The first and foremost part of positivism is objectivity. In spite of numerous interpretations of positivism, it is very important to realize an essential component of this philosophical methodology. August Comte, a developer, a founder and a father of Positivism claimed that “positive” knowledge means “scientific” knowledge (Comte, 2003). In order to achieve positive knowledge, it is relevant to deal with the observable facts. Neither mythology nor religion can present a true nature of knowledge.
Therefore, a further discussion about the difference between social and natural sciences is provided in terms of positivism. The main difference between these sciences is seen in the object of their discussion and research. With regards to positivism, it is more relevant to explore new phenomena and analyze new objects on the basis of positive knowledge, which is based on observable facts. Therefore, social sciences should incorporate logical principles for their researches; otherwise they would obtain irrelevant results. Logical and mathematical knowledge is more relevant to natural sciences, where the objects are more observable and determined.
Positivism in the field of science
A great contribution of positivism into theoretical and methodological explorative methods is considered further on the example of social and natural sciences. In sociology, positivism is the core paradigmatic methodology. Science and inquiry are two basic pillars of positivism. Still, it is very important to solve the major problem of social sciences, which concerns results finding on the basis of complex species research and study. The roots of Positivism can be traced to the French Enlightenment (the abovementioned philosopher Auguste Comte is the founder of Positivism). The philosopher suggested combining natural sciences principles with social sciences (Delanty, 2005). Comte claimed that religion was conquered by science. It was much important those times to refer to facts and laws, than to suppositions and considerations.
Scientific knowledge is outlined by Comte in the following way: stage of fictitious, metaphysical and scientific knowledge. The last level of knowledge, scientific knowledge, is preferential for Comte. The development of all other stages, if successfully implemented, would result in scientific knowledge development.
These stages of knowledge can be also sought in Empiricism. This discipline is based on observable facts, claiming that logical and mathematical roots are on the background of the facts. The main principle of positivism should be also found in “positive” information, which can be obtained from a positive experience.
Therefore, a methodological paradigm of positivism consists of science and inquiry. An empirical exploration is of paramount importance for any science. Thus, from positivist perspective it can be claimed that social phenomena are not distributed in accordance with certain or specific types, where the members of these types are homogenous (Cassell, 2002). In other words, positivist vision or methodology implemented in social sciences is not relevant to the fullest extent. Sociological phenomena are of inhomogeneous nature. For example, a structure of any sociological object or phenomena cannot be considered in accordance with specific features or characteristics, which are relevant at all times.
Moreover, social processes and generalizations cannot be characterized simultaneously in accordance with homogenous characteristics.
For sociological sciences, it is of crucial importance to formulate specific hypotheses focused on particular sociological events or imagination. A development of sociological theory is one possible way to develop explanations concerning sociological events or objects.
Therefore, positivism is often criticized as irrelevant methodology applied for social inquiry. Social science requires development of unique approaches focused on “contingency, heterogeneity, path-dependence, and particularity corresponding to the plasticity of human institutions and human agency” (Delaney, 2003, p 16).
Moreover, a various nature of sociological researchers referring to different aspects of sociology, comprising cultural/social anthropology, communication studies, social policy, political science etc requires a multi-faceted research methodology and philosophical background. Sociological objects for study also differ: from census data obtained from hundreds of thousands of human beings to integral analysis of an individual’s social life (Delanty, 2005).
Consequently, with this respect the use of positivism in social sciences refers to the eminent philosopher August Comte. The philosopher suggested developing a research methodology basing on accurate facts and not on speculation. Social sciences are on their way to successful research in case not pure considerations, but scientific laws are implied.
Therefore, it is more relevant to relate ideas of positivism with methodological methods of natural sciences. Referring to the fact that scientific knowledge is the highest form of knowledge, natural sciences study measurable and observable objects. If to compare knowledge of sociological sciences and that of natural sciences, it will be clearly seen that the former science deals with imperfect knowledge because it is difficult to observe and evaluate studying objects of sociology. Thus, in accordance with positivist knowledge: “we must study, measure, and otherwise directly observe our subject matter more closely. Indeed, if we cannot do so, we must assume that the purported subject matter does not even exist” (Delanty, 2005, p. 21). In other words, it is easier for positivists to question a true nature of social science knowledge, than of natural science knowledge. This phrase may seem rather intricate for antagonists of Positivism, but we can surely claim that there was no intention for positivists to diminish the role of social science. Vice versa, they worked in favor of social science knowledge perfection by natural sciences methods integration.
