The Development of Social Sciences

Social Sciences

The beginning of the tradition of social sciences has been of the major developments of the 19th century. Disciplines such as economics, political science and history though have a long history of their own, could get recognition as “social sciences” only in the 19th century. It is often said that social sciences in the 19th century are mostly understood as the problem of order that was created in men’s minds by the weakening of the old order under the twin blows of the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. The European society was hard hit by these twin revolutions and the old social order that rested on kinship, land, social class religion, local community and monarchy became very shaky. Thus, thinkers were concerned about finding ways and means of reconsolidating these elements of the social order. This gave rise to various intellectual and political waves in the form of socio-political ideologies that were being propounded and discussed extensively during this period. Of the various different kinds of intellectual influences, the impacts of three were considered more important than others.


Positivism implied not merely an appeal to science but almost reverence for science. The 19th century saw the virtual institutionalization of the ideal of science. The great aim was that of dealing with moral values, institutions, and social phenomenon through the same fundamental methods that could be used so successfully in such areas as physics or biology. Prior to the 19th century, no very clear distinction had been made between philosophy and science. But now the distinction between philosophy and science became clear. It was also felt that every area of man’s thought and behaviour could be put to scientific investigation. August Comte’s book “Positive Philosophy” published in six volumes between 1830 to 1842 sought to demonstrate the necessity of the science of man in society.


Humanitarianism, though a very distinguishable current of thought, it was closely related to the idea of “science of society”. It is an ideology committed to the cause of human welfare or societal welfare. The ultimate purpose of social science was also thought by almost everyone to be the welfare of society. Humanitarianism entered the sphere of “social consciousness” and made people realize the need for doing something for the improvement of the poor and the needy. Due to the influence of humanitarianism, several social service organizations, orphanages, poor houses, child protective laws came in. Great concern was shown towards the poor in the artistic, literary, religious and political communities. The need for “social philosophizing” was called for and there was a genuine application of the science of human understanding.


Evolution means “to develop” or “to unfold”. It implies the continuous change that takes place, especially in some structure. Social thinkers borrowed from Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” and used the term “social evolution” to explain the evolution of one society from one stage to another, from simplicity to complexity. It affected all those areas of the social sciences which were concerned with the idea of development. It was believed that the idea of evolution would help people to understand development in social structures or societies as it had helped the biologists to understand development in the structure of animals.

These three ideas significantly contributed to the development of the social sciences. But when compared with physical sciences, social sciences are still considered to be less exact and precise. Social scientists face many difficulties while making their studies because scientific method, with all its established procedures, cannot be strictly used in the social investigation as experiments conducted under monitored laboratory conditions are difficult to arrange in the social field. The complexity of social data, the interdependence of cause and effect, problems of objectivity and prediction, amongst other things, have made the social sciences comparatively less exact. This is because the whole society constitutes a laboratory for the social scientist.

However, recent scientific advances in the physical sciences culminating in the atomic bomb, hydrogen bomb and even the tragedy in Hiroshima, has brought forth the pressing need for comparable competence in social sciences. Advancement in physical sciences alone cannot bring man happiness because the social sciences are equally important in promoting human welfare. If the medical doctor has a basic doctrine that he should prevent disease and save lives, then the social scientist has a basic doctrine that he should prevent friction and violence in human relations by establishing peaceful and self-respecting relations amongst mankind. Thus, it is now felt that the imbalance between the physical and social sciences has to be set right for both to co-exist and together contribute to the development of the society.

– Contributed by Ankita

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