What Is Human Science?
David San Filippo, M.A., LMHC
February 20, 1991

Human science is the study and interpretation of the experiences, activities, constructs, and artifacts associated with human beings.  The study of the human sciences attempts to expand and enlighten the human being's knowledge of his or her existence, its interrelationship with other species and systems, and the development of artifacts to perpetuate the human expression and thought.  It is the study of human phenomena.  The study of the human experience is historical and current in nature.  It requires the evaluation and interpretation of the historic human experience and the analysis of current human activity to gain an understanding of human phenomena and to project the outlines of human volution.  Human science is the objective, informed critique of human existence and how it relates to reality.  The ultimate question of science is - What is reality?  The ultimate question in the study of human beings - What is the reality of being human?  To study appropriate human phenomena it is necessary to use multiple systems of inquiry.  Empirical, psychological/philosophical, and spiritual methods of inquiry are the research methodologies associated with the human sciences.

 Human sciences is studied, interpreted, and reported using the
following techniques:

     1.   The holistic study of systems and structures.
     2.   The study of human actions, such as free will or intentionality.
     3.   Existential-phenomenological descriptions.
     4.   Hermeneutic interpretations.

Methods Of Inquiry:
The methods of inquiry for the human sciences to address the key issues associated with inquiries into human phenomena are:

Empirical Inquiry

Empirical studies of the questions of science have been the predominate method of investigating, evaluating, formulating scientific theories in the empirical sciences.  The empirical approach uses the deductive and pragmatic systems of inquiry.  Empirical inquiry relies or bases its methodology solely on experimental or experiential data.  This methodology can also be used to research some human science experiences.

Psychological/Philosophical Inquiry

 The research and evaluation of the structures that make up the human experience towards the world are interpreted by the existential-phenomenological systems of inquiry.  Space-time and embodiment make up the two basic structures of the existential system.  Existential-phenomenological systems of inquiry rely on the descriptive method of interpretive understanding to evaluate the human phenomena.  "The phenomenological (descriptive) approach focuses on the structure of experience, the organizing principles that give form and meaning to the lifeworld." (Polkinghorne, 203).

"Hermeneutics is the science of correct Understanding or interpretation." (Polkinghorne, 218).  The hermeneutic approach to inquiry supports and enhances the existential-phenomenological approach by seeking to understand the human experience by interpreting the experiences in order to better understand the human phenomena.    The hermeneutic approach supplements the descriptive approach of existential-phenomenological system of inquiry by focusing on the linguistic and mental/psychological activities of the human in order to understand the meaning of the human experience.  Hermeneutics focuses on the interpretation of the historical meanings of human experience and its developmental and cumulative impact on the individual and society.

Spiritual Inquiry

 Spiritual inquiry is a study in the human contemplation of their being.  It is a personal inquiry that provides insight into the individual human experience.  Spiritual inquiry involves the researcher being in touch with who he or she is and how he or she relates to the rest of the world.

Differences Between Empirical & Human Science:
Human science is the development of knowledge and understanding of human experience and phenomena.  According to Polkinghorne, there are four basic themes related to the characteristics of
what is considered knowledge and understanding in human sciences:

     1.   There is a consensus about the standards for what is considered acceptable to be considered a knowledge statement.
     2.   There is a new awareness that human science is a human activity in which the researcher is the subject of study.  In the empirical sciences, the     researcher studies a subject other than him or her self.
     3.   There are new intellectual tools that are used to develop and justify knowledge that are different than the tools used in empirical sciences.
     4.   There are specific operations through which knowledge is developed and communicated.

 Acceptability of Knowledge

The standard for acceptability of an empirical science knowledge statement is that it must be able to withstand the test of experience and experiment.  Human sciences also use the descriptive and interpretive data collection techniques to validate knowledge claims.  Knowledge is fallible, however, it represents the best explanation and understanding available from which the human being can be confident enough to take action.  In human science, the acceptability of a knowledge claim may also be confirmed by a consensus opinion by a group of knowledgeable colleagues.

