Comparison of the Three Major Sociological Theories

Essay by Herbert Comte SpenceUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, December 1996

download word file, 7 pages 3.8



Comment on the three types of sociological theories, explain and argue, based on

your library or Internet research, which type of theory is the most appropriate

theory for sociology to adopt.

The three general types of sociological theory are positivistic, interpretive and

critical theory. In determining which theory is the most appropriate for sociology to

adopt, a basic understanding of each theory's strengths and weaknesses is necessary. In

defining each of these theories, it is important to determine the ontological basis or the

theory's basis for determining what is knowable; the epistemological basis or the theory's

relationship between the knower and the knowable; and, finally, the methodological basis

or the theory's method for gathering data and obtaining knowledge.


1. Ontology.

The positivistic theory is based on an ontology of being a realist. The realistic

slant of positivism is also known as determinism. The positivist knows that a reality is

'out there' to be defined and categorized.

The hard sciences from the time of Newton

and Decartes have traditionally relied on the positivistic approach. The positivist hopes to

be able to approximate 'reality' in a detailed generalization or theory on how reality

operates. The theories of a positivist generally take the form of cause and effect laws

describing the outside reality. Robert Merton defined these theorems as 'clear verifiable

statements of the relationships between specified variables.'

2. Epistemology.

Positivism relies on an objective epistemology. The observer remains distant and

does not interact with the observation or experiment. Values and any other factors that

might lead to bias are to be carefully removed so that the cold, monological gaze of

science can be used to analyze the data. The positivist is an objectivist.

3. Methodology.

The methodology of positivism is experimental and manipulative. The approach is...