Sociology as a branch of knowledge, has its own unique characteristics. It is different from other sciences in certain respects. An analysis of its internal logical characteristics helps one to understand what kind of science it is. The following are the main characteristics of sociology.
1. Sociology is an independent science.
Sociology has now emerged into an independent science. It is not treated and studied as a branch of any other science like philosophy or political philosophy or history. As an independent science it has its own field of study, boundary and method.
2. Sociology is a social science and not a physical science.
Sociology belongs to the family of social science and not to the family of physical science. As a social science it concentrates its attention on man, his social behaviour, social activities and social life. As a member of the family of social sciences like history, political science, economics, psychology, anthropology etc.
The fact that sociology deals with the social universe distinguishes it from astronomy, physics, chemistry, zoology, mathematics and other physical sciences.
3. Sociology is a categorical and not a normative discipline.
Sociology “confines itself to statements about what is not what should be or ought to be”. As science, sociology is necessarily silent about questions of value. It does not make any kind of value judgements. Its approach is neither moral nor immoral but amoral. It is ethically neutral.
It cannot decide the directions in which sociology ought to go. It makes no recommendations on matters of social policy or legislation or programme.
But it does not mean that sociological knowledge is useless and serves no purpose. It only means that sociology as a discipline cannot deal with problems of good and evil, right and wrong and moral or immoral.
4. Sociology is a pure science and not an applied science.
A distinction is often made between pure sciences and applied sciences. The main aim of pure sciences is the acquisition of knowledge and it is not bothered whether the acquired knowledge is useful or can be put to use. On the other hand, the aim of applied science is to apply the acquired knowledge into life and to put it to use.
Each pure science may have its own applied field. For example, physics is a pure science and engineering is its applied field.
Similarly the pure sciences such as economics, political science, history etc. have their applied fields like business, politics, journalism respectively. Sociology as a pure science has its applied fields such as administration, diplomacy, social work, etc. Each pure science may have more than one application.
Sociology is a pure science, because the immediate aim of sociology is the acquisition of knowledge about human society, not the utilisation of that knowledge. Sociologists never determine questions of public policy and do not recommend legislators what laws should be passed or repeated.
But the knowledge acquired by a sociologist is of great help to the administrator, the legislator, the diplomat, the teacher, the foreman, the supervisor, the social worker and the citizen. But sociologists themselves do not apply the knowledge of life and use as a matter of their duty and profession.
5. Sociology is relatively an abstract science and not a concrete science.
This does not mean that sociology is an art and not a science. Nor does it mean, it is un-necessarily complicated and unduly difficult. It only means that sociology is not interested in concrete manifestations of human events. It is more concerned with the form of human events and their patterns.
For example, sociology is not concerned with particular wars and revolutions but with war and revolution in general, as social phenomena as types of social conflict.
Similarly, sociology does not confine itself to the study of this society or that particular society or social organization, or marriage or religion, or group and so on. In this simple sense sociology is an abstract and not a concrete science.
6. Sociology is a generalising and not a particularising or individualising science.
Sociology tries to find out the general laws or principles about human interaction and association, about the nature, form, content and structure of human groups and societies. It does not study each and every event that takes place in society. It is not possible also.
It tries to make generalisations on the basis of the study of some selected events. For example, a sociologist makes generalisations about the nature of secondary groups.
He may conclude that secondary groups are comparatively bigger in size, less stable, not necessarily spatially limited, more specialised, and so on. This, he does not by examining all the secondary groups but by observing and studying a few.
7. Sociology is a general science and not a special science.
The area of inquiry of sociology is general and not Specialised. It is concerned with human interaction and human life in general. Other social sciences like political science, history, economics etc., also study man and human intention on certain aspects of human interaction and activities and specialise themselves, in these fields.
Accordingly, economics specialises itself in the study of economic activities. Political science concentrates on political activities and so on. Sociology, of course, does not investigate economic, religious, political, legal, moral or any other special kinds of phenomena in relation to human life and activities as such.
It only studies human activities in a general way. This does not, however, mean that sociology is the basic social science nor does it simply is the general social science. Anthropology and social psychology often claim themselves to be general social sciences.
8. Finally, Sociology is both a rational and an empirical science
There are two broad ways of approach to scientific knowledge. One known as empiricism, is the approach that emphasises experience and the facts that result from observation and experimentation. The other known as rationalism, reason and the theories that result from logical inference.
The empiricist collects facts, the rationalist co-ordinates and arranges them. Theories and facts are required in the construction of knowledge. In sociological inquiry both are significant. A theory unsubstantiated by hard facts is nothing more than an opinion.
Facts, by themselves, in their isolated character, are meaningless and useless. As Immanuel Kants said “theories without facts are empty and facts without theories are blind”. All modern sciences, therefore, avail themselves of both empirical and rational resources. Sociology is not an exception.
It is clear from the above that sociology is an independent, a social, a categorical, a pure, an abstract, a generalising both a rational and empirical social science.