The question of whether sociology must be regarded as a science or not could prove very complicated unless one is clear as to what science is. Although arts and sciences are very distinct especially in methodology, it is not uncommon to notice given similarities or basic assumptions that are shared. In this paper, by showing clearly how sociology shares in given assumptions with pure sciences, it will be established that sociology is partly a science and partly an art. It is not just important; rather, sociology must be regarded as a science.
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All disciplines or studies aim at knowledge. The search for knowledge is supposed to be about truthfulness and validity in what is said, reflected on or perceived (Harris, 2007). The search for knowledge is about establishing, identifying, clarifying or discovering the relationships between things. Studies are about understanding what causes what, what can cause what, and what necessitates the causation.
Knowing highly depends on focus (Harris, 2007). What is knowable can be ‘know how’ (procedural knowledge or skills), knowing facts (knowing this or that the way that is), or knowing to i.e. knowledge for application that is not necessarily a skill. ‘Knowing to’ often frames knowledge that informs being (Harris, 2007). For instance, one knows psychology tenets towards being as the epithets of given theory of postulate state. Knowing facts is crucial especially in the consideration of conduct or ways of behaving. Knowing ‘how to’ is crucial towards being able to handle day-to-day chores necessary for living or developing systems that allow for the satisfaction of human needs and wants.
Experience is a key source of knowledge for all people. The vast sum of our knowledge comes to us from experience or via senses (Harris, 2007). Experiential knowledge is only possible or can only be processed by a conscious being. This is knowledge developed from direct encounters with sensations from the environment. From the pictures formed or impressed on the mind via sensations, an individual abstracts and can develop concepts.
People of antiquity relied heavily on mythology as a way of explaining things (Harris, 2007). The mythological way of knowing took the relationship between things as mysterious and unfathomable. As a result, only mysterious beings were posited to explain relationships or the existence of given beings. Mythological kind of knowing is best illustrated by belief development in the primitive or traditional societies. To explain the unexplainable, people posited beings or realities with powers or features beyond human comprehension or powers. For example, in traditional African settings and in religions like Hinduism, people posted gods in myths. Each god answered questions to a given unexplained happening or phenomenon. For example, to explain where rain came from and what is rain; they postulated the rain god whose tears fell down on earth as rain.
A historical overview reveals that people know differently and thus view the world very differently (Harris, 2007). From the early days of mythology, people have grown to investigate rational processes, empirical inquiries and the combination of the two. In our world of today, people rely on intellectual ways, mythical ways, spiritual ways and experiential ways of knowing. From individuals often one can discern more than one way of knowing. Even the most refined of all scientists in their quest for empirical evidence in ascertaining truth often have to rely on more purely intellectual ways of knowing. They often have to postulate theories that are only but logical suppositions or logical generalizations.
Of all kinds of ways of knowing, most people seem to identify with Intellectual knowing (Harris, 2007). Despite the paramount importance of experiential knowing, it is not uncommon to find people deriding it against intellectual knowing. Intellectual knowing relies on thinking processes as enabled by powers of the brain. Some common thinking processes are analysis, reasoning, drawing generalizations, and identifying or recognizing patterns. Intellectual knowing involves development and use of abstraction and concepts. The rationalists i.e. those who held the intellectual way of knowing as the only good way met a lot of resistance. It could not be understood why people were positing weird concepts to explain things that could be experienced and tested. Relying only on reason and coherence as measures of truth, people had started postulating theories that defied common sense. The contradictions in the theories of rationalists led to the development of the scientific method, which relies heavily on empirical evidence (Harris, 2007).
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There are many ways of defining a science. In the oxford advanced learners dictionary, science is defined as “knowledge about the structure and behavior of the natural or physical world, based on facts that you can prove for example by experiments” (Hornby & Cowie, 1996, p. 105). There are different kinds of sciences. There are two categories of sciences: pure sciences and applied sciences. Another categorization identifies sciences as either natural or social sciences. Natural sciences investigate the physical world while social sciences investigate human behavior, interactions and social groups.
The definition of a science given above identifies given tenets of scientific knowledge. Scientific knowledge is facts about the natural or physical world. The facts are arrived at through a well-outlined method. Method is very important in any science. It is the method that guarantees a systematic study that does not allow for or cause bias, prejudice, stereotype, oversights, hindsight or any form of misinformation. The method has to be flawless if the end result is to be flawless. The method has to allow for the possibility of another person coming and doing the same investigation so as to test the result.
The scientific method starts from observation then basing on prior knowledge or just the observation, one can postulate a hypothesis (Harris, 2007). A hypothesis is a supposition, tentative answer or possible explanation that a scientist gives a phenomenon on observation. Before setting out on testing or trying to prove the hypothesis, the scientist has to visualize and conceptualize how the relationship between the different variables is. This is called prediction and it involves supposing how variables are likely to behave when being tested (Harris, 2007). Variables are the things that are either causing or to which effect is being registered. The scientific method is not complete without testing or experimenting so as to either affirm or negate one’s hypothesis. Science does not stop at personal hunch or opinion, one has to test or experiment to be sure.
