8. The Field of Sociology 

Professors Benedict and Kornberg have not spoken since the last class when, toward the end, they had their sharp differences. Is anthropology a science? Could there be a “science of culture”? There is a tension between them now as they walk into the lecture hall. Some students are moving along quite well; others are staggering under personal, as well as an academic, loads. Jane is recovering from the loss of her father, and now her mother is very sick. Depressed again, Jane asks herself: ”Why am I bothering to stay on campus. She has been “down” so much and so long that she’s even thought about “ending it.”  Last night, leaning out her fifth-floor window in a shared apartment she  wondered what it would be like to jump, but then she’d thought: “My mother needs me too much.”

Her early pregnancy advancing, Kathleen is concerned about whether, without an income, she should have this child.  And Mary is pondering the question posed in the first class: “Who am I?” — “Who are we?”

Dean Barth: A good day to you all! Nice weather. (Looks out the window.) Well, it’s a little cloudy (tempering his assertion), but smell the fresh air! (Tom, open that window a bit more.) Practically balmy. (to Tom) Thanks.

Today we have with us Professor Amitai Parsons to speak on sociology. He was with us when we had our discussion on biology, and he will continue today, talking about his own discipline and his outlook on the way it relates to evolution.

I spoke with him before class, and he told me that sociologists began to study evolution in the 19th century, but then “pretty much” dropped the subject. He looks forward to bringing it back.

Professors Benedict and Kornberg have also returned to be with us today. You remember that Professor Kornberg has been asking how anthropology and sociology could each be a science. That’s a tough question. We hope to learn more.

Let’s begin: Professor Parsons, tell us how did sociology begin in history? And when did it begin?

Prof. Parsons: When it began? That I don’t know. I don’t even know when the idea of “society” began. (Everybody laughs as he looks down, suppressing a grin.)  You know, Robert McIver, a sociologist at Columbia University in the 1930s, said that he could not find the exact beginning of any big idea or great institution. He looked for the origin of “government” in history, but he could not locate any precise beginning to it there. Great ideas and institutions, he said, began slowly, gradually, in the shadowy mist of days long ago.

So, how can I answer your questions, except to say: Ideas crystallize.

The idea of society must have begun in the mind of Confucius, even though he had no word for it. He thought about the character of people living together in one country. He believed that a ruler should govern by example and treat subjects with love and concern and follow a civil order. A mandarin should be a good mandarin; a father should be a good father; a son should be a good son; and so on. He had a strong ethic for how people should live together, but no theory of what really happens in other countries.

 The ancient Greeks could not see society in their mind’s eye because, again, there was no word for it. Plato understood the concept of states and argued that each one of them -- democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, and timocracy -- was corrupt. A state ought to be governed by philosopher-rulers who were trained from birth and selected on the basis of their knowledge and aptitude.[i]  

Dean:  So when did people understand the concept of society?

Parsons: I’m guessing that the idea began to crystallize in the mind of Ibn Khaldun in the 14th century, when he wrote about civilization. He looked at different countries as though they were social organisms moving through birth, growth, maturity, decline, and death. He lived four centuries before modern philosophers began to advance more deeply into this notion.[ii]

Dean: Now we are really curious.

 Parsons: Well, I think that the idea of society began to fall into place with Social Contract philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, John Locke, and Adam Smith. They wrote about how people live by consensus, apart from the state.

These Social Contract philosophers referred to people living together in a civil manner. People, they said, become civilized when they organize a state to protect themselves from outsiders. (Barbara is majoring in political science and figures the first Social Contract philosopher must be Thomas Hobbes, who wrote about government.)

How can I put it?

 Social Contract philosophers began to see a society as people living in associations and bound by an unwritten agreement. Society was an assemblage of people who had families, and lived in an economy with associations. (He suddenly remembers that students were assigned a book by Alexis de Tocqueville called Democracy in America.)

Ah! You read the book by Alexis de Tocqueville. When Tocqueville was visiting America in the 1840s, he could see a number of voluntary organizations developing that went beyond state and church. His notion of society was one that was becoming understood for its associations, and sociologists could then begin to think about studying it scientifically; it could become an object of inquiry. Society is a set of institutions in which people develop a common identity, where they work, play, worship, live, and die together.[iii]

Dean: When did “sociology” appear as a field?

Parsons: Auguste Comte, who thought about how to study society scientifically, created the word in 1838. He wanted to call this discipline “social physics” at first, but gave up on that name in favor of the word “sociology.” (Jerry thinks he knows how the word was created but waits to hear more.) Comte joined the Latin socius (meaning “companion” or “associate”) with the Greek word logia (meaning “knowledge”) to refer to how people live by consensus among different groups and organizations.

For Comte, sociology became a science of humanity, a study in the ”logic of association” to be researched by the methods of science and history. 

Dean: Now we are starting to understand somewhat, but tell us more about how the word “society” crystallized.

Parsons: Thomas Hobbes was a 17th century English philosopher whose masterwork Leviathan initiated “social contract theory.” He justified government as an agreement made among rational, free, and equal persons. He claimed that we ought to submit to the authority of an absolute—undivided and unlimited—sovereign power. By their nature, people were selfish. And as a result of this nature, people fight one another all the time. Life without a government would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," he said. So a government must be put together in the midst of all brutal conflict. People must renounce their right to use force. In order for everyone to live together in peace, a state has to be developed.[iv]  (Ann thinks: “But a society is different from a state.”)

Then, other philosophers thought about how a government should exist by “explicit consent,” not just by “implicit consent.” John Locke agreed with Hobbes that people had once lived like savages and developed a civil society by conceding natural rights to a sovereign to defend them. Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote a treatise called The Social Contract in 1762, outlining a theory in it based on the concept of a “popular sovereignty.”

Dean: (Interrupts. He does not want Parsons to continue lecturing without student participation.) Barbara, you’re majoring in political science. Can you add anything to what Prof. Parsons is telling us about John Locke and an idea of “popular sovereignty”?

Barbara: (Shocked to be called on so suddenly, she knows the Dean wants students to participate and quickly gathers herself.) Colonists in America began to figure that “sovereignty” meant a government created “by the people.” The new country they wanted to create should exist by popular consent, not by the force of a monarchy. (The Dean nods “Yes.”) Thomas Jefferson read John Locke’s work and claimed that government is created by the will of the people. (The Dean looks back to Prof. Parsons.)

Prof. Parsons: By around that point, a picture of society had begun to form in the mind of people. If you have read Alexis de Tocqueville, you can see how America was all about a new order of associations. He was writing like a detached sociologist, really. There was no “sociology”—no formal study in the “logic of associations”—at that time, but he was seeing all these associations coming together for a higher purpose than that of the state alone.[v]

Dean: Let me see. Weren’t these theorists transcending past images of themselves as subjects of a king. (Mary is asking herself: Who are “we”? —Are we also “we the people”?)

