Introduction to the Science of Sociology
by Robert E. Park
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All rights Reserved

Published September 1921

Transcriber's Note: Minor typos have been corrected. Footnotes have been moved to the end of the chapters. Italicized letters, such as (a), have been changed to unitalicized (a) for easier reading.


The materials upon which this book is based have been collected from a wide range of sources and represent the observation and reflection of men who have seen life from very different points of view. This was necessary in order to bring into the perspective of a single volume the whole wide range of social organization and human life which is the subject-matter of a science of society.

At the same time an effort has been made to bring this material within the limits of a very definite series of sociological conceptions which suggest, at any rate, where they do not clearly exhibit, the fundamental relations of the parts to one another and to the concepts and contents of the volume as a whole.

The Introduction to the Science of Sociology is not conceived as a mere collection of materials, however, but as a systematic treatise. On the other hand, the excerpts which make up the body of the book are not to be regarded as mere illustrations. In the context in which they appear, and with the headings which indicate their place in the volume, they should enable the student to formulate for himself the principles involved. An experience of some years, during which this book has been in preparation, has demonstrated the value to the teacher of a body of materials that are interesting in themselves and that appeal to the experience of the student. If students are invited to take an active part in the task of interpretation of the text, if they are encouraged to use the references in order to extend their knowledge of the subject-matter and to check and supplement classroom discussion by their personal observation, their whole attitude becomes active rather than passive. Students gain in this way a sense of dealing at first hand with a subject-matter that is alive and with a science that is in the making. Under these conditions sociology becomes a common enterprise in which all members of the class participate; to which, by their observation and investigation, they can and should make contributions.

The first thing that students in sociology need to learn is to observe and record their own observations; to read, and then to select and record the materials which are the fruits of their readings; to organize and use, in short, their own experience. The whole organization of this volume may be taken as an illustration of a method, at once tentative and experimental, for the collection, classification, and interpretation of materials, and should be used by students from the very outset in all their reading and study.

Social questions have been endlessly discussed, and it is important that they should be. What the student needs to learn, however, is how to get facts rather than formulate opinions. The most important facts that sociologists have to deal with are opinions (attitudes and sentiments), but until students learn to deal with opinions as the biologists deal with organisms, that is, to dissect them—reduce them to their component elements, describe them, and define the situation (environment) to which they are a response—we must not expect very great progress in sociological science.

It will be noticed that every single chapter, except the first, falls naturally into four parts; (1) the introduction, (2) the materials, (3) investigations and problems, and (4) bibliography. The first two parts of each chapter are intended to raise questions rather than to answer them. The last two, on the other hand, should outline or suggest problems for further study. The bibliographies have been selected mainly to exhibit the recognized points of view with regard to the questions raised, and to suggest the practical problems that grow out of, and are related to, the subject of the chapter as a whole.

The bibliographies, which accompany the chapters, it needs to be said, are intended to be representative rather than authoritative or complete. An attempt has been made to bring together literature that would exhibit the range, the divergence, the distinctive character of the writings and points of view upon a single topic. The results are naturally subject to criticism and revision.

A word should be said in regard to chapter i. It seemed necessary and important, in view of the general vagueness and uncertainty in regard to the place of sociology among the sciences and its relation to the other social sciences, particularly to history, to state somewhere, clearly and definitely, what, from the point of view of this volume, sociology is. This resulted finally in the imposition of a rather formidable essay upon what is in other respects, we trust, a relatively concrete and intelligible book. Under these circumstances we suggest that, unless the reader is specially interested in the matter, he begin with the chapter on "Human Nature," and read the first chapter last.

The editors desire to express their indebtedness to Dr. W. I. Thomas for the point of view and the scheme of organization of materials which have been largely adopted in this book.[1] They are also under obligations to their colleagues, Professor Albion W. Small, Professor Ellsworth Faris, and Professor Leon C. Marshall, for constant stimulus, encouragement, and assistance. They wish to acknowledge the co-operation and the courtesy of their publishers, all the more appreciated because of the difficult technical task involved in the preparation of this volume. In preparing copy for publication and in reading proof, invaluable service was rendered by Miss Roberta Burgess.

Finally the editors are bound to express their indebtedness to the writers and publishers who have granted their permission to use the materials from which this volume has been put together. Without the use of these materials it would not have been possible to exhibit the many and varied types of observation and reflection which have contributed to present-day knowledge of social life. In order to give this volume a systematic character it has been necessary to tear these excerpts from their contexts and to put them, sometimes, into strange categories. In doing this it will no doubt have happened that some false impressions have been created. This was perhaps inevitable and to be expected. On the other hand these brief excerpts offered here will serve, it is hoped, as an introduction to the works from which they have been taken, and, together with the bibliographies which accompany them, will serve further to direct and stimulate the reading and research of students. The co-operation of the following publishers, organizations and journals, in giving, by special arrangement, permission to use selections from copyright material, was therefore distinctly appreciated by the editors:

D. Appleton & Co.; G. Bell & Sons; J. F. Bergmann; Columbia University Press; George H. Doran Co.; Duncker und Humblot; Duffield & Co.; Encyclopedia Americana Corporation; M. Giard et Cie; Ginn & Co.; Harcourt, Brace & Co.; Paul B. Hoeber; Houghton Mifflin Co.; Henry Holt & Co.; B. W. Huebsch; P. S. King & Son; T. W. Laurie, Ltd.; Longmans, Green & Co.; John W. Luce & Co.; The Macmillan Co.; A. C. McClurg & Co.; Methuen & Co.; John Murray; Martinus Nijhoff; Open Court Publishing Co.; Oxford University Press; G. P. Putnam's Sons; Ruetten und Loening; Charles Scribner's Sons; Frederick A. Stokes & Co.; W. Thacker & Co.; University of Chicago Press; University Tutorial Press, Ltd.; Wagnerische Univ. Buchhandlung; Walter Scott Publishing Co.; Williams & Norgate; Yale University Press; American Association for International Conciliation; American Economic Association; American Sociological Society; Carnegie Institution of Washington; American Journal of Psychology; American Journal of Sociology; Cornhill Magazine; International Journal of Ethics; Journal of Abnormal Psychology; Journal of Delinquency; Nature; Pedagogical Seminary; Popular Science Monthly; Religious Education; Scientific Monthly; Sociological Review; World's Work; Yale Review.

CHICAGO June 18, 1921



II. Historical and Sociological Facts 6

III. Human Nature and Law 12

IV. History, Natural History, and Sociology 16

V. The Social Organism: Humanity or Leviathan? 24

VI. Social Control and Schools of Thought 27

VII. Social Control and the Collective Mind 36

VIII. Sociology and Social Research 43

Representative Works in Systematic Sociology and Methods of Sociological Research 57 Topics for Written Themes 60 Questions for Discussion 60


I. Introduction 1. Human Interest in Human Nature 64 2. Definition of Human Nature 65 3. Classification of the Materials 68

II. Materials

A. The Original Nature of Man 1. Original Nature Defined. Edward L. Thorndike 73 2. Inventory of Original Tendencies. Edward L. Thorndike 75 3. Man Not Born Human. Robert E. Park 76 4. The Natural Man. Milicent W. Shinn 82 5. Sex Differences. Albert Moll 85 6. Racial Differences. C. S. Myers 89 7. Individual Differences. Edward L. Thorndike 92

B. Human Nature and Social Life 1. Human Nature and Its Remaking. W. E. Hocking 95 2. Human Nature, Folkways, and the Mores. William G. Sumner 97 3. Habit and Custom, the Individual and the General Will. Ferdinand Toennies 100 4. The Law, Conscience, and the General Will. Viscount Haldane 102

C. Personality and the Social Self 1. The Organism as Personality. Th. Ribot 108 2. Personality as a Complex. Morton Prince 110 3. The Self as the Individual's Conception of His Role. Alfred Binet 113 4. The Natural Person versus the Social and Conventional Self. L. G. Winston 117 5. The Divided Self and Moral Consciousness. William James 119 6. Personality of Individuals and of Peoples. W. v. Bechterew 123

D. Biological and Social Heredity 1. Nature and Nurture. J. Arthur Thomson 126 2. Inheritance of Original Nature. C. B. Davenport 128 3. Inheritance of Acquired Nature: Tradition. Albert G. Keller 134 4. Temperament, Tradition, and Nationality. Robert E. Park 135

III. Investigations and Problems

1. Conceptions of Human Nature Implicit in Religious and Political Doctrines 139 2. Literature and the Science of Human Nature 141 3. Research in the Field of Original Nature 143 4. The Investigation of Human Personality 143 5. The Measurement of Individual Differences 145

Selected Bibliography 147 Topics for Written Themes 154 Questions for Discussion 155


I. Introduction 1. Society, the Community, and the Group 159 2. Classification of the Materials 162

II. Materials

A. Society and Symbiosis 1. Definition of Society. Alfred Espinas 165 2. Symbiosis (literally "living together"). William M. Wheeler 167 3. The Taming and the Domestication of Animals. P. Chalmers Mitchell 170

