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June 3, 2012 / C H Thompson

Is sociology a science and can it be value free?

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Is sociology a science? The answer to such a question is still continuing. Yet one thing for certain is early sociologists were certain the subject was a science. Comte’s (1998-1857) position was sociology needed to be based on the methodology of the natural sciences. This was because he saw the world as being governed by ‘laws’ or ‘facts’ which must objectively measured and quantified. This meant social scientists could identify causes and their subsequent effects on the social world.

Durkheim’s ‘Rules of Sociological Method’ (1895) effectively developed Comte’s argument by setting out his reasoning (methodology) for the need of sociologists to adopt the methods of the natural sciences. This was because Durkheim viewed the social world as being governed by ‘facts’. In the same way the natural world is governed by facts, such as gravity, society is governed by what he termed ‘social facts’.  For Durkheim these social facts are “objectively real,” and therefore measurable.

Durkheim’s study of suicide exemplified his rules of sociological method. Suicide rates are social facts, in the sense suicide is a product of social facts (real, living forces which act on individuals to determine an individual’s behaviour in the same way gravity determines (constrains our behaviour).

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