Sociology as a Science

Sociology as a Science

A science may be defined in at least two ways:

(i) A science is a body of organized, verified knowledge which has been secured through scientific investigation

(ii) A science is a method of study whereby a body of organized, verified knowledge is discovered. Actually, these are the two ways of saying much the same thing.

If the first definition is accepted, then sociology is a science to the extent that it has developed a body of organized, verified knowledge which is based on scientific investigation. To the extent that sociology forsakes myth, folklore, and wishful thinking and has based its conclusions on scientific evidence, it is a science. If science is defined as a method of study, then sociology is a science to the extent that it uses scientific methods of study. All natural phenomena can be studied scientifically, if one is willing to use scientific methods. Any kind of behaviour- is a proper field of scientific study.

During human history, few of our actions have been based on verified knowledge, for people through the ages have been guided mainly by folklore, habit, and guesswork. Until a few centuries ago, very few people accepted the idea that we should find out about the natural world by systematic observation of the natural world itself, rather than by consulting oracles, ancestors, or institution. This new idea created the modern world. A few decades age we began acting on the assumption that this same approach might also give useful knowledge about human social life. (Horton and Hunt, 1984: 13-14)

An important aspect of the sociological viewpoint is that it is basically scientific in character. Sociologists try to study human social behavior by using objective techniques; it is, this commitment to the scientific method that makes sociology a scientific discipline. Sociologists do not accept insight or intuition or common sense alone in answer to their questions. They seek scientific evidence.

Sociologists gather this evidence on ways similar to those used by natural scientists. They collect and analyze verifiable data; they keep careful records of their observations; they try to control the conditions surrounding the subject under study. Like natural scientists, sociologists strive to present findings that are not biased by subjective judgement and human emotion. Howerver, human beings are not insensitive objects that can be scientifically manipulated; they have values, consciousness, and feelings. The methods of scientists alone are inadequate to produce a full understanding of the human experience. There remains on much sociological work, therefore, the stamp of the humanist, marked by insight, empathy, and philosophical speculation. It is the interplay between scientific and humanistic approaches that vitalizes much of contemporary sociological thought.

To scientists, truth is not absolute an unchanging, all-encompassing set of laws-but it . is relative to the special circumstances under which it was discovered, demonstrated, and formulated. This principle is particularly applicable to sociological truths, which are almost always generalizations based on incomplete evidence. Conscientious sociologists, therefore, indicate the limitations of their findings.

Sociologists are very careful in their findings and very selective in using words. They do not say, for example, “All women want to bet married “; instead they say, “The majority of American women now living, who are between the ages of twenty and fifty-five, have expressed a favourable attitude toward the possibility of marriage.” Although this habit of qualifying and modifying statements sometimes makes sociological writing hard to read and comprehend, it is this very insistence on qualification and careful definition that makes sociology a science, a useful, and illuminating field of study. (Dauid Popenoe, 1977: 3)

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