B. Plant Communities and Animal Societies 1. Plant Communities. Eugenius Warming 173 2. Ant Society. William E. Wheeler 180

C. Human Society 1. Social Life. John Dewey 182 2. Behavior and Conduct. Robert E. Park 185 3. Instinct and Character. L. T. Hobhouse 190 4. Collective Representation and Intellectual Life. Emile Durkheim 193

D. The Social Group 1. Definition of the Group. Albion W. Small 196 2. The Unity of the Social Group. Robert E. Park 198 3. Types of Social Groups. S. Sighele 200 4. Esprit de Corps, Morale, and Collective Representations of Social Groups. William E. Hocking 205

III. Investigations and Problems 1. The Scientific Study of Societies 210 2. Surveys of Communities 211 3. The Group as a Unit of Investigation 212 4. The Study of the Family 213

Selected Bibliography 217 Topics for Written Themes 223 Questions for Discussion 224


I. Introduction 1. Geological and Biological Conceptions of Isolation 226 2. Isolation and Segregation 228 3. Classification of the Materials 230

II. Materials

A. Isolation and Personal Individuality 1. Society and Solitude. Francis Bacon 233 2. Society in Solitude. Jean Jacques Rousseau 234 3. Prayer as a Form of Isolation. George Albert Coe. 235 4. Isolation, Originality, and Erudition. T. Sharper Knowlson 237

B. Isolation and Retardation 1. Feral Men. Maurice H. Small 239 2. From Solitude to Society. Helen Keller 243 3. Mental Effects of Solitude. W. H. Hudson 245 4. Isolation and the Rural Mind. C. J. Galpin 247 5. The Subtler Effects of Isolation. W. I. Thomas. 249

C. Isolation and Segregation 1. Segregation as a Process. Robert E. Park 252 2. Isolation as a Result of Segregation. L. W. Crafts and E. A. Doll 254

D. Isolation and National Individuality 1. Historical Races as Products of Isolation. N. S. Shaler 257 2. Geographical Isolation and Maritime Contact. George Grote 260 3. Isolation as an Explanation of National Differences. William Z. Ripley 264 4. Natural versus Vicinal Location in National Development. Ellen C. Semple 268

III. Investigations and Problems 1. Isolation in Anthropogeography and Biology 269 2. Isolation and Social Groups 270 3. Isolation and Personality 271

Bibliography: Materials for the Study of Isolation 273 Topics for Written Themes 277 Questions for Discussion 278


I. Introduction 1. Preliminary Notions of Social Contact 280 2. The Sociological Concept of Contact 281 3. Classification of the Materials 282

II. Materials

A. Physical Contact and Social Contact 1. The Frontiers of Social Contact. Albion W. Small 288 2. The Land and the People. Ellen C. Semple 289 3. Touch and Social Contact. Ernest Crawley 291

B. Social Contact in Relation to Solidarity and to Mobility 1. The In-Group and the Out-Group. W. G. Sumner. 293 2. Sympathetic Contacts versus Categoric Contacts. N. S. Shaler 294 3. Historical Continuity and Civilization. Friedrich Ratzel 298 4. Mobility and the Movement of Peoples. Ellen C. Semple 301

C. Primary and Secondary Contacts 1. Village Life in America (from the Diary of a Young Girl). Caroline C. Richards 305 2. Secondary Contacts and City Life. Robert E. Park. 311 3. Publicity as a Form of Secondary Contact. Robert E. Park 315 4. From Sentimental to Rational Attitudes. Werner Sombart 317 5. The Sociological Significance of the "Stranger." Georg Simmel 322

III. Investigations and Problems 1. Physical Contacts 327 2. Touch and the Primary Contacts of Intimacy 329 3. Primary Contacts of Acquaintanceship 330 4. Secondary Contacts 331

Bibliography: Materials for the Study of Social Contacts 332 Topics for Written Themes 336 Questions for Discussion 336


I. Introduction 1. The Concept of Interaction 339 2. Classification of the Materials 341

II. Materials

A. Society as Interaction 1. The Mechanistic Interpretation of Society. Ludwig Gumplowicz 346 2. Social Interaction as the Definition of the Group in Time and Space. Georg Simmel 348

B. The Natural Forms of Communication 1. Sociology of the Senses: Visual Interaction. Georg Simmel 356 2. The Expression of the Emotions. Charles Darwin 361 3. Blushing. Charles Darwin 365 4. Laughing. L. Dugas 370

C. Language and the Communication of Ideas 1. Intercommunication in the Lower Animals. C. Lloyd Morgan 375 2. The Concept as the Medium of Human Communication. F. Max Mueller 379 3. Writing as a Form of Communication. Charles H. Judd 381 4. The Extension of Communication by Human Invention. Carl Buecher 385

D. Imitation 1. Definition of Imitation. Charles H. Judd 390 2. Attention, Interest, and Imitation. G. F. Stout 391 3. The Three Levels of Sympathy. Th. Ribot 394 4. Rational Sympathy. Adam Smith 397 5. Art, Imitation, and Appreciation. Yrjoe Hirn 401

E. Suggestion 1. A Sociological Definition of Suggestion. W. v. Bechterew 408 2. The Subtler Forms of Suggestion. Albert Moll 412 3. Social Suggestion and Mass or "Corporate" Action. W. v. Bechterew 415

III. Investigations and Problems 1. The Process of Interaction 420 2. Communication 421 3. Imitation 423 4. Suggestion 424

Selected Bibliography 425 Topics for Written Themes 431 Questions for Discussion 431


I. Introduction 1. Sources of the Notion of Social Forces 435 2. History of the Concept of Social Forces 436 3. Classification of the Materials 437

II. Materials

A. Trends, Tendencies, and Public Opinion 1. Social Forces in American History. A. M. Simons 443 2. Social Tendencies as Social Forces. Richard T. Ely 444 3. Public Opinion and Legislation in England. A. V. Dicey 445

B. Interests, Sentiments, and Attitudes 1. Social Forces and Interaction. Albion W. Small 451 2. Interests. Albion W. Small 454 3. Social Pressures. Arthur F. Bentley 458 4. Idea-Forces. Alfred Fouillee 461 5. Sentiments. William McDougall 464 6. Social Attitudes. Robert E. Park 467

C. The Four Wishes: A Classification of Social Forces 1. The Wish, the Social Atom. Edwin B. Holt 478 2. The Freudian Wish. John B. Watson 482 3. The Person and His Wishes. W. I. Thomas 488

III. Investigations and Problems 1. Popular Notions of Social Forces 491 2. Social Forces and History 493 3. Interests, Sentiments, and Attitudes as Social Forces 494 4. Wishes and Social Forces 497

Selected Bibliography 498 Topics for Written Themes 501 Questions for Discussion 502


I. Introduction 1. Popular Conceptions of Competition 505 2. Competition a Process of Interaction 507 3. Classification of the Materials 511

II. Materials

A. The Struggle for Existence 1. Different Forms of the Struggle for Existence. J. Arthur Thomson 513 2. Competition and Natural Selection. Charles Darwin 515 3. Competition, Specialization, and Organization. Charles Darwin 519 4. Man: An Adaptive Mechanism. George W. Crile 522

B. Competition and Segregation 1. Plant Migration, Competition, and Segregation. F. E. Clements 526 2. Migration and Segregation. Carl Buecher 529 3. Demographic Segregation and Social Selection. William Z. Ripley 534 4. Inter-racial Competition and Race Suicide. Francis A. Walker 539

C. Economic Competition 1. Changing Forms of Economic Competition. John B. Clark 544 2. Competition and the Natural Harmony of Individual Interests. Adam Smith 550 3. Competition and Freedom. Frederic Bastiat 551 4. Money and Freedom. Georg Simmel 552

III. Investigations and Problems 1. Biological Competition 553 2. Economic Competition 554 3. Competition and Human Ecology 558 4. Competition and the "Inner Enemies": the Defectives, the Dependents, and the Delinquents 559

Selected Bibliography 562 Topics for Written Themes 562 Questions for Discussion 563


I. Introduction 1. The Concept of Conflict 574 2. Classification of the Materials 576

II. Materials

A. Conflict as Conscious Competition 1. The Natural History of Conflict. W. I. Thomas 579 2. Conflict as a Type of Social Interaction. Georg Simmel 582 3. Types of Conflict Situations. Georg Simmel 586

B. War, Instincts, and Ideals 1. War and Human Nature. William A. White 594 2. War as a Form of Relaxation. G. T. W. Patrick 598 3. The Fighting Animal and the Great Society. Henry Rutgers Marshall 600

C. Rivalry, Cultural Conflicts, and Social Organization

1. Animal Rivalry. William H. Hudson 604 2. The Rivalry of Social Groups. George E. Vincent 605 3. Cultural Conflicts and the Organization of Sects. Franklin H. Giddings 610

D. Racial Conflicts 1. Social Contacts and Race Conflict. Robert E. Park 616 2. Conflict and Race Consciousness. Robert E. Park 623 3. Conflict and Accommodation. Alfred H. Stone 631

