Natural Sciences and Social Sciences

The natural sciences are the set of scientific disciplines that are responsible for studying nature and natural phenomena . Its purpose is to explain and discover the laws that govern the natural world, and predict its behavior.

The social sciences are the set of scientific disciplines whose object of study is the human being, society and its institutions . Its intention is to explain and understand how the social world works.

Both use the scientific method and what they propose is to expand the knowledge about reality.

Natural SciencesSocial Sciences
DefinitionThey are a set of scientific disciplines that study nature and natural phenomena.They are a set of scientific disciplines that study the human being, society, their behaviors, interactions and creations.
PurposeExplain and discover the laws of the natural world and how it works.Explain and understand how the social world works, the actions and behavior of the human being and its institutions.
Object of studyThe world and natural phenomena.Being human, the social world and its interactions.
MethodsMainly quantitative, experimental and supported by formal sciences, such as mathematics.Quantitative, qualitative and mixed.
  • Determinists, primacy of the cause-effect principle.
  • High degree of neutrality.
  • Experimentation is important.
  • Highly predictive and reliable.
  • Control of variables is important.
  • They produce general laws, theories, and principles.
  • Its object of study is unambiguous.
  • The verification and refutation of theories are imperative in their practice.
  • Its object of study is very complex.
  • Level of neutrality is limited.
  • Difficulty conducting experimentation.
  • Inability to establish general laws or theories.
  • Little degree of control of the variables studied.
  • Scientific work is done individually or in small groups.
  • High degree of interpretation and ambiguity.
  • Low degree of predictability and repetition of experiments.
  • Interest in the particular context and deepening.
SubjectsAstronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, geology.History, political science, linguistics, economics, law, sociology, archeology, psychology, geography, among others.

What are the natural sciences?

The natural sciences are a set of scientific disciplines whose object of study is natural phenomena and the natural world . They use a methodology that involves the use of observation and experimentation.

Its purpose is to increase knowledge about the natural world, as well as to explain and predict its phenomena.

They aim to develop theories and discover the laws of nature. Therefore, they exclude any explanation that is not based on observable, empirical, measurable facts and with the capacity to be tested.

The falsifiability or refutability of theories in natural sciences is very important: theories are not considered as true in a dogmatic way, but they must be constantly tested so that science continues to develop.

They have scientific rigor and try to reduce ambiguity, simplifying the phenomenon studied. This is why, in its practice, everything that has no direct impact on the research is left out. This allows for better isolation of what is being investigated.

On the other hand, they maintain a deterministic position on the knowledge of the world, with an interest in the discovery of cause-effect relationships in nature, and look for the patterns that define the behavior of natural objects and elements, in order to explain reality. .

Characteristics of the natural sciences

  • Determinists: there is an interest in cause-effect explanations.
  • Greater use of mathematical modeling and experimentation from formal science.
  • Nature and natural phenomena are unambiguous and their study can be simplified.
  • The quantitative method predominates.
  • Neutrality: the beliefs or opinions of the researcher have little or no influence on the process and results of scientific research.
  • Reproducibility and reliability of the research process and its results.
  • Proof and refutation are possible through experimentation.
  • They seek to discover general laws, theories, and principles of the natural world.

Object of study of natural sciences

The natural world and its phenomena constitute the object of study of the natural sciences. Its intention is to formulate laws and theories that are capable of predicting what is going to happen.

The method used gives priority to experimentation and is based on a hypothetical-deductive principle. That is, you start with a problem, observe the facts, establish a hypothesis, and then test the hypothesis through experimentation.

Thanks to the particularities of its object of study, in the natural sciences it is easier to determine and isolate the set of variables under study than in the social sciences.

Predictability and reliability in the natural sciences

Since the natural sciences try to discover and establish laws, theories and principles, the behavior of natural phenomena must be predictable. What has been discovered or the theories that have been reached are put to the test, with what is observed or will be observed in the real world.

It is important for science to know how the natural world will behave, provided that the same physical and methodological research conditions are present.

When experiments that test a theory are reproduced, and they accumulate positive results that confirm its validity, there is an increase in the reliability of its predictive capacity.

Main branches of the natural sciences

The natural sciences are divided into large groups that, in turn, are subdivided into other areas of knowledge. Although their objects of study differ from each other, there is a high degree of interaction between their different disciplines.

  • Astronomy : study celestial objects (stars, planets, etc.), which have their origin outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Chemistry : studies the composition and characteristics of substances and their interactions.
  • Physics : study matter, energy, its forces, movements and interactions.
  • Biology : considered the “science of life”, it is responsible for studying the origin, function and evolution of living beings.
  • Geology : is responsible for the study of the physical characteristics of the Earth.

Limitations of the natural sciences

Technological development itself can be a barrier to analyzing natural phenomena. For example, without observational tools such as the telescope or microscope, scientists would not be able to make precise measurements of their object of study in astronomy and microbiology, respectively.

The natural sciences share ethical limitations in experimentation with the social sciences. Experimenting with humans and other living beings raises ethical debates within the scientific community and in the public and political spheres, due to its potential implications.

