There is a great deal said, now-a-days, under the captivating title of “ Social Science ;” but much of what is said >lnd written warrants a doubt of even the existence of such a science. Still more does 1t warrant the doubt that those who attempt the discussion of social topics, have, even admitting the existence of such a science, ever mastered the first rudiments of it. '1'he wordy and weak discussions which have filled up the time of the so-called “ Social Science Conventions,” have not availed to fix public attention upon social evils more strongly than before they were uttered. The few suggestions made for reform, and the correction of acknowledged existing evils, have been of the most impracticable kind, and showed most glaringly superficiality of thought in those who offered them. If there be not now, it is high time there ought to be such .a thing as social science. It is painfully evident that society is, in some respects, going from bad. to worse. We will not say that, on the whole, it is deteriorating; but granted even that it is growing in virtue and . increasing in: knowledge, that its sanitary condition is improving and its moral health better than in the dark agesall this is' not enough. It is sad to reflect that whatever progress has been made, or is now making, is the result of bitter experience to those who have gone before us, and whose blood and tears have stained the pages of history for ages. Is there no way to adjust society on immutable principles ? Must all progress be in the future as in the past secured by experiment ? And must what we call social science be forever a mass of ill-assorted facts culled from history ? Surely there is wme moie solid basis than this for social organization. Did we want proof that nothing like social science exists among us, it is found in all that surrounds us. Very little that passes current in society will stand the test of reason. Our eating, our working, our dress, and even our sleeping, are alike performed with a general disregard to physical law. Pauperism has become a profession. Disease though on the average, perhaps, not so deadly as it was a century ago, is, if not more general, still not less diffused. Perfectly healthy people are the exceptions, not the rule. The professions of law and medicine still fin':! enough in the misery and crime of humanity to ' amply sustain them. The administration of justice is too often a mockery, and legislation has become a matter of barter and sale. The drones of society are on the increase, and honest hard-working producers are compelled to contribute to their support. Could these things be if social organization had been reduced to a science ? Blackstone, in his “ Commentaries,” has laid down some general principles upon which all society must be based, and any departure from which is a step toward anarchy; but these principles underlie the civil rights of people united in a national compact. They leave untouched great and fundamental physiological and biological laws, the disregard of which has burdened society with the greatest evils under which it now groans. Until some prophet arises capable of grappling with this subject from a physical and biological, as well as a political and legal point of view, and beginning down upon hardpan, shows how society may be constructed in harmony with all the conditions of pure living, regardless of creeds, conventionalities, or traditions, let us not flatter ourselves that such a thing as social science exists. A heterogeneous mass of facts does not constitute a science, any more than a rude heap of stones and sand and lime may be called a temple.
This article was originally published with the title "Is There Such a Thing as Social Science?" in Scientific American 21, 20, 313 (November 1869)