tools that function to coordinate.

Question 12

Which of the following statements best represents the essence of the passage?

Solution

The passage discusses the concept of institutions within the philosophy of the social sciences. Institutions are seen as structures that coordinate the actions of individuals and can be either formal or informal; in this regard, the author discusses various types of institutions, including universal institutions, formal institutions, and informal institutions. The author also argues that culture and tradition can be seen as subsets of institutions, and that language is a particularly important institution that shapes social life and science. The author notes that there can be differences in the way that institutions are understood and emphasized by different social scientists but that these differences are often matters of emphasis rather than fundamental disagreements. Primarily, the passage underlines that these institutions are structures that coordinate the actions of individuals. Option D best captures the essence of the abovementioned elements. 

Option A is incorrect because it only partially reflects what the author says about culture and tradition. While the author does discuss culture and tradition in relation to institutions, they are not treated as being completely separate from institutions. Instead, the author argues that culture and tradition can be seen as subsets of institutions, meaning they are part of institutions rather than completely separate from them. Option B exaggerates the emphasis the author places on language as an institution. While the author does discuss language as an important institution, he does not suggest that it is the only or even the most fundamental institution. Option C, while true, does not capture the main focus of the passage, which is on the concept of institutions in general rather than on specific examples of institutions.

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