One of the most persuasive advocates for the view of scientific treatment of philosophy is John Dewey (1859-1952). He began, as Marx did, in an attempt to weld Hegelian idealism and logic to experimental science, for example in his Psychology of 1887. However, it is when he abandoned Hegelian constructs and joined the movement in America called Pragmatism that he began to formulate his basic doctrine on the three phases of the process of inquiry:
- Problematic situation, where the typical response is inadequate
- Isolation of data or subject matter
- Reflective, which is tested empirically
With the rise of the idea of quantitative measurement in the physical sciences (see, for example Lord Rutherford’s famous maxim that any knowledge that one cannot measure numerically “is a poor sort of knowledge”), the stage was set for the conception of the humanities as being precursors to social sciences.
Although sociology emerged in Comte’s vision of sociology eventually subsuming all other areas of scientific inquiry, sociology did not replace the other sciences. Instead, sociology has developed a particular niche in the study of social life.
In the past, sociological research focused on the organization of complex, industrial societies and their influence on individuals. Today, sociologists study a broad range of topics. For instance, some sociologists research macro-structures that organize society, such as race or ethnicity, social class, gender roles, and institutions such as the family. Other sociologists study social processes that represent the breakdown of macro-structures, including deviance, crime and divorce. Additionally, some sociologists study micro-processes such as interpersonal interactions and the socialization of individuals. It should also be noted that recent sociologists, taking cues from anthropologists, have realized the Western emphasis of the discipline. In response, many sociology departments around the world are now encouraging multi-cultural research.
In the next lecture, we shall have more extensive discussions on the methods and theories employed in sociology.
John J. Macionis, Sociology (10th Edition), Prentice Hall, 2004.
C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, Oxford University Press, 1961.
Peter L. Berger, Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective, Anchor, 1963.