Social Sciences

The social sciences are a group of academic disciplines that engage in the scientific study of human society.

Philosophers disagree over the relation between the social sciences and the natural sciences. Naturalists take the view that the social world and natural world are roughly identical and governed by similar principles. On the other hand, antinaturalists claim that the social sciences are inherently distinct from the natural sciences and that there is a corresponding difference between the methods appropriate to the two areas.

Another philosophical debate concerns reductionism versus holism. Reductionism is a theory that asserts that the nature of complex things is reduced to the nature of sums of simpler or more fundamental things. In contrast, holism is the idea that all the properties of a given system cannot be determined or explained by the sum of its component parts alone; instead, the system as a whole determines in an important way how the parts behave. Reductionism is the foundation of the unity of science, which is a thesis in philosophy of science that says that all the sciences form a unified whole. For example, anthropology is reducible to sociology, sociology is reducible to psychology, psychology is reducible to biology, biology is reducible to chemistry, chemistry is reducible to physics. The most successful science is physics.

Joel Cohen coined the term “physics envy” when he used it in a critical review of a book which applied general unifying mathematically formulated physical priniciples to theoretical biology (Cohen, 1971). The social sciences are often charged with being less scientific than the natural sciences, suffering from the greater complexities of the human world. Social sciences also tend to be compromised more frequently by politics.

Specific problems with the social sciences

  1. equality (assuming, a priori (and even a posteriori) that all things are equal)
  2. Franz Boas and his cultural relativism
  3. irrelevance (sociology)
  4. physics envy (economics)
  5. political correctness
  6. politics (putting politics before science)
  7. postmodernism
  8. relativism