Towards a New Paradigm for Social Science Research

Towards a New Paradigm for Social Science Research

“Towards a New Paradigm for Social Science Research”


Ibrahim A. Ragab, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology 
International Islamic University Malaysia


Paper originally submitted to the Fourth International Social Science Methodology 
Conference , at the University of Essex, Colchester, UK , 1-5 July 1996. 

[Keywords : New Paradigm Research - Social Science Research – 
positivist/ empiricist perspective – Post-positivism – Pitrim Sorokin - 
Ibrahim Ragab]



When I first came across a statement to the effect that it normally 
takes the social sciences fifty years to digest and assimilate any new 
development in the physical sciences, I took that for some kind of 
exaggeration. With the modern explosion in communications, the 
statement seemed too pessimistic to be applicable to the world of 
today. Not until I came to consider the fate -in the social sciences- of 
the magnificent developments which have been taking place in the 
natural sciences since the early decades of this century. These great 
scientific discoveries, the impact of which is forcing a deep rethinking 
of science itself , thus leading to the emergence of the “new 
philosophy of science”, have hardly made a dent on the social 
sciences . What is especially deplorable about this is that these 
particular developments in the natural sciences should have been of 
great interest because of their special relevance for the social 
sciences. They indeed seem to be ushering in a brave new 
understanding of the nature of matter, human being, and mind. But 
most social scientists hold a too deep-seated belief in the positivist/ 
empiricist tradition’s conception of what should constitute “true” 
science to allow them to harbor any serious doubts about its validity. 
For them, it is “the only” perspective from which to see and to 
understand the world. For them, it looks so unscientific, or almost 
heretical to think otherwise. This recalcitrance, understandably 
incensed the critics of positivism, who became more defiant and 
more virulent in their criticism. Since extreme positions - by definition - 
tend to distort the truth, the critics’ suggestions to remedy the 
situation turned out to be the less palatable - even to those who may 
basically accept the arguments against positivism. Which, in turn, 
seems to have resulted in an impasse.

Some of those critics, who came to be known as the post-
positivists or post-empiricists, seem to have to resort to extremes to 
be able to shake the faith-like convictions of the hard-core empiricists. 
Moreover, to be convincing, the critics were less interested in coming 
up with what could look like viable alternatives as much as to live up to 
their extreme criticism of positivism - at the cost of becoming even 
less convincing. Many scholars considered to be themselves among 
the post-positivists could hardly accept such extreme alternatives. 
The whole situation, then, seems to call for a more balanced 
approach to both aspects of the issue : the critique of the dominant 
paradigm on the one hand, and the proposed alternatives on the 

The position adopted throughout this paper is that the crucial, well-
founded objections leveled against the positivist/ empiricist tradition 
should never blind us not to see what is still valid and valuable in that 
tradition, specifically when it comes to the study of the empirical 
aspects of reality. It would only be self-defeating to deny that even 
human and social phenomena have their empirical aspects that lend 
themselves readily to observation through sense experience. But 
sense experiences and observation from outside definitely do not tell 
the whole story of human behavior. The basic problem with positivism 
(in its purist forms), it seems, does not lie as much with its inherent 
invalidity as it is in its exclusivity, that is, its uncompromising 
insistence that sense experience is “exclusively” the one and only 
legitimate source for all “scientific” knowledge (while grudgingly 
accepting a limited role for reason in its logical-positivist variety). 
What is regrettable in this connection, is that such assumption 
(amounting to a “belief”) is not based on any particularly “scientific”, 
empirically validated, or even logical considerations, but it is - 
strangely enough - based on historical/ political contingencies, as will 
be shown below. It is then only reasonable to suggest that any 
successful re-vision of the current epistemological scene should first 
tackle and then transcend the effects of these historical/ political 

The crisis - as some insist when characterizing the situation - in 
social science scholarship in general, and at the methodological front 
in particular, is reflected in the following tripartite problematic situation: 
(1) The Critique: where we have those waging dire attacks on the 
positivist/ empiricist tradition, attacks that at times deny any claims to 
truth for that perspective, which renders those claims ineffective.
(2) The Alternatives: where we encounter unconvincing extreme 
alternatives to positivism, suggested by the same critics, which result 
in more renitence on the part of the positivists.
(3) The Context: where we note inability of both parties to 
appreciate, and then to effectively transcend the historical/ political 
roots of the debate.
It could be added at once that Immoderation and immodesty 
complicate the whole situation, for these are indeed the nemeses of 
effective exchange among otherwise very thoughtful scholars.

The purpose of this paper is to elaborate, in a systematic fashion, on 
the issues alluded to above, with the intention to hopefully providing 
some perspective on their problematics - as far as is possible at this 
point in time. To do justice to all three aspects of the debate, it might 
be appropriate to start our discussion with a clear statement of the 
positivist/ empiricist position before embarking on an analysis of its 
historical and intellectual roots. This should set the stage for a 
rigorous critique of empiricism, especially in its rugged forms. On the 
basis of that analysis a new synthesis is suggested here, which it is 
hoped, would be adequate to addressing the valid criticisms made 
against empiricism, while attempting to rectify the blatant omissions of 
the old paradigm. But it should be asserted from the start that this 
task could never be achieved except after exorcising ourselves first 
of those historical demons that we alluded to earlier… which may 
mean as Pitrim Sorokin (1941) would suggest, nothing less than a 
major transformation in our current value configuration. The 
suggested alternative may sound a bit radical for those who are still 
caught into the “orthodox consensus”, to use Giddens’ phraseology 
(1982). However, this seems to be exactly what is needed for us to 
be able to free ourselves from the bondage of the familiar, and to 
help us respond to the situation in fresh, vigorous and unhesitant 


