On Theoretical Sociology

Merton, Robert K.

The book primarily addresses the distinct differences between the study of sociology and the study of sociological history and theory. Merton states that this division has caused many problems related to gaining new knowledge. There seems to be an antagonistic existence between sociological historians and researchers. He states that the historians are concerned with protecting the ancient sociological masters from plagiarism by modern sociological researchers. This division is harmful to the field in that the social sciences must rely on past knowledge to create new knowledge. He states that knowledge within the social sciences is gained incrementally rather than at all once. The hard sciences rely on only modern theory to apply their skills to gain new knowledge. The humanities such as literature rely on the ancient ones primarily to gain new knowledge. The examples used are of science and literature. One would surely not use ancient theory in science to study modern phenomenon such as human genetics. The opposite could be said when studying literature. One would need to study the ancient greats of literature to form the necessary basic knowledge to further one's understanding of literature, (e.g. Shakespeare). Sociology falls in between these two examples. Merton feels that one cannot study sociological theory without having a thorough understanding of its history.

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