Human and Natural
ARE THEY SO VERY DIFFERENT?
A Historical perspective
The division between the natural and human sciences and the resulting neglect of the latter by
historians and philosophers of science are the products of late 19th-century shifts in the
classification of knowledge, which remapped the disciplines in order to sharpen the distinction
between the human and the natural realms and therefore between the sciences dedicated to
each. Although the methods and forms of explanation of, for example, evolutionary biology and
historical sociology had more in common than either of them had with physics on the one
hand, or demography on the other, the newly drawn boundary between what the natural and
human sciences divided disciplines once linked by common histories and practices.
http://www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/en/research/projects/DeptII_Da_Natural_Human_sciences (accessed September 2013)
Traditional empiricist view
There is no difference - both (must) use the same basic methodology,
“It is important to realize that despite differences of method, interest, technique, subject
matter, and degree, all scientific knowledge must be confirmed or verified; all must be justified
by evidence or good reasons. The criteria for a good hypothesis (that it be
falsifiable, simple, beautiful, general, etc.) apply equally. So do the ideals of science
(reliability, precision, objectivity, testability, comprehensiveness, etc.) and the requirement that
the justification for a claim be unremittingly criticized. Not every scientific explanation satisfies
all of these goals equally well, but the goals are the same for all our organized empirical
“The Social Sciences” Man is The Measure: A Cordial Invitation to the Central Problems of Philosophy by Reuben Abel, found on
https://sites.google.com/a/isb.ac.th/tok---mr-0/areas-of-knowledge/human-science/readings-and-video/human-versus-natural-science (Sept 2013)
Human and Natural Sciences are essentially different and (must) use different methods
“The human sciences study meaningful phenomena whose nature is decisively different from
the merely physical phenomena studied by the natural sciences, and whose study therefore
require different methods ...... This is not to say that the human sciences do not study an
objective reality about which we cannot have genuine knowledge. “
R.D. Ingthorsson The Natural vs. The Human Sciences: Myth, Methodology and Ontology
http://www.academia.edu/3553833/The_Natural_vs._Human_Sciences_Myth_Methodology_and_Ontology (Accessed September 2013)
Let’s consider some claims
Discuss each of these claims in the light of the two positions outlined.
What examples or situations could you cite in considering each claim?
Are there any other claims or knowledge issues to consider?
There is no right answer
Experiment and observation
In the natural sciences, a hypothesis is verified by experiment - the human
sciences cannot experiment.
The natural sciences can repeat experiments in order to verify their
hypotheses, and can generalize their results
Unlike physical scientists, human scientists can almost never use controlled
experiments to gather facts with which to test theories. They must use whatever
facts the world gives them and rely on statistical procedures to draw
In the natural sciences, phenomena may be studied without regard to their
Measurement and Language
The raw material of the natural sciences can be measured with precision -
concepts in the social sciences are inherently vague and qualitative.
The hypotheses of the natural scientist can be stated with precision and
universality. This is not always true of. the social sciences
Explanations, models, laws, predictio
The astronomer may confidently predict the next solar eclipse but no social
scientist can predict with any assurance, so that his hypotheses may be
“Rockets fly to the Moon; energy is extracted from minute changes of atomic
mass. What is the flagship achievement of economics? Only its recurrent
inability to predict and avert crises” (Jean-Philippe Bouchaud)
No objective analysis of "social reality" can be made because "life, with its
irrational reality and its store of possible meanings, is inexhaustible." (Max
The student and the studied
In the human sciences interaction between the scientist and what he studies is
unavoidable, between his statements and the people to whom he makes them –
the self-fulfilling prophecy.
The natural scientist is indifferent to his subject matter; the human sciences
are permeated with values.
Moral considerations can limit the ability or willingness to experiment in the
“But in biology, too—even in molecular biology—expectations often play a role
in bringing about what has been expected”. Karl Popper, talking of the Oedipus
What is it about theories in the human and natural
sciences that makes them convincing? (2011-12)
NB: Consider at least 2 ways of knowing
A Understanding knowledge issues
B Knower’s perspective
C Quality of analysis of knowledge issues
D Organization of ideas