Sociology Overview: The Term Sociology
Sociology is the scientific study of human interaction. It is also the body of knowledge about human interaction resulting from such study (Dressler, 1973, p. 3). Let us examine the definition in detail.
Long before there was a study called sociology, philosophers, theologians, poets, novelists, and others were intensely interested in human behavior and studied it in their particular ways. They observed that most people generally behave according to certain patterns, but that some depart from these patterns in particular respects under given conditions. They speculated on the reasons for these common patterns and wondered why some individuals deviate from them. They attempted to formulate general principles--called generalizations--concerning the behavior of man as a member of a group. In effect, they were describing and interpreting the nature of human nature, a subject that has fascinated thinkers for centuries.
Their generalizations were often highly perceptive, but, particularly in earlier centuries, were based mainly on logic and common sense, with little supporting evidence of the kind a social scientist would demand today. With the development of the scientific method, however, investigations of human behavior took new directions. These new directions have benefited social scientists, essayists, philosophers, and others interested in human social behavior.
It was the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857) who first applied the term sociology to such investigations. Comte was the founder of positivism, a philosophical system that was concerned with knowledge derived from observable (or positive) phenomena. He wanted to extend our understanding of social man by means of the scientific method of observations, experimentation, and comparison.