The Tools of Social Science

The Tools of Social Science

The Tools of Social Science

The Tools of Social Science

Excerpt

It is now over a hundred years since Auguste Comte heralded the new positive science of man which, he believed, would complete the pyramid of knowledge and put an end to metaphysical speculation. Comte's prophecy has been only partly fulfilled. There have been many attempts to provide a means of superseding speculation about the unknown and the unknowable, but all have been unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, knowledge has been expanding magnificently, and has been gradually lapping over into the domain of human behaviour. We have witnessed, particularly in the last half- century, an impressive growth in the practical applications of social science. Its underlying principles are only precariously established, but this has not deterred thoughtful and active men from developing methods that have been increasingly well adapted to the answering and resolving of practical problems.

It has been my aim in this book to concentrate attention on the practical techniques developed by social scientists. After an examination of some aspects of language and logic, attention will be given in turn to the use of documents, to observational methods, to the interview and questionnaire, and to the rôle and prospects of social experimentation. There will inevitably be diversions from time to time, caused by some point of principle that has a direct bearing on the choice of method, but the emphasis is throughout on practice rather than on theory.

There are some who will feel that this is putting the cart before the horse, and that it is impossible either to act effectively ourselves or to evaluate the actions of others without having previously secured our theoretical base. In my more cautiously logical moments I find their argument almost entirely convincing. But it is a fact that science has gone forward without, and even in spite of, its methodologists and logicians. Moreover, this divorce is reflected in the teaching of all sciences, in which the theory of knowledge is taught, if at all, in strict isolation from the practical training in how to win scientific knowledge. So it is not strange to find, on the one hand, philosophers relying on distorted and . . .

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