Parsons: Americans were a group of “people” looking at themselves in a new way. They were citizens of their own making, not subject to a king. This new nation would be called a “called”self-government.”

You might say that people were “self-organizing,” as it were, acknowledging their basic chemistry. (Parsons says this word “chemistry” impulsively, a light going on in his head as the word comes out of his mouth. He also has said “self-organizing” without thinking, and so he adds, directing his comments toward the Dean:) The chemistry of self-organization has arrived at the level of human consciousness, a self-conscious society.

Dean: Ah! The origins of society go back, way back to chemistry.  (He is now eager to return to Prof. Parsons’ question about the “origin” of great ideas.

Benedict: But wait. Professor Parsons is saying that it took centuries for people just to view themselves as “citizens.” They were no longer “subject” to a king. Professor Parsons, what did these philosophers mean by that word “sovereign”?

Parsons: The word “sovereign” began to come into use sometime in the 14th century, before the “contract theorists” were alive. It meant someone who was in control of things. But then, by the time of these philosophical theorists, there were new meanings for the word. A sovereign could refer to a King (a monarchy), a Council (an oligarchy), or a people who were sovereign by their majority (a democracy).[vi]  (Tom, who is majoring in biology, is thinking about how the Queen bee is sovereign in her colony.)

Dean: Have students read anything by those philosophers? Do you know about them? (Looking to the class) …Anyone? Anything? Questions?

Mary: Did Auguste Comte get his ideas about sociology from Karl Marx? (The Dean goes with spontaneous questions and nods to Professor Parsons to answer.)

Parsons: No. Comte and Marx were contemporaries, but they did not study together. Marx worked with Friedrich Engels. The two of them looked at the economic ground of society, or as Marx said, “the means of production.” Comte, for his part worked with Saint-Simon, looking at the way people live by social consensus.

In his way, Saint-Simon was thinking about changing a monarchy into some new civil order. He hoped that philosophers, industrialists, engineers, and scientists could govern the state. He wanted “educated people” in charge, because they could rule with wisdom and inventive expertise. He favored the industrialists and expected the change to be peaceful. He even proposed a humanist religion to replace traditional religion.[vii]

So working with St. Simon, Comte began to define society along these lines. He studied history and figured that “society” had moved progressively through a series of stages. He thought: if scientists could understand the progress of society, they could put forth solutions for social problems. 

The field of sociology took off as a science in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was created through the work of writers like Herbert Spencer in England, Emile Durkheim in France, Max Weber in Germany, Lester Ward in the United States, and many others.

Mary: But what about Karl Marx? (The class laughs, and she blurts out.) My father said he was a Marxist – just like his father was a Marxist. (At first, she is embarrassed as students laugh harder, then starts to laugh herself.)

Prof. Parsons: Marx was the most controversial figure of them all. His followers wanted to bring change by force; they called for a revolution to create socialism and communism. Later, neo-Marxists wanted the power to eliminate class differences. They figured that no monarch would give up power peacefully. So Marx’s followers tried to overthrow czars and dictators, while others went more peacefully to organize social-democratic parties. (The class has talked about Marx before, but professors each have their own opinions about him.)

Let me say: Marx should not be forgotten as an intellectual. He saw a “social factor” operating in capitalist markets. And this is still studied in socio-economics and economic sociology. Few people know that Marx wanted to reduce the state to a minimum operation, as did Adam Smith. (James in economics is paying close attention.) Marx was opposed to Hegel’s ideal of a moral order that would develop through a state. He assumed that a revolutionary proletariat would eliminate the terrible differences between rich and poor and would create a more equitable society. That new “state” would then become a small administrative authority in a self-governing economy—and “wither away.”

Dean: Hmm. How did other sociologists look at social change in the nineteenth century?

Parsons: In England, Herbert Spencer argued against Marx’s idea about revolution and supported free markets. He wrote volumes on sociology, psychology, biology, and ethics, and was highly influential.

In the United States, Lester Ward began research in geology and botany but soon became fascinated with sociology as a scientific field. He was elected the first president of the American Sociological Society in 1906.

Dean: Interesting. When did “departments” of sociology appear in universities?

Parsons:  Sociology became an academic field in the 1890s. John Commons taught a sociology course at Oberlin in 1891.The first department of sociology was at the University of Chicago in 1892. W. I. Thomas had been a professor in the English Department for four years, and in 1894, he may have been the first person to hold the title of Professor of Sociology. He went on to the University of Chicago, where social research began on urban life.[viii]

Dean: (Interrupts.) But what did sociologists say about evolution? I mean the evolution of society.

Parsons: They had a lot to say. And this includes thinkers like Marx, Comte, Spencer, Ferdinand Tönnies, Émile Durkheim, Ludwig Gumplowicz, Lester Ward, Max Weber, Robert McIver, and others. I can tell you only about few.[ix]

Dean: Good.

(Prof. Parsons goes to the blackboard and writes:)

The Evolution of Society

Parsons: When Auguste Comte became acquainted with Henri Saint-Simon in 1817, he began to think about a science of society. He wanted sociology, this new study, to be forged in the spirit of science by the use of empirical methods, but he also wanted the field to be of service to humanity.

Dean: How did Comte interpret evolution?

Parsons: He saw society evolving in what he called the “Law of Three Stages.” I must be brief to keep within class time. (The Dean gives a quick nod.)

 Society, Comte said, passed through stages he called theological, metaphysical, and positive.

The Theological Stage was a “primitive time” when people were making supernatural explanations about their environment. This stage divided into different sub-phases in the evolution of the intellect, the economy, and religion. Religion, for example, evolved from fetishism to polytheism, to monotheism.

The Metaphysical Stage replaced fetishism and polytheism with abstract thinking. Philosophy developed big ideas to explain nature, such as Being, Substance, and so forth. The stars were no longer seen so much as god-like figures in the sky—such as Orion and Cassiopeia—but as “forces” to be studied.

 “Positivism,” the third stage, came with the birth of scientific thought. Comte saw a sequence in the evolution of sciences, as they under greater scrutiny became university disciplines. He wrote about them evolving from mathematics to astronomy, to physics, to chemistry, biology, and sociology. 

Sociology for him was the last (and most) synthetic form of knowledge, the "queen of the sciences." It would synthesize the knowledge of all past sciences for the purpose of social planning. In Comte's words, scientific knowledge would lead to better predictions, which in turn would lead to a better development in society.[x] 

That’s a quick version. Am I too brief? (Looking toward Benedict.)

Benedict: Let me add a point. In naming the earliest historical stage of society as “theological,” Comte did not mean “theology” as we think of that term today. His “theological stage” referred to the way people attributed spiritual, or supernatural, forces to nature and human events. Nowadays, theology is a much more sophisticated discipline in the field of religious studies.

Parsons: Yes. Thanks. So the first stage involved people projecting their personal feelings onto nature. Nature was magical and animated. People saw a variety of gods and goddesses—polytheism, and only slowly began to see one Supreme Being— monotheism.

