hierarchy of the sciences

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Fig. 12 Hierarchy of the sciences. According to this view of the sciences, first proposed by Comte (1798-1857), the sciences can be arranged in ascending order of complexity, with sciences higher in the hierarchy dependent, but not only dependent, on those below. Thus, sociology makes assumptions about the physical and biological world, but at the same time also involves an ‘emergent’ level of analysis different from and not reducible to those below.

hierarchy of the sciences

a view of the sciences, first propounded by COMTE, in which the different sciences are seen as emerging in a definite sequence, with each science in the hierarchy being dependent upon, while also different in character from, and not simply reducible to, those below it (see Fig. 12). Though Comte saw a basic unity between the sciences (see POSITIVISM), sociology, as the ‘Queen of the sciences’ heading this hierarchy, is a synthesizing science, more complex than those disciplines below it.

Comte's view of the hierarchical arrangement of the sciences is still accepted in general terms (e.g. see Rose, 1973). However, the precise way in which sociology is 'S cientific’, and the extent of its differentiation from natural science, is much disputed.

One reason why sociology can be seen as dependent upon, but not reducible to, other sciences, is the number and the complexity of the variables involved. Thus, higher-level concepts, and accounts which simplify and summarize the many variables and relationships involved, are unavoidable. In biology and in sociology, however, where organisms pursue ends, and human actors are motivated by ‘meanings’, entirely new levels of analysis are introduced in which any simple reduction is unlikely to succeed. However, the precise implications of such new ‘levels’ for sociology are controversial, and often different from Comte's. See also REDUCTION, REDUCTIONISM, SUPERORGANIC, MEANINGFUL UNDERSTANDING AND EXPLANATION, MIND, HERMENEUTICS, VERSTEHEN.