New Awareness

The new awareness is that human science study is a human activity in which the subject that is being studied is the researcher.  In the study of human sciences, the researcher is the subject of study; therefore, it is important to have a clear understanding of self.  This understanding will help to avoid the personal biasing or slanting of the data developed by the researcher.  The researcher, having experienced spiritual insight through spiritual inquiry methods, can appropriately give guidance to
other human beings and avoid personal biasing and slanting of information.

 Knowledge of the human experience is progressive because it builds upon itself by providing understanding of human activity from a historical perspective.  Cultural and historical references provide the basis for the critiques of the human experience and the development of new human studies.  This research is effected by the limitations of the conceptual and technical knowledge and tools of its current situation.

Intellectual Tools

The intellectual tools being used to develop and justify knowledge are more varied than the previously accepted tools of sensory experience and demonstrative logic.  Reasoning operations
of systems logic, hermeneutic logic, and pragmatic logic are the the tools used to expand the knowledge of human sciences.  Systems logic is concerned with the organizational patterns of a
system and not the specific whole being.  "Hermeneutics (logic) is a method of systematization of formal procedures which is designed to assist researchers in the task of Understanding and
attaining a goal of correct interpretation." (Polkinghorne, 218).  Pragmatic logic reflects the development of knowledge upon which choices are made.  These choices are considered a truth.  The hypothesized truth then can be tested for validity.

The study of human sciences requires an understanding and explanation of the following areas of study:

      1.   Field theory - an integrated group of fundamental principles underlying a specific field of study  or its applications.
     2.   Organic systems - a systematic coordination of parts and the analysis of the whole.
     3.   Linguistic statements - the study of language and the ability to effectively communicate its meanings.
     4.   Consciousness - the awareness of self and that which surrounds self.

Empirical science knowledge is developed by direct experience or through observation using the methods of field theory and organic systems.  Empirical science knowledge does not use the study of
language or the awareness of self in its data collection and interpretation.

Development & Communication of Knowledge

There are three basic operations by which human science knowledge is developed and communicated:

     1.   The first activity involves the creative activity of developing and proposing a hypothesis or proposed knowledge claim to a given question regarding human phenomena.
      2.   Following the development of a suitable hypothesis the hypothesis or knowledge claim must be tested for validity.
     3.   Upon the completion of the testing of the hypothesis and the evaluation of the data, it is necessary to convert the developed data into useful information and to communicate this information effectively to the scientific community.

These operations are similar to the operations used in empirical scientific study; however, the human science knowledge claim must be developed as a process of logical reasoning as opposed to the
empirical process of demonstrative reasoning.

Development & Communication Of Human Science Knowledge:
Developing a Hypothesis

In order for research findings to be accepted by the scientific community, there must be agreement within the community, that the information is worthy to be considered knowledge.  To satisfy this criteria, the human sciences knowledge claim or hypothesis must be developed as a process of practical reasoning as opposed to the empirical process of demonstrative reasoning.

Validating a Hypothesis

 In order to accept the hypothesis as a knowledge claim, the information must be able to withstand the test of critical thinking and argument analysis.  Universal reasoning, universal trial and error learning, and the use of pluralistic epistemologies are the proven methods to determine if claims of
human science knowledge should be considered acceptable.

There is an accepted reasonableness, which is considered universal reasoning, that occurs in most cultures.  In universal reasoning, a hypothesis is understood to be a probability statement or an informed guess.  The element of universal reasoning Hirsch states, is  "the ability to use a 'probability
judgement' in coming to a conclusion, 'in the absence of directly experienced certitude." (Polkinghorne, 245).  Rational, scholarly discourse is the paragon towards which human science
communication should strive.  Through discourse, elements of human science can be researched, discussed, and validated. Trial and error learning focuses on the human ability to learn from the mistakes made and to gain knowledge as a result of these mistakes.  The learning advantages of trial and error learning is an acceptable method for developing universal reasoning.  Concepts and techniques are improved and perfected as a result of trial and error learning.  Knowledge, which can be defined as a truth, is not infallible.  Knowledge provides itself as a test subject for a conclusion or belief.  Once the researcher has defined what is a truth regarding a particular subject, then this
 knowledge is available for scrutiny by the scientific community to verify its validity.  Erroneous human knowledge claims can be eliminated or minimized by the corrective influence of testing a
claim through trial and error techniques.