But for Comte, working in the last stage he posited—the stage of Positivism, the sciences— the search for “absolute knowledge” would be abandoned in favor of a modest and precise inquiry into the relative laws of nature.

Dean: Hmm. (Repeating, to see if he understands.) Comte described the Metaphysical Stage as one in which people explained nature by external energies, not as gods; the stars were no longer deities with personalities, but could be explained by natural forces. (Parsons nods agreement.) And Comte described the scientific stage as our current one, in which people study natural phenomena with hypotheses, systematic observations, and experimentation.  

Parsons: That’s right. There is much more to be said about Comte that goes beyond our purposes, but I should say here that he saw the sciences evolving sequentially on the basis of increasing complexity. He was not accurate on all these points, but it is interesting to see how he interpreted the evolution of society and modern disciplines. 

Dean: (wanting to keep his overall perspective in mind.) It looks to me like each successive stage of society took into account the elements of its preceding stage and then went beyond them. Professor Kornberg, what do you think?

Kornberg: Well, as you know, alchemy was the background from which chemistry was to develop. But as Comte said, alchemy was loaded with religious beliefs. Newton left all that behind him.

Parsons: Yes, chemistry was constructed from alchemy, which was laden with theology. And Comte saw that astronomy had evolved after its early stage of astrology. Now astronomy became a science. And science became a master theme for searching for truth.

Kornberg: Hmm. (Looking doubtful.) On the other hand, from what you have also said, Comte thought this new field of sociology would become the most complex field in the sciences! Well! What does that mean? Did he really think sociology was more complex than chemistry?

Parsons: Yes, he thought so, but remember, he was living in the 19th century. For Comte, sociology would be the last in the evolution of sciences. He thought sociology would complete the evolution of thinking by its new method of understanding. It carried all the fruits of anterior sciences and would now join the methods of physical science to build a new foundation for knowledge. But that was long ago when chemistry itself was simpler, not so complex. (He is glad to end the point there.)

Dean: (simply looking at students in the hopes of getting their participation.) (Silence.) Questions?

Mary: What did Marx say about evolution? (Class laughs again at her persistent inquiry.)

Parsons: Karl Marx and John Stewart Mill were social philosophers like Saint Simon and Auguste Comte. In Europe philosophers were interested in science, progress, and freedom. These ideas were central to their time.

Mill viewed freedom as developing under a government that advanced “the greatest good.” He believed that individual freedom is sacrosanct, that there are few if any circumstances under which a government may rightfully interfere with individual freedom.

Marx, on the other hand, saw freedom evolving in stages through new forces of production. He saw capitalism as a transition stage toward greater freedom for the individual, overcoming the alienation of labor.

Mary: How? (Now a few smiles ripple across the class. The Dean senses that she wants to know where her father has been coming from. For her, this is a matter of family identity.)

Parsons: He expected a revolution to shift the means of production from the owners of capital to the workers. He was reviving an ancient concept of communism, wanting to point toward a greater freedom for everyone. This revolution would usher in a new stage, during which people could live without fear of exploitation.

Dean: Let me see if I got this right. Most people think of Marx as supporting dictatorships. But Marx interpreted evolution in terms of how the economy transforms in stages toward a greater freedom for everyone.

Parsons: Marx and his friend Friedrich Engels saw primitive societies living in clans and tribes. They were concerned about the poverty of people living at the bottom of society; they saw that early empires had produced a class of slaves. Empires and slavery evolved and gradually turned into feudalism, a form of governance and society in which the bottom class became serfs. While the word serf comes from the Latin word servus, meaning slave, serfs were not slaves exactly. In exchange for protection, they had to work for one master all of their lives. Some of them even owned and worked a small amount of their own property; others, however, did not.

Finally, capitalism evolved with its bottom class, called the “proletariat”—that is, the laborers and wage earners. Wage earners had more freedom than any other subordinate class in history. From what I have said so far, can you see a direction in Marx’s  way of thinking? Following this, what kind of society could be next? (Silence, no takers, no questions.)

The serf became freer than the slave. Do you see? The owner of a serf could not torture or kill him so quickly or so easily as the owner of a slave could, not without sanction. A serf might even get free and become a priest and move up in the hierarchy of the church.  But then the wage earner, under the system of capitalism, became freer than the serf. The wage earner was freer because he, or she, could quit a job at any time. Capitalism became the most productive and advanced economic order in the history of humankind. But “workers” were still oppressed, and, according to Marx, there should be more progress.  

Marx believed society should become more developed—more evolved—in this cause for freedom. He figured that a violent revolution would be coming in Europe as it had in colonial America. Revolution was necessary to achieve a new order of freedom.[xi] Now I’m guessing there will be questions.

Dean: We said in our second class that hierarchy is endemic to nature, from atoms to humankind. If that is the case, how do freedom and hierarchy work together?  And what might develop in the future? No hierarchy in society?

Parsons: New hierarchies are evolving, that are less oppressive and exploitive. What can I say? People gain their freedom through what we might call soft hierarchy. (The Dean looks puzzled.)

When sociologists consult with corporations on organizational development, they talk about self-management and employee ownership. They recommend to executives that they cultivate the authority and responsibility of workers at the bottom to manage their own jobs with less supervision. (James in economics is now reading about this.)

Social research suggests that self-managed firms are more efficient and save money. Workers gain greater freedom on the job this way. And employees are beginning to participate in the ownership of companies in which they work. They develop a stronger sense of responsibility to their firms through employee ownership plans. Self-management and worker ownership has been shown to bring a company more profit. (Mary looks puzzled. Is this Marxism?)

Sociologists look for new ways to advance lateral, or horizontal, communications in a firm. They reduce the old emphasis on vertical communication. The old top-down system of command in the corporation then becomes a less repressive form of hierarchy.

Good managers want to increase the authority of workers on the job below them to gain efficiency. (“Ah, efficiency!” Mary thinks to herself.) Self-management changes the character of a command system by bringing workers into a higher degree of freedom and a richer sense of work. It’s called “job enrichment.” And there is a new phrase for firms that work for the common good: “the social enterprise.”[xii]  (”The common good!” Mary recognizes another familiar concept.)

Dean: So this is the way that sociologists study the change in the relation between freedom and hierarchy. Consultants promote efficiency and greater equality, and sociologists study how it all plays out.

Parsons: Sociologists study how it plays out, and some of them become consultants to firms and unions.

Mary: Do Marxists today think about evolution -- and not just revolution? (You can see smiles again crossing faces. She must have a great father.)

Parsons: Oh yes. According to Marxists today, “small quantitative alterations in the essence of things” pile up; a tension is produced, and then a struggle takes place until, at a fixed moment, the new elements become strong enough to destroy the equilibrium, and a new quality emerges from the previous quantitative alterations... (Mary’s eyes open wide, but the Dean sees the eyes of other students start to glaze over.)

