Integration Between Natural And Social Science In Problem Solving Philosophy Essay

Interdisciplinary research is the combination of different disciplines like combination of the natural science and social science which may be helpful to find new information, solve complex problems etc (Nissani, 1997). In interdisciplinary research, when scientists from the field of natural and social science come together to solve a problem, they might have a common interest within the problem but they may define the same problem in different manner and will approach the problem in different way to have the solutions as think about the problem( lele,). In natural science and social science, the researchers have different theoretical ideas and they use different kinds of methodology, collect different kinds of data, asking different kinds of research questions, use different tools to analyse the data and validating the data and epistemological obligation (strang..). This will affect the outcomes of the interdisciplinary research depending on the similarities or divergent outcomes in the both disciplines (miller…). The fact in the natural sciences which verifies a hypothesis occurs autonomously of information of the hypothesis, but in the social sciences the occurrence of the fact is dependent upon the information of the hypothesis (Walle). Researcher from different disciplines may research on the same topic but when it’s a complex topic then it is difficult to say which one is superior to other in all the aspects (lele..). Along this they will maintain their disciplinary borders and also work from their own epistemological view and at the same time they try to obtain and authenticate the data within that epistemology (miller..). This disciplinary border will affect the results and have less recognition in the integrated method that shows the complex relationships between the disciplines and disciplinary research have contributed in the problem solving but there are some important issues that the disciplinary research has not effectively solved (miller). In interdisciplinary research when natural and social science are involved, usually the social science part are often ignored and limiting the input of the social scientists in the research. Researcher involved in the interdisciplinary research must invest significant amount of time and funding which will help to get success and which also will be needed to get fuller interdisciplinary exchange from the initial stage of the research and continuing throughout the interdisciplinary research (Strang). This implies that natural and social science needs to have equality from the initial stage of the interdisciplinary research like methodology of the research, making research questions etc. (stranng). In natural science, the scientists assume that the disciplinary difference or viewpoints as complementary and because of this they are inexpert for the discussion with the social scientists from various fields and so gathering a good understanding of the various cultures of the numerous social sciences is extremely important to natural scientists if they are to work with together with the social science members in an interdisciplinary team ( lele,). And this understanding becomes indispensible when it comes to forming or even joining such a team. Problems arising from the social consequences are initially indicated by the natural scientists and they also lead the societal effort to find the solutions of the problems even though they don’t have the much knowledge about social part of the problems ( lele,). Apart from the level of the complexity that separates Social “Science” from natural sciences, the other aspect that differentiates the two sciences is the human factor involved in the social science. While the human behaviour cannot be isolated from their meanings, occurrences in the natural science are devoid of such meanings (A. Rosenberg: Philosophy of social science, (1995), Westview Press, Boulder/Oxford).

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Integration of natural and social science is important in the field of environmental science. According to strang (2007) to have a successful research involving both natural and social science, research design must start with careful discussion about the concepts and efforts which will applied during the research so that all the members in the team can use a model which will theoretically integrate both social and natural complexities. While doing the research involving both the science then it would be helpful if they can produce complementary information which can reflect the needs and qualities of both the field and

Collaborative research needs to be organized so that people can be confident that their disciplinary identities will not be denigrate, appropriated or consumed by assimilation.

From my own experience while working in natural science related research to purification of drinking water in rural part of Nepal, initially we were just concentrated in the technological aspect of the research. But after few years of research, we felt that, the research is technologically sound but we didn’t look into the social part of the technology in the community. We didn’t know will this technology will be accepted by the people in the community. Then we realized that there is a need of social point of view regarding the technological aspect of the research.

Main actions to promote a fuller integration of the sciences, is to try to truly create equal contributions of all disciplines in a research project. For this equal contributions to work, will involve a higher addition of time, funds and people to help in the integrating process. There is an overwhelming need to integrate the sciences in research, during all phases of the research process and including an initial dualistic paradigm approach. In the future this could develop into a more complete integration for of this dualistic approach. Integrating both sciences at all stages include, both sides deciding on methods, data analysis, created research questions used for the project. Al lot of time and effort initially should be spent on being able to compare the not readily comparable data of the results that these sciences will produce.

Also scientist should ‘learn each others languages’, instead of including secondary and simplified accounts of non-dominant sciences involved. Forcing simplification on included sciences possibly degrades the quality of the research. In fully integrated research projects, all participants must feel confidant that their disciplines will not be appropriated or consumed by assimilation.