There is a plurality of acceptable epistemological approaches to the study of human sciences.  There is no single truth that corresponds to reality but various interpretations of the truth which are indigenous to specific communities and their interpretation of knowledge.  Each system of inquiry is considered a unique context or community which represents an epistemological position.  An individual who follows a specific system of inquiry is considered a member of the specific community representing that epistemological approach.

It is primarily through research that a theory is validated or invalidated.  Research is a formal method of structuring a test of reality against expectations.  Human science research should use multiple procedures in its research models in order to actualize maximum methodological benefits.  Syncretism, the combining or uniting of differences within methodological procedures and the use of systems logic and hermeneutic understanding procedures provides for the foundation of  human science research.  The syncretistic process involves the identification of similarities in differences, concerning the subject of study, and organizing these differences into an appropriate  model for the topic of study.  This provides the  researcher with multiple methods to investigate a subject and define the similarities and differences of the study subject.

The sharing of illuminated or learned information using empirical, psychological, and spiritual inquiry methods focus on several key issues to evaluate and communicate what has been learned through the process of inquiry.  These issues are:

     1.   How the observation of the human phenomena are to be made.
     2.   The form in which the theoretical descriptions are presented to the scientific community.
     3.   How understanding is defined and what its purpose is in the human sciences.
     4.   How the theories of human science are validated and verified.

Systems To Evaluate Human Science Research:
According to Polkinghorne, there are four basic systems of inquiry for human science research design:

     1.   Statistical systems:
               This procedure utilizes measurement methods to quantify and measure the research.  This system provides for a quantitative, objective method for analyzing data by using numeric data types.

     2.   Phenomenological systems:
               Using interviews and gathering descriptions of exemplars is the methodology for the phenomenological approach to research design. Phenomenology provides descriptive data and information that utilizes linguistic data to interpret human experience.

    3.   Hermeneutic systems:
          This system requires the collection of interpretive descriptions of activity and/or accounts of emotions as a result of an experience. Hermeneutics interprets and provides understanding of the human experience by primarily using linguistic data to study the human experience and consciousness.

     4.   Systemic systems:
           The evaluation of the interrelationship of one system with another and to the entirety is a systemic procedure.  Systemic procedures utilize the linguistic and numeric data to interpret the interrelationships of various systems.

Human Characteristics That Effect: Data Collection, Data Types & Data Analysis Approaches
 The subject matter of human sciences is human phenomena.  The special characteristics of the human realm provide the researcher with a direction on which approach to use to gather data, what data types to use to gain information, and which kinds of data analysis to use to evaluate the data.  According Polkinghorne, are five specific characteristics of the human realm that effect the data collection techniques, data types, and data analysis approaches.  The five characteristics are:

     1.   Systemic character:
           The subject matter of human science, the human realm, is systemically organized.  It can not be appropriately analyzed only by investigating its parts but must be considered as a whole, considering the interrelationship of the parts to each other and to the whole.  To appropriately investigate the realm of human beings, the language, the thoughts, and the actions of various                social communities must be considered.  Human science attempts to gain knowledge of the                organizing principles which make up the ongoing process and flow of the human's daily experiences.

     2.    Unclear boundaries:
            It is difficult to determine boundaries of the human phenomena, in order to describe abstract aspects of the human experience, and still maintain the ability to delineate the relationships within the phenomena and its  relationship to other concepts and phenomena.
        "Meanings have the characteristics of prototypically organized categories; they do not have the characteristics of the kind of clearly delineated categories that are often used for scientific clarity....Abstract categories - such as 'beauty,' 'truth,' 'justice,' and 'fairness' - have no real perceptual attributes and seem extremely vague, and yet they are among the most significant categories for the understanding of the human realm." (Polkinghorne, 263). These abstract categories make it difficult to develop clear boundaries to describe and interpret human experiences.