Dean: Hold on! (He raises his hand. The Dean sees complicated details looming. He doesn’t want Prof. Parsons to become too technical at this juncture, or lead the class off track into philosophy. .) Let’s not go there. Tell us more about the other sociologists you named earlier. What did Herbert Spencer say about evolution?

Parsons: Spencer proposed that the idea of “evolution” included the whole universe. Back in the 1850s, before Darwin, he was onto this idea. At one point, Spencer summed up the key to evolution …Here... I’d like to read it to you:

All structures in the universe develop from a simple, undifferentiated, homogeneity to a complex, differentiated, heterogeneity, while being accompanied by a process of greater integration of the differentiated parts.[xiii]

For Spencer, this principle applied to everything in motion. It applied to stars and galaxies as well as to biological organisms and human society.

Dean: Did he read Charles Darwin?

Parsons: Yes, later, after Spencer had proposed his own theory. Few people know that Spencer’s theory of evolution preceded Darwin’s.[xiv]

Dean: How do you know?

Parsons: Spencer wrote an article in 1852 defending the idea of biological evolution. This was a full seven years before Darwin published Origin of Species. Spencer’s own biological model then became the basis for interpreting changes in society. Spencer used terms such as "system," "function," and "structure" to describe societal forms. He wrote about how cells combine to create organisms, and organisms combine to create "superorganisms"—by which he meant societies. He saw three tendencies that were alike between societies and organisms: increasing size, complexity of structure, and differentiation of function. [xv]

Dean: That’s amazing -- for his day.

Parsons: Critics said Spencer was making too close a connection between society and organic life. He answered by saying that his analogy to organic evolution was only “scaffolding.” It was a way for people to understand the changes taking place in society. Once people understood the comparison, the “scaffolding” could be dropped. The uniqueness of society—as opposed to organisms in evolution—should be seen for its own sake. [xvi]

The biologist Joachim Dagg describes Spencer’s model as being like a mobile of dynamic balances. At each stage of evolution, some Ying/Yang-like forces were in a “moving equilibrium.” Spencer said society was moving from simple to compound types, from “militant society” to “industrial society.” Evolution takes place by dissolutions and integrations; the forces of all other parts “dangle” in a delicate balance.[xvii]

Dean: (Repeating, for himself and the class.) So Spencer saw evolution as a “moving equilibration of forces.” A fascinating image!

Parsons: Society was held together in a tangled web of relations, like a field of plants. Any major modification in one species would act indirectly on other species, and change the circumstances of the rest. If any increase of heat, or modification of soil, or decrease of humidity causes a particular kind of plant to thrive or to dwindle, its effect is brought on all other such competing kinds of plants. He argued that there is a gradual specialization in things that move towards self-sufficiency and individuation.[xviii]

Dean: Interesting. But wait. We need to move on. Tell us about other sociologists and their views.


Parsons: Emile Durkheim. He lived from 1858 to 1917 and published studies on many things, the division of labor in society, the origins of religion, patterns of suicide in different countries, and more. But he also interpreted “stages” in the evolution of society. Society, he said, evolved from “mechanical” to “organic” solidarity.[xix]

Dean: That is different from Spencer’s “militant to industrial.” Going from mechanical to organic solidarity? These terms are odd.

Parsons: Well, you have to read his work to understand better what he meant. Mechanical solidarity refers to a closely-knit community. All members have personal experiences together and are closely bound. The division of labor is weak, but the solidarity among members is strong. Imagine a hunting and gathering group, small and simple, with strong attachments to one another. And small rural communities today might have these characteristics, as well as primitive societies. Durkheim was also thinking in scientific models.

Dean: And “organic solidarity”?

Parsons:  Organic societies have a higher division of labor with multiple organizations. Individuals fulfill specific tasks that give them more autonomy. There is a greater differentiation of roles and more freedom for people “loosely bonded.”

In American society, for example, people are not tightly bound with one single identity; rather, they are “highly individual.” Americans have independent families, enterprises, and different political parties that are separate but all subordinate to the rule of law.[xx]

Dean: “The rule of law.” Did Durkheim see “law” evolving over time?

Parsons: Yes. The law in those first societies carried severe penalties—death and torture—for many offenses, but gradually the law became differentiated and more specific. People who begin writing laws in organic societies start to prescribe “compensation” to the offended, and “rehabilitation” of the offender. A softer and kinder criminal law evolved, so to speak. A body of civil law came with new modes of restitution, and it grew in size at the expense of criminal laws and severe penal sanctions. So Durkheim saw an increasing complexity and humaneness developing through law over time.

Dean: Fascinating. Did any sociologists in the 20th century have a theory of evolution?

Parsons: Very few. Max Weber wrote about the increasing rationalization of society, but in sociology, the subject was pretty much dropped and exchanged for an analytical theory called “structural-functionalism.”[xxi]  

A few other sociologists were writing about evolution, like Robert McIver and Talcott Parsons, a namesake of mine. The latter developed an evolutionary view of society moving from the simple to the complex. He proposed that systems and subsystems evolve into a cybernetic hierarchy with a high level of information.[xxii] 

Dean: He claimed that everything could be viewed as a “system”?[xxiii]

Parsons: Yes. Systems have subsystems in a general system of social action. A personality system, for example, represents the internalization of the social norms and cultural values of society. He created a general theory in which component systems have overlapping zones, very complicated.[xxiv] 

Dean: I think we do not need to go into it now; it’s probably too sophisticated for our purposes. (Parsons nods in agreement.) Other sociologists you want to name for us?

Parsons: Pitirim Sorokin. He took a survey of human cultures cycling through history. He proposed hypotheses about a cyclic variation of cultures over time.

Dean: Cyclic variation?

Parsons: Sorokin gathered data on cultures in different epochs of history. His data showed master themes he called “mentalities” swinging back and forth like a pendulum from one to the other. These overall “mentalities” were overarching themes of truth during specific times of history. They are master principles—I mean, the built-in premises of an entire culture. 

Dean: Tell us specifically what  “mentalities” are. Examples?

Parsons: Sorokin proposed three. First, people see “reality” as accessible through the human senses; he called that master theme Sensate Culture. Second, people see “reality” transcending the senses, like a vision of something Eternal, which is a kind of Platonic idealism he called Ideational Culture. Third, people see “reality” through an intermediate form that synthesizes the other two in a dialectical balance, which he called Idealistic Culture.

These mentalities represented irreducible forms of truth. They were like great epistemologies: sensory, spiritual, and rational. Sorokin found that, at different periods of history, one of the three would become dominant in society.[xxv]

Dean: Is this “evolution”?

Parsons: No, he does not propose any progression from lower to higher, if that’s what you mean. His point is that, at one period of time or another, the institutions of society—law, art, philosophy, science, and religion—reveal a consistent outlook aligned with one mentality. Then another epoch appears, and culture changes toward another grand mentality. During our Sensate period, for example, science is rigidly empirical in its methods and procedures; art strives for realism rather than for transcendent visions; and religion tends to be more concerned with the quest for moral experience than in seeking the truth of Faith or Reason.

