Science has progressed by providing powerful predictions and explanations about how the world works. Natural science has experienced a sustained growth of knowledge, which has led to the uncovering of laws that allow human beings to control or manipulate various aspects of the world around us. A sustained growth of knowledge and the discovery of useful laws are absent from social science. The social sciences fail to live up to the success of the natural sciences.
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The First Objection to the Thesis
One reason that social science appears to be a failure in comparison to natural science is that human beings are difficult and complex subjects to study. The study of human beings raises many ethical questions. Such as, how far scientist should push the limits of morality in order to solve important questions about human behavior. Natural science is spared this dilemma. The complexity of human behavior also makes it difficult to discover scientific laws and generalizations. However, just because social science has yet to discover such laws does not mean they do not exist. It is possible that the laws of human behavior are too complicated for humans to comprehend right now. With time, social science may make advances, which will render the laws understandable. After all, social science is young compared to natural science.
The Second Objection to the Thesis
Social science is not a failure in comparison to natural science, because natural science has not really progressed in the way that many have suggested. Kuhn argues, the history of science has been the succession of paradigms replacing one another. Each new paradigm has made only small improvements on its predecessors and creates an entirely new conceptual scheme. Natural science cannot claim to have accumulated progress throughout its history, because there is no way to compare the different paradigms. The leaders of each new paradigm rewrite the history of their subjects and in the process discount the success of previous paradigms.
Reply to the First Objection
The claim that human behavior is a complex and difficult subject to study is a valid one. However, complexity of subject matter should not prevent progress. Natural science has always coped with the problem of complexity. As natural science developed, its subjects became more complex and difficult to work with. Also, social science has had an advantage over natural science since its conception. Natural science could only advance after successfully changing our commonsense notion of how the world worked. For example, it used to be a commonsense notion that the world was flat. In contrast, the commonsense notions of how the world works have been used social science since the dawn of history. And finally, social science as a field of inquiry cannot be precisely dated, but it is as least as old as natural science.
Reply to the Second Objection
If the claim that the history of natural science has been the succession of unrelated paradigms is accepted as true, social science still fails in comparison to natural science. After all there has been no succession of paradigms in social science. According to Kuhn, new paradigms would replace old ones when there power of explaining how the world works is diminished. The power to explain how the world works, no matter how limited the time span, is a success for natural science. The incongruence of different paradigms should be expected. In order to advance, natural science must change our commonsense notions. Compare the success of a paradigm in which the world is flat with the paradigm in which it is round, because the commonsense notions of each paradigm are incompatible. The shift from an outdated paradigm to a new one still constitutes progress. The very definition of progress is moving from things that don’t work to things that do.
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