Assess the view that sociology can and should not model itself on the natural sciences

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Assess the view that sociology can and should not model itself on the natural sciences

Sociologists such as Comte are impressed by science in explaining the natural world. These sociologists are called positivists. Positivists believe it’s possible to apply methods of natural sciences in study of society and by doing so we gain true and objective knowledge of the same type found in natural sciences. This provides a basis for progress and solving social problems. Positivists argue reality exists outside and independently of the human mind. They argue nature is made up of objective, observable, physical facts that are external to our minds. Similarly society is an objective reality – a real thing made up of social facts out there and independent to individuals.

Positivists argue reality is not random but patterned and can be observed empirically. It’s the job of the sociologist to observe, identify, measure and record patterns and then to explain them. Durkheim argues laws are discoverable and will explain patterns. Sociologists can discover laws that determine how society works; this is called induction or inductive reasoning. This involves accumulating data about the world through observation and measurement. As knowledge grows we begin to see patterns.

Positivists believe sociology should take the experimental method used in natural sociology for the model of research as it allows the investigator to test the hypothesis in a controlled way. Positivists use quantitative data to uncover measure patterns of behaviour allowing them to produce mathematically precise statements about relationships between facts their investigating. By analysing quantitative data positivists seek to discover laws of cause and effect that determine our behaviour. Positivist’s researchers should be detached and objective and now let subjective feeling influence the way they conduct experiments. In natural sciences its claimed scientist’s values make no difference to outcome of research. However in sociology there’s a danger of the researcher of contaminating the experiment. Positivists thus employ methods to allow maximum objectivity and thus use quantitative methods. These methods also produce reliable data that can be checked by other researchers repeating the experiment.

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To show that sociology was a science with its own distinctive subject matter Durkheim chose to study suicide. He believed if he could show this highly individual act had social causes it would establish sociology’s status as a scientific discipline. Using quantitative data from official statistics Durkheim observed patterns in suicide rates. Rates for Protestants were higher than Catholics, thus he concluded patterns could not be the products of motives of individuals, but were social facts. Thus they must be caused by other social facts – forces acting on members of society to determine their behaviour. Durkheim argues the social ...

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