     3.   Unfinished quality:
           The human realm has to do with ongoing developing phenomena.  As it develops, it develops new patterns which combine with previous patterns to form new patterns.  These patterns continue to evolve, forming new patterns, and so on.  The human realm is constant change and development. There is a historical development with an open-ended future which does not develop towards a single goal but is effected by the changes in the human phenomena and therefore continue to change.

      4.   Composition:
            The study of the human realm is a study of self which is difficult to study objectively. "Strasser calls this problem the 'anthropological dilemma,' and he expresses it thus: 'How can man as a person make man as a person the object of an empirical inquiry?'" (Polkinghorne, 263). In human science study, the organizational patterns that are used to collect data on human beings are the same organizational processes that the researcher uses to evaluate him or her self.

     5.   Access:
           The human realm must be studied indirectly through the observation of bodily movements and linguistic expressions.  Human phenomena is a realm of meaning and therefore must be approached by interpreting movement and linguistic expressions.

Human Science Data Types:
Data types used in the study of human sciences are linguistic data and numerical data.  Linguistic data refers to data that forms a meaningful structure to convey information from the subject to the researcher and the researcher to the scientific community.  Numerical data provides a method to quantify data collected and provide statistical interpretations of the  collected data.  Linguistic data is the most effective data type in the study of the human being, since this is the common method of communication for this species.  Numerical data types are more suitable for sciences that deal with exact differentiation between study elements and groups.  Data from linguistic types can be statistically analyzed but only after the data has been translated into a numerical data type.  Linguistic data provides the researcher the ability to identify and analyze patterns within the study fields.

Skills To Study Human Science:
To appropriately study human science, requires specific inquiry skills.  The human scientist must develop these skills in order to research objectively human phenomena and produce valid knowledge to present to the scientific and lay community.  According to Polkinghorne, these skills are:

     1.   The ability to observe, acutely, human activity.
     2.   The ability to describe, clearly, the observations of the human experience.
     3.   The ability to weigh evidence developed by research methodologies.
     4.   The capability to make a decision and take a position regarding a knowledge claim.
     5.   The ability to concisely express the available data to provide information.
     6.   The ability to analyze self as part of the human sciences subject.
     7.   The ability to be committed to your ideas, hypothesis, and knowledge claims.
     8.   The capacity to take the intellectual role of the opposing position.
     9.   The ability to synthesize and integrate a broad range of perspectives.
     10.  The awareness of buried philosophical assumptions and/or indirectly conveyed ideas.
     11.  The analytical capacity to identify the central issue amidst a complexity of details.
     12.  The sensitivity to the use of language in the interpretation of written text.

Human science researches the experiences, constructs, and artifacts associated with the human realm that would not have existed had the human being not existed.  Human science is the study and the interpretation of the human realm.

Human science is the study of the human realm.  Access to this realm is achieved by the study of its expressions.  The expressions of human existence are linguistic and artistic in  nature.  The basic form of linguistic data is discourse.  Discourse can be the communication in either oral or written format.  Although nonverbal communication and nonliterary artifacts are also data sources for the human phenomena, human communication between the subject and the researcher is the most abundant source of information.  "Human science should use those methods which provide the fullest answer possible to the questions asked about topics concerning the human realm and which produce knowledge claims whose defense before the community is convincing enough to bring about assent." (Polkinghorne, 259)

Through the participation in human events, the direct contact with other humans, the analysis of self, and the study of the human phenomena, the human being can develop knowledge and skills which will form judgements and reactions with regards to human experience.  Human science collects and analyzes data using empirical, psychological/philosophical, and spiritual methods of inquiry.


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