sociology

(Latin: socius, companion; and Greek: logos, science)

The study of man in his social life. Plato in his Republic and Aristotle in his Ethics and Politics wrote the first classical studies of social life, to which was added a Christian element by the medieval scholastics. These studies however were limited by special viewpoints, such as ethics, politics, economics, or religion. Sociology in its modern form, a generic study of all social relationships of whatever kind, is generally traced to Comte (1857), and Spencer (1903). There is some debate as to whether sociology should be rated as a distinct science, since scarcely any two authorities agree as to content, method, or principles. Treating a vast subject, coextensive with the life of man, a sociological work must be one of synthesis, as general as philosophy itself; hence, as in philosophy, differences of basic principles lead to conclusions of widest divergence. A careful appraisal of these basic principles in every writer must precede any study of the work itself. It is regrettable that practically all the standard works of general sociology are vitiated by false principles, such as evolutionary materialism, economic determinism, or anti-religious bias.

More valuable than most general works, are special sociological studies of limited phases of man's social life. Much important truth has been discovered and emphasized, for example, in history, by showing the character and importance of the life of the common people in various periods hitherto characterized only by the official acts of princes or generals; in studies of the problem groups of our own civilization, the poverty-stricken, the feeble-minded, the criminal, the unemployed, as affected by and as affecting the life of the community. Such studies as these last lead immediately to what is known as practical sociology or social work, which is the attempt to find the causation and the remedy of all the failures occurring in our social system.

Sociology in its various forms derives both interest and importance from the fact that modern civilization places man in intimate contact and dependence upon his fellows to an extent never known before. The conquest of distance and time in communication, the ever-greater specialization of economic, educational, and other activities, require understanding and control of the influence of the community upon the life of the individual, and of the influence of the individual upon the life of the community, which will result only from a well- developed sociology.

New Catholic Dictionary

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