Origin of Social Sciences in 16th or 17th Centuries & their Contribution in Understanding Human Nature

The 16th and 17th Centuries are marked by the commencement of the modernization in the European societies and the classification of different sciences and their differentiation from each other. The emergence of new ideas and the adverse attitude of church against them is also one of the main characteristics of this period. This is the era of human history when humanism consolidated its roots in the European intellectual class and several other sciences are distinguished with philosophy. The trend of studying and investigating all the sciences without any classification and differentiation was going to decline steadily in the near future. Modernization of thoughts, methodology and principles was not clear in this era but the foundation was already laid by the renaissance thinkers. The gap between the medieval thoughts and the modern has started to widen day by day. As humanism was the core movement of renaissance the study of human aspects had intrigued many researchers and thinkers of that time. Social Sciences have also experienced development in this time and its advancement has helped us a lot in understanding the human nature. In this paper we will discuss the extent of origin of Social Sciences in 16th and 17th Centuries as well as their contribution in understanding human nature.

Social Sciences in 16th and 17th Centuries:

The roots of Social Sciences go far back to ancient times. In the antiquity Aristotle, Socrates and Plato have shown keen interest in Social Sciences and according Socrates “The proper study of mankind is man”. The main interest of the thinkers of the antiquity and later their medieval followers was in social and political ideas.         For instance Aristotle is thought to have written descriptions of about 148 states of which only the description of Athenian State has survived. (Wolf & Dannemann, 1935, p. 583) The writers of 16th and 17th Centuries not only carried forwarded old methodology of the study of social phenomenon, but also created advances, theories and concepts of their own. They developed ideals like Republic and gave certain descriptions of State in their own way like Aristotle descriptions of States. Some of the notable works of 16th and 17th Centuries regarding social sciences are “Del governo e amministrazione di diversi regni e republiche” of Francesco Sansovino published in 1562. This works gives a detail description of more than 20 States. Another work is “Le relazioni universali” of Giovanni Botero published in 1593, and gives geographical, economical and religious description of several States. In early 17th Century Pierre d’Avity produced his remarkable work “Les Etats, Empires, Royaumes, Seigneuries, Duchez et Principautez du Monde” which also gives detailed description of states. (Wolf ; Dannemann, 1935, p. 586)

In 16th Century for the first time the concept that human nature has profound influences of the region and land where they live emerged and became prominent. The pioneer of this thought is considered Dean Bodin. In his work De la République (1577). In his work he has argued discussing ideal forms of government that different people need different forms of governments and their difference in needs is due to the difference in the environment they live in. The Science of statistics was pioneered in the 17th Century in the form of “Political Arithmetic” by three notable researchers who for the first time tried to get statistics results regarding population. These three pioneers were Sir William Petty, John Graunt and Gregory King.

Economics another major field of social sciences also appeared in the early 17th Century. In the periods of 16th and 17th Centuries economics was not regarded as a separated branch of science, but a part of politics. The initial emergence of this science with the name of “Political Economics” in 1615 also denotes the way the thinkers of that time regard this branch of knowledge. The most important contribution in economic literature in the 16th and 17th Centuries has been from English writers. In late 16th Century mercantile conception for the first time was presented by John Hale in his book “Briefe Conceit of English Policy” (?1549) but the concept was more clearly addressed by Thomas Mun in his three writings “A Discourse of Trade from England to the East Indies” (1621), England’s Treasure by Forraign Trade or The Balance of our Forraign Trade is the Rule of our Treasure” (1628). In his writing Mun has clearly stated that foreign trade is the only way to enrich the Kingdom. The concept of division of labour was given by Charles Devenent in his work “Ways and Means of Supplying the War” (1695), by Petty in “In the Making of Watch”.

The study of social phenomenon in the 16th and 17th Centuries not only bear the characteristics of antiquity, but also have made their own contribution which made profound effects on the human societies in the future.

Contribution of Social Sciences in the Understanding of Human Nature:

As the social sciences are related to the study of human aspects of the world, these sciences have played pivotal role in helping to understand the human nature in general. For e.g. geography is a major branch of social sciences and through this, early modern thinkers have found that the variation and differences in human characteristics and behaviours is due to the differences in the environment they live in. Bodin for instance has figured out that people living in north have strong physical strength as compared to people living in south. He further argues that people living in East have fairer complexion as compared to the Westerners and they are more polite and gentle while the Westerners are more warlike and fierce in nature. (Wolf ; Dannemann, 1935, p. 591)

Studying human nature in economic perspectives has shown that sociality is one of the most important of human features which have enabled specialization and production. (Smith, 2004) Some other important features in human beings considered significant according to economist point of view are the qualities of decision making and motivation.

History has recorded the different phases of human development from the prehistoric era to the current time. History gives us the knowledge of human behaviour during the times when man was a hunter or a gatherer to the establishment of the first settlement in the human history.

Psychology is the science of human behaviour whether a group or individual. Thus this branch of science has direct contribution in understanding human nature as it depends on understanding human behaviour.


The Social Sciences in the 16th and 17th centuries were in their early phases and were in a rather unorganized form. Some of the major sciences which are considered the core of Social Sciences were not regarded as a separate branch of knowledge like Economy. The advancement and proper classification of these sciences were supposed to be done in the coming centuries.

Social Sciences are the study of human aspects thus they are directly involved in the study of human beings thus have helped greatly in the understanding of human nature.


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