Although it may be very hard to believe by many, contemporary 
reevaluations of the history of science have shown that the "idea of 
science... [as we know it today] is only one of many, and that it is a 
product of temporary circumstances" [emphasis added] (Ravetz, 
1975: 366). Historians of science, according to Ravetz, are also 
coming to view present conceptions of science as "one phase in a 
continuing evolution, and that modern science as we know it is an 
integral part of European civilization (and Western way of life), 
reflecting "its faults as well as its virtues" (p.375). In the same vein, 
Johan Galtung (1977) writes that any discussion of scientific 
methodology "without reference to the underlying social structure is 
misleading. That kind of discussion will only lead to pretenses of 
universalism and absolutism..." (p.13). Tudor (1982) completes the 
demystification process by stating that "science is a social activity like 
any other and thus subject to similar ‘irrational’ constraints and 
virtues". (p.31). So, far from being the safe, unbiased, and immutable 
process we think it is, the scientific method has been shaped through 
its development by such mundane things as culture, ideology, 
politics, self interest , and even long-standing hatreds and 
animosities. These and similar eye-opening insights should prove to 
us how fallible we all are, and that we cannot grant, even to science, 
the kind of blind respect and trust that only religion did one day 
muster, and which science, incidentally, has valiantly fought to 
dispossess religion of! Bergin (1980) sums up the situation 
beautifully when he states that: "Science has lost its authority as the 
dominating source of truth it once was. This change is both reflected 
in and stimulated by analyses that reveal science to be an intuitive 
and value-laden cultural form.. Although a belief in the value of the 
scientific method appropriately persists, there is a widespread 
disillusionment with the way it has been used and a loss of faith in it 
as the cure for human ills" (p.95). 

Thus we do indeed have, not only a moral, but in fact a "scientific" 
obligation and responsibility to closely examine our conceptions of 
the scientific method to see where did we err, particularly in our 
efforts at the “scientific” study of human beings. This takes us directly 
to the positivist/ empiricist legacy. The Modern Dictionary of 
Sociology defines positivism as "the philosophical position holding 
that knowledge can be derived only from sensory experience" 
(Theodorson and Theodorson 1969:306). A variant of positivism, 
"logical positivism", only concedes that "logical analysis is needed to 
clarify meanings that have been verified or falsified through sense 
experience, but such analyses should be closely associated with 
empirical observation..." (p.307). Logical positivists at the same time 
condemn " nonsense ...all moral, aesthetic, and metaphysical 
assertions". (Feigl, 1975: 879). "Logical empiricism", a modified 
version of the above, developed in the mid third of this century, 
relinquished the designation "positivism" altogether because of the 
negative attitude it carries toward the existence of any "theoretical" 
entities. "Empiricism" is, however, retained as it insists on "the 
requirement that hypotheses and theories be empirically testable" 
(p.881). Logical empiricism, which is the dominant philosophy 
guiding scientific inquiry today, also insists that "all statements 
about moral ...or religious values are scientifically unverifiable and 
meaningless" (Levi, 1975: 273).

But how can we explain the messianic zeal with which the 
empiricists defend the use of the senses as the only source of 
acceptable "scientific" knowledge? And why that vehement 
insistence on the summary exclusion of all other sources of 
knowledge such as religious concepts assumed to be ‘revealed’ 
knowledge? It would have been interesting to try here to trace the 
historical development of science and the scientific method to be in a 
position to give detailed answers to these two questions. That, 
however, goes beyond the scope of this paper. Fortunately, there 
exists a vast literature on the subject, to which the reader may be 
referred (see e.g. Sarton, 1975; Levi, 1975; Ravetz, 1975).

Suffice it at this point to conclude with Polkinghorne (1984) that: 
"In Western philosophy, there has been an ongoing search for a 
foundation or ground upon which to secure true knowledge. After 
scriptural authority and Descartes' clear and undoubtable ideas...were 
found wanting, there was a general acceptance of sense 
experience as the base for certainty". (p.418) [emphasis added]. 
It is widely acknowledged today that the emergence of that warped 
positivist/ empiricist tradition, with its single-minded emphasis on 
sense experiences was only the bitter harvest of the unfortunate 
conflict between the church and the nascent scientific community 
during the Renaissance. As a consequence, scientists resolutely 
determined to break loose from church authority at any price, went so 
far - it seems - as to throw the baby with the bath water. But this calls 
for elaboration. 

We are told by historians of science that "Western philosophy in 
the Middle Ages was primarily a Christian philosophy, clarifying the 
divine revelation...[but] the Renaissance mounted its revolt against the 
reign of religion and therefore reacted against the church, against 
authority, against Scholasticism, and against Aristotle." (Levi, 1975: 
261). Toulmin (1975) adds that "Francis Bacon, author of the method 
of exhaustive induction ...reacted against the Scholastic reliance on 
Aristotle's authority by calling for a return to firsthand 
experience ...was preoccupied with empirically observed facts 
as the starting point for all science..." [emphasis added] (p.378) 
To clear away from Aristotle, whose ideas were adopted as official 
doctrine by the church, an independent source for gaining true 
knowledge had to be found and to be consecrated! Sense 
experience, the capacity for which is owned by everybody and not 
monopolized by the clergy was the most fitting answer. This was 
indeed a reasonable foundation on which to base our search for the 
truth. However, to free science -forever- from the grip of the church or 
from any other arbitrary authority for that matter, sense experiences 
were to be regarded as the "sole source" of scientific knowledge. 
This was meant to completely and irrevocably exclude revelation - 
true or false - from playing any role whatsoever anywhere in the whole 
brave new scientific enterprise. 