Research approaches are not only hard to integrate due to their differing research approaches, but also due to general issues that affect all research. Examples are a general academic shift towards more specialized/technical inquiries; major differing funding and support and political pressure. Research in modern times is also more expected to be more readily applicable, further pressurizing scientific research. To try to reduce this pressure, there is a growing need for research to be created without certain constricting influences of stakeholders and external funders. Implementing this approach will take more funding and cost more time, but highly arguably will provide better quality research outcomes, than three disciplines would have achieved separately.

The natural and the social sciences
The scientific status of the social sciences

Three main positions with respect to the question of the scientific status of the social sciences.

The classical empiricist view. All subjects must emulate the natural sciences to be legitimate. Social and natural sciences are of the same kind. We must use the same methodology in social sciences as in the natural sciences

The social sciences are different in kind on account of the meaningfulness of human behaviour (Winch 1958), social sciences produce legitimate knowledge, but must use a different method to the physical sciences

Sociology of knowledge. All knowledge is a social product. The natural sciences have no special claim to legitimacy. Philosophical justifications failed and the search for the guaranteed method proved fruitless. There is always and inescapably some sociological/historical explanation for the predominance of particular ways of conceptualising the world. This is equally true for both the natural and the human/social sciences.

The classical empiricist view

The study of society is in principle no different to the study of the natural world; the same methodological strategies must be employed in both cases to establish by inductive processes the true causal explanations of observed regularities. Mill in the 19C argued that any phenomena displaying regular patterns were a fit subject for science and all natural phenomena, including human behaviour displayed regularities. But, how can we explain the relative lack of success of the attempts to apply “natural scientific method” in the social sciences, why have the social/human sciences have not been as successful as the natural sciences in explaining and predicting events. The traditional answer of the empiricist is that the difficulty is caused by:

the immense complexity of the situations studied by social scientists,

the moral and practical problems involved in the attempt to set up controlled experiments,

the fact that social phenomena rarely recur in exactly the same form, and where such recurrence exists there are theories (the economic theories of the marketplace for example),

the phenomena themselves (human behaviour) are subject to constant change.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, so the argument goes, the logic of explanation in the social sciences must be no different to that of the natural sciences and social scientists must strive to

describe the facts more minutely,

experiment where possible,

quantify what we can and use statistical techniques,

put forward appropriate theoretical frameworks and test them according to the hypothetico-deductive model.

Causal explanation of human behaviour?

The world as understood by science is a sequence of particular events. Events that form human thoughts and actions are a subclass. Regularities in human behaviour must occur in a law-governed way, as do all other events. If invariable laws govern human behaviour then a psychological science can be integrated into a unified scientific account of the world. The causal account of human behaviour forms part of a desire to reduce all explanation ultimately to physical explanation. Hobbes (17th Century English philosopher), for example, believed that all behaviour was ultimately to be explained in terms of atoms and molecules. So social science can be reduced to psychology, which can be reduced to physiology which can be reduced to physics.

The sophisticated empiricist acknowledges that human beings form organised self-regulating systems operating on holistic principles to maintain integration and promote survival but argues that this does not cast doubt on the fact that the workings of the parts can be explained physically. Human behaviour is to be explained by recourse to the same principles as are used to explain complex physical systems.

This programme has severe difficulties to overcome:

In what sense can the psychological processes of thinking, feeling etc. be said to be reduced to physiological processes? There is a difference of logical category. That is, questions, which make sense for physical processes are meaningless, applied to mental processes. How long does it take to think of an elephant? Where is your memory of your breakfast, to left or right of your memory of the elephant?

The ways in which we come to know about psychological processes and events is quite different in kind from the way in which we come to know about physiological events. The real event is not the physical state of the brain when, for example, we are thinking of home. There is no need to go as far as the physical, all we need are basic psychological laws from which we proceed to explain human behaviour. We can discover which programme a computer is running by inspecting the relationship of the input and the output without having any idea of the physical state of the device (Cognitive science).

The mind – body relation. Psychological and physical phenomena are different but if mental events are not physical events how can they influence the physical world and how can mental events explain human behaviour?

