Sociology emerged as an explicit discipline in the early 1800s, although people have always thought about the universe around them, including the social universe of their own creation. Auguste Comte,1 the titular founder of sociology, preferred the name social physics for the new discipline because, during his time, the notion of “physics” had not been usurped by the current discipline using this name.


Physics back then meant “to study the nature of”; therefore, social physics was to be a scientific discipline devoted to studying the nature of the social universe created by people’s behaviors, interactions, and patterns of social organization. For Comte, explanations in science are developed through theory, and thus, sociological theory was to be the vehicle by which explanations of the social universe were to be achieved— just as is the case in physics and biology. THEORETICAL SOCIOLOGY TODAY

Since the label, social physics, had already been used by a Belgian statistician, Comte had to adopt the Latin-Greek hybrid label of sociology—a name that he did not like but had to accept. From the very beginning, the view of sociology as an explanatory science, like any natural science, was questioned by many. Today, many still do not believe that sociology can be a natural science, and hence, theoretical sociology cannot offer explanations like those in the “hard” sciences. THEORETICAL SOCIOLOGY TODAY

For these critics, humans have the capacity to change the very nature of their universe, with the result that there can be no universal laws about social dynamics like those in physics or even biology. Moreover, so much of what happens in history is by chance events converging to produce unpredictable outcomes. And so, at best, sociological theory can describe for a time the social universe, but as this universe changes its fundamental character, old theories must give ways to new theories, which will also eventually become obsolete as humans remake their universe.THEORETICAL SOCIOLOGY TODAY

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