Testing or experimenting takes different forms. However, the test or experiment itself is specially designed to reduce room for error. In a social science research, effort is made towards assuring both the internal and external validity of the research. In laboratory experiments, efforts are made to reduce influence of external factors. Use of control groups or species is often employed towards ensuring comparison between controlled environment and uncontrolled environment.
Once the testing or experimentation has been done, the scientist or researcher has to conclude. Inferences are often either deductive or inductive. Deductive ones lead to application of knowledge while inductive ones often only serve as the basis for further theorizing or positing of a hypothesis. Then the cycle of scientific research is repeated (Harris, 2007).
Sociology has been defined differently or diversely over a long period. However the definition, sociology has society or human beings in their social settings as its object of inquiry. Therefore, it would not be too far-fetched or simplistic to define sociology as a study of society. In the oxford advanced learners dictionary, sociology is defined as “the scientific study of the nature and development of society and social behavior” (Hornby & Cowie, 1996, p. 112). From the given definition, it is discernible that use of the scientific method is crucial in distinguishing sociology from any other study that concerns itself with the nature of society. As a study concerned with the nature of society, sociology is an endeavor to unravel causes and effects of given facets or processes in a society. It uses the scientific methodology towards establishing the basic principles around which societies are developed. There are some basic rules or principles that have to be in place before the structures of society coalesce into whatever they are.
To understand why the scientific method is an integral aspect of the sociological inquiry, it is imperative to understand the nature of sociology. Sociology is not just a study about present society but also society as it was. One is only able to discern the forces of change operative in society through study of transitions that society has been through.
Of key interest to sociologists is what is referred to as social activities (Van Kriekien, 2005). Sociology aims at expanding understanding of social activities. Of key interest are the different aspects, forces or issues that inform or lead to given social activities. To understand the social activities better, sociology endeavors to understand the contexts or structures that inform the activities. Sociology like all sciences aims at using precise tools and thorough investigation of observable and verifiable things towards establishing or identifying universal principles, rules, norms and ways that inform societal development (Van Kriekien, 2005).
Some scholars are narrow-minded in their understanding of what science is. They tend towards the position that science only investigates objective realms and not subjective realms. It has to be known that even in experiential or subjective knowing; the brain also plays a critical role. Some process in the brain does not necessarily involve reasoning but are rather subtle processes through which experience or stimulus is interpreted and directed
What is not often realized is the overlapping nature of knowledge (Nisbet & Gottfried, 2001). Objectivity and subjectivity are not static measures. Rather, they are dynamic references that change depending on context. Reality in itself is a complexity. It is for this reason that disciplines i.e. arts and arts, sciences and sciences, science and art overlap (Nisbet & Gottfried, 2001). Sociology is interdisciplinary and informs much in biology and psychology as it is informed by findings from those fields.
Sociology is a science because it employs the scientific method of inquiry (Spencer & Turner, 2002). Like all sciences, sociological studies start in observation. An observation paves way to tentative answers or theorizing on behalf of the researcher. The researcher then designs research to ascertain whether his premonitions are correct or misguided. The research design anticipates all the twists that could affect the result.
Research design in sociology often involves reviewing previous works, developing research objectives, designing research questions that would inform the different research objectives, designing research tools e.g. data collection, recording and presentational tools and proper control of population to feasibly do the research (Spencer & Turner, 2002).
Research in sociology either takes the form of a survey or case study. In a survey, all members of a given population are targeted by a research. Out of the population, through different sampling methods and techniques, final respondents are approached and their responses are generalized to the whole population. Case study researches are a normally in-group or small group focused.
Sociology is a social science because it concerns itself with people or social behavior (Van Kriekien, 2005). It is not a natural science because it does not deal with the nature of the physical world. Social sciences are concerned with the factors that inform human behavior and interactions. For sociology, the focus is on societal structures and ways or norms that inform individual behavior (Van Kriekien, 2005). It aims at establishing universal principles or dictates that guide or determine social or societal processes, structures and focus.
Sociology is not a pure science; rather it is an applied science. Although it differs from other social sciences because the former are very specific in their focus, sociology anticipates the identification of general rules that govern human behavior and interaction (Spencer & Turner, 2002). Examples of other kinds of social sciences include political science, comparative religion, economics, community development and ethics. Sociology is an applied science because its findings are directly applicable in transforming society (Spencer & Turner, 2002. Branches of sociology such as urbanization are directly relevant considerations when urban planning is necessary.
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Considering the foregoing consideration, the question of whether to regard sociology as a science or not is false because sociology in its nature is a science. If the question is worth considering, the polite answer would be that sociology should be regarded as science because it employs scientific methodologies in its inquiry. Even though in some instances, sociology as an art concerns itself with issues in the subjective realm, the issues are all the same approach with scientific objectivity.
Harris, M 2007, Ways of Knowing: Anthropological Approaches to Crafting Experience and Knowledge. Berghahn Books, New York.
Hornby, A.S. & Cowie, A. P 1996, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. 5th Ed. Oxford University Press, New York.
Nisbet, A. R., & Gottfried, P 2001, Sociology as an Art Form. 2nd Ed, Transaction Publishers, New Jersey.
Spencer, H. & Turner, J 2002, The Principles of Sociology. Transaction Publishers, New Jersey.
Van Krieken, R 2005, Sociology: Themes and Perspectives. 3rd Ed, Pearson Education: Australia