III. Investigations and Problems 1. The Psychology and Sociology of Conflict, Conscious Competition, and Rivalry 638 2. Types of Conflict 639 3. The Literature of War 641 4. Race Conflict 642 5. Conflict Groups 643

Selected Bibliography 645 Topics for Written Themes 660 Questions for Discussion 661


I. Introduction 1. Adaptation and Accommodation 663 2. Classification of the Materials 666

II. Materials

A. Forms of Accommodation 1. Acclimatization. Daniel G. Brinton 671 2. Slavery Defined. H. J. Nieboer 674 3. Excerpts from the Journal of a West India Slave Owner. Matthew G. Lewis 677 4. The Origin of Caste in India. John C. Nesfield 681 5. Caste and the Sentiments of Caste Reflected in Popular Speech. Herbert Risley 684

B. Subordination and Superordination 1. The Psychology of Subordination and Superordination. Hugo Muensterberg 688 2. Social Attitudes in Subordination: Memories of an Old Servant. An Old Servant 692 3. The Reciprocal Character of Subordination and Superordination. Georg Simmel 695 4. Three Types of Subordination and Superordination. Georg Simmel 697

C. Conflict and Accommodation 1. War and Peace as Types of Conflict and Accommodation. Georg Simmel 703 2. Compromise and Accommodation. Georg Simmel 706

D. Competition, Status, and Social Solidarity 1. Personal Competition, Social Selection, and Status. Charles H. Cooley 708 2. Personal Competition and the Evolution of Individual Types. Robert E. Park 712 3. Division of Labor and Social Solidarity. Emile Durkheim 714

III. Investigations and Problems 1. Forms of Accommodation 718 2. Subordination and Superordination 721 3. Accommodation Groups 721 4. Social Organization 723

Selected Bibliography 725 Topics for Written Themes 732 Questions for Discussion 732


I. Introduction 1. Popular Conceptions of Assimilation 734 2. The Sociology of Assimilation 735 3. Classification of the Materials 737

II. Materials

A. Biological Aspects of Assimilation 1. Assimilation and Amalgamation. Sarah E. Simons 740 2. The Instinctive Basis of Assimilation. W. Trotter 742

B. The Conflict and Fusion of Cultures 1. The Analysis of Blended Cultures. W. H. R. Rivers 746 2. The Extension of Roman Culture in Gaul. John H. Cornyn 751 3. The Competition of the Cultural Languages. E. H. Babbitt 754 4. The Assimilation of Races. Robert E. Park 756

C. Americanization as a Problem in Assimilation 1. Americanization as Assimilation 762 2. Language as a Means and a Product of Participation 763 3. Assimilation and the Mediation of Individual Differences 766

III. Investigations and Problems 1. Assimilation and Amalgamation 769 2. The Conflict and Fusion of Cultures 771 3. Immigration and Americanization 772

Selected Bibliography 775 Topics for Written Themes 783 Questions for Discussion 783


I. Introduction 1. Social Control Defined 785 2. Classification of the Materials 787

II. Materials

A. Elementary Forms of Social Control 1. Control in the Crowd and the Public. Lieut. J. S. Smith 800 2. Ceremonial Control. Herbert Spencer 805 3. Prestige. Lewis Leopold 807 4. Prestige and Status in South East Africa. Maurice S. Evans 811 5. Taboo. W. Robertson Smith 812

B. Public Opinion 1. The Myth. Georges Sorel 816 2. The Growth of a Legend. Fernand van Langenhove 819 3. Ritual, Myth, and Dogma. W. Robertson Smith 822 4. The Nature of Public Opinion. A. Lawrence Lowell 826 5. Public Opinion and the Mores. Robert E. Park 829 6. News and Social Control. Walter Lippmann 834 7. The Psychology of Propaganda. Raymond Dodge 837

C. Institutions 1. Institutions and the Mores. W. G. Sumner 841 2. Common Law and Statute Law. Frederic J. Stimson 843 3. Religion and Social Control. Charles A. Ellwood 846

III. Investigations and Problems 1. Social Control and Human Nature 848 2. Elementary Forms of Social Control 849 3. Public Opinion and Social Control 850 4. Legal Institutions and Law 851

Selected Bibliography 854 Topics for Written Themes 862 Questions for Discussion 862


I. Introduction 1. Collective Behavior Defined 865 2. Social Unrest and Collective Behavior 866 3. The Crowd and the Public 867 4. Crowds and Sects 870 5. Sects and Institutions 872 6. Classification of the Materials 874

II. Materials A. Social Contagion 1. An Incident in a Lancashire Cotton Mill 878 2. The Dancing Mania of the Middle Ages. J. F. C. Hecker 879

B. The Crowd 1. The "Animal" Crowd 881 a) The Flock. Mary Austin 881 b) The Herd. W. H. Hudson 883 c) The Pack. Ernest Thompson Seton 886 2. The Psychological Crowd. Gustave Le Bon 887 3. The Crowd Defined. Robert E. Park 893

C. Types of Mass Movements 1. Crowd Excitements and Mass Movements: The Klondike Rush. T. C. Down 895 2. Mass Movements and the Mores: The Woman's Crusade. Annie Wittenmyer 898 3. Mass Movements and Revolution a) The French Revolution. Gustave Le Bon 905 b) Bolshevism. John Spargo 909 4. Mass Movements and Institutions: Methodism. William E. H. Lecky 915

III. Investigations and Problems 1. Social Unrest 924 2. Psychic Epidemics 926 3. Mass Movements 927 4. Revivals, Religious and Linguistic 929 5. Fashion, Reform, and Revolution 933

Selected Bibliography 934 Topics for Written Themes 951 Questions for Discussion 951


I. Introduction 1. Popular Conceptions of Progress 953 2. The Problem of Progress 956 3. History of the Concept of Progress 958 4. Classification of the Materials 962

II. Materials

A. The Concept of Progress 1. The Earliest Conception of Progress. F. S. Marvin 965 2. Progress and Organization. Herbert Spencer 966 3. The Stages of Progress. Auguste Comte 968 4. Progress and the Historical Process. Leonard T. Hobhouse 969

B. Progress and Science 1. Progress and Happiness. Lester F. Ward 973 2. Progress and Prevision. John Dewey 975 3. Progress and the Limits of Scientific Prevision. Arthur J. Balfour 977 4. Eugenics as a Science of Progress. Francis Galton 979

C. Progress and Human Nature 1. The Nature of Man. George Santayana 983 2. Progress and the Mores. W. G. Sumner 983 3. War and Progress. James Bryce 984 4. Progress and the Cosmic Urge a) The Elan Vitale. Henri Bergson 989 b) The Dunkler Drang. Arthur Schopenhauer 994

III. Investigations and Problems 1. Progress and Social Research 1000 2. Indices of Progress 1002

Selected Bibliography 1004 Topics for Written Themes 1010 Questions for Discussion 1010


[1] See Source Book for Social Origins. Ethnological materials, psychological standpoint, classified and annotated bibliographies for the interpretation of savage society (Chicago, 1909).




Sociology first gained recognition as an independent science with the publication, between 1830 and 1842, of Auguste Comte's Cours de philosophie positive. Comte did not, to be sure, create sociology. He did give it a name, a program, and a place among the sciences.

Comte's program for the new science proposed an extension to politics and to history of the positive methods of the natural sciences. Its practical aim was to establish government on the secure foundation of an exact science and give to the predictions of history something of the precision of mathematical formulae.

We have to contemplate social phenomena as susceptible of prevision, like all other classes, within the limits of exactness compatible with their higher complexity. Comprehending the three characteristics of political science which we have been examining, prevision of social phenomena supposes, first, that we have abandoned the region of metaphysical idealities, to assume the ground of observed realities by a systematic subordination of imagination to observation; secondly, that political conceptions have ceased to be absolute, and have become relative to the variable state of civilization, so that theories, following the natural course of facts, may admit of our foreseeing them; and, thirdly, that permanent political action is limited by determinate laws, since, if social events were always exposed to disturbance by the accidental intervention of the legislator, human or divine, no scientific prevision of them would be possible. Thus, we may concentrate the conditions of the spirit of positive social philosophy on this one great attribute of scientific prevision.[3]

Comte proposed, in short, to make government a technical science and politics a profession. He looked forward to a time when legislation, based on a scientific study of human nature, would assume the character of natural law. The earlier and more elementary sciences, particularly physics and chemistry, had given man control over external nature; the last science, sociology, was to give man control over himself.

Men were long in learning that Man's power of modifying phenomena can result only from his knowledge of their natural laws; and in the infancy of each science, they believed themselves able to exert an unbounded influence over the phenomena of that science.... Social phenomena are, of course, from their extreme complexity, the last to be freed from this pretension: but it is therefore only the more necessary to remember that the pretension existed with regard to all the rest, in their earliest stage, and to anticipate therefore that social science will, in its turn, be emancipated from the delusion.... It [the existing social science] represents the social action of Man to be indefinite and arbitrary, as was once thought in regard to biological, chemical, physical, and even astronomical phenomena, in the earlier stages of their respective sciences.... The human race finds itself delivered over, without logical protection, to the ill-regulated experimentation of the various political schools, each one of which strives to set up, for all future time, its own immutable type of government. We have seen what are the chaotic results of such a strife; and we shall find that there is no chance of order and agreement but in subjecting social phenomena, like all others, to invariable natural laws, which shall, as a whole, prescribe for each period, with entire certainty, the limits and character of political action: in other words, introducing into the study of social phenomena the same positive spirit which has regenerated every other branch of human speculation.[4]

In the present anarchy of political opinion and parties, changes in the existing social order inevitably assume, he urged, the character, at the best, of a mere groping empiricism; at the worst, of a social convulsion like that of the French Revolution. Under the direction of a positive, in place of a speculative or, as Comte would have said, metaphysical science of society, progress must assume the character of an orderly march.