At the bureaucratic and decision-making level, research can often be limited by groups with particular interests.

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What are the social sciences?

The social sciences are a set of disciplines whose object of study is the human being, his behavior, interactions, creations and society.

Its intention is to explain and understand how the social world works. For this, the social sciences use different methodological, quantitative and qualitative approaches to collect and analyze data. Even if their predictive capacity is limited, they can establish parameters that increase the probability of predicting certain social phenomena.

It is very difficult for social scientists to conduct experiments in an environment that allows all possible variables to be evaluated, controlled, and measured. For this reason, one of its great limitations is the difficulty of discovering and establishing general laws and theories.

Characteristics of the social sciences

  • Its object and subject of study are the human being, society and their creations.
  • It is common for the analysis to focus on particular cases, within specific contexts.
  • Neutrality is not always possible.
  • Difficulty experimenting and testing the results of an investigation.
  • Poor predictability (leading to reliability problems).
  • Difficulty producing generalizations and proposing laws and theories.
  • Greater debate within the community (it is common for there to be different interpretations of the same phenomena).
  • Use of quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods.
  • Its variables are attributes and are obtained through observation, surveys, questionnaires and analysis of different media, among others.

Object of study of the social sciences

The social sciences study the human being, his creations and interactions . Its purpose is linked to the understanding of the human social world.

As in the natural sciences, the social sciences distance themselves from explanations about reality that imply metaphysical or mystical assumptions, preferring to be based on observable facts.

In addition, it is important to acknowledge any value judgments, personal opinions, and biases in the research work. This is because the work of the social sciences involves the subjectivity of the researcher and the world under investigation.

Quantitative and qualitative methods in the social sciences

The social sciences use both the quantitative and the qualitative method, or both together (mixed method), in research work.

The qualitative approach focuses on understanding and explaining social reality from the data collected and its analysis. He is interested in specific contexts, generally events that have their own peculiarities and whose explanation does not apply to other social contexts.

This approach may be best for conducting research on topics for which there is no prior research.

Interviews, observation without interference, analysis of historical and bibliographic documents and other media (photographs, video, sound recordings) are some of the techniques used in this method.

The quantitative approach focuses on analyzing the results of measurements made with instruments that reduce the possibility of error or invalidity of the data, as well as generalizing findings.

This method follows the action parameter of the natural sciences and aims to make discoveries to expand the field of knowledge.

It is recommended when there is a previous body of studies, theories and work already carried out in the area to be investigated.

Cross-sectional studies, closed and opinion surveys, questionnaires, structured interviews and experiments are some examples of the techniques used in this method.

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Paradigms of the social sciences

The social sciences have different paradigms from which research work is carried out, such as positivism, interpretivism, and critical social science.


One of the great paradigms of the social sciences is the positivist . This research perspective follows the methodological line of natural sciences, so it considers that methodological rigor and the search for validity are key to reaching knowledge.

It originated with Augusto Comte (1798-1857) in the 19th century. According to positivism, the human world is reducible to reason and its actions are observable, measurable and can be predicted.

In it, a quantitative, logical and deductive approach is preferred, in addition to hypothesis testing, whenever possible. Its purpose is to explain social reality, causes-consequences of events, and to discover its laws.


In contrast to positivism, there is interpretivism , which largely originated from the hand of the sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) at the end of the 19th century.

According to this paradigm, subjectivity, both of the researcher and of social acts and individuals, makes it impossible for human reality to be generalized, contrary to what happens in the natural sciences. The important thing is to explain and understand human actions in their different specific contexts.

The use of observation and in-depth interviews is preferred to learn the details of the specific study subjects, as well as how they give meaning to their own experience.

Critical social science

The critical social science opposes positivism abandon humanism and ignore subjectivity of the social sciences as well as interpretivism, by focusing on a small space of reality without proposing social transformations. This approach was born around the thought of the Frankfurt School in the 20th century.

According to this paradigm, it is possible to observe reality, but these observations are always influenced by the subjectivity of the researcher. In addition, it considers that the social sciences should result in social changes that improve society.

Methodological problems in the social sciences

Social science research is conducted around human subjects, and this can lead to ethical problems. The process, experimentation (if carried out), and the results of an investigation can have important implications.

In addition, the study in the social field remains open to its results being interpreted differently by institutions, researchers and the general public.

On the other hand, the difficulty of controlling the variables and research conditions limit its reproducibility.

It is difficult to establish laws and produce scientific theories that are universally valid. Most of the results in social sciences focus on very specific and contextualized aspects of reality. The probability of something happening can be estimated, but it is very difficult to avoid uncertainty.

The difficulty of refuting the validity of a theory is something that involves debate and interpretation. This arouses criticism about the level of scientificity and generalization of the knowledge produced in the social sciences.

Main disciplines of the social sciences

  • History
  • Political Sciences
  • Linguistics
  • Right
  • Sociology
  • Economy
  • Geography
  • Anthropology
  • Archeology
  • Psychology

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