This ideology served its purposes very well as it guided physical 
scientists engaged in the study of natural, material phenomena. The 
subject matter under study, by its nature, was amenable to objective 
observation from outside through the use of the senses and through 
equipment designed to extend their reach. The validity of verification 
of the findings was guaranteed through replication of experiments, 
done on inanimate matter or non-human organisms. Certainty 
seemed to be easily within our reach, or so it appeared - up to a point. 
This of course, explains the exemplary success of the "traditional" 
scientific method in the study of natural phenomena. 

Hoping to achieve a comparable degree of success in the study 
of humans, scientists (or rather philosophers at that point in time) 
enthusiastically called for the application of the same methods used 
in the natural sciences to the realm of the social sciences. But this 
was not the only motive behind the call for emulating the physical 
sciences - as should be clear from the historical account above. 
Scientists were also keen to seal out any influence the church may 
still claim on the "scientific" study of human being in particular, 
because understanding and guiding human affairs was exactly the 
bone of contention between scientists and religious authorities. This 
is where Auguste Compte's call for positivism could be understood, 
with its insistence that "The methods of physical sciences are 
regarded as the only accurate means of obtaining knowledge, and 
therefore the social sciences should be limited to the use of these 
methods and modeled after the physical sciences". (Theodorson & 
Theodorson, 1969: 306).This should also explain the wide 
acceptance of positivist ideas among social scientists and beyond. 
Feigl (1975) points out the anti-church motive behind this call when he 
stated that "In its basic ideological posture, positivism is thus worldly, 
secular, anti-theological, and anti-metaphysical" (p.877). But what did 
all that mean for the social sciences and their research methods? 
How did nineteenth century views of the world and of the methods of 
knowing about the world held by the physical scientists affect the 
study of human being, then and until the dawn of the twenty-first 


IN 1843 John Stuart Mill wrote that "The backward state of the 
moral [human] sciences can be remedied by applying to them the 
methods of physical science, duly extended and generalized." 
(Polkinghorne, 1984: 416). The first part of this advice was religiously 
followed by social scientists since then. The consequences of 
emulating the physical sciences were dire indeed. To appreciate the 
extent of the damage done as a result of the indiscriminate use of 
these same methods in the study of humans, let us examine the 
characteristics of the version of science and the scientific method 
which were applied in the physical sciences at that time and which still 
drag on up to this day. Authorities on the subject would tell us that 
nineteenth century science could generally be described as 
materialistic, mechanistic, and reductionist, reflecting conceptions of 
reality prevalent in that era (Sorokin,1941; Augros and Stanciu, 1984). 

In physics, Newton's formulations have since the seventeenth 
century been successfully applied to explain much of the physical 
world on the basis of the existence of "matter" alone. As a result, 
scientists came to view "materialism" as part and parcel of the 
scientific method itself (Augros & Stanciu, 1984). This was, 
according to Capra (1982), coupled with a "mechanical" view of the 
cosmos. He states that "For two and a half centuries physicists have 
used a mechanistic view of the world to develop and refine ..classical 
physics ..Matter was thought to be the basis of all existence, and the 
material world was seen as a multitude of objects assembled into a 
huge machine ...[that] consist of elementary parts... complex 
phenomena could be always understood by reducing them to their 
building blocks and by looking for the mechanisms through which 
these interacted. This attitude, known as reductionism, ... has often 
been identified with the scientific method." (31-32).

Unfortunately, human beings came to be understood and to be 
studied within the same mechanical, reductionist, and materialist 
mentality. Research methods and research designs reflecting these 
same ontological and epistemological assumptions were used (Ford, 
1984). All this was done without serious reflection on how the subject 
matter of the social sciences differed in very significant ways from 
that of the physical sciences. This type of confusing two very different 
phenomena and treating them alike is sometimes called a "category 
error" or a "category mistake" (Weick, 1987:222). The effects were 
debilitating indeed. We do not need to go to great lengths 
documenting the failure of the behavioral and social sciences in their 
efforts to understand human beings and to account for their behavior. 
This is well documented and all too familiar. And many critics are 
even coming to see the connection between these failures on the one 
hand and the that outdated mode of viewing the world and 
conceptualizing science which still dominate the social sciences even 

Critics of psychological research and practice for example, are 
coming to say in different words something like the following. 
"Psychology has an identity problem. After more than a century of 
official existence...there is even debate of our subject matter.. Staats 
and Kosh agree that psychology's splintered condition results, at 
least in part, and probably most importantly, from the existence of 
sharply polarized opinion about the epistemological 
underpinnings of psychology". (Kimble, 1984:833 [Italics 
added]). Similar assessments of the situation in psychology abound. 
(Howard, 1985; Augros & Stanciu, 1984; Bergin, 1980; 

