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Elements of Scientific Methods
Knowledge based on sensory observation has a paradoxical character. The following statement seeks to convey this paradox in a simple way.
In order to gain knowledge about anything we should know something about it. If we know nothing at all about the object of our enquiry we shall never be able to know anything about it. In case we are totally ignorant about something and yet want to acquire knowledge about it through sensory observation, we make certain assumptions about it, and start our enquiry with the belief that these assumptions are true.
Of course if these assumptions are not supported by facts gathered through sensory observations, we should be ready to abandon them. The significance of these assumptions is that they tell us what to look for or where to direct our sensory observation. If a Doctor trained in modern medicine wants to find out the reasons for the symptoms like headache, giddiness, and general weakness, he might examine the digestive systems, the food taken by his patient or he might monitor the heart beats and blood pressure or enquire about his sleeping patterns and also take in to account the weather conditions. He may find his answer from these conditions.
A shaman in a tribal village also tries to cure a patient with similar symptoms. He may explore the possibility of a spell caused by a witch or disenchantment of the super natural power with the person concerned due to some act of omission or commission on his part. In the case of the doctor trained in modern medicine his search for the cause is governed by a set of assumptions namely: human body is unified whole though it has specialized parts. These parts tend to be interdependent and malfunctioning of one lead to malfunctioning of the other. Basing himself on such assumption he is likely to see interrelationship between headache and digestion failure etc.On the other hand the shaman by means of assumption that world is governed by super natural forces that need to be propitiated. Failure to do so might invite divine retribution. Thus from the above illustrations one can see how underlying assumptions shape one's enquiry. A set of mutually consistent assumptions which underlie our approach to things we want to explore is called a perspective. All systematized enquiries need perspective. So it is required for sociology as well.
Language is a system of symbols that forms the medium through which we comprehend the world around and inside us and it is the basis of our thought processes. It also acts as a means of communication with others without which social life would be impossible. Language has been termed as a system of symbols because linguistic terms are abstractions i.e they are mentally created and to them certain meanings are imputed by which they come to stand for the real phenomena. All languages are made up of concepts. Only difference being that concept in scientific language is more precisely and unambiguously defined. Concepts help in comprehending the reality that a science is engaged in studying. They act as mediums of short cut communication among those associated with the enquiry. In sociology most of the concepts are terms taken from day to day language which is given precise meaning.