It was to be expected, with the extension of exact methods of investigation to other fields of knowledge, that the study of man and of society would become, or seek to become, scientific in the sense in which that word is used in the natural sciences. It is interesting, in this connection, that Comte's first name for sociology was social physics. It was not until he had reached the fourth volume of his Positive Philosophy that the word sociological is used for the first time.

Comte, if he was foremost, was not first in the search for a positive science of society, which would give man that control over men that he had over external nature. Montesquieu, in his The Spirit of Laws, first published in 1747, had distinguished in the organization of society, between form, "the particular structure," and the forces, "the human passions which set it in motion." In his preface to this first epoch-making essay in what Freeman calls "comparative politics," Montesquieu suggests that the uniformities, which he discovered beneath the wide variety of positive law, were contributions not merely to a science of law, but to a science of mankind.

I have first of all considered mankind; and the result of my thoughts has been, that amidst such an infinite diversity of laws and manners, they are not solely conducted by the caprice of fancy.[5]

Hume, likewise, put politics among the natural sciences.[6] Condorcet wanted to make history positive.[7] But there were, in the period between 1815 and 1840 in France, conditions which made the need of a new science of politics peculiarly urgent. The Revolution had failed and the political philosophy, which had directed and justified it, was bankrupt. France, between 1789 and 1815, had adopted, tried, and rejected no less than ten different constitutions. But during this period, as Saint-Simon noted, society, and the human beings who compose society, had not changed. It was evident that government was not, in any such sense as the philosophers had assumed, a mere artefact and legislative construction. Civilization, as Saint-Simon conceived it, was a part of nature. Social change was part of the whole cosmic process. He proposed, therefore, to make politics a science as positive as physics. The subject-matter of political science, as he conceived it, was not so much political forms as social conditions. History had been literature. It was destined to become a science.[8]

Comte called himself Saint-Simon's pupil. It is perhaps more correct to say Saint-Simon formulated the problem for which Comte, in his Positive Philosophy, sought a solution. It was Comte's notion that with the arrival of sociology the distinction which had so long existed, and still exists, between philosophy, in which men define their wishes, and natural science, in which they describe the existing order of nature, would disappear. In that case ideals would be defined in terms of reality, and the tragic difference between what men want and what is possible would be effaced. Comte's error was to mistake a theory of progress for progress itself. It is certainly true that as men learn what is, they will adjust their ideals to what is possible. But knowledge grows slowly.

Man's knowledge of mankind has increased greatly since 1842. Sociology, "the positive science of humanity," has moved steadily forward in the direction that Comte's program indicated, but it has not yet replaced history. Historians are still looking for methods of investigation which will make history "scientific."

No one who has watched the course of history during the last generation can have felt doubt of its tendency. Those of us who read Buckle's first volume when it appeared in 1857, and almost immediately afterwards, in 1859, read the Origin of Species and felt the violent impulse which Darwin gave to the study of natural laws, never doubted that historians would follow until they had exhausted every possible hypothesis to create a science of history. Year after year passed, and little progress has been made. Perhaps the mass of students are more skeptical now than they were thirty years ago of the possibility that such a science can be created. Yet almost every successful historian has been busy with it, adding here a new analysis, a new generalization there; a clear and definite connection where before the rupture of idea was absolute; and, above all, extending the field of study until it shall include all races, all countries, and all times. Like other branches of science, history is now encumbered and hampered by its own mass, but its tendency is always the same, and cannot be other than what it is. That the effort to make history a science may fail is possible, and perhaps probable; but that it should cease, unless for reasons that would cause all science to cease, is not within the range of experience. Historians will not, and even if they would they can not, abandon the attempt. Science itself would admit its own failure if it admitted that man, the most important of all its subjects, could not be brought within its range.[9]

Since Comte gave the new science of humanity a name and a point of view, the area of historical investigation has vastly widened and a number of new social sciences have come into existence—ethnology, archaeology, folklore, the comparative studies of cultural materials, i.e., language, mythology, religion, and law, and in connection with and closely related with these, folk-psychology, social psychology, and the psychology of crowds, which latter is, perhaps, the forerunner of a wider and more elaborate political psychology. The historians have been very much concerned with these new bodies of materials and with the new points of view which they have introduced into the study of man and of society. Under the influences of these sciences, history itself, as James Harvey Robinson has pointed out, has had a history. But with the innovations which the new history has introduced or attempted to introduce, it does not appear that there have been any fundamental changes in method or ideology in the science itself.

Fifty years have elapsed since Buckle's book appeared, and I know of no historian who would venture to maintain that we had made any considerable advance toward the goal he set for himself. A systematic prosecution of the various branches of social science, especially political economy, sociology, anthropology, and psychology, is succeeding in explaining many things; but history must always remain, from the standpoint of the astronomer, physicist, or chemist, a highly inexact and fragmentary body of knowledge.... History can no doubt be pursued in a strictly scientific spirit, but the data we possess in regard to the past of mankind are not of a nature to lend themselves to organization into an exact science, although, as we shall see, they may yield truths of vital importance.[10]

History has not become, as Comte believed it must, an exact science, and sociology has not taken its place in the social sciences. It is important, however, for understanding the mutations which have taken place in sociology since Comte to remember that it had its origin in an effort to make history exact. This, with, to be sure, considerable modifications, is still, as we shall see, an ambition of the science.


Sociology, as Comte conceived it, was not, as it has been characterized, "a highly important point of view," but a fundamental science, i.e., a method of investigation and "a body of discoveries about mankind."[11] In the hierarchy of the sciences, sociology, the last in time, was first in importance. The order was as follows: mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology including psychology, sociology. This order represented a progression from the more elementary to the more complex. It was because history and politics were concerned with the most complex of natural phenomena that they were the last to achieve what Comte called the positive character. They did this in sociology.

Many attempts have been made before and since Comte to find a satisfactory classification of the sciences. The order and relation of the sciences is still, in fact, one of the cardinal problems of philosophy. In recent years the notion has gained recognition that the difference between history and the natural sciences is not one of degree, but of kind; not of subject-matter merely, but of method. This difference in method is, however, fundamental. It is a difference not merely in the interpretation but in the logical character of facts.

Every historical fact, it is pointed out, is concerned with a unique event. History never repeats itself. If nothing else, the mere circumstance that every event has a date and location would give historical facts an individuality that facts of the abstract sciences do not possess. Because historical facts always are located and dated, and cannot therefore be repeated, they are not subject to experiment and verification. On the other hand, a fact not subject to verification is not a fact for natural science. History, as distinguished from natural history, deals with individuals, i.e., individual events, persons, institutions. Natural science is concerned, not with individuals, but with classes, types, species. All the assertions that are valid for natural science concern classes. An illustration will make this distinction clear.

Sometime in October, 1838, Charles Darwin happened to pick up and read Malthus' book on Population. The facts of "the struggle for existence," so strikingly presented in that now celebrated volume, suggested an explanation of a problem which had long interested and puzzled him, namely, the origin of species.

This is a statement of a historical fact, and the point is that it is not subject to empirical verification. It cannot be stated, in other words, in the form of a hypothesis, which further observation of other men of the same type will either verify or discredit.

On the other hand, in his Descent of Man, Darwin, discussing the role of sexual selection in evolution of the species, makes this observation: "Naturalists are much divided with respect to the object of the singing of birds. Few more careful observers ever lived than Montagu, and he maintained that the 'males of songbirds and of many others do not in general search for the female, but, on the contrary, their business in spring is to perch on some conspicuous spot, breathing out their full and amorous notes, which, by instinct, the female knows and repairs to the spot to choose her mate.'"

This is a typical statement of a fact of natural history. It is not, however, the rather vague generality of the statement that makes it scientific. It is its representative character, the character which makes it possible of verification by further observation which makes it a scientific fact.

It is from facts of this kind, collected, compared, and classified, irrespective of time or place, that the more general conclusions are drawn, upon which Darwin based his theory of the "descent of man." This theory, as Darwin conceived it, was not an interpretation of the facts but an explanation.

The relation between history and sociology, as well as the manner in which the more abstract social sciences have risen out of the more concrete, may be illustrated by a comparison between history and geography. Geography as a science is concerned with the visible world, the earth, its location in space, the distribution of the land masses, and of the plants, animals, and peoples upon its surface. The order, at least the fundamental order, which it seeks and finds among the objects it investigates is spatial. As soon as the geographer begins to compare and classify the plants, the animals, and the peoples with which he comes in contact, geography passes over into the special sciences, i.e., botany, zoology, and anthropology.

