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A distinction is often made in the natural sciences between the life sciences and the physical sciences. Semantically, I believe this is a false distinction. Since all life depends on a physical dimension, life sciences would be a subset of the physical sciences. However, this defeats the point of the distinction, i.e. to distinguish between science where the system under study is necessarily living (biology), and science where there is no special treatment of living systems (physics and chemistry).

Is there an alternative way to make this distinction?

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closed as not constructive by Kris, Cameron, Daniel, Matt E. Эллен, Andrew Leach Oct 10 '12 at 9:06

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I deny your major. By this line of reasoning, everything except mathematics and metaphysics is a "subset of the physical sciences" -- history, sociology, psychology, economics, art history, even English Language & Usage. – StoneyB Oct 7 '12 at 22:28
So would you say that the physical sciences refers to the study of everything excluding those covered by other disciplines? – oisyutat Oct 7 '12 at 22:58
Well, I'm probably one of the last people on this site you should ask: what I know about the "hard" sciences was pretty well fixed 50 years ago. But I was always impressed with the notion of "emergence phenomena": life "emerging" from non-life, social life "emerging" from animal life, &c. The "physical sciences" for me are those which deal only with what is physical: matter and energy. – StoneyB Oct 7 '12 at 23:17
So Biology and Chemistry should be lumped under Physics? – Blessed Geek Oct 8 '12 at 3:45
The life sciences used to be considered part of the physical sciences. From Google books 1839: "But of the physical sciences the most beautiful and alluring is botany." – Peter Shor Oct 8 '12 at 14:29

Perhaps the distinction could be organic and non-organic. This would allow the inclusion of organic chemistry on the bio side, while leaving everything else as non.

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@tchrist understood, but it is a core part of the biologically focused sciences – bib Oct 8 '12 at 1:35
But "organic sciences" is less satisfactory and accurate a term than "life sciences"; while your terms may have a clearer separation and less overlap (which is debatable), I don't see that it's an improvement overall. – itsbruce Oct 8 '12 at 2:57

There's always 'life sciences' and 'the non-life sciences'. If context might allow the social sciences to be included in the non-life sciences, then you could say 'the other hard sciences.' Of course, some people think that biology and its friends are not hard sciences, and others think the concept of a 'hard' vs. a soft science in the first place is chauvinistic and even derogatory.

Anyway, as others have mentioned, I think this is a moot point. Life sciences is a subset of physical sciences only under a construal of physical sciences that people that correctly use the phrase "physical sciences" don't intend to make.

It's safest to stick with 'physical sciences' in either event.

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