No Such Thing as Sociology?

I had the impression that sociology wasn’t much studied nowadays, but a cursory google search found more than a hundred courses, most of them sociology combined with other subjects but still. It was very much in vogue when I was at uni and I’m sure it’s a very interesting subject but sadly for my projected blog post, it’s still alive and well: I was going to have a rant about how, now that there’s no such thing as society, we’re not encouraged to study it either so there’s no such thing as sociology. But there you go. One thing I know is out of vogue is the study of philosophy – or so I thought, but a trawl of the nation’s universities brings up a hundred places you can study it. So what is really going on here and why do we never seem to hear about these subjects?

I’m fairly certain that in society as a whole philosophy is not much valued. I mean, when you work in the money markets what use are the novels of Plato? – to paraphrase the boring guy in Four Weddings and a Funeral. What use is it to spend three years of your life questioning the meaning of existence? I actually did some philosophy, though more or less by accident, when I studied French literature; Sartre and Camus straddle the boundary between literature and philosophy so you can’t do one without the other.

There’s a story told about the famous philosopher Socrates. He was walking one day with a pupil when a man came up to him and said, ‘What’s the point of philosophy?’ Without answering the man, Socrates immediately turned to his pupil and said, This man wishes to profit from learning. Give him a penny.’ Socrates had instantly divined that when the guy said ‘what’s the point?’ he was really asking, ‘Can I make money from it?’ and answered him accordingly. So what is the point of philosophy? Is there any point? Does it have to have a point? What’s the point of a new-born baby or a cloud that sheds no rain or a flower in the middle of a concrete slab? When it comes down to it, what’s the point of anything? And what do we mean when we say ‘What’s the point?’ What are we really asking?

On the whole I think we’re asking, what does it contribute to the world, by which we mean to society. What use is a flower growing in the middle of a patch of concrete? You could argue that it gives us hope in the midst of despair but what if nobody sees it? What’s the point of it then? What’s the point of a new-born baby? Yes, it gives the parents joy but you can’t eat joy, can you? And yes, it will grow up to be a useful and productive member of society and take care of its parents in their old age, but that’s way in the future. What’s the point of it now?

Some parents seem to take that attitude to their babies, farming them out to nannies and packing them off to school until they’re old enough to take care of themselves. Some societies take that approach to women, that all we’re good for is to provide children and do all the messy jobs men don’t want to do. The point of a woman is her function; the point of a baby is as a potential adult.

Balls. The point of everything is itself. And the point of philosophy is to study that.

Kirk out

8 thoughts on “No Such Thing as Sociology?

  1. I agree. I don’t see anything wrong, per se, in philosophy or sociology [remember the BT ads: “Ah! You’ve got an -ology!” 😀 ], but I think it must be possible to get too hung up on justifying the existence of everything [which is what money-minded people seem to see a need for], whereas I now think that it’s best to concentrate on what is important to us, and pretty much ignore the rest. That might seem somewhat dispassionate, but there is an argument that, given that we create our own reality, by focusing on situations we want to prevent or, at least, alleviate, we actually continue their existence; that doesn’t stop me signing petitions every day, though. Another dichotomy 😉 I know that sounds a bit rambling, but it’s difficult to crystallise it into a few sentences! 😉 Cheers, Jon.

  2. I’m not going to talk about philosophy because if I did I would never stop. Sociology though: Sociology and Politics as academic disciplines are very close indeed to each other, and they are probably only practiced in different departments through an accident of history. That would mean that PPE includes Sociology, in a funny sort of way, and there are plenty of people doing that.

  3. My step-daughter is on a degree course to be a social worker for women suffering domestic abuse. She is a ‘mature student’ at 31, and sometimes struggles with the academic side. I helped correct one of her essays, and asked her more about the course, including Sociology. She told me that Sociology is now a ‘Module’, part of her wider studies. So I suppose it is still around in a form we might recognise, just incorporated into other things.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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