Sociology as a Science

Sociology as a science essay (33 marks available)

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Emily Ormesby
Sociology as a Science
`Assess the view that sociology should and can model itself on the natural sciences'
Many theorists and sociologists are in dispute over whether sociology should be regarded as
a science or not. Debates stem from the argument of whether sociology follows a set of
principles that tells us how to produce valid knowledge, following an objective route within
studies. By definition, science is something which produces objective data using empiricism;
sociologists argue whether sociology follows this pattern or whether sociology is founded
upon beliefs, views and opinions. There are often two different approaches when tackling
this issue, a positivist approach and an interpretivist approach.
The positive approach states that sociology is a science and is widely popular within the
`founding fathers' of sociology. Sociologists such as Comte and Durkheim were impressed by
the success of science in explaining the natural world and providing knowledge; this caused
them to label themselves as positivists. This approach argued that patterns we observe can
all be explained in the same way ­ by finding facts that cause them. Positivists believe that
reality exists outside the human mind therefore both natural science and sociology are
objective; positivists seek to find the cause of the pattern they observe as they can use
these objective findings to predict future events. For many positivists this process of
collecting facts and data through sociology is proof alone that sociology should be viewed as
a science.
Durkheim agrees with Comte that sociology is a science, through his suicide studies within
sociology, Durkheim found that a number of Protestants commit suicide more than
Catholics. He used quantities data from official statistics in order to observe suicide
patterns. For Durkheim this example is clear evidence to argue that sociology should be
viewed as a science as he reached objective findings within his study of society and was left
with a factual outcome. These findings convinced him that the patterns he found could not
have been the product of motives of the individuals, but were social facts, these facts
according to Durkheim were integration and regulation. He argued that if he could show
that even such a highly individual act like suicide has social causes, he would then be able to
establish sociology's status as a genuine scientific discipline, this in turn would lead to
sociology being largely respected.
In contrast to this argument, interpretivists categorically argue that sociology is not a
science as uses subjective feelings, opinions and feelings throughout the study of society
and it is impossible for sociology to be wholly objective; they criticise the positivist stand
point to be unsuited to the study of human beings. Interpretivists fundamentally believe
that the subject matter of sociology is meaningful social action, and we can only understand
this matter by successfully interpreting the meanings and motives of the individuals
involved; sociology is about internal, individual feelings above all else and cannot be viewed
through science as science only deals with law of cause and effect and ignores human
According to interpretivists, sociology is heavily based on society's norms and values that
have evolved over time. G.H Mead argued that human beings have free will and are able to

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Emily Ormesby
make their own choices for example, when we see a red light our natural reaction is to stop
because this is something we have learned through societal norms. This therefore cannot be
viewed through scientific reasoning as it has occurred through human beings free will and
choices which are subjective means of thinking.…read more

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Emily Ormesby
scientists accept this paradigm and publish work incorporating this paradigm, for example it
was largely accepted that the world is flat and this paradigm was met with acceptance and
conformity. Kuhn argues that this is the case because failing to accept the paradigm could
lead to scientists having no career success and unpublished work, where as if they accept
the paradigm they are usually more successful.…read more


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