Probably, no academic sphere has so much self-criticism and pessimism as social science has. The most eminent scientists wonder: “What am I doing here? What is the sense of my existence?”
Social science is very young, much younger than physics or biology. Only in the mid-19th century, it began to be perceived as a science, and before this, it was just a public opinion.
Human sciences make a complex of disciplines, whose subject is to study society in all aspects of its life, and a person as a member of its. These sciences cover such theoretical forms of knowledge as philosophy, sociology, cultural studies, history, philology, psychology, law, economics, ethnography (ethnology), political science, education and arts.
Philosophy was the only discipline that studied human being for many centuries. As for the knowledge, in contrast to other natural phenomena, no chemicals or microscopes can be applied; they should be replaced by the force of abstraction. Using philosophical abstraction allows us to consider society as an entity of a special kind, revealing its intrinsic characteristics.
In philosophy, the basic concepts that characterize human history as such entity are “society”, “socio-historic” categories, “personality”. These ideas reflect the most important aspects of human life, such as labor, knowledge, and culture.
Each of the above-mentioned disciplines examines social life from various angles and with certain theoretical and ideological positions, by using their own specific research methods. For example, in political science, the main research tool is the category of “power”, which appears as an organized system of authority relations.
In sociology, the society can be considered as a dynamic system of relations between social groups of different degrees of generality. Categories “social group”, “social relations”, and “socialization” have become the method of analyzing social phenomena.
In cultural studies, culture and its forms are considered as a valuable aspect of the society. Categories of “truth”, “beauty”, “good”, “benefit” are ways of studying distinct cultural phenomena.
Economics is using categories such as “money”, “good”, “market”, “demand”, “offer”, and so on. The history of the company is exploring the past by relying on a variety of extant sources from this past in order to establish the sequence of events, their causes, and the connections between them.
The separation of human and nature sciences was a reaction to the positivistic and naturalistic understanding of human existence.
Naturalism looks at the society from the standpoint of vulgar materialism, it does not see fundamental differences between cause and its effect on nature and on society.
The naturalism and positivism sought to abandon the speculative, scholastic reasoning, typical of the metaphysical research community, striving to create “positive” evidence.
Now it is possible to speak not only about the opposition of the natural scientific methods to the humanities, but also about their convergence. Mathematical methods are actively used in economics (particularly in econometrics), history (quantitative history), philology (structural linguistics), and political science (political analysis). We also know scientific disciplines that combine techniques of human and natural sciences, such as economic geography.
In antiquity, most human sciences consisted were based on philosophy as on the way of integrating knowledge about a human and society. In ancient and medieval philosophy, the concept of society was practically equated with the idea of the state. Historically, the earliest form of social theory can be found in the works of Plato and Aristotle.
In the Middle Ages, the most prominent philosophers who made a significant contribution to human sciences were Augustine, St. John Damascene, and Thomas Aquinas.
Renaissance and Modern Times
The figures of the Renaissance (the 15th -16th centuries) and Modern Times (starting from the 17th century) are T. Moore and his Utopia, and Machiavelli with his Sovereign.
In modern times, science finally separated from philosophy. University departments and faculties of Social Sciences have begun publishing special magazines dedicated to studying social phenomena and processes, to establish an association of scholars engaged in research in social sciences.
Main Directions of the Modern Thought
In social science of the 20th century two approaches were established: the technocratic approach and scientifically humanistic approach.
The most developed social theory is the concept of post-industrial society, the basic principles of which were set in the works of Daniel Bell (1965). The idea of post-industrial society is quite popular in modern social sciences, and the term itself brings together a number of studies in which the authors seek to identify a leading trend in the development of contemporary society, by considering the manufacturing process in various aspects, including institutional ones.
Three phases of development can be marked in the history of the mankind:
- preindustrial (agrarian) form;
- industrial (technological) form;
- post-industrial (social) form.
Information becomes the main resource of production (in pre-industrial society it was a raw material, in industrial society it is the energy). Based on this distinction, specific features of each society can be identified: pre-industrial society is built on the interaction with nature, industrial society is built on the interaction with the nature transformed by its members, post-industrial society is built on the interaction between people.
Agricultural, industrial, and post-industrial societies are not the stages of social development. These are co-existing forms of organization of manufacturing and its main trends.
The industrial phase began in Europe in the 19th century. Post-industrial society does not remove other forms and adds a new dimension associated with the use of information in social life. Information acquires the greatest value. Post-industrial society is associated with the 1970s. Information technologies radically affected manufacturing, and therefore the way of life. In the information society, there is a transition from the manufacturing of goods to the production of services; there is also a new class of technicians, consultants, and experts.
The main characteristics of the industrial technology, based on the old type of machinery and division of labor, are centralization and uniformity of gigantism (mass scale), accompanied by oppression, misery, poverty, and environmental disasters. However, overcoming evils of industrialism can be possible in the future.
Nowadays the crucial task of a young scientist is to get the power of social sciences back, to bring them back into the public discourse, to draw the attention of the media, and as a result, to encourage the society to self-reflect.
We also recommend you an essay about why we need science.