The same applies to sociology (e.g. Dixon, 1973; 
Gouldner,1970). Walter Wallace had to complain that “The appalling 
fact.. is that even now, after decades of research and teaching, 
virtually none of the key substantive terms in sociology has acquired 
an explicitly standard meaning to any large majority of sociologists… 
scientifically speaking, we sociologists simply do not know (and may 
not care) what we are talking about” [Italics his].(1988: 23-24). He 
goes on to quote other prominent sociologists such as Wiley, Collins, 
Alexander, and Gans, who lament what they see as a “theoretical 
lull” in sociology…, or a “rather widespread feeling that sociology in 
recent years has been in a depression … [and] the feeling that our 
work is going nowhere”(: 59). But Wallace, the self-admitted 
naturalist, had to find some way to explain out the malaise so that 
naturalism could come out unscathed. The explanation has to come 
still from within the parameters of the normal paradigm. He thus 
concludes that this disciplinary condition is only temporary, implying 
that more of the same would do the trick - but all it takes (for him) is to 
follow the theoretical mapping he provides!. Echoes of the above 
could be also heard in the other social sciences. (Moten, 1990). In 
social work, a heated debate has been going on for a decade to the 
same effect. (see references to such works in, Peile, 1988).

Many critics are increasingly coming to see that the major problem 
with the social sciences find their roots in the fact that human beings 
are different in many ways from things, machines or other living 
organisms. This fact should, by necessity, require corresponding 
modifications in the theoretical models and research methods used 
to study human beings. Howard (1985) puts it this way: "...if humans 
possess characteristics that are unlike the characteristics of subject 
matter studied by other sciences, then an appropriate science of 
human behavior might need to be somewhat different from other 
extant sciences". (p.p.259-260). Polkinghorne (1984) goes one step 
further, identifying five areas in which the "human realm" is different, 
and suggesting the appropriate research stance corresponding to 
each. The human realm is different in terms of : a) its systemic 
character; hence, contextual relations are more important than those 
among parts. b) its unclear boundaries is the rule not the exception; 
hence, the inappropriate-ness of deductive-numeric operations. c) 
unfinished quality; the human realm is in flux, and has a history; 
hence, correlations between elements may hold at one time but not at 
another. d) composition, knowing humans is a "human" activity; 
hence, there is no absolute point outside ourselves from which to 
investigate. e) difficulty of access, the human realm is not directly 
observable from the outside, is saturated with meaning, hence, we 
have to accept evidence which is different nature than observation. 

Another theme that runs through criticisms of a social science 
bent on following on the footsteps of the natural sciences is that of 
the total exclusion of the "spiritual" or religious dimensions of the 
human being. Bergin (1980) for example reports that "an examination 
of 30 introductory psychology texts turned up no references to the 
possible reality of spiritual factors. Most did not have the words God 
or religion in their indexes". He further quotes the psychologist 
Robert Hogan as saying "Religion is the most important social force 
in the history of man...But in psychology, anyone who...tries to talk in 
an analytic, careful way about religion is immediately branded a 
meathead; a mystic; an intuitive...sort of moron" (p.99).

Roger Sperry , on the basis of his vast research on split-brain (for 
which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1982) talks about a 
"theoretical turnabout" in psychology. He describes the emerging 
"new view of reality" as one that "...accepts mental and spiritual 
qualities as causal realities...Instead of excluding mind and spirit, the 
new outlook puts subjective mental forces near the top of the brains' 
s causal control hierarchy and gives them primacy in determining what 
a person does" (1988: 608-609). But how did this turnabout come 
through? Was it the result of some literal "soul" searching on the part 
of behavioral and social scientists who should be experiencing a 
theoretical near-breakdown? Far from it! The emerging new 
paradigm, to a large extent, was a direct result, instead, of the 
revolutionary discoveries in - again - the physical sciences! Classical 
physics had first to crumble under the weight of new discoveries in 
the first three decades of this century; then to be replaced by the new 
paradigm in physics; then social science waits for fifty more years till 
the new developments sink in, before it sheepishly reconsiders its 
position in the light of the new paradigm in the physical sciences, 
again! We are only recently starting to act. 


According to Augros & Stanciu (1984), respectively a philosopher 
of science and a physicist, science has since the beginning of this 
century, undergone a series of exciting revolutions in physics, in 
neuroscience, in cosmology, and in psychology. Capra, also a 
physicist, in his 1982 monumental work documented these 
developments in detail, and followed through with a description of 
their societal ramifications and consequences. He states that the 
“dramatic changes of concepts and ideas that has occurred in 
physics our current theories of matter...[have] brought about a 
profound change in our worldview; from the a holistic 
and ecological view...[with] deep insights into the nature of matter and 
its relation to the human mind...” (p.p. XVII-XVIII). Space would not 
allow a fuller appreciation of his account of the fascinating 
developments which shaped modern physics as a result of Albert 
Einstein's pioneering work on relativity, and of Niels Bohr and Werner 
Heisenberg's work on quantum theory. Capra's work contains a 
wealth of detail in that respect. However, because of the centrality of 
the subject to our argument, some extensive quoting here may be in 
order. Capra tells us that these developments "shattered all the 
principal concepts of the Cartesian world view and Newtonian 
mechanics. The notion of absolute space and time, the elementary 
solid particles, the fundamental material substance, the strictly causal 
nature of physical phenomena, and the objective description of nature 
- none of these concepts could be extended to the new domains into 
which physics was now penetrating"(p.62). One of the most important 
consequences of the theory of relativity for example was "the 
realization that mass is nothing but a form of energy 
...Physicists...measure the masses of particles in the corresponding 
energy units...Atoms consist of particles, and these particles are not 
made of any material stuff. When we observe them we never see 
any substance;...[only] dynamic patterns continually changing into one 
another..."(p.p. 81-82).

