The social sciences are one of three divisions of science, along with the natural and formal sciences. Social science concerns itself with "humanistic" aspects of the world, like the arts and various cultures, although it places an emphasis on experimentation and using the scientific method. Because the methods used in these disciplines are frequently qualitative, or non-numerical, and often based on personal interpretation, they are commonly referred to as the “soft sciences” in contrast to the “hard” natural and formal sciences. Social sciences include a wide range of subjects such as anthropology, linguistics, and education, as well as political science and psychology.
Education, Anthropology, and Linguistics
The study of education is one of the most important social sciences and often develops new ideas regarding how people learn and develop. Anthropologists commonly study past human societies and civilizations to better understand the history of humanity, often finding common themes between different cultures. Linguistics is the study of language and how people communicate through spoken sounds and words. These subjects are often studied together, since an understanding of linguistics is important for teaching people and anthropology looks into education and language from past civilizations.
Law, Political Science, and History
Social sciences include the study of law, which governs the rules created by governments and people to ensure a more orderly society. Similarly, political science is the study of governments and how people form social structures to rule or govern a populace. Historians look at past civilizations and events to learn from previous times and better understand the context of modern issues or cultures.
Psychology and Sociology
Psychologists study the human mind and try to understand how people experience the world through various emotions, ideas, and conscious states. Some of this study has crossed over into biology, as some psychologists look at the chemical reactions and physical elements involved in human consciousness. Sociologists study people in general, focusing on different modern cultures or social sub-groups. The study of sociology often involves groups of people, rather than individuals, and understanding the way people relate to each other and function as a society.
Categorization as Soft Science
Today, millions of people do work in social science professionally. Because human relationships and qualities are so very complex, in some fields there is no objective truth and much work is based on interpretation. What defines “truth” in social sciences is more often opinion than fact, making findings from social science potentially less reliable than those from the harder sciences. Experimentation is still a major part of this field, however, and so the "opinions" of an anthropologist are typically supported by years of research and study.
A Brief History of Social Sciences
The social sciences have existed at least since Ancient Greece, where philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle studied numerous aspects of the world. To these thinkers, there was no fundamental distinction between social and natural science the way there is today. Disciplines such as geometry and sociology were intermixed and practiced by the same communities.
Although social science has been explored throughout history, scholars popularized the modern application of the scientific method to human thoughts and relationships in the early 20th century. Prior to this, there were thinkers such as John Dewey who tried to combine the scientific method with social matters, paying special attention to the influence of Darwin on philosophy. Today, science is much more specialized and complex, requiring experts in individual fields.