Science and Social Science: An Introduction

By Malcolm Williams | Go to book overview

7

New science and new social science

Science might be visualised as hierarchical knowledge of diverse aspects of the world. It could perhaps be represented as an inverted triangle. Near the (upturned) base, at the top, would be sciences such as zoology or botany, which in turn rest on principles of biology closer to the apex, lower still comes chemistry, finally physics at the apex. Much of physics depends on a few relatively simple classical laws, such as those touched on in Chapters 1 and 2. However, this is not the very tip of the triangle. There lie particle physics and relativity, each describing and at least partially explaining the very small and very large scale structure of the universe respectively. Up until this century the tip of the triangle would have been the laws of classical physics. It is possible that in the next century the tip will be even sharper, ending (possibly) with something called ‘superstrings’, a new theory that may yet provide the ‘fundamental’ laws of the universe (Kaku 1994). Not all of the relationships are hierarchical, some like those between zoology and botany, or biology and geology, take the form of complex networks of theories. A (usually) implicit task of science is an explication not just of theoretical relationships within sciences, but also between phenomena known under the rubric of one science and phenomena known under the rubric of another. Indeed the overwhelming tendency in Western science is towards explaining the more complex in terms of the less complex.

It is one thing to claim, as I have done, that the social sciences are just as much sciences as the natural ones, but where do the social sciences fit in the triangle? Superficially one could say that social behaviour rests upon a biological basis, but what is the nature of the relationship between the social and biological realm? The relationship must pass through the individual in some way, but how much of individual behaviour is due to heredity and how much is due to environment? Notwithstanding this, the social world has characteristics which seem to require a different kind of explanation to those within other sciences. This explanation is that social life is constructed (and more importantly reconstructed) by self-aware creatures. If one talks about ‘reality’ in chemistry it is by way of describing elements and compounds and the relationship between them. More

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Science and Social Science: An Introduction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Where Did Science Come From? 8
  • Suggested Further Reading 27
  • 2 - Science and Its Method 28
  • Suggested Further Reading 48
  • 3 - Social Science as Science 49
  • Suggested Further Reading 69
  • 4 - Against Science 70
  • Suggested Further Reading 86
  • 5 - Against Science in Social Science 87
  • Suggested Further Reading 103
  • 6 - Science, Objectivity and Ethics 104
  • Suggested Further Reading 121
  • 7 - New Science and New Social Science 122
  • Suggested Further Reading 141
  • 8 - Conclusion: The Science of Social Science 142
  • Glossary 150
  • References 154
  • Name Index 168
  • Subject Index 172
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