History, on the other hand, is concerned with a world of events. Not everything that happened, to be sure, is history, but every event that ever was or ever will be significant is history.

Geography attempts to reproduce for us the visible world as it exists in space; history, on the contrary, seeks to re-create for us in the present the significance of the past. As soon as historians seek to take events out of their historical setting, that is to say, out of their time and space relations, in order to compare them and classify them; as soon as historians begin to emphasize the typical and representative rather than the unique character of events, history ceases to be history and becomes sociology.

The differences here indicated between history and sociology are based upon a more fundamental distinction between the historical and the natural sciences first clearly defined by Windelband, the historian of philosophy, in an address to the faculty of the University of Strassburg in 1894.

The distinction between natural science and history begins at the point where we seek to convert facts into knowledge. Here again we observe that the one (natural science) seeks to formulate laws, the other (history) to portray events. In the one case thought proceeds from the description of particulars to the general relations. In the other case it clings to a genial depiction of the individual object or event. For the natural scientist the object of investigation which cannot be repeated never has, as such, scientific value. It serves his purpose only so far as it may be regarded as a type or as a special instance of a class from which the type may be deduced. The natural scientist considers the single case only so far as he can see in it the features which serve to throw light upon a general law. For the historian the problem is to revive and call up into the present, in all its particularity, an event in the past. His aim is to do for an actual event precisely what the artist seeks to do for the object of his imagination. It is just here that we discern the kinship between history and art, between the historian and the writer of literature. It is for this reason that natural science emphasized the abstract; the historian, on the other hand, is interested mainly in the concrete.

The fact that natural science emphasizes the abstract and history the concrete will become clearer if we compare the results of the researches of the two sciences. However finespun the conceptions may be which the historical critic uses in working over his materials, the final goal of such study is always to create out of the mass of events a vivid portrait of the past. And what history offers us is pictures of men and of human life, with all the wealth of their individuality, reproduced in all their characteristic vivacity. Thus do the peoples and languages of the past, their forms and beliefs, their struggles for power and freedom, speak to us through the mouth of history.

How different it is with the world which the natural sciences have created for us! However concrete the materials with which they started, the goal of these sciences is theories, eventually mathematical formulations of laws of change. Treating the individual, sensuous, changing objects as mere unsubstantial appearances (phenomena), scientific investigation becomes a search for the universal laws which rule the timeless changes of events. Out of this colorful world of the senses, science creates a system of abstract concepts, in which the true nature of things is conceived to exist—a world of colorless and soundless atoms, despoiled of all their earthly sensuous qualities. Such is the triumph of thought over perception. Indifferent to change, science casts her anchor in the eternal and unchangeable. Not the change as such but the unchanging form of change is what she seeks.

This raises the question: What is the more valuable for the purposes of knowledge in general, a knowledge of law or a knowledge of events? As far as that is concerned, both scientific procedures may be equally justified. The knowledge of the universal laws has everywhere a practical value in so far as they make possible man's purposeful intervention in the natural processes. That is quite as true of the movements of the inner as of the outer world. In the latter case knowledge of nature's laws has made it possible to create those tools through which the control of mankind over external nature is steadily being extended.

Not less for the purposes of the common life are we dependent upon the results of historical knowledge. Man is, to change the ancient form of the expression, the animal who has a history. His cultural life rests on the transmission from generation to generation of a constantly increasing body of historical memories. Whoever proposes to take an active part in this cultural process must have an understanding of history. Wherever the thread is once broken—as history itself proves—it must be painfully gathered up and knitted again into the historical fabric.

It is, to be sure, true that it is an economy for human understanding to be able to reduce to a formula or a general concept the common characteristics of individuals. But the more man seeks to reduce facts to concepts and laws, the more he is obliged to sacrifice and neglect the individual. Men have, to be sure, sought, in characteristic modern fashion, "to make of history a natural science." This was the case with the so-called philosophy of history of positivism. What has been the net result of the laws of history which it has given us? A few trivial generalities which justify themselves only by the most careful consideration of their numerous exceptions.

On the other hand it is certain that all interest and values of life are concerned with what is unique in men and events. Consider how quickly our appreciation is deadened as some object is multiplied or is regarded as one case in a thousand. "She is not the first" is one of the cruel passages in Faust. It is in the individuality and the uniqueness of an object that all our sense of value has its roots. It is upon this fact that Spinoza's doctrine of the conquest of the passions by knowledge rests, since for him knowledge is the submergence of the individual in the universal, the "once for all" into the eternal.

The fact that all our livelier appreciations rest upon the unique character of the object is illustrated above all in our relations to persons. Is it not an unendurable thought, that a loved object, an adored person, should have existed at some other time in just the form in which it now exists for us? Is it not horrible and unthinkable that one of us, with just this same individuality should actually have existed in a second edition?

What is true of the individual man is quite as true of the whole historical process: it has value only when it is unique. This is the principle which the Christian doctrine successfully maintained, as over against Hellenism in the Patristic philosophy. The middle point of their conception of the world was the fall and the salvation of mankind as a unique event. That was the first and great perception of the inalienable metaphysical right of the historian to preserve for the memory of mankind, in all their uniqueness and individuality, the actual events of life.[12]

Like every other species of animal, man has a natural history. Anthropology is the science of man considered as one of the animal species, Homo sapiens. History and sociology, on the other hand, are concerned with man as a person, as a "political animal," participating with his fellows in a common fund of social traditions and cultural ideals. Freeman, the English historian, said that history was "past politics" and politics "present history." Freeman uses the word politics in the large and liberal sense in which it was first used by Aristotle. In that broad sense of the word, the political process, by which men are controlled and states governed, and the cultural process, by which man has been domesticated and human nature formed, are not, as we ordinarily assume, different, but identical, procedures.

All this suggests the intimate relations which exist between history, politics, and sociology. The important thing, however, is not the identities but the distinctions. For, however much the various disciplines may, in practice, overlap, it is necessary for the sake of clear thinking to have their limits defined. As far as sociology and history are concerned the differences may be summed up in a word. Both history and sociology are concerned with the life of man as man. History, however, seeks to reproduce and interpret concrete events as they actually occurred in time and space. Sociology, on the other hand, seeks to arrive at natural laws and generalizations in regard to human nature and society, irrespective of time and of place.

In other words, history seeks to find out what actually happened and how it all came about. Sociology, on the other hand, seeks to explain, on the basis of a study of other instances, the nature of the process involved.

By nature we mean just that aspect and character of things in regard to which it is possible to make general statements and formulate laws. If we say, in explanation of the peculiar behavior of some individual, that it is natural or that it is after all "simply human nature," we are simply saying that this behavior is what we have learned to expect of this individual or of human beings in general. It is, in other words, a law.

Natural law, as the term is used here, is any statement which describes the behavior of a class of objects or the character of a class of acts. For example, the classic illustration of the so-called "universal proposition" familiar to students of formal logic, "all men are mortal," is an assertion in regard to a class of objects we call men. This is, of course, simply a more formal way of saying that "men die." Such general statements and "laws" get meaning only when they are applied to particular cases, or, to speak again in the terms of formal logic, when they find a place in a syllogism, thus: "Men are mortal. This is a man." But such syllogisms may always be stated in the form of a hypothesis. If this is a man, he is mortal. If a is b, a is also c. This statement, "Human nature is a product of social contact," is a general assertion familiar to students of sociology. This law or, more correctly, hypothesis, applied to an individual case explains the so-called feral man. Wild men, in the proper sense of the word, are not the so-called savages, but the men who have never been domesticated, of which an individual example is now and then discovered.

To state a law in the form of a hypothesis serves to emphasize the fact that laws—what we have called natural laws at any rate—are subject to verification and restatement. Under the circumstances the exceptional instance, which compels a restatement of the hypothesis, is more important for the purposes of science than other instances which merely confirm it.

Any science which operates with hypotheses and seeks to state facts in such a way that they can be compared and verified by further observation and experiment is, so far as method is concerned, a natural science.


One thing that makes the conception of natural history and natural law important to the student of sociology is that in the field of the social sciences the distinction between natural and moral law has from the first been confused. Comte and the social philosophers in France after the Revolution set out with the deliberate purpose of superseding legislative enactments by laws of human nature, laws which were to be positive and "scientific." As a matter of fact, sociology, in becoming positive, so far from effacing, has rather emphasized the distinctions that Comte sought to abolish. Natural law may be distinguished from all other forms of law by the fact that it aims at nothing more than a description of the behavior of certain types or classes of objects. A description of the way in which a class, i.e., men, plants, animals, or physical objects, may be expected under ordinary circumstances to behave, tells us what we may in a general way expect of any individual member of that class. If natural science seeks to predict, it is able to do so simply because it operates with concepts or class names instead, as is the case with history, with concrete facts and, to use a logical phrase, "existential propositions."