Dean: Interesting, but there is no evolution in his theory?

Parsons: No. Again, there is no linear progression here for him. It’s a cycle. Sorokin says a culture is never fully integrated by any one great mentality, and so the three themes swing back and forth. A culture will contain fragments that are not fully reconcilable.[xxvi]  When a mentality in one cultural period reaches its flowering, it becomes less capable of adaptation. At this point, a new mentality swings forward and proceeds to its limits. Each mentality prepares its own death, as it were, giving birth to a new cultural theme in the next epoch.[xxvii]

Dean: No progression? Then why bring up Sorokin’s mentalities here in our class on evolution?

Parsons: No progression. But personally I can see a progression. The Sensate period that Sorokin describes during the Roman Empire – with my image of rulers sitting sumptuously and lavishly eating grapes from the hands of sensuous women – is less advanced than our modern Sensate period, in which, as Sorokin describes it, science and commerce prevail with a Sensate theme. He is critical of our period, nonetheless. He says we place too much emphasis on our “senses” –empiricism, scientism, realism, materialism, consumerism, and commercialism.

For him, these three phases do tend to follow in a predictable sequence: Sensate forms are followed by Ideational forms and then by Idealistic forms. After one cycle is completed, the recurrence of a new mentality moves into the culture of a society, something like a cycle of the moon.[xxviii]

Dean: Okay. The progression of those mentalities through history would take us a semester to study, so we should stop here with Sorokin. Does anyone have questions? (Silence as everyone thinks. Professor Benedict is thinking: “A Sensate mentality does rule today, and, although they cannot see it, scientists are part of this mentality.”  Prof. Kornberg breaks into her thoughts with his “problem.”)

Kornberg: I cannot imagine how sociology is a science. These mentalities are all subjective.

Benedict: What do you mean?

Kornberg: I cannot see society. I can’t hear “a society.” I cannot touch a society or measure it...So, how is that a science? I remember when the former prime minister of England, Margaret Thatcher, said, “Society does not exist.” (to students: “This was before your time.”) She said this because she could not see or touch it. If you cannot see or touch society, how could you study it as a science?[xxix]

Benedict: (Sharply.) It sounds like Margaret Thatcher never read John Locke. Some say she was unable to see her own mind. (This quick, scornful retort falls piercingly on Kornberg. She feels that he does not understand what she means. The Dean becomes aware of an unpleasant argument looming. Professor Parsons also notices, goes to the blackboard, and writes:)

Society and the Mind

Parsons: Yes, Professor Kornberg is right: “society” and the “mind” cannot be seen with our physical eyes. But these concepts are formed from an accumulation of facts that represent eye-observable data. The data are then abstracted into a “higher fact.” That more abstract “fact” is inclusive of many observable empirical facts.

Barbara: (Trying to understand) What? Could you say that again?

Parsons: It is like the concept of “evolution.” You can’t see it or touch it. Concepts like “evolution,” “society,” and the “mind” are abstracted from hundreds of empirical facts. Evolution is a generalized fact based upon specific, observable changes over time.[xxx]  (Barbara knits her eyebrows.)

Look. The word “government” in your major field is generalized by the observation of many patterns of human activity. We see an army mobilized; we read a document called a “constitution”; we view buildings holding space for a legislature and a judiciary. So “government” is generalized from these direct observations of buildings and human behavior. Government. You can’t see “it.” It refers to a way people do things. Margaret Thatcher needs to take this course and learn from us. [xxxi]  (The class laughs heartily.)

Benedict: The same is true of “religion” and other institutions, like “education”:look at all the school buildings on campus. (Points out the window, and now everybody laughs because this question has become ridiculous. Prof. Benedict hopes these comments will not mock Kornberg into silence. He is looking very grave.)

Parsons: So “society” is generalized from an observation of these institutions; it is a concept about how groups join in a social consensus.

Dean: Professor Kornberg, as a chemist, can you see “dark energy” in the sky? 

Kornberg: No. But I can see its effects. (Silence. Prof. Benedict wonders what Prof. Kornberg is feeling. The Dean looks back to Prof. Parsons.)

Parsons: As Sorokin says, each stage of evolution carries its own culture and sense of reality. Sociology is asking a question about “who we are.” (Mary eyes are glowing.)

We are a human community, a collective being evolving. In Germany, Ferdinand Toennies wrote that, through history, people had moved from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft, that is, from “community” to “society.” He was speaking about “ideal types,” as was Emile Durkheim: Mechanical to Organic, from closely knit to loosely bound.

Dean: This fits our perspective on evolution. Each stage has its own capacity to be self-organizing. (returning to his perspective on physical evolution.) People in the current stage of society, now “self-organized” as democracy, called their condition “self-government.” Each society builds from antecedent elements and, at some point, transcends the past, just like atoms transcend into molecules.

Parsons: Spencer might go along with you if he knew today’s science. Society has developed with characteristics of both physical and organic life, but now into a transcendent order. Society is an “autonomous” order like a molecule, in the sense that it is not just a summation of internal parts. 

Kornberg: Hmm. (Thinking, not liking “transcendent order,” but wanting to come back into the conversation.). I see... Molecules are not just a summation of their parts, of their atoms...Hmmm. Society is evolving as autonomous, through its parts which are… aah…(Waits, wondering what those parts might be and Parsons speaks up: “institutions”)… which are the changing parts of society. (Benedict cannot suppress a quick smile of delight.)

Dean: (also happy to hear some consonance.) Each “unit” in each stage of evolution has “self-autonomy.” The organism is built from cells, but now has its own laws with greater complexity than that of a cell. Like society, which is a collective group, the individual organism, with its special parts, has a greater division of labor —a heart, say, or a liver. A society then evolves with greater complexity, its institutions differentiating into families, religions, systems of education, an economy, the arts, the military, science, government and…too many more to count.

Benedict: You are speaking from the perspective of the objective side, but there is also a subjective side. Animal consciousness developed with gestures and signals, dependent on the organism. Human consciousness is built from animal sounds, and moves into a new order of symbols farther away from instincts in the body. Humans now respond to each other not just by outward signs but also by words and thoughts; the physical body is no longer the main avenue for evolution. Society is the main avenue, constructed by inventions, technologies, and ideas and feelings, with deeper meaning. 

Parsons: Go further. You are saying that society has its own consciousness apart from a single individual consciousness.

Benedict: Emile Durkheim said you could study the consciousness of a society objectively. (Smiles). 

Kornberg: So this collective consciousness has an objective side!

Parsons: Yes, it operates beyond the laws of individual consciousness. 

Kornberg: (Skeptical.) How do you know scientifically that there is a “collective consciousness”?

Parsons: We measure it by social surveys and polls, and by systematic observations of people in organizations.... (Kornberg is about to ask: How do you know collective consciousness subjectively?  But the Dean interrupts…)

Dean: How do you know we are evolving right now?

