Social Scientist. v 7, no. 79 (Feb 1979) p. 69.


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Scientism and the Social Sciences

SHOULD the social sciences be akin to the natural sciences in the aims and use of methods and if yes, to what extent and with what results? This question pertaining to the realm of philosophy or epistemology has faced the social sciences ever since the days when the natural sciences, with their accomplishments, had gained respectability and reliance. The contention that the cognitive aims of the natural and the social science are the same and the social sciences could study the society in the same manner as the natural scientists study the world of nature is not a product of the twentieth century. The view was advanced by Francis Bacon in Nomm Organum (1620) and in his other writing and a hundred years later by George Berkeley in an essay, De Motu (1713)1.

The idea got its concrete manifestation in the positivistic writings of Auguste Comte2 and those of Emile Durkheim. But in the twentieth century, the idea permeated the writings of various types of positivists known as neo or logical and legal positivists. Moreover, this is the epistemological root of the behavioural movement which has made a special bid to change the aims and methods of the social sciences on the pattern of the natural ones. But the excesses to which the movement carried itself has led, in course of time, to disappointments of a certain kind evidenced by the emergence of the post-behavioural movement in the last decade. In this paper,we seek to analyse the epistemological assumptions of positivism or behaviouralism as they relate to this basic question as well as present their critique with the hope that it might enable us to develop a viewpoint on this problem.

A Plea for a Scientific Method

Behaviouralism is perceptibly impressed and inspired by scientific enquiry as a means for acquiring knowledge. Mart may utilise four different processes in acquiring knowledge: thinking,



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