That the chief end of science is descriptive formulation has probably been clear to keen analytic minds since the time of Galileo, especially to the great discoverers in astronomy, mechanics, and dynamics. But as a definitely stated conception, corrective of misunderstandings, the view of science as essentially descriptive began to make itself felt about the beginning of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and may be associated with the names of Kirchhoff and Mach. It was in 1876 that Kirchhoff defined the task of mechanics as that of "describing completely and in the simplest manner the motions which take place in nature." Widening this a little, we may say that the aim of science is to describe natural phenomena and occurrences as exactly as possible, as simply as possible, as completely as possible, as consistently as possible, and always in terms which are communicable and verifiable. This is a very different role from that of solving the riddles of the universe, and it is well expressed in what Newton said in regard to the law of gravitation: "So far I have accounted for the phenomena presented to us by the heavens and the sea by means of the force of gravity, but I have as yet assigned no cause to this gravity.... I have not been able to deduce from phenomena the raison d'etre of the properties of gravity and I have not set up hypotheses." (Newton, Philosophiae naturalis principia Mathematica, 1687.)

"We must confess," said Prof. J. H. Poynting (1900, p. 616), "that physical laws have greatly fallen off in dignity. No long time ago they were quite commonly described as the Fixed Laws of Nature, and were supposed sufficient in themselves to govern the universe. Now we can only assign to them the humble rank of mere descriptions, often erroneous, of similarities which we believe we have observed.... A law of nature explains nothing, it has no governing power, it is but a descriptive formula which the careless have sometimes personified." It used to be said that "the laws of Nature are the thoughts of God"; now we say that they are the investigator's formulae summing up regularities of recurrence.[13]

If natural law aims at prediction it tells us what we can do. Moral laws, on the other hand, tell us, not what we can, but what we ought to do. The civil or municipal law, finally, tells us not what we can, nor what we ought, but what we must do. It is very evident that these three types of law may be very intimately related. We do not know what we ought to do until we know what we can do; and we certainly should consider what men can do before we pass laws prescribing what they must do. There is, moreover, no likelihood that these distinctions will ever be completely abolished. As long as the words "can," "ought," and "must" continue to have any meaning for us the distinctions that they represent will persist in science as well as in common sense.

The immense prestige which the methods of the natural sciences have gained, particularly in their application to the phenomena of the physical universe, has undoubtedly led scientific men to overestimate the importance of mere conceptual and abstract knowledge. It has led them to assume that history also must eventually become "scientific" in the sense of the natural sciences. In the meantime the vast collections of historical facts which the industry of historical students has accumulated are regarded, sometimes even by historians themselves, as a sort of raw material, the value of which can only be realized after it has been worked over into some sort of historical generalization which has the general character of scientific and ultimately, mathematical formula.

"History," says Karl Pearson, "can never become science, can never be anything but a catalogue of facts rehearsed in a more or less pleasing language until these facts are seen to fall into sequences which can be briefly resumed in scientific formulae."[14] And Henry Adams, in a letter to the American Historical Association already referred to, confesses that history has thus far been a fruitless quest for "the secret which would transform these odds and ends of philosophy into one self-evident, harmonious, and complete system."

You may be sure that four out of five serious students of history who are living today have, in the course of their work, felt that they stood on the brink of a great generalization that would reduce all history under a law as clear as the laws which govern the material world. As the great writers of our time have touched one by one the separate fragments of admitted law by which society betrays its character as a subject for science, not one of them can have failed to feel an instant's hope that he might find the secret which would transform these odds and ends of philosophy into one self-evident, harmonious, and complete system. He has seemed to have it, as the Spanish say, in his inkstand. Scores of times he must have dropped his pen to think how one short step, one sudden inspiration, would show all human knowledge; how, in these thickset forests of history, one corner turned, one faint trail struck, would bring him on the highroad of science. Every professor who has tried to teach the doubtful facts which we now call history must have felt that sooner or later he or another would put order in the chaos and bring light into darkness. Not so much genius or favor was needed as patience and good luck. The law was certainly there, and as certainly was in places actually visible, to be touched and handled, as though it were a law of chemistry or physics. No teacher with a spark of imagination or with an idea of scientific method can have helped dreaming of the immortality that would be achieved by the man who should successfully apply Darwin's method to the facts of human history.[15]

The truth is, however, that the concrete facts, in which history and geography have sought to preserve the visible, tangible, and, generally speaking, the experiential aspects of human life and the visible universe, have a value irrespective of any generalization or ideal constructions which may be inferred from or built up out of them. Just as none of the investigations or generalizations of individual psychology are ever likely to take the place of biography and autobiography, so none of the conceptions of an abstract sociology, no scientific descriptions of the social and cultural processes, and no laws of progress are likely, in the near future at any rate, to supersede the more concrete facts of history in which are preserved those records of those unique and never fully comprehended aspects of life which we call events.

It has been the dream of philosophers that theoretical and abstract science could and some day perhaps would succeed in putting into formulae and into general terms all that was significant in the concrete facts of life. It has been the tragic mistake of the so-called intellectuals, who have gained their knowledge from textbooks rather than from observation and research, to assume that science had already realized its dream. But there is no indication that science has begun to exhaust the sources or significance of concrete experience. The infinite variety of external nature and the inexhaustible wealth of personal experience have thus far defied, and no doubt will continue to defy, the industry of scientific classification, while, on the other hand, the discoveries of science are constantly making accessible to us new and larger areas of experience.

What has been said simply serves to emphasize the instrumental character of the abstract sciences. History and geography, all of the concrete sciences, can and do measurably enlarge our experience of life. Their very purpose is to arouse new interests and create new sympathies; to give mankind, in short, an environment so vast and varied as will call out and activate all his instincts and capacities.

The more abstract sciences, just to the extent that they are abstract and exact, like mathematics and logic, are merely methods and tools for converting experience into knowledge and applying the knowledge so gained to practical uses.


Although it is possible to draw clear distinctions in theory between the purpose and methods of history and sociology, in practice the two forms of knowledge pass over into one another by almost imperceptible gradations.

The sociological point of view makes its appearance in historical investigation as soon as the historian turns from the study of "periods" to the study of institutions. The history of institutions, that is to say, the family, the church, economic institutions, political institutions, etc., leads inevitably to comparison, classification, the formation of class names or concepts, and eventually to the formulation of law. In the process, history becomes natural history, and natural history passes over into natural science. In short, history becomes sociology.

Westermarck's History of Human Marriage is one of the earliest attempts to write the natural history of a social institution. It is based upon a comparison and classification of marriage customs of widely scattered peoples, living under varied physical and social conditions. What one gets from a survey of this kind is not so much history as a study of human behavior. The history of marriage, as of any other institution, is, in other words, not so much an account of what certain individuals or groups of individuals did at certain times and certain places, as it is a description of the responses of a few fundamental human instincts to a variety of social situations. Westermarck calls this kind of history sociology.[16]

It is in the firm conviction that the history of human civilization should be made an object of as scientific a treatment as the history of organic nature that I write this book. Like the phenomena of physical and psychical life those of social life should be classified into certain groups and each group investigated with regard to its origin and development. Only when treated in this way can history lay claim to the rank and honour of a science in the highest sense of the term, as forming an important part of Sociology, the youngest of the principal branches of learning.

Descriptive historiography has no higher object than that of offering materials to this science.[17]

Westermarck refers to the facts which he has collected in his history of marriage as phenomena. For the explanation of these phenomena, however, he looks to the more abstract sciences.

The causes on which social phenomena are dependent fall within the domain of different sciences—Biology, Psychology, or Sociology. The reader will find that I put particular stress upon the psychological causes, which have often been deplorably overlooked, or only imperfectly touched upon. And more especially do I believe that the mere instincts have played a very important part in the origin of social institutions and rules.[18]

Westermarck derived most of his materials for the study of marriage from ethnological materials. Ethnologists, students of folklore (German Voelkerkunde), and archaeology are less certain than the historians of institutions whether their investigations are historical or sociological.

Jane Harrison, although she disclaims the title of sociologist, bases her conception of the origin of Greek religion on a sociological theory, the theory namely that "among primitive peoples religion reflects collective feeling and collective thinking." Dionysius, the god of the Greek mysteries, is according to her interpretation a product of the group consciousness.

The mystery-god arises out of those instincts, emotions, desires which attend and express life; but these emotions, desires, instincts, in so far as they are religious, are at the outset rather of a group than of individual consciousness.... It is a necessary and most important corollary to this doctrine, that the form taken by the divinity reflects the social structure of the group to which the divinity belongs. Dionysius is the Son of his Mother because he issues from a matrilinear group.[19]

This whole study is, in fact, merely an application of Durkheim's conception of "collective representations."

Robert H. Lowie, in his recent volume, Primitive Society, refers to "ethnologists and other historians," but at the same time asks: "What kind of an historian shall the ethnologist be?"

He answers the question by saying that, "If there are laws of social evolution, he [the ethnologist] must assuredly discover them," but at any rate, and first of all, "his duty is to ascertain the course civilization has actually followed.... To strive for the ideals of another branch of knowledge may be positively pernicious, for it can easily lead to that factitious simplification which means falsification."

