Assess the View That Sociology Can and Should Model Itself on the Natural Sciences

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Science was central to the 18th century “Englightment Project", as the belief in science over religion became more important. Science was seen as a provider of true and objective knowledge about the world, which could be used for progress. So the early modernist sociologists thought the same scientific principles could be applied to the understanding and betterment of society. Positivists believe that it is possible and desirable to apply the logic and methods of the natural sciences to the study of society. Society is like the nature, an objective factual reality; it is a "real" thing made up of social facts that exists "out there", independently of individuals. They seek to discover the causes of patterns they observe to produce general statements or scientific laws, like natural scientists do. In order to do this, they use objective quantitative research, meaning value-free and number based data. They make up a hypothesis and test it in systematic and controlled ways, like in experiments. So these methods produce reliable data that can be checked by other researchers, which is one of the most important features in science. In the natural sciences, it is claimed that scientists values and opinions make no difference to the outcome of their research. However, positivists know that in sociology they are dealing with humans and therefore there is a danger that the researcher may 'contaminate' the research. Positivists thus use quantitative methods which allow maximum objectivity, like experiments, questionnaires and structured interviews. Durkheim chose to study suicide to demonstrate that sociology was a science with its own distinct subject matter. He believed that if he could show than even such a highly individual act had social causes; this would establish sociology’s status as a distinct and genuinely scientific discipline. From his study, Durkheim observed
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