The new discoveries in atomic and subatomic physics came as a 
"great shock" to scientists. Even Einstein reportedly felt as though 
"the ground had been pulled out from under [him]". Far from the hard, 
solid particles they were supposed to be, “atoms were found to 
consist of vast regions of space in which electrons moved around the 
nucleus, which in turn is comprised of protons and neutrons. Even 
those subatomic particles "were nothing like the solid objects of 
classical physics...[they] are very abstract entities which have a dual 
aspect. Depending on how we look at them, they appear sometimes 
as particles, sometimes as waves...The situation seemed hopelessly 
paradoxical until it was realized that the 'particle' and 'wave' refer to 
classical concepts which are not fully adequate to describe atomic 
phenomena. An electron is neither a particle nor a wave, but it may 
show particle-like aspects in some situations and some wave-like 
aspects in others". (Capra: 67).Capra comments on these insights by 
saying that theories of contemporary science reveal a conception of 
the world which can be "in perfect harmony with [the working 
scientists'] spiritual aims and religious beliefs". John Polkinghorne 
(1986; 1994), yet another physicist, heartily agrees. 

New developments in neuroscience and in psychology in the last 
twenty years proved to be no less revolutionary than those described 
above in physics. Sperry (1988) contrasts these with the old 
paradigm. He describes the traditional model in neuroscience and 
psychology as proclaiming “a full account of brain function and 
behavior to be possible in strictly objective physiochemical and 
physiological terms, with no reference to conscious 
experience...Things such as moral values, the human spirit, purpose, 
dignity, and freedom to choose, if they existed at all, were supposed 
to be only epiphenomena..[that] supposedly, in no way changed the 
course of events in the real world ...” (p.p. 607-608). He then reports 
that the early nineteen seventies brought about, with a remarkable 
suddenness, a revolution in the scientific treatment of the relation of 
mind and brain. In his words, "The new mentalist thinking brings basic 
revisions of causal explanation that provide scientists with a new 
philosophy, a new outlook, a new way of understanding and explaining 
ourselves and the world. The full range of the contents and qualities 
of inner experience...are not only given a new legitimacy in science 
but are also given primacy over the more physiochemical forces". (p. 

He further elaborates on the causality model on which this 
"cognitive", "mentalist", or "humanist" revolution is based. He explains 
that "The traditional assumption in neuroscience...implicit in...all the 
natural sciences, supposes everything to be determined from below 
upward, following the course of evolution. In this materialist 
‘microdeterministic’ view of nature, all mental and brain functions are 
determined by, and can be explained...[in the last analysis] in terms of 
subatomic physics and quantum mechanics...[In contrast] the new 
mentalist-cognitive tenets...take into account new, previously 
nonexistent, emergent properties, including the mental, that interact 
causally at their own higher level, and also exert causal control from 
above downward...over their constituent neuronal events - at the same 
time that they are determined by them. Microdeterminism is 
integrated with emergent determinism". (p.609).

The new paradigm has now been reflected in a "new philosophy of 
science", which also seems to be gaining some momentum in the 
social sciences. And the movement is manifesting itself in many 
different ways. Declarations, for example, are repeatedly made that 
the basic assumptions which informed the traditional model of 
science are "no longer considered viable". In 1974, Suppe wrote that 
"the vast majority of working philosophers of science seem to fall on 
that portion of the spectrum which hold the [traditional view of 
science] fundamentally inadequate and untenable"( 
Polkinghorne:420). A minority of practicing social scientists have for a 
long time felt the same way. They have been voicing dissatisfaction 
with the experimental model, operationalism, and with the perennial 
preoccupation with statistics and numbers. Pitrim Sorokin (1956) 
rightfully attacked these tendencies, calling them Quantophrenia and 
Testophrenia and had even stronger and more colorful words in his 

Another significant manifestation of the dissatisfaction with 
positivism in the social sciences is the revolt against the once-
popularized "myth" of value-free sociology. Alvin Gouldner (1973) 
strongly attacked the dogma that 'thou shalt not commit a value 
judgment', which many sociologists have propagated for long. And 
he exposed this myth for what it really is. He puts it this way: "...the 
doctrine of a value-free sociology is a modern extension of the 
medieval conflict between faith and reason. It grows out of, and still 
dwells in, the tendency prevalent since the thirteenth century to erect 
compartments between the two as a way of keeping the peace 
between them".(p.20). The advocates of value-free social science 
may still argue that the doctrine is subscribed to as a guarantee of 
the objectivity of the scientist. It saves us from falling victim to our 
own biases. But how can we reconcile this with the now very influential 
position that "External reality, as existing apart from the perceiver, 
simply cannot be objectively known. Shared realities are 
intersubjectively valid, but their objective validity cannot be 
known"(Strong,1984: 471). So, the exclusion of values would never 
really seem to solve the problem. We would be in a better position to 
serve the cause of scientific inquiry if the specific values on which 
our theories are founded were explicitly laid out. This renders them 
open to criticism by others, instead of allowing them to operate sub 