In other words, ethnology, like history, seeks to tell what actually happened. It is bound to avoid abstraction, "over-simplification," and formulae, and these are the ideals of another kind of scientific procedure. As a matter of fact, however, ethnology, even when it has attempted nothing more than a description of the existing cultures of primitive peoples, their present distribution and the order of their succession, has not freed itself wholly from the influence of abstract considerations. Theoretical problems inevitably arise for the solution of which it is necessary to go to psychology and sociology. One of the questions that has arisen in the study, particularly the comparative study, of cultures is: how far any existing cultural trait is borrowed and how far it is to be regarded as of independent origin.

In the historical reconstruction of culture the phenomena of distribution play, indeed, an extraordinary part. If a trait occurs everywhere, it might veritably be the product of some universally operative social law. If it is found in a restricted number of cases, it may still have evolved through some such instrumentality acting under specific conditions that would then remain to be determined by analysis of the cultures in which the feature is embedded.... Finally, the sharers of a cultural trait may be of distinct lineage but through contact and borrowing have come to hold in common a portion of their cultures....

Since, as a matter of fact, cultural resemblances abound between peoples of diverse stock, their interpretation commonly narrows to a choice between two alternatives. Either they are due to like causes, whether these can be determined or not; or they are the result of borrowing. A predilection for one or the other explanation has lain at the bottom of much ethnological discussion in the past; and at present influential schools both in England and in continental Europe clamorously insist that all cultural parallels are due to diffusion from a single center. It is inevitable to envisage this moot-problem at the start, since uncompromising championship of either alternative has far-reaching practical consequences. For if every parallel is due to borrowing, then sociological laws, which can be inferred only from independently developing likenesses, are barred. Then the history of religion or social life or technology consists exclusively in a statement of the place of origin of beliefs, customs and implements, and a recital of their travels to different parts of the globe. On the other hand, if borrowing covers only part of the observed parallels, an explanation from like causes becomes at least the ideal goal in an investigation of the remainder.[20]

An illustration will exhibit the manner in which problems originally historical become psychological and sociological. Tyler in his Early History of Mankind has pointed out that the bellows used by the negro blacksmiths of continental Africa are of a quite different type from those used by natives of Madagascar. The bellows used by the Madagascar blacksmiths, on the other hand, are exactly like those in use by the Malays of Sumatra and in other parts of the Malay Archipelago. This indication that the natives of Madagascar are of Malay origin is in accordance with other anthropological and ethnological data in regard to these peoples, which prove the fact, now well established, that they are not of African origin.

Similarly Boas' study of the Raven cycle of American Indian mythology indicated that these stories originated in the northern part of British Columbia and traveled southward along the coast. One of the evidences of the direction of this progress is the gradual diminution of complexity in the stories as they traveled into regions farther removed from the point of origin.

All this, in so far as it seeks to determine the point of origin, direction, speed, and character of changes that take place in cultural materials in the process of diffusion, is clearly history and ethnology.

Other questions, however, force themselves inevitably upon the attention of the inquiring student. Why is it that certain cultural materials are more widely and more rapidly diffused than others? Under what conditions does this diffusion take place and why does it take place at all? Finally, what is the ultimate source of customs, beliefs, languages, religious practices, and all the varied technical devices which compose the cultures of different peoples? What are the circumstances and what are the processes by which cultural traits are independently created? Under what conditions do cultural fusions take place and what is the nature of this process?

These are all fundamentally problems of human nature, and as human nature itself is now regarded as a product of social intercourse, they are problems of sociology.

The cultural processes by which languages, myth, and religion have come into existence among primitive peoples have given rise in Germany to a special science. Folk-psychology (Voelkerpsychologie) had its origin in an attempt to answer in psychological terms the problems to which a comparative study of cultural materials has given rise.

From two different directions ideas of folk-psychology have found their way into modern science. First of all there was a demand from the different social sciences [Geisteswissenschaften] for a psychological explanation of the phenomena of social life and history, so far as they were products of social [geistiger] interaction. In the second place, psychology itself required, in order to escape the uncertainties and ambiguities of pure introspection, a body of objective materials.

Among the social sciences the need for psychological interpretation first manifested itself in the studies of language and mythology. Both of these had already found outside the circle of the philological studies independent fields of investigation. As soon as they assumed the character of comparative sciences it was inevitable that they should be driven to recognize that in addition to the historical conditions, which everywhere determines the concrete form of these phenomena, there had been certain fundamental psychical forces at work in the development of language and myth.[21]

The aim of folk-psychology has been, on the whole, to explain the genesis and development of certain cultural forms, i.e., language, myth, and religion. The whole matter may, however, be regarded from a quite different point of view. Gabriel Tarde, for example, has sought to explain, not the genesis, but the transmission and diffusion of these same cultural forms. For Tarde, communication (transmission of cultural forms and traits) is the one central and significant fact of social life. "Social" is just what can be transmitted by imitation. Social groups are merely the centers from which new ideas and inventions are transmitted. Imitation is the social process.

There is not a word that you say, which is not the reproduction, now unconscious, but formerly conscious and voluntary, of verbal articulations reaching back to the most distant past, with some special accent due to your immediate surroundings. There is not a religious rite that you fulfil, such as praying, kissing the icon, or making the sign of the cross, which does not reproduce certain traditional gestures and expressions, established through imitation of your ancestors. There is not a military or civil requirement that you obey, nor an act that you perform in your business, which has not been taught you, and which you have not copied from some living model. There is not a stroke of the brush that you make, if you are a painter, nor a verse that you write, if you are a poet, which does not conform to the customs or the prosody of your school, and even your very originality itself is made up of accumulated commonplaces, and aspires to become commonplace in its turn.

Thus, the unvarying characteristic of every social fact whatsoever is that it is imitative. And this characteristic belongs exclusively to social facts.[22]

Tarde's theory of transmission by imitation may be regarded, in some sense, as complementary, if not supplementary, to Wundt's theory of origins, since he puts the emphasis on the fact of transmission rather than upon genesis. In a paper, "Tendencies in Comparative Philology," read at the Congress of Arts and Sciences at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904, Professor Hanns Oertel, of Yale University, refers to Tarde's theory of imitation as an alternative explanation to that offered by Wundt for "the striking uniformity of sound changes" which students of language have discovered in the course of their investigation of phonetic changes in widely different forms of speech.

It seems hard to maintain that the change in a syntactical construction or in the meaning of a word owes its universality to a simultaneous and independent primary change in all the members of a speech-community. By adopting the theory of imitative spread, all linguistic changes may be viewed as one homogeneous whole. In the second place, the latter view seems to bring linguistic changes into line with the other social changes, such as modifications in institutions, beliefs, and customs. For is it not an essential characteristic of a social group that its members are not co-operative in the sense that each member actively participates in the production of every single element which goes to make up either language, or belief, or customs? Distinguishing thus between primary and secondary changes and between the origin of a change and its spread, it behooves us to examine carefully into the causes which make the members of a social unit, either consciously or unconsciously, willing to accept the innovation. What is it that determines acceptance or rejection of a particular change? What limits one change to a small area, while it extends the area of another? Before a final decision can be reached in favor of the second theory of imitative spread it will be necessary to follow out in minute detail the mechanism of this process in a number of concrete instances; in other words to fill out the picture of which Tarde (Les lois de l'imitation) sketched the bare outlines. If his assumptions prove true, then we should have here a uniformity resting upon other causes than the physical uniformity that appears in the objects with which the natural sciences deal. It would enable us to establish a second group of uniform phenomena which is psycho-physical in its character and rests upon the basis of social suggestion. The uniformities in speech, belief, and institutions would belong to this second group.[23]

What is true of the comparative study of languages is true in every other field in which a comparative study of cultural materials has been made. As soon as these materials are studied from the point of view of their similarities rather than from the point of view of their historical connections, problems arise which can only be explained by the more abstract sciences of psychology or sociology. Freeman begins his lectures on Comparative Politics with the statement that "the comparative method of study has been the greatest intellectual achievement of our time. It has carried light and order into whole branches of human knowledge which before were shrouded in darkness and confusion. It has brought a line of argument which reaches moral certainty into a region which before was given over to random guess-work. Into matters which are for the most part incapable of strictly external proof it has brought a form of strictly internal proof which is more convincing, more unerring."

Wherever the historian supplements external by internal proof, he is in a way to substitute a sociological explanation for historical interpretation. It is the very essence of the sociological method to be comparative. When, therefore, Freeman uses, in speaking of comparative politics, the following language he is speaking in sociological rather than historical terms:

For the purposes then of the study of Comparative Politics, a political constitution is a specimen to be studied, classified, and labelled, as a building or an animal is studied, classified, and labelled by those to whom buildings or animals are objects of study. We have to note the likenesses, striking and unexpected as those likenesses often are, between the political constitutions of remote times and places; and we have, as far as we can, to classify our specimens according to the probable causes of those likenesses.[24]

Historically sociology has had its origin in history. It owes its existence as a science to the attempt to apply exact methods to the explanation of historical facts. In the attempt to achieve this, however, it has become something quite different from history. It has become like psychology with which it is most intimately related, a natural and relatively abstract science, and auxiliary to the study of history, but not a substitute for it. The whole matter may be summed up in this general statement: history interprets, natural science explains. It is upon the interpretation of the facts of experience that we formulate our creeds and found our faiths. Our explanations of phenomena, on the other hand, are the basis for technique and practical devices for controlling nature and human nature, man and the physical world.