Parsons: I don’t know. Institutions are changing every second, but you cannot interpret some fraction of a moment as evolution. You cannot describe each modification as “evolution.” You must document some fundamental change in the structure of society.[xxxii]

Dean: How does society change its structure?

Parsons: To understand this process, sociologists look at the interaction of civil orders. In more modern times, leaders in the Protestant Reformation, like John Calvin, experimented with democracy before the idea came to be, once again, a form of government. Calvin was working in his church with this “democratic idea,” and then it spilled over into the state. Each civil order (or institution) has an influence on another.[xxxiii]

Dean: What do you mean?

Parsons: Leaders in the business order change because they are also members of a church or a religion. They carry ideas from one place to another, like the “memes” you talked about.

Business corporations are in systems of command authority, while churches have experimented with federations, confederations, leagues, and alliances. Now some command-oriented corporations have decentralized into federations, and trade associations have developed confederations.

Democracy is a master theme, an idea in modern culture that is spreading beyond government. Trade associations, trade unions, churches, fraternal orders, peace organizations, educational associations, art associations, youth associations, and so on, are modeling themselves on the principles of democracy. (Parsons does not say that he is a Christian Congregationalist who has studied religious associations and debated with Presbyterians about which denomination is the most democratic. He argues that his Congregational Church owns its local property, which allows its members more autonomy and freedom at the bottom of a national hierarchy, as opposed to “those Presbyterians,” whose property is owned by a Synod-owning church, at a higher level in the organizational hierarchy of its national church.)

Benedict: I see what you are saying. The different orders of society affect one another—similar to the way in which the heart affects the brain— and each may evolve in different stages of consciousness.

Kornberg: But what about this “collective consciousness” you mentioned?

Parsons: Durkheim said a collective consciousness exists beyond any individual consciousness. Individuals remain important within this broader consciousness, as they take roles within organizations and shape their collective life together. But you can see a family self-consciousness, a corporate self-consciousness, a church self-consciousness, and so on. The common denominator to all of these is a collective consciousness.[xxxiv]

Dean: Did Durkheim claim that a collective consciousness had a power of its own?

Parsons: Hmmm.  Yes, but I would qualify this. Collective consciousness may look like herd behavior, but it is much more complicated than that… and… or but, too much to cover and discuss in this class. (Students look unhappy and curious.)

Well, to speak briefly… All of these civil orders and institutions interbreed, we might say. The Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner – who lived at the turn into the 20th century—said there is a diffusion of folkways and beliefs among separate traditions and institutions, a kind of osmosis. All of the folkways, customs, conventions, and traditions affect one another; I mean they co-evolve together. Their cultures feed into one another; one institution “co-ops” another’s norms while adapting to new environments.[xxxv]

Kornberg: How does that happen?

Parsons: Oh my! I’m afraid it’s too long a story for us. (But students look interested; and the Dean nods for him to proceed.)

 Churches learn financial auditing from business leaders. Business leaders learn social auditing from church leaders and develop corporate codes of conduct. Governments learn efficiency from business leaders and cut down on bureaucracy. Business leaders learn democracy from judges in the courts and introduce electoral procedures into their trade associations.

The evolution of consciousness in society takes place in its own way. It is composed of institutional forces that interplay in multiple ways.

Dean: What about collective emotions. Do they evolve in society?

Parsons: Yes. We see “group emotions” changing all the time. Imagine how personal emotions develop within an individual. An individual can feel hate, jealousy, pride, wonder, passion, affection, and more. So it is with groups.

Think of the Ku Klux Klan. Are its members filled with hate? Does the KKK have a group ego? Are there variations and degrees of hate among members?

Now think of a nation at war. Collective fear. People fear their enemy and also become filled with hate. They write laws of sedition. A government can kill you for inciting a rebellion. These are collective emotions at work. When an individual kills another in revenge, it is called murder. But in society, killing a citizen by the electric chair is called justice.[xxxvi]

So the emotions of society are changing. This is a story in itself.

Dean: Interesting. It makes me want to study sociology. Now tell us how a concept of society could link to this evolving universe. You say, Spencer had ideas about this. (Parsons goes to the blackboard and writes)

Society and the Cosmos

I am amazed at how Herbert Spencer thought that evolution could happen in the universe. From his perspective, we are in a cosmic community. 

Spencer was aware of Lamarck’s view of evolution, which was rather mechanistic. Then, he applied the concept of evolution to science, with a sweeping cosmic outlook.[xxxvii]

We know today that we are in this universe by way of our brains, our bodies, and societies. I have said: I think the process is social. And we have already talked about this. Remember our class with Professor Wilson? Biologists see intelligence in those colonies of autotrophic cyanobacteria that began about three and a half billion years ago. 

Benedict: Autotrophic?

Parsons: Autotrophic. In Greek, auto means “self” and tropho means "nourishment."  Cyanobacteria have been nourishing themselves for a long time. They are like a family—and they are our ancestors—living in every habitat, from oceans to fresh water, to bare rock and ground. They produce the "earthy" odors in our soil, thrive in bodies of water everywhere; they are the greenish slime on the side of a flowerpot, on the wall of a house, on the trunk of a big tree. They are even on the fur of polar bears! (excited by the sense he has of an earth community.) [xxxviii]

Dean: We talked about that in our biology session. You must have more than a passing interest in biology.

Parsons: Spencer is my hero. I follow in his footsteps. (The Dean looks curious: How?—he wonders.)

Bacteria are social, reconstructing their genes. They live in societies with trillions of members with their own systems of communication. Each colony sends out macromolecules over the span of continents and seas. They invented communication long before we did. (The Dean is amazed at how Parsons has picked up on this organic analogy. It sounds extreme to him as Parson continues, even though it fits the Dean’s perspective.)

I think we have to re-write human history.

Historians should think with scientists and go farther back in time. For example, we should have social historians tell us how iron began in the stars and never left. They should record how iron devolved into the oceans and came into our body and our blood. We cannot live without iron, and atoms are social. (A light goes on in the mind of Professor Benedict. She is thinking about Comte’s idea for calling his field of study “social physics.” The Dean is surprised at what he sees as a diversion in Parson’s discussion. Where is Parsons going?)


Parsons: I remember the class talking about how a new star begins by fusing hydrogen, and then hydrogen atoms fuse to form the next element, helium; and when the hydrogen runs out, helium atoms fuse to form carbon. Ah— um…(looking at Kornberg) Can you pick it up from here?

Kornberg: And then helium runs out, and carbon atoms fuse to form oxygen… (Parsons keeps looking at him.) Heavier elements continue until the star dies. Great stars have cores made entirely of iron… The core in our own earth is also made of iron, liquid iron…(smiles at Parsons as though tipping him his hat.)