With the narrowness of the positivist/ empiricist perspective in the 
social sciences thus effectively exposed, search was diligently on by 
many for viable alternatives, by way of reform or of revolution. The 
suggestions made however did unfortunately suffer from the self-
inflicted limitations necessitated by the pitch of each author’s initial 
critique. So, the most vehement critics of empiricism had to produce 
a clearly revolutionary alternative which should have nothing in 
common with the culprit in any way! Consequently, their proposals 
came out squarely off the mark. The reformists, on the other hand 
tended to espouse positions that at least appear to have a balanced 
gloss to them . They lost in creativity to the extent that their critique of 
the prevailing paradigm was timid and less original. However, we have 
to say, that most of the proponents of the new alternatives were still 
caught within the historicity of the Nineteenth Century ontology and 
epistemology. All of this does not promise to be adequately dealing 
with the situation or leading anywhere. Some alternatives apparently 
address some neglected gap or another. Some suggest different 
approaches to the same aspects. This does not seem to add up to 

Giddens tells us that the “orthodox consensus” rooted in “positivistic 
or naturalistic philosophies of natural science .. is no more. The 
dissolution of the orthodox consensus has been substantially brought 
about by the critical attacks which have been mounted against 
positivism in philosophy and the social sciences..”. He goes on to say 
that “An interest in hermeneutics is one - among various other - 
responses to the toppling of the orthodox consensus.. I do want to 
claim that, in social theory, a turn to hermeneutics cannot in and of 
itself resolve the logical and methodological problems left by the 
disappearance of orthodox consensus” (p.p. 1-5). Nazrul Islam 
reaches something like the same conclusion with regards to another 
possible alternative, that is, phenomenology. He tells us that 
“Husserl’s phenomenology is in no way a clear cut method or an 
unquestioned philosophy. The questions he raised regarding the 
positivist stance are definitely important and need to be answered, 
but a simple ‘reversal of the traditional way of proving the existence of 
the others via the existence of their material bodies’ as he did is not 
enough” (1983: 137-139,145). A parallel to these same statements is 
echoed with regard to participatory research by Latapi (1988) who, 
although dismissing “..the claim that PR [Participatory Research] 
constitutes a new research paradigm for the social sciences..” comes 
to conclude that “..some useful lessons should be drawn from [it] for 
improving present social research practice” (: 310) .

In psychology and in counseling, we also encounter some clear 
parallels to the above evaluations of the situation. In a flurry of 
exchanges in the mid-eighties, in the American Psychologist and in 
the Journal of Counseling Psychology, a number of distinguished 
scholars such as Howard, Patton, and Polkinghorne have taken 
positions which were described by some as calling for "a 
revolutionary change"(Strong, 1984: 470). Borgen (1984), however, 
appears to be only inclined to a reformist stance when he says that "it 
is possible to study humans as active agents", a basic dictum of the 
new paradigm, “within the traditional view of science”. Dawis (1984) 
seems to concur with that view. On the other hand, however, after 
considering those same contributions more carefully, Borgen (1984) 
concludes that even these seemingly revolutionaries may be rather 
looking for integration, and that the perspectives of phenomenology 
and hermeneutics may help towards achieving that end. The trouble 
with most of these types of discussions is that they, as was 
mentioned before, are incapable of rising above the historical/ 
intellectual baggage of the Western (or rather the European) 
science, that resulted from the church-science troubled relations.

Pitrim Sorokin’s towering figure, however, stands alone in a class 
by himself in his account of how cultural and historical factors highly 
impact, or even create, a science and scientific research in their own 
image. On the basis of his vast, meticulous historical/ quantitative 
analyses, he has demonstrated that the "value-system" adopted by 
any particular culture at any point in its history defines all the 
fundamental "compartments" of that culture. One such compartment 
is its "systems of truth and knowledge", which includes science and 
scientific research (1985: 226-283). To use Kuhn' s terminology, we 
may say that a culture' s value system defines the character and 
boundaries of the "paradigm" within which normal science is 
practiced. Sorokin provided us with a highly coherent description, 
diagnosis and prognosis of the "Crisis of Our Age", which should 
indeed inform the current post-positivist debate as it applies to social 
science research. It also provides us with the long haul historical 
context for understanding the developments alluded to earlier on the 
origins of the positivist glorification of sense experience as source of 
all valid knowledge. But this calls for some more elaboration. 

Based on his elaborate historical analysis of social and cultural 
dynamics over the last 2500 years, Sorokin concluded that a culture’s 
character is determined by its mentality, its value-system rather than 
by the social system or the personality system. He isolated three 
major types of culture, each with its own value system. These are a) 
the Ideational, b) the Sensate, and c) the Idealistic “supersystems of 
culture”. To these three supersystems of culture there are three 
corresponding “Systems of Truth and Knowledge”. The Ideational 
periods are spiritually oriented, where “an infinite, super-sensory, and 
super-rational the supreme principle of true reality and value”. 
The existence of everything is transient and ultimately inconsequential 
except His. “Ideational truth is the truth revealed by the grace of God, 
through his mouthpieces (the prophets,, mystics, and founders of 
religion), disclosed in a supersensory way through mystic experience, 
direct revelation, divine intuition and inspiration. Such a truth may be 
called the truth of faith.” The Sensate periods are materially 
oriented, where “true reality and values are sensory. Only what we 
see, hear, smell, touch, and otherwise perceive through our sense 
organs is real and have value. Beyond such a sensory reality either 
there is nothing, or , if there is something, we cannot sense it; 
therefore it is equivalent to the non-real and the non-existent. As such 
it may be neglected”. The Idealistic periods integrate aspects of the 
other two. “It is a synthesis of both, made by our reason. In regard to 
sensory phenomena, it recognizes the role of the sense organs as 
the source and criterion of the validity or invalidity of a proposition. In 
regard to supersensory phenomena, it claims that any knowledge of 
these is impossible through sensory experience and is obtained only 
through the direct revelation of God. Finally, our reason, through logic 
and dialectic can derive many valid propositions - for instance, in all 
syllogistic and mathematical reasoning.”(1941: 18,67-68) 

