Sociology as a Science

Topics: Sociology, Scientific method, Science Pages: 5 (1950 words) Published: October 21, 2012
The case for sociology as a science
* 1. The Case for Sociology as a Science
1. Introduction
In this paper, I try to put forward several points in favor of sociology as a science. In the course of argument, I will also discuss the problems of " value free" sociology and scope of sociology. 2. What is science?

To answer the question if sociology is a science or not, first we need to know what is science, otherwise the question does not make much sense. Actually current philosophical views on the nature of science are diverse, and largely liberalized from previous views. First, they no longer accept strong criteria of falsification as a scientific method. There are several ways to formulate falsification, but her e I mean something like this: scientific theories should make observable predictions and we should discard a theory if we find only one discrepancy between a prediction of the theory and an observation. Because even physics cannot meet such a strong criteria, now philosophers like Lakatos (1970) admit tolerance to such failure to some extent. Another new movement in philosophy is the attack on the universal laws. Cartwright (1983) argued that seemingly universal physical laws are not really universal, from logical point of view. This and other reasons (note1), Cartwright (1983) and Hacking (1983) presented a new view of science in which piecemeal "models", instead of universal laws and theories, play the central role of scientific investigation . Here, "models" means oversimplified mental pictures of structure. For example, planetary model of atoms is long known as an oversimplification, but still it is widely used by chemists as a convenient way for thinking about chemical reactions. I do not have enough space to give a definition of science, but these considerations will be enough to help our judgment on the status of sociology. 3. Is sociology a science?

With the analysis of science in the previous section in mind, let us turn to sociology. Early sociologists tried to establish sociology as a science, and their arguments are mainly on the methodology of sociology. Comte claimed that sociology uses four different kinds of methodologies, namely observation, experiment, comparison and historical research as a special case of comparison (CST pp. 89-90, SCS pp.42-54). These are the methodology used in several other scientific fields, especially in biology. So if his sociology had really followed these methods, it would have been a strong case for sociology as a science. But actually he never did empirical research (CST p. 110), so we cannot take his argument at the face value. But his argument influenced on other sociologists, especially Durkheim. For Durkheim, sociology is a study o f social facts (CST p.185). A social fact is " a thing that is external to, and coercive of, the actor" (ibid., emphasis original). Because they are external, social facts cannot be investigated by introspection (ibid.). We should use empirical research. A typical use of this methodology is in his analysis of suicide (CST p.195). Durkheim used statistics on suicide rate to establish his argument that suicide is a social phenomenon. He refused alternative hypotheses because their predictions did not agree with the actual statistical data. This is an admirable attempt of empirical research of society, but there are several problems. Durkheim applied too strict criteria of falsification to rival accounts. Adoption of these strict criteria is suicidal for sociology, because it is hard for a sociological theory to make a precise prediction, let alone to make a precise and correct prediction (and without this, the falsification criteria do not work). Another related problem is in his reject ion of introspection as a sociological method. This restricts the scope of sociology too narrowly, and in fact even Durkheim's own study becomes impossible. For example, Durkheim's definition of suicide is "any case of death 'resulting...
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