If we are committed to theoretical realism then there must be a well-ordered relation between the various sciences and so a causal account of behaviour is important for the social sciences to fit in the overall schema for describing the world as it is. One can argue that the social sciences can be developed in isolation, but the linking of different sciences often result in great leaps in our understanding. Psychology and physiology have yet to show this, but one may argue that much progress has been made recently. The two are clearly related in that they should not make claims that are contradictory. It seems that the dependencies are more impressive than the independencies

Is the causal sequence offered in a psychological explanation the same as in a physical one? One may argue that the causes of human behaviour are reasons, not mechanical causes. Reasons can be judged, mechanical causes just are, or are not. Decisions are not made by a causal inquiry into our motivations. The question naturally arises as to the status of our first person accounts of our actions and the reasons for them. These can clearly be judged to be false (e.g. actions made under hypnotic suggestion). However, if accounts of human action must be third person then there exists an asymmetry between the view of the agent and the view of the observer without parallel in the natural sciences.

Finally, a causal explanation of a choice renders it a necessary consequence of the antecedents. What then of free will and the explanations given for certain social practices involving praise and blame. The notion of responsibility is destroyed and punishment is simply a mechanism of social control.

The empiricist programme offers coherence across all forms of knowledge but runs into difficulties with internal incoherence and ambiguities about the envisaged psychological science. Furthermore the empiricist view clashes with our everyday understandings with disturbing consequences.

2. The meaningfulness of human behaviour sets it aside as an object of study – it is a different kind of study

Winch published his “The idea of a social science” in 1958 and this book had a similar impact in the social sciences as did Kuhn’s in the natural sciences. Winch argued against the classical empiricist view of the social sciences (but did not question the empiricist view of the natural sciences). Social “science” cannot be a science in the same sense as the natural sciences because human actions cannot be separated from their meaning. There is a difference in kind between the natural and the social sciences; it is not just a matter of increased complexity. The phenomena of the natural sciences do not endow themselves with meaning; humans, however, do endow their behaviour with meaning.

The categories in terms of which we are to analyse and explain social and political life must involve concepts of purpose and intention. These are the terms in which the subjects themselves explain their behaviour. We are not simply interested in regularities but in the significance attached to them. Causal explanation is not the primary aim, as it is in the natural sciences. The explanation of behaviour offered by the social scientist may differ from the explanation offered by the subjects themselves. (This cannot arise in the natural sciences.) This divorce of the social and the natural sciences does not make social science non-empirical or non-factual. It is quite possible to be wrong about the meaning attached to a situation by the human agent. There are correct descriptions and false descriptions of behaviour. The goal of empirical work is to establish which rules of significant action we should have to follow to be members of some society or sub group. It is these rules that provide the skeleton of meanings within which the individual can frame intentions.

Winch argues that social scientists employ valid procedures and their techniques are useful but not for the reasons they suppose. What are the dissimilarities between the behaviour of humans and the behaviour of objects in the natural world and what are the consequences of these differences for the attempt to model the social sciences on the natural sciences.

Social behaviour is to be understood as rule-following behaviour, and not as causally regular behaviour. (derivative of Wittgenstein and social theorists e.g. Durkeim’s explanation of suicide: happens where there are no rules or an excessive conflict of rules).

Causal laws assert contingent connections between events that are identifiable independently of each other. This distinguishes causal connections from connections of meaning. The putative effect must not be defined in terms of the cause. A causal psychology requires us to be able to identify the components of action in such a way that they acquire the necessary logical independence. But can this be done? Winch argues that the connections between actions are conceptual connections; the terminology that we employ in talking about actions is indispensable to our identifying actions as actions – rather than mere bodily happenings. Human actions are meaningful, and meaning is not a category open to causal analysis. What characterises explanations in the social sciences is meaningfulness and rule guidedness

Human behaviour involves language and language-like capacities (is a causal account of language possible?). Things are the same or different in various respects and what we need is rules that pick out these respects, such rules are necessarily social since there must be agreed standards by comparison with which one can be judged correct or incorrect in the identification.

Observed regularities are used as evidence for the existence of a rule. (e.g. observed behaviour at traffic lights). The phenomena can be questions as to reasons!

Irregularities falsify causal laws, not so for rules. Wrong predictions in physics are our fault, incorrect behaviour is the subject’s fault (deviance).

Verstehen (imaginative understanding of the agents point of view); necessary in anthropology, impossible in physics. The concepts which people possess are merely the mirror image of the rules that govern the society.