Where do we stand today in terms of the above mapping? 
According to Sorokin, we are "at the end of a brilliant six-hundred- 
year-long Sensate day", with all its magnificent scientific and 
technological achievements . Sensate culture, sees "true reality" to 
be sensory. “Another name for this truth of the senses is empiricism" 
(1941: 13,71). ‘Sensate truth, or empiricism... rejects any revealed 
super-sensory truth. It discredits also, to a certain extent, reason and 
logic as sources of truth until their deductions are corroborated by the 
testimony of the sense organs.” (:72). But the Sensate culture has 
exhausted its creativity. We are drifting into a phase of a "dying 
sensate culture", which is characterized by a combination of Passive 
Sensate and Cynical Sensate Mentalities. “And the night of the 
transitory period begins with its nightmares...and heart rending 
horrors. Beyond it however, the dawn of a new great idealistic culture 
is probably waiting to greet men of the future”(:13).
Although some of the above statements are couched in rich 
metaphor (vantage Sorokin!) it should be remembered that his 
analyses nevertheless are steeped in hard-nosed empirical evidence. 
The way out, according to Sorokin on the basis of vast historical/ 
statistical evidence, is the “correction of the fatal mistakes of the 
sensate phase ...with a shift from the agonizing sensate to the 
ideational or idealistic or integral.” (:255-6). So, according to Johnston 
(1990), “Sorokin’ s solution to this endless cycle [from one 
supersystem to another] was the pursuit of Integral truth. This form of 
knowing is not identical with any of the three forms of truth, but 
embraces all of them. It combines the empirical truth of the senses; 
the rational truth of reason; and the super-rational truths of faith”(:101). 

It is my contention that Sorokin’s “Integral theory of truth and 
reality” do provide us with the most promising epistemological 
grounding for an effective answer to the questions posed by the 
critique of the positivist/ empiricist tradition. It not only adequately 
helps effectively free us from the straitjacket of the positivist/ 
empiricist tradition, but also allows us to transcend the historical / 
political blinders of the church/ science conflict. The Integral Theory 
of Truth is favorably compared with the reductionist versions of the 
truth as follows: “In this three dimensional aspect of the truth of faith, 
of reason, and of the senses, the integral truth is nearer to absolute 
truth than any one-sided truth ... The empirico-sensory aspect of it is 
given by the truth of the senses; the rational aspect by the truth of 
reason; the super-rational aspect by the truth of faith...Each of these 
systems of truth separated from the rest becomes less valid or more 
fallacious, even within the specific field of its own 
competence.”(1957: 691). 

We have seen earlier how the new discoveries in neuroscience 
are supportive of the basic notion of the legitimacy of the scientific 
study of inner experiences - including the spiritual aspects - as 
causal factors in determining human behavior. Abraham Maslow in his 
work on the “Theory of Metamotivation” asserts that “ The spiritual 
life is part of the human essence. It is a defining characteristic without 
which human nature is not full human nature… The ‘highest’ values, 
the spiritual life .. are.. proper subjects for scientific study and 
research..”. However, he goes to great lengths in attempting to prove 
- without proof - that the “value life (spiritual, religious, philosophical, 
axiological ..etc.) is an aspect of human biology.. It is a kind of ‘higher’ 
animality”.(1977: 36-40). But that is beside the point. For purposes of 
research - its subject matter and its methods - the fact that Maslow, 
after decades of diligent work, comes to identify the spiritual 
“phenomena” or the empirical manifestations from which it could be 
detected is what counts here. Even more significant in this respect is 
his denunciation of the “ .. ubiquity of stupidly limited theories of 
motivation all over the world.”, something which, ironically, he himself 
has more than anyone else contributed to. In any case, this clearly 
shows that we seem to be forced to move in the directions 
suggested by Sorokin’s work - if we like it or not.

But of course, nobody can read this as a call for scientists to go 
mystical! Nothing is farther from the truth. What is implied here is 
basically and unequivocally a call for the reinstatement of the spiritual, 
non-empirical aspects of the human being as active causal factors, 
among the other factors which causally shape human behavior. This 
relates to that aspect of reform concerned with the boundaries of the 
“subject matter” to be studied by the social sciences. And because 
the spiritual factors are supersensory, that is by definition not 
accessible to observation through the senses, religious insights 
derived from super-rational revealed knowledge had also to be 
reinstated as a “source” for plausible hypotheses.

But to translate Sorokin’s formulations into a viable research 
paradigm for the social sciences requires a clear delineation of the 
way in which the three celebrated sources of knowledge, i.e., 
revelation, reason, and senses, can be integrated into a unified 
paradigm for scientific investigation, which should uncompromisingly 
live up to the best of the scientific ethos. The traditional model of 
science emanating from “the orthodox consensus” had no real 
problems when the subject matter of study is strictly empirical/ 
material. The validity of observations could be vouched for through 
the truth of the senses. In the theory building phase, the application 
of reason guarantees coherence, but the logical consequences of 
whatever was arrived at through reason should once again be 
validated through sense experience. But that is as far as the 
empiricist, old paradigm goes. The most significant questions that 
should be raised now with regards to the new paradigm are the 
1) How do we integrate the truth of faith (intuition or revelation) into 
this integral, unified “scientific method”? 
2) Whose faith or religious tradition? 
3) What criteria for assessing the validity of whatever results we may 
arrive at? Or is it -once again- a matter of accepting religious 
dogma and superimposing it on the facts?!