Parsons: Iron helps keep plants and animals alive. It helps in the creation of chlorophyll, a part of hemoglobin that carries oxygen in red blood cells. It is part of our community. We coin metaphors for it: the iron cross, the iron mask, the iron man, and the iron mountain. We depend on it for survival. (Looks to Kornberg again for support.) Isn’t that right, Professor Kornberg? This is where our earth community began. (He smiles hoping Kornberg will continue,  and Kornberg does.)

Kornberg: A few billion years ago a star blew up, and what was left over? Hydrogen, helium, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, silver, gold, uranium, and iron  -- all traveling through space until they clumped together and became our sun, our planets… and part of us. (Smiles back at Parsons as though they were playing cards, and he had been dealt a good hand.)

Parsons: Iron is essential to our metabolism. It is in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and myelin. My point is that chemistry is also part of our human community.[xxxix] (Kornberg looks slightly taken aback.)

Dean: So iron is in our brain, and linked to our earth, our roads, bridges, and society. (The Dean pauses Does Parsons think chemistry could be at the foundation of life?) What does this tell us about the nature of things? 

Parsons: The physicist, Steven Weinberg, claims that the universe is pure matter, meaningless, without feeling. Weinberg says that science has determined that we live in an unfriendly world of matter and energy, not particularly directed toward human beings. He says the universe carries the “ultimate laws of nature.” “Wake up,” he says. The laws of the universe have “a chilling, cold, impersonal quality about them.”[xl] (Parsons is moving again into Kornberg’s territory, as the Dean is aware.)

Dean: Professor Kornberg, what do you think?

Kornberg: Weinberg is right, from one point of view. But… when I talk with you… I also get a different picture. I think Steve may have been over-stating his case. (Benedict looks up.)

Dean: Over-stating his case. Professor Benedict, can physics give us the final word?

Benedict: Look. Physicists write about “A Theory of Everything,” as if they know the answer to our universe. I agree with Sorokin. We live with a “sensate mentality.” I definitely think it’s time for a regime change. (Now the Dean sees the potential for another confrontation between Benedict and Kornberg. He thought Parsons had taken a great step toward a convergence in their conflicting views. His eyes now return to Parsons.)[xli] 

Dean: Could sociology help bring a different perspective on the cosmos? Does sociology build its methods between the hard sciences and the humanities? What do you think about this? 

Parsons: Remember our class on biology? Let’s look at this social concept: (He goes to the blackboard and writes:)


The word “sociality” originated in the 16th century. It referred to “being in companionship with others.” Today it refers to being “social”—or “friendly”—in its popular sense, but in my field, it has an analytical meaning. It refers abstractly to the way people form groups and talk with one another. People communicate, cooperate, compete, contend, contest, and conflict with one another. They accommodate, adapt, adjust, and are in accord with one other by some degree. (He uses assonance and alliteration as much for fun as for a way to name how people relate to one another.)

Now notice. All these terms have both an objective and a subjective meaning. We can look at how people engage one another from the outside, or we can feel what it is like to do so ourselves from the inside. The objective meanings refer to objects outside us. Sociologists study objects this way, as do their colleagues in physics, chemistry, and biology. Physicists describe atoms in terms of their  “sociality.” In effect, atoms are said to be interdependent: interacting, interrelating, conflicting, joining together, and so on.

Dean: Hmm, I think we have been here before. You are saying that we apply these same terms to the physical world. Fine.

Parsons: Yes, when scientists use these terms to describe the action of atoms and molecules, it looks like they are attributing human relations to their data. But what they are seeing is the sociality of nature. And at the human level, sociologists are simply examining more complex forms of those same ways of relating. Our society carries all of the past—and on-going—attributes of the universe. That is why we are in a community in a very deep sense.

Benedict: (pleased, but contesting Parsons’ statement) Again, I know that, to most people, your argument will sound anthropomorphic. (She looks over at Kornberg; this matter should be challenging to him.)

Kornberg: Are you suggesting that chemists think that atoms act like humans?! Or, (cuttingly) is it that humans act like atoms?!  

Benedict: Anthropomorphism means that someone attributes human characteristics to inanimate objects. Now, could scientists really be so primitive as to do that? (She is challenging him aggressively, for some reason, testy and teasing.)

Dean: (The Dean sees the head of an ugly argument uncoiling itself again as his colleagues face each other. He interrupts, smiling at Parsons:) Professor Parsons, what do you say about this?

Parsons: Listen to my proposal. I propose that the term “sociality” be understood in two ways: objectively as an expression of what is common about the nature of all things in the universe. And subjectively about what we experience inside ourselves. (Kornberg tosses his hands in the air as if to imply, “What could you possibly mean?”)

The meaning of the term “sociality” can range from the way chemists see atoms in action, to the way that sociologists see people in action  (waves his hand), relating with one another. It stands for what we see as natural in both our physical and human condition. (Kornberg shrugs his shoulders as if to say: “Why?”)

We are not just in Nature. We all are Nature. Sociality points to the common features in this universe. (Looking at Kornberg.)

 Kornberg: (He’s not happy with Parson’s exuberance, or what he sees as Parson’s misguided and unclear attempts to connect atoms with humans, but he is also thinking of ways that he can qualify and counter Parson’s claims.) Atoms are composed of matter and energy. You could call them social, but chemists are looking at physical “data.”

Benedict: Not entirely. Atoms can only be seen through your consciousness. (Tersely.)  Matter cannot represent everything. I don’t think even you can see atoms.

Dean: (The Dean notes that these faculty members keep speaking their ideas through a filter of emotions that are only partly conscious. He brings the class back to Greece.)[xlii] 

This idea of matter and a material universe started with Thales, Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Democritus, Epicurus, and Aristotle. From the viewpoint of today’s “mentality,” we have to find a different way to think about nature. (His mind flashes to Sorokin’s Sensate culture and wonders how to get past it.)

Kornberg: Lucretius was on my side. (Defensive, in the heat of the moment.) You know that poem by Lucretius called De Rerum Natura? It is about how nature is composed of atoms. Atoms are matter. This is a chemist speaking. All nature is matter. That is my position.[xliii] (Benedict is wondering how students could think beyond this “sensate culture” if members of the college faculty can’t.)

Dean: (Looking to Parsons for help.) Do you have something different in mind?

Parsons: As I said, sociality also has a subjective side. Primitive thinking was subjective but personal in its collective form. African Bushmen could not understand the philosophical difference between subject and object.

Dean: Hmmm. Kant said that we couldn’t see “things in themselves,” apart from the mind and its workings. (He wonders about the point Parsons is wanting to make.)

Parsons: Kant could not know that those elements in the universe are now inside our bodies— in our brains and in our blood. We are both the subject and the object of all things known.

Kornberg: (Upset.) So what is different in your perspective? (Looks to Parsons.)

Parsons: “Sociality” gives us a basis to assess a common fact. It is “sociality” all the way from atoms to humans. You objectify what you see to be types of interrelation in the atoms of this universe, while we describe how interrelation happens through interaction in society. You describe Nature as though it were cold, mechanistic, and tough, and that’s right, not bad. (“Not bad!” Benedict wonders, “What is he trying to get at?”)

