Project Description

Many scientists and philosophers of science take for granted the thesis that there is a vast difference between the natural sciences on the one hand, and the social sciences and humanities (SSHs) on the other. Sometimes it is even claimed that SSHs are not sciences proper, as their subject-matter, methods and procedures are not as strictly defined as those of the natural-scientific disciplines. The project shall test the thesis that SSHs are in some respects just as scientific as the natural sciences, because they use the same or very similar analytical (conceptual) methods. The objective is to find out whether the manner, the extent and the form of application of analytical methods in SSHs are similar to the manner, extent and form of their application in the natural-scientific disciplines.

Working Hypothesis

Social sciences and the humanities (SSHs) on the one hand, and natural sciences on the other hand are similar in that both make use of analytical methods in building and/or testing hypotheses and theories. Analytical methods thus fulfill similar methodological functions in both SSH and in natural sciences, and also share the same formal and application properties. The differences between SSHs and natural sciences lie rather in a) the different natures of their subject-matter, b) in some of their cognitive objectives of research, and c) in the specifics of application of analytical, as well as non-analytical, methods to their fields of inquiry.


We shall assess this working hypothesis by means of an analysis of the process of theory building and testing in selected SSHs, specifically sociology, economics, law, history, and philosophy. The results of our analysis will be compared to the use of analytical methods in the natural sciences represented by physics. SSHs were chosen with the intent to gain a genuinely representative sample. Sociology is a well-developed area of scientific inquiry and has attracted our interest especially because it has elaborated methodological procedures specific to it. Economics has, due to its extensive use of mathematical and statistical methods, the greatest potential of approaching the extent of use of analytical methods common in natural scientific disciplines. Legal theories present an interesting challenge due to their considerable practical implications and the normative nature of some of their statements. History is important, for it is concerned with singular events and therefore significantly differs from areas of scientific inquiry which focus on the investigation of universally valid laws. Philosophy is unique in that its field of inquiry is not empirical. Therefore, analytical methods should be of key importance in this discipline. We believe that an examination of the role of analytical methods will provide an adequate and informative view of their workings in SSHs in general.

Output in English