These are indeed serious questions which have to be addressed in 
a very serious manner. Sorokin recognized the difficulties involved in 
this regard when he said that “The validity of sensory experience and, 
in a less degree, of logical reasoning is pretty well established 
nowadays. More doubtful appears intuitional truth.”(1941: 87). But to 
him, of course, if the task of integration has been adequately 
achieved in the real world, once or rather many times during some of 
the more luminous, albeit short-lived, epochs of human history, it 
could definitely be done again and again. Which sounds reasonable, 
and within our reach if only we are convinced of the validity of that 
position and if we were not hampered by the shackles of our own past 
professional socialization in “normal science”. The next section will be 
devoted to a presentation of the proposed scheme for a translation of 
Sorokin’s vision into, hopefully, an integral approach for social 
science research. This is, by necessity a very tentative attempt (at a 
very ambitious undertaking), which should be seen as such. However, 
it is , hopefully, not a simple-minded attempt at a solution that just 
glosses over thorny issues. The situation is more serious than that. 
What is at stake here is nothing less than a decision as to whether 
the social sciences will ever be able to overcome their current 
malaise and to be able to really contribute to human well being -- or 
whether we will prefer to continue with business as usual , satisfied 
with our positions, benefits and prestige .. even while Rome burns to 


The human being, according to the emerging paradigm, is not 
only his material being. He combines both the material, observable, 
empirical aspects with the spiritual, non-empirical aspects, in an 
integrated, indivisible unity which lasts as long as he lives. Human 
behavior is the resultant of the dynamic interplay between these two 
types of forces. The human being cannot be correctly understood 
when reduced to either one of these constituent parts, to the 
exclusion of the other ; or when “interaction" between the two 
components is ignored. Let's, however, set the "interaction" issue 
aside for a moment to focus on the workings of the basic two 
elements of the amalgam. We do not expect to face difficulties when 
the focus of our study is on the observable, or empirical aspects of 
the human being, like studying visual and auditory perception or 
effects of certain drugs on behavior in psychology or the study of 
spatial distributions of people across regions in demography. After 
all, most of our research methods and techniques in the past have 
been geared to the investigation of such empirically observable 
aspects. Our "senses" do provide the raw material for knowledge, 
and “reason" is supposed to enmesh these findings "logically" 
together in a coherent fashion to render them “understandable” as a 
basis for further potentially fertile exploration .

The big question is, how are we ever to study the other component, 
the spiritual, non-empirical aspects of our being. The difficulty here 
stems from the fact that soul, or the spiritual aspects are by definition 
not amenable to study by reference to sensory experience. This 
aspect of human existence is not space- or time- bound. The vehicle 
for understanding such phenomena cannot be the sense organs. Nor 
could it be studied through reason alone, for reason can only process 
what inputs of data - sensory or otherwise - that come its way in 
accordance with its innate logical rules. Its speculation beyond that is 
mostly groping in the darkness, since it lacks an anchor either in 
empirical data or any other source of credible information. 

With all of our human faculties thus exhausted, we are left with the 
only other source of viable knowledge which can help us understand 
those elusive aspects of our own existence. It is here that we come 
face to face with the need to consult "revelation", which is supposed - 
in the celestial religions at least - to emanate from God and to be 
transmitted through his chosen and trustworthy messengers to 
humankind. The Supreme Being who created us did withhold from us 
any direct means to gain knowledge regarding this innermost, most 
valuable component of our being , our soul. But He sent Messengers 
to provide human beings with valid insights into this aspect of their 
being. The "validity" issue of any specific claims of divine revelation 
could be decided upon through scrutiny of evidence as to whether the 
alleged Messenger historically existed or not, and whether the 
"subject matter" of revelation, i.e. scripture, has managed to reach us 
intact or not. But that is a realm for exploration by solemn religious 
scholars. Social scientists are more interested in theory-building and 
verification or falsification of specific ideas or hypotheses as they go 
on the business of attempting to understand the dynamics of 
individual and social behavior of the human being. But that is not 
meant to detract in any way from the important contribution of 
religious scholars to the cause of the ongoing search for the ultimate 
truth. Their efforts - if sincere - could indeed help tortured souls find 
their way in a troubled world through the guidance of a holistic and 
wholesome true belief. 

But in the social sciences, our interest is limited to the goals of 
understanding, explanation, and prediction. And we are coming to 
realize that most probably religious insights could be instrumental in 
helping us attain these scientific goals. We do not need, then, to 
worry about the thorny issues of historical and substantive scrutiny of 
evidence to establish the validity of any particular version of alleged 
revelation. Theory-building since Popper gives us a clue as to how 
can we utilize such insights into the scientific enterprise. But for this 
we need to dwell for a moment on the issue of the pivotal role played 
by “theory" in science. 

There is general agreement that "the goal of science is to develop 
theory" (Turner, 1978:24). As Dawis puts it.. "theory is the end 
product of scientific activity, but an end product that is never final 
because it is subject to revision and eventual rejection if a better 
theory is found (1984:468). Kerlinger (1979) also explains the "high 
esteem" held by scientists for theory. He tells us that such esteem 
"springs from the basic purpose of science, a