This is part of our human nature. We too are cold, mechanistic, and tough… on the one hand.  But we are also warm, personal, and tender. Scientists are expressing our condition: hard like iron and also soft like a plant. (Benedict hears poetry in his view, but Kornberg simply hears a diversionary sidetrack to Parsons’ argument.)

Kornberg: (Frustrated) I don’t get it!

Parsons: Atoms. What atoms? I can’t see them. I can’t hear them. I can’t touch them. Where are they? (To Kornberg—respectful, but joking) Can you see them?

Kornberg:  We cannot see atoms with our eyes, but we can see a pattern of energy with a microscope, called a scanning tunneling microscope. It was developed in the 1980s and plots a “current” that corresponds to a map of atomic positions. It’s like an old phonograph, where the needle is the tip and the grooves in the vinyl record are the atoms.

Dean: That’s close to seeing them, actually.

Benedict: (She is not done with Kornberg.) But the human eye is not finished in its evolution. It is a shaper of what we see and believe. Tom, help me out here. You are in biology. The first eyes evolved among animals, maybe 540 million years ago.

Tom: Darwin was interested in the eye. At the beginning of its evolution there was the “pit eye” picking up angles of light.  Then there was the pinhole eye, a little more advanced. It kept evolving into more advanced types of "eye" among the vertebrates.

Benedict: What about vertebrates?

Tom: The eye begins to let light to project onto a panel of cells, the retina, at the rear of the eye. Benedict: My point is that we are still evolving. Eyes are restricted to a small range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Rods and cones evolved only recently. So, there is more ahead for us.[xliv]

Parsons: In the universe scale of time, we can ask: What’s next?

Benedict: Could there be a third eye (pointing to the middle of her forehead)—as is posited in Indian and East Asian traditions—that we have yet to evolve? (“Nonsense!” Kornberg angrily interjects.) My point is that we are not done with evolution. There is more to evolving than you can see.

Dean: Well, we’ve come a long way. All things modify preexisting structures and keep transcending. Evolution is an inside-outside job. Tom, am I right? Tom: The eye evolved from the inside. When you look at it from the outside, it’s possible to tell that the vertebrate retina in the animal grew from inside. It was a modification of the outer layer of the brain. The brain modified itself -- progressively – to develop more sensitivity to light. [xlv]

Benedict: Okay, this is helpful. But look, Tom. You know that the environment is a factor, like honeybees.  Birds of prey must have much greater visual ability than humans. I know diurnal birds can see ultraviolet light. The eye evolved step-by-step, responding to the environment – not just from some power inside.

Tom: Well. Eyespots could distinguish light from dark, but only enough for circadian rhythms. There was no real vision. Those “eyes” could not distinguish shapes.

Dean: I remember we talked about how “seeing” is limited to a small section of the electromagnetic spectrum. I wonder why that is…. (He speaks out loud without really expecting an answer and is shocked when Tom responds again.)

Tom: Because the earliest species to develop photosensitivity were aquatic. Only two ranges of radiation can travel through water. This same light-filtering water then also caused the photosensitivity of plants.[xlvi] (Tom is proud to speak, talking on a par with his professors.)

Dean: Excellent, Tom. Professor Kornberg, how could you know, precisely, that these eyes are definitely the end of the story? How can you be sure of what is real based on the imperfect perceptual capabilities of this human eye?

Kornberg: (Playing a new card, he will defend what he believes to be real. He hates idealism.)

When I was a graduate student, I took a course on molecular patterns in the eye –on the axons of ganglion cells that compose the optic nerve. Are you interested in the facts?

Dean: Yes, of course. 

Kornberg: Light enters a ganglion cell layer, and then it must penetrate all other cell types before it reaches the rods and cones. The outer segment of the rods and cones “transduce” the light through the cell bodies in the nuclear layer and out to their axons. There are more processes going on here than I can remember at the moment, but the ganglion cells eventually send their axons through the optic fiber layer to the optic disk and travel all the way to the lateral geniculate nucleus.

Benedict: Well, hmmm. What’s your point? 

Kornberg: It will be many ages before the structure of that complex eye ever changes again. I, for one, am not going to wait for it. (He thinks that he has answered Benedict’s challenge about what is real, but the Dean shows his concern about where they are all going in this discourse.)

 Dean: We don’t need more details.

Kornberg: (But Kornberg persists, restating his point.) Professor Benedict was saying that the eye could fool you about what “reality” is. I am saying that it will be a long time before our eyes develop a new structure. We need to deal with information that is available to us right now. This is reality today.

Dean: Does the shape of the eye cause what we think to be reality?  

Kornberg: Of course! In order to see anything, we have to keep counter-checking with our other senses! To see a faint star, you cannot look at it directly; you must look slightly to the side. Our vision sees only the borders and contours of things. The eye is physically structured to judge colors and brightness by comparison, not by some absolute scale.

Dean: What do you mean?

Kornberg: Put a teal scarf next to a blue shirt, and you’ll call it green. Put it next to a green coat, and you’ll call it blue. Try it. There is a lateral inhibition in the retina that picks up borders between light and dark. The ganglion cell ignores diffuse light, but a sharp dot will really turn it on. (Pauses, wondering how to make his point on the technology more clearly, but he is about to play into the hand of Professor Benedict.)

We have two technologies in play here: our scanning microscope and our physical eye. Both are real. My point is that human technology is evolving faster than our physical eye. We will be seeing more in the future with new technology than by some sort of so-called insight through a “third eye.” (The Dean notices the twists and turns in this “positioning” between his two colleagues. Their thoughts are spinning back and forth faster, perhaps, than neurons move in the brain. Now Benedict comes back with a zinger.)

Benedict: You have just reaffirmed the Dean’s point. Notice how your description of the physical eye causes (I quote) a “contrast” to happen in the mind. That “contrast” is essential to “seeing” anything. Seeing anything is built into this physical shape of the eye, built into the structure of the eye itself. (Looking at the Dean, but he doesn’t get her point. The class doesn’t get it, either.)

The shape of this physical eye requires us to see by “contrast.” This same principle of contrast, as we have learned, was built into the structure of language and rhetoric. Our physical eye demands that we see by contrast; so even the structure of a metaphor begins with the eye. We mirror the universe in higher and higher forms of contrast and comparison.

Dean: (amazed by her thought). The metaphor is a transcendent expression of what this eye has accomplished. (Pause.) The metaphor had its origins in the physical eye! (“Whooo!” Jerry ejaculates.) Professor Kornberg has given us the answer.

Kornberg: (to the Dean). Can you clarify what you mean by that for me? I don’t get this stuff about language and metaphor.

Dean: You were telling us that the physical eye itself is the precedent to our seeing by contrast and comparison. The physical eye synthesizes the differences. This same principle of physical evolution now goes on in the evolution of consciