Sociology as a Science

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Sociology is defined as the scientific study of human society and social behavior although whether to classify sociology as a science has been debatable. French philosopher Auguste Comte first coined the term in 1838 from the Greek word ‘socio’ meaning interaction or association of individual and the Latin word ‘logy’ meaning study of a particular subject. Science is the systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. Methodology used in science sets forth the idea that science is empirical, objective, tentative and based on the principle of cause and effect. The subject matter observed in sociology has been described as too varied, abstract and difficult to measure yet theorists such as Herbert Spencer, Auguste Comte etc. have developed hypothesis and experiments have been carried out that sociology may very well be classified a science just like biology or physics. A key characteristic of a science is its objectivity. To be objective means that experiments and observations should not be skewed by personal feelings, interpretations or prejudice. The scientist must take every possible precaution to avoid imposing his or her own values, judgments, prejudice or personal concern on the investigation thus results obtained will be unbiased. Max Weber was a German sociologist and political economists who profoundly influenced social theory, social research and the discipline of sociology itself. Weber was concerned with the question of objectivity and subjectivity Weber distinguished social action from social behavior, noting that social action must be understood through how individuals subjectively relate to one another. Study of social action through interpretative means (Verstehen) must be based upon understanding the subjective meaning and purpose that the individual attaches to their actions. Social actions may have easily identifiable and objective means, but much more subjective ends and the understanding of those ends by a scientists is subject to yet another layer of subjective understanding (that of the scientist). Weber noted that the importance of subjectivity in social sciences makes creation of full-proof, universal laws much more difficult than in natural sciences and that the amount of objective knowledge that social sciences may achieve is precariously limited. Overall, Weber supported the goal of objective science, but he noted that it is an unreachable goal – although one definitely worth striving for. Though Max Weber was in favor of sociology being objective but saw it as an impossible task, Durkheim’s study of suicide proves sociology can be objective just as any other science. After Durkheim wrote The Rules of Sociological Method, he tackled the subject of suicide as an example of how a sociologist can study a subject that seems extremely personal, with no social aspect to it – even being anti-social. It could be argued that suicide is such a personal act that it involves only personal psychology and purely individual thought processes. Durkheim's aim was not to explain or predict an individual tendency to suicide, but to explain one type of nonmaterial social facts, social currents. Social currents are characteristics of society, but may not have the permanence and stability that some parts of collective consciousness or collective representation have. In the case of suicide, these social currents are expressed as suicide rates, rates that differ among societies, and among different groups in society. These rates show regularities over time, with changes in the rates often occurring at similar times in different societies. Thus these rates can be said to be social facts (or at least the statistical representation of social facts) in the sense that they are not just personal, but are societal characteristics. Durkheim...
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