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Sociology And Science

Science is a systemized body of knowledge. An essential feature of scientific knowledge is that it is base upon sensory observation of empirical data. The information acquired through sensory observation has to be made meaningful.

Thus1 science tries to arrive at law like explanatory generalizations. For the purpose of acquiring empirical data and for processing them into law like statements science relies on method.

The basic elements of scientific method are:

Perspective of Sociology
It provides a broad view regarding the nature of reality out of which the subject matter is to be delineated.
Sociology:A Well Defined Subject Matter
It constitutes the domain of the science in which investigations have to be carried out.
Methodology of Sociology
It consists of a series of procedural steps for collection and analysis of data. The knowledge acquired with the help of the scientific method constitutes the scientific knowledge. An essential characteristic of scientific knowledge is that it is tentative in nature always subjected to empirical verification. The final test of the validity of scientific knowledge lies in its verifiability. The earliest sciences to grow were physical and natural sciences. Due to their success in exploring the physical and natural world and being able to arrive at near universal laws they came to be viewed as models for other sciences to emulate. These sciences followed methodology of observation which involved experimentation being the means for systematic and controlled observation. Comparison and classification by using the comparative method the observed data is systematically classified into different categories.

Generalizations when the data is analyzed to discover the patterns of interconnections which are presented in the form of law like one phenomenon in the preceding phenomena.

Sociology being a new subject on the horizon was also influenced and developed under the shadow of these positive sciences. The early sociologists, being under the spell of the reigning sciences of the day, took for granted that sociology was a science. According to Comte, society is created by natural laws that could be explained, just like the natural sciences. Besides, since society is an objective reality, it can be studied by applying the scientific methods, of observation, experimentation and comparison. Another 19th century sociologist, Herbert Spencer, treated sociology from the evolutionary viewpoint, that is, he was heavily indebted to the evolutionary theory of biology, a natural science. Emile Durkheim who clearly defined the field of sociology adopted a new approach. Society cannot be examined as individual entities, but as collectivities and their interactions, Social collectivity is a social fact and social facts must be regarded as things and they should be studied objectively just as in natural sciences. Moreover, Durkheim's study of society is based on statistical data, and from them he arrived at some sociological generalizations. Impressed by Durkheim, Radcliffe-Brown, a 20th century anthropologist freely advocated a natural science of society, having its own laws and explanations. It is also to be observed here that all the above thinkers adopted the evolutionary and organic analyses and concepts derived from biology.

There are some of the limitations: which come in the way of sociology being a positive science. Problem of experimentation: Experimentation is crucial in scientific observation to establish precise relationships between different variables. It is practically impossible to control human behaviour in a laboratory like situation.

Problem Of Quantification With Sociology
Although some aspects of sociological phenomena can be quantified using statistical methods. But a large part of its essentially qualitative in nature and hence are not amendable to quantitative techniques.
Problem Of Generalization With Sociology
Sociologists have not being successful in arriving at law-like generalizations through their studies. Human behavior does not follow recurrent patterns like physical objects. At best sociologists can establish statistical correlations. Problem of objectivity: Objectivity refers to a frame of mind whereby the personal prejudices and predilections of the scientists do not affect the collection and analysis of data. However it has been found that objectivity is nearly impossible in sociological research. A sociologist can only minimize subjectivity.

However certain sociologists like Max Weber have questioned the very idea that sociology can ever be a positive science. He has contended that there cannot be an objective science of society since social action must be understood in terms of the meaning man gives to it. In other words, value judgments are inevitable in sociology and we can never have completely objective science of sociology. In the same manner the 19th century sociologist of Germany, George Simmel, has argued that a society is essentially a psychic interaction between human beings both as individuals and groups. Logically, sociologists should deal with the processes of happenings, but not with substances just like natural sciences.

The present view of sociologists stands like this: The basic unit in the subject matter of sociology is human being and his behavior is volatile unlike the basic units of positive sciences which conform to the law of uniformity. Such being the basic unit of sociology, experimentation under controlled conditions is impossible to arrive at like establishing precise laws just as in physics and chemistry, or even to the same extent as in natural sciences like biology, geology and metrology. Secondly, sociology is as much rational as the other sciences are. The element of irrationality is to be found in other sciences too. Thirdly, to say that other sciences deal with hard facts ruling out the role of preconceptions and biases is also a wrong view. This contention is based on the premise that a fact like electricity is objective, but a family bond is subjective. This is a narrow approach, for, every idea of man is subjective as it emanates from a person and belongs to him. As a matter of fact when a geologist approaches his subject matter, he relies on his experience, argument and knowledge to get the best results. The human part of the geologist is definitely a subjective phenomenon. Fourthly, sociologists need not be apologetic about value judgments. No value judgment is absolutely personal. Say, the statement that alcoholism is a curse is a scientific judgment because it is based on hard facts collected by sociologists. It is confirmed by further surveys. Such value judgments, therefore, are equivalent to the hypothesis in other sciences. Fifthly, it is generally argued that sociology cannot attain a true scientific status as it studies only the unique happenings of society. This is an unfair argument since the so -called superior sciences, too, are concerned with the unique happenings like the Ice Age in geology, the birth of the universe in astro-physics, and the theory of evolution in biology. Sixthly, it is argued that sociology cannot ever master an understanding of billions of social acts occurring every day. But the very fact, that the world is not a bedlam or a total chaos, is a sufficient proof that sociology has the opportunity to play the role of science. Sociologists do study and find out reasonable approximations of order that are present in the billions of social acts that occur every day. Indeed, society has ceased to be simple; it has become bafflingly complex. If today's staggering complexity of social phenomena is difficult to be understood and formulated by sociologists, the answer in the future probably may lie in the modern tools of mathematics. Sociologists can take the assistance of computer. Seventhly, the argument that unlike other sciences, sociology lacks in the law of causality, is again a fallacious contention. Sociology can establish relationships between population and war, between criminality and nebulization, etc. This does not mean that causal relationships established by sociologists are guesses because they cannot be as precise as the other scientific equations. The causal relations as established by sociologists must be understood as partial statements that are subject to continuous revisions and modifications as and when more knowledge is gained.

The limitations that are encountered in the study of social phenomena are inherent in the very subject matter of sociology and do not represent epistemological failure. It is a science since it fulfill the basic requirements of the science i.e it has perspective, a consensus with regard to subject matter and a set of methods to explore the subject matter it may not be called a positive science but it is definitively a social science.