After Comte the first great name in the history of sociology is Spencer. It is evident in comparing the writings of these two men that, in crossing the English Channel, sociology has suffered a sea change. In spite of certain similarities in their points of view there are profound and interesting differences. These differences exhibit themselves in the different ways in which they use the term "social organism."

Comte calls society a "collective organism" and insists, as Spencer does, upon the difference between an organism like a family, which is made up of independent individuals, and an organism like a plant or an animal, which is a physiological unit in which the different organs are neither free nor conscious. But Spencer, if he points out the differences between the social and the biological organisms, is interested in the analogy. Comte, on the other hand, while he recognizes the analogy, feels it important to emphasize the distinctions.

Society for Comte is not, as Levy-Bruhl puts it, "a polyp." It has not even the characteristics of an animal colony in which the individuals are physically bound together, though physiologically independent. On the contrary, "this 'immense organism' is especially distinguished from other beings in that it is made up of separable elements of which each one can feel its own co-operation, can will it, or even withhold it, so long as it remains a direct one."[25]

On the other hand, Comte, although he characterized the social consensus and solidarity as "collective," nevertheless thought of the relations existing between human beings in society—in the family, for example, which he regards as the unit and model of all social relations—as closer and more intimate than those which exist between the organs of a plant or an animal. The individual, as Comte expressed it, is an abstraction. Man exists as man only by participation in the life of humanity, and "although the individual elements of society appear to be more separable than those of a living being, the social consensus is still closer than the vital."[26]

Thus the individual man was, in spite of his freedom and independence, in a very real sense "an organ of the Great Being" and the great being was humanity. Under the title of humanity Comte included not merely all living human beings, i.e., the human race, but he included all that body of tradition, knowledge, custom, cultural ideas and ideals, which make up the social inheritance of the race, an inheritance into which each of us is born, to which we contribute, and which we inevitably hand on through the processes of education and tradition to succeeding generations. This is what Comte meant by the social organism.

If Comte thought of the social organism, the great being, somewhat mystically as itself an individual and a person, Herbert Spencer, on the other hand, thought of it realistically as a great animal, a leviathan, as Hobbes called it, and a very low-order leviathan at that.[27]

Spencer's manner of looking at the social organism may be illustrated in what he says about growth in "social aggregates."

When we say that growth is common to social aggregates and organic aggregates, we do not thus entirely exclude community with inorganic aggregates. Some of these, as crystals, grow in a visible manner; and all of them on the hypothesis of evolution, have arisen by integration at some time or other. Nevertheless, compared with things we call inanimate, living bodies and societies so conspicuously exhibit augmentation of mass, that we may fairly regard this as characterizing them both. Many organisms grow throughout their lives; and the rest grow throughout considerable parts of their lives. Social growth usually continues either up to times when the societies divide, or up to times when they are overwhelmed.

Here, then, is the first trait by which societies ally themselves with the organic world and substantially distinguish themselves from the inorganic world.[28]

In this same way, comparing the characteristic general features of "social" and "living bodies," noting likeness and differences, particularly with reference to complexity of structure, differentiation of function, division of labor, etc., Spencer gives a perfectly naturalistic account of the characteristic identities and differences between societies and animals, between sociological and biological organizations. It is in respect to the division of labor that the analogy between societies and animals goes farthest and is most significant.

This division of labour, first dwelt upon by political economists as a social phenomenon, and thereupon recognized by biologists as a phenomenon of living bodies, which they called the "physiological division of labour," is that which in the society, as in the animal, makes it a living whole. Scarcely can I emphasize enough the truth that in respect of this fundamental trait, a social organism and an individual organism are entirely alike.[29]

The "social aggregate," although it is "discrete" instead of "concrete"—that is to say, composed of spatially separated units—is nevertheless, because of the mutual dependence of these units upon one another as exhibited in the division of labor, to be regarded as a living whole. It is "a living whole" in much the same way that the plant and animal communities, of which the ecologists are now writing so interestingly, are a living whole; not because of any intrinsic relations between the individuals who compose them, but because each individual member of the community, finds in the community as a whole, a suitable milieu, an environment adapted to his needs and one to which he is able to adapt himself.

Of such a society as this it may indeed be said, that it "exists for the benefit of its members, not its members for the benefit of society. It has ever to be remembered that great as may be the efforts made for the prosperity of the body politic, yet the claims of the body politic are nothing in themselves, and become something only in so far as they embody the claims of its component individuals."[30]

In other words, the social organism, as Spencer sees it, exists not for itself but for the benefit of the separate organs of which it is composed, whereas, in the case of biological organism the situation is reversed. There the parts manifestly exist for the whole and not the whole for the parts.

Spencer explains this paradoxical conclusion by the reflection that in social organisms sentience is not localized as it is in biological organisms. This is, in fact, the cardinal difference between the two. There is no social sensorium.

In the one (the individual), consciousness is concentrated in a small part of the aggregate. In the other (society), it is diffused throughout the aggregate: all the units possess the capacities for happiness and misery, if not in equal degrees, still in degrees that approximate. As then, there is no social sensorium, the welfare of the aggregate, considered apart from that of the units, is not an end to be sought. The society exists for the benefit of its members; not its members for the benefit of the society.[31]

The point is that society, as distinct from the individuals who compose it, has no apparatus for feeling pain or pleasure. There are no social sensations. Perceptions and mental imagery are individual and not social phenomena. Society lives, so to speak, only in its separate organs or members, and each of these organs has its own brain and organ of control which gives it, among other things, the power of independent locomotion. This is what is meant when society is described as a collectivity.


The fundamental problem which Spencer's paradox raises is that of social control. How does a mere collection of individuals succeed in acting in a corporate and consistent way? How in the case of specific types of social group, for example an animal herd, a boys' gang, or a political party, does the group control its individual members; the whole dominate the parts? What are the specific sociological differences between plant and animal communities and human society? What kind of differences are sociological differences, and what do we mean in general by the expression "sociological" anyway?

Since Spencer's essay on the social organism was published in 1860,[32] this problem and these questions, in one form or another, have largely absorbed the theoretical interest of students of society. The attempts to answer them may be said to have created the existing schools into which sociologists are divided.

A certain school of writers, among them Paul Lilienfeld, Auguste Schaeffle, and Rene Worms, have sought to maintain, to extend, or modify the biological analogy first advanced by Spencer. In doing so they have succeeded sometimes in restating the problem but have not solved it. Rene Worms has been particularly ingenious in discovering identities and carrying out the parallelism between the social and the biological organizations. As a result he has reached the conclusion that, as between a social and a biological organism, there is no difference of kind but only one of degree. Spencer, who could not find a "social sensorium," said that society was conscious only in the individuals who composed it. Worms, on the other hand, declares that we must assume the existence of a social consciousness, even without a sensorium, because we see everywhere the evidence of its existence.

Force manifests itself by its effects. If there are certain phenomena that we can only make intelligible, provided we regard them as the products of collective social consciousness, then we are bound to assume the existence of such a consciousness. There are many illustrations ... the attitude for example, of a crowd in the presence of a crime. Here the sentiment of indignation is unanimous. A murderer, if taken in the act, will get summary justice from the ordinary crowd. That method of rendering justice, "lynch law," is deplorable, but it illustrates the intensity of the sentiment which, at the moment, takes possession of the social consciousness.

Thus, always in the presence of great and common danger the collective consciousness of society is awakened; for example France of the Valois after the Treaty of Troyes, or modern France before the invasion of 1791 and before the German invasion in 1870; or Germany, herself, after the victories of Napoleon I. This sentiment of national unity, born of resistance to the stranger, goes so far that a large proportion of the members of society do not hesitate to give their lives for the safety and glory of the state, at such a moment the individual comprehends that he is only a small part of a large whole and that he belongs to the collectivity of which he is a member. The proof that he is entirely penetrated by the social consciousness is the fact that in order to maintain its existence he is willing to sacrifice his own.[33]

There is no question that the facts of crowd excitement, of class, caste, race, and national consciousness, do show the way in which the individual members of a group are, or seem to be, dominated, at certain moments and under certain circumstances, by the group as a whole. Worms gives to this fact, and the phenomena which accompany it, the title "collective consciousness." This gives the problem a name, to be sure, but not a solution. What the purpose of sociology requires is a description and an explanation. Under what conditions, precisely, does this phenomenon of collective consciousness arise? What are the mechanisms—physical, physiological, and social—by which the group imposes its control, or what seems to be control, upon the individual members of the group?

This question had arisen and been answered by political philosophers, in terms of political philosophy, long before sociology attempted to give an objective account of the matter. Two classic phrases, Aristotle's "Man is a political animal" and Hobbes's "War of each against all," omnes bellum omnium, measure the range and divergence of the schools upon this topic.

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