Is Philosophy A Social Science? Examining The Classification

The question of whether philosophy should be categorized as a social science has been debated by scholars for years. Philosophy and social sciences have some similarities, but also key differences. In this 3000-word article, we’ll dive into epistemology and methods to analyze if philosophy qualifies as a social science.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick take: While philosophy and social sciences share some commonalities, philosophy lacks key features like systematic data collection and statistical analysis that define social sciences.

Defining the Social Sciences

The social sciences encompass a wide range of disciplines that focus on the study of human society and social behavior. One of the key questions that often arises is whether philosophy can be considered a social science.

To answer this question, it is important to understand the common aims and features of the social sciences, as well as their use of the scientific method.

Common aims and features

The social sciences share common aims and features that distinguish them from other fields of study. They seek to understand and explain various aspects of human society, including social structures, cultural norms, individual behavior, and societal changes over time.

By employing rigorous research methods, social scientists aim to generate knowledge that can contribute to improving social welfare and addressing societal challenges.

Use of scientific method

One of the defining characteristics of the social sciences is their reliance on the scientific method. Social scientists use a range of research methods, including surveys, experiments, and statistical analysis, to gather and analyze data.

This empirical approach allows them to test hypotheses, make predictions, and draw conclusions based on evidence. By using the scientific method, social scientists strive for objectivity and credibility in their research.

Core disciplines and branches

The social sciences encompass a wide range of disciplines, including sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, political science, and geography. Each of these disciplines has its own set of theories, methods, and concepts that inform their research.

Additionally, within each discipline, there are various branches and sub-disciplines that focus on specific areas of study, such as criminology, social psychology, or urban sociology.

Key differences from humanities

While the social sciences and humanities share some common interests in studying human society and culture, there are key differences between the two fields. The social sciences tend to focus on empirical research and the application of scientific methods to understand human behavior, whereas the humanities often emphasize interpretation, critical analysis, and the study of human creativity and expression.

While philosophy may have overlapping areas of inquiry with the social sciences, it is generally considered a humanities discipline due to its emphasis on abstract reasoning and philosophical inquiry.

Arguments for Philosophy as a Social Science

Philosophy is a field that has long been debated as to whether it can be classified as a social science. While some argue that it belongs in the humanities, there are several compelling arguments for considering philosophy as a social science.

Examines human society and relationships

One of the main reasons why philosophy can be seen as a social science is its focus on the examination of human society and relationships. Philosophers delve deep into questions about the nature of human existence, the formation of societies, and the dynamics of interpersonal relationships.

By exploring these areas, philosophy offers valuable insights into how societies function and how individuals interact within them.

Overlaps with some branches

Another point in favor of classifying philosophy as a social science is its overlap with certain branches of social sciences. For example, the field of political philosophy intersects with political science, as both disciplines explore concepts such as governance, power, and social organization.

Similarly, philosophy of mind and philosophy of language have connections to psychology and linguistics, respectively. These intersections demonstrate how philosophy can contribute to the understanding of social phenomena.

Uses reason and empiricism

Philosophy, like other social sciences, relies on the use of reason and empiricism in its investigations. Philosophers employ logical reasoning to analyze concepts, arguments, and theories, seeking to arrive at well-founded conclusions.

They also draw on empirical evidence and observations to support their claims. This combination of rational thinking and empirical data aligns philosophy with the methodology commonly used in social sciences.

Applied ethics and social impact

Lastly, philosophy has a strong focus on applied ethics and its social impact. Ethical theories developed within philosophy have significant implications for how societies function and how individuals should behave.

For example, ethical frameworks such as utilitarianism and deontology have informed debates on issues like healthcare, animal rights, and the environment. By addressing these ethical dilemmas, philosophy contributes to the social discourse and influences decision-making processes.

Arguments Against Philosophy as a Social Science

Lacks systematic data collection

One of the main arguments against classifying philosophy as a social science is the lack of systematic data collection. Unlike other social sciences such as sociology or psychology, philosophy does not rely heavily on empirical research or statistical analysis.

Instead, it focuses on abstract concepts, logical reasoning, and critical thinking. Philosophers often engage in thought experiments, examining hypothetical scenarios to explore concepts and arguments.

While this approach can provide valuable insights, it does not fit the traditional model of data-driven social sciences.

Doesn’t utilize statistics

Another point of contention is that philosophy does not heavily utilize statistics. Social sciences often rely on statistical methods to analyze data and draw conclusions about societal trends and behaviors. Philosophy, on the other hand, places more emphasis on conceptual analysis and argumentation.

It seeks to understand the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and morality. While statistical analysis can certainly be useful in some philosophical inquiries, it is not a central component of the discipline as it is in other social sciences.

Asks normative questions

Philosophy is also often criticized for asking normative questions. Unlike social sciences that aim to describe and explain social phenomena, philosophy seeks to evaluate and prescribe what should be. It delves into questions of ethics, aesthetics, and political philosophy, among others, asking what is morally right, what is beautiful, and what is the ideal society.

This normative focus sets philosophy apart from the empirical and descriptive nature of social sciences.

Classified as humanities in academia

Academically, philosophy is typically classified as a humanities discipline rather than a social science. Humanities disciplines, such as literature, history, and philosophy, focus on the study of human culture, ideas, and values.

While philosophy may have aspects that overlap with social sciences, its core methodology and subject matter align more closely with the humanities. This classification reinforces the argument against considering philosophy as a social science.


In summary, while philosophy does exhibit some commonalities with social science disciplines, it lacks core features like quantitative data analysis that define the social sciences. The majority academic perspective classifies philosophy among the humanities rather than the social sciences.

Understanding this complex debate provides useful insight on the nature and methods of philosophy.

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