Classification of Science(s)

“… some ways of classifying the various sciences.

(1) Pure sciences versus applied sciences. It is widely held that we must distinguish: (A) science as a field of knowledge (or set of cognitive disci plines) from (B) the applications of science. It is common to refer to these as the pure and applied sciences. (A) Among the pure sciences we may distinguish: (a) the formal sciences, logic, and mathematics; and (b) the factual or empirical sciences. Among the latter we may also distinguish: (b1) the natural sciences, which include the physical sciences, physics, chemistry, and so on, and the life and behavioral sciences, such as biology and psychology; and (b2) the social sciences, such as sociology and economics. (B) The applied sciences include the technological sciences such as engineering and aeronautics, medicine, agriculture, and so on.

It should be noted that there are at least two levels of application among the various sciences. There is, first, the application of the formal sciences to the pure, factual sciences. Since the factual sciences must have logical form and usually utilize some mathematics, such application is often held to be essential for the development of the pure factual sciences. Different from this is, second, the application of the factual sciences to the applied sciences. Here the findings of the pure, empirical sciences are applied (in a different sense of “applied”) to disciplines which fulfill various social, human purposes, such as building houses or roads and health care.

(2) Law-finding sciences versus fact-finding sciences. We recognize that such sciences as chemistry and physics attempt to discover universal laws which are applicable everywhere at all times, whereas such sciences as geography, history (if it is a science), and perhaps economics are concerned with local events. It is often said that the subject matter of the latter consists of particular facts, not general laws. As a result, there are some who wish to limit the term “science” to the law-finding sciences. Upon the basis of the criteria of science (such as those which will be presented later, or others), we believe that we may say that both the law-finding disciplines and the fact finding disciplines are capable of being sciences if those (or other) criteria are met. Furthermore, one might argue that there are no purely fact-finding sciences. If so, to speak of law-finding versus fact-finding may, in many cases, indicate an artificial disjunction.

(3) Natural sciences versus social sciences. Related to (2), we find that some would limit the giving of scientific status to the natural sciences alone. Sometimes the reason given is the distinction referred to above that the natural sciences are primarily law-finding, whereas the social sciences are predominantly fact-finding. But sometimes the distinction is based on subject matter. Hence it is held by some that natural phenomena constitute the field of science but cultural phenomena constitute the field of scholarship and require understanding, verstehen, and empathy. But there are points at which the classification does not hold up. First, there are some predominantly fact finding natural sciences, such as geography, geology, and paleontology. And there are some law-finding social sciences, such as sociology and linguistics. Second, the distinction according to subject matter is not a clear-cut one. Hence we shall take a “liberal” view of science and allow the use of the term “science” to apply to both the natural and the social sciences with the recognition that there are some differences.

It is widely held that distinctions (2) and (3) do not hold up but that (1) is an acceptable distinction.”

Excerpt from: Klemke, et al. (1998). Introductory readings in the Philosophy of Science. (p. 29-30)

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