A typical modern view of the differences between the natural and the social sciences is given in the following table

Natural Science
Human Science

Objective, testable and independent of theoretical explanation

What counts as data depends on theoretical interpretation, facts constructed in the light of theoretical interpretation

Theories are models, causal explanations based on Hypothetico-deductive model

Theories reconstruct the facts – criterion of a good theory is the understanding of meanings and intentions

Law-like relations of experience are external to objects and to the investigator

Relations are internal – objects constituted by their relationships. Relations are mental – created by human categories of understanding.

Meanings are separated from facts

Meanings constitute facts, data – documents, intentional behaviour social rules which are inseparable from their meanings for agents

Our analysis, so far, in this unit calls into question this dichotomy.

“What is immediately striking about it [this dichotomy] to readers versed in recent literature in philosophy of science is that almost every point made about the human sciences has recently been made about the natural sciences”. Hesse (1980)

Hesse summarizes the new, post empiricist account of natural science as follows:

In the natural sciences data are not detachable from theory, for what counts as data are determined in the light of some theoretical interpretation, and the facts themselves have to be reconstructed in the light of interpretation

In natural science theories are not models externally compared to nature in a hypothetico-deductive schema, they are the way the facts themselves are seen.

In natural science the law-like relations asserted of experience are internal, because what counts as facts are constituted by what the theory says about their inter-relations with one another

The language of natural science is irreducibly metaphorical and inexact, and formalizable only at the cost of distortion of the historical dynamics of scientific development and of the imaginative constructions in terms of which nature is interpreted by science.

Meanings in natural science are determined by theory; they are understood by theoretical coherence rather than by correspondence with the facts.

Old dualisms redundant?
Consequences for psychology?

The Cartesian anxiety (obsession with Method and the need for philosophical justification) lead psychologist to develop behaviourism as the only way in which one could hope to emulate the success of the natural sciences. A more refined philosophy of science however, allowed the reality of theoretical constructs (mental processes) provided they were part of an appropriate hypothetico-deductive scheme of testing. This went hand-in-hand with the development of the new cognitive approach in psychology. However, many argue that the “first cognitive revolution” (Harre 1994,2002) did not go far enough and still left psychology bound by the kind of restrictions and limitations that the classical empiricist school imposed on legitimate forms of knowledge.

Following on from Winch’s arguments about the social sciences, many have argued that it is a mistake to try to impose the classical empiricist model in psychology. Harre has argued that a second cognitive revolution is taking/should take place. He suggests that Wittgenstein’s work is crucial in this respect. Wittgenstein argued that

We understand the behaviour of an individual when we grasp the meanings that are informing that person’s activity.

He came to reject the Cartesian view of mind as an internal arena for the representation of external reality. To understand what it is for something to mean something it is no good just transferring the problem to an internal representation of the external world.

Understanding and the phenomenon of meaning can only be approached by examining what people actually do with word patterns or other sign systems. Meaning is the use to which we put our signs.

The understanding of human activity requires us to interpret the behaviour of another according to the self-positioning of the subject within the complex structure of rules.

Harre (2002) argues that psychology must inevitably be a hybrid science, combining a naturalistic/discursive study of ways of thinking with neurological studies. For Harre, the essential character of scientific work is captured in developing classification schemes of the relevant phenomena combined with their explanation through the use of abstract theoretical models. The project of a scientific cognitive psychology has four stages:

Record analyse and understand public and private processes and procedures by which competent people use available symbolic resources to accomplish cognitive tasks

Develop abstract analytical or descriptive models of the ways people accomplish these tasks

Develop abstract artificial intelligence models of the processes that can achieve (2)

Use model developed in (3) to inform neuroscience research on the look out for cellular structures as real analogues of AI models.

3. Sociology of knowledge

Given the failure of attempts to provide a philosophical justification for scientific knowledge as true belief and the absence of a description of scientific method that does justice to the history and actual practice of the natural sciences, we are lead to the position that all knowledge is a social product.

Empiricist/Positivist view

Natural sciences alone produce legitimate knowledge

Proto-sciences must use the methods of the natural sciences.


No philosophical justification for empiricist’s claim – no Method.

Social Sciences

Different in kind from the natural sciences (as envisaged by the empiricists) and so the same methodology cannot apply – human agents work together to fulfil their intentions and achieve their projects according to local rules and customs – need to understand the meanings of actions. This does not invalidate or denigrate the understandings produced.

Post empiricist view

The natural and the social sciences actually have much in common from a philosophical perspective. All knowledge is a social product.


To progress psychology must free itself from the classical empiricist straight jacket and embrace the second discursive/cognitive revolution.