With regards to this fact, the basis of a common nature between social and natural sciences is evident: “In science, the term natural science refers to a rational approach to the study of the universe, which is understood as obeying rules or law of natural origin” (Edge, 2001). “The term natural science is also used to distinguish those fields that use the scientific method to study nature from the social sciences, which use the scientific method to study human behavior and society; and from the formal sciences, such as mathematics and logic, which use a different methodology” (Edge, 2001, p.34). This quotation is a perfect evidence of interconnectedness between social and natural sciences. Still, this suggestion is often criticized by the proponents of Positivism. They claim that no abstract ideas exist, and there is a crucial necessity to back up evidences by observable facts. Experimental experiences of humanity are collected and analyzed or classified with implementation of statistical or mathematical methods. Nevertheless, there are opponents of Positivism, who claim that they have more arguments against science in comparison with supportive facts of it. To achieve knowledge about the world, it is necessary to implement a scientific approach to knowledge acquiring.
One of the main external challenges to applying sociological knowledge to natural sciences is the presence of multiple sociological perspectives. A sociological perspective is an effective tool and incentive for rethinking familiar phenomena and issues from a different point of view. These perspectives operate as paradigms brought by practicing sociologists into the real world. It is no wonder that the growing number of perspectives can make it difficult for sociologists to build a well-defined conceptual model of sociological issues. Yet, the presence of multiple perspectives is not a plague, but a great benefit given to applied sociologists by the complex reality. “Applied sociology employs sociological perspectives to assist in problem solving, and the applied sociologist is generally a research specialist who produces information that is useful in resolving problems in government, industry, and other practice settings” (Edge, 2001, p.3).
Sociology and natural sciences: Theoretical or applied?
More serious is the situation with whether or not sociology can be applied, including in natural sciences. Contemporary sociologists lack any consensus as for how sociology and natural sciences are related. Some suggest that all sociology is applied. By contrast, there is an opinion that it is at least surprising for a field as humanistic as sociology to have such a little place/ application in public debates and important public issue decisions. More often than not, natural sciences are directly related to the various aspects of social organization and life, and have the potential to reorganize society. Therefore, it would seem natural and expected for sociology to play one of the major roles in the development of public issue solutions. Unfortunately, any other discipline would find its voice in natural sciences, but not sociology. Sociology in general and American sociology, in particular, have very little impacts on natural sciences and policymaking. Public sociology remains a highly ambiguous field. As a result, the question is not in what impedes the application of sociology in natural sciences, but in the need to develop the field of natural sciences sociology as such.
As of today, sociology provides vast decision making and problem-solving opportunities. There are numerous situations that have the potential to transform into natural sciences, but have not been detected so far. Again, not multiple perspectives or the complexity of social phenomena, but the lack of general consensus over the most salient aspects of sociology is what impedes the development and progress of applied sociology in the natural sciences domain. To ensure that sociology can benefit natural sciences, sociologists should achieve a general agreement regarding its applicability and related aspects. This is the only way to ensure that humanity has a chance to address its natural sciences consistently.
The complexity of natural sciences and social phenomena is claimed to be one of the major barriers to applying sociological knowledge to natural sciences. The complexity of natural sciences themselves is also claimed to be a serious problem. However, is complexity a real problem in applying sociological knowledge in natural sciences? More often than not, the complexity of social phenomena and natural sciences is not an obstacle, but, on the contrary, a favor given to applied sociologists in their analysis of the major social evils. Certainly, the inhibiting nature of the social life complexity and its potential implications for the application of sociological knowledge cannot be easily dismissed. It was recognized that complexity could produce inhibiting effects on the sociological subject matter. However, the overall complexity of the social phenomena is hardly a permanent and impenetrable barrier to obtaining a better, practical understanding of natural sciences. The complexity of various social phenomena may result in an inadequate understanding of certain natural sciences, but cannot prevent practical sociologists from developing potentially effective solutions. Therefore, the complexity of the social phenomena is hardly the biggest barrier to applying sociological knowledge in natural sciences.
Applying sociological knowledge to natural sciences is considered one of the biggest problems in sociology. The presence of multiple perspectives, the overall complexity of social life, and other internal and external issues are claimed to impede the applicability of sociological knowledge to natural sciences. Really, the growing scope of sociological perspectives and the complexity of sociological phenomena may hinder the development of effective sociological frameworks. Yet, more often than not, these aspects benefit the study of sociology and its potential applications. More serious is the fact that sociologists lack any consensus as for whether and how sociology can be applied in natural sciences. Therefore, sociologists should achieve a general agreement regarding its applicability and related aspects.
We may argue and claim that the natural science was created by people by the society, and the developers of science are people. It is not necessary to reduce science to sociology or to natural sciences because the outcome would be self-defeating (Williams, 2001). It is better for either social or natural science to integrate approaches of Positivism because the “science remains the science” thanks to the facts, observable evidences and proven truths it operates.
Consequently, positivist paradigm is an integral part of scientific knowledge, and its methodological basis should not be restricted by comparison and differentiating between social and natural sciences. The main purpose of Positivism is to obtain positive information about the world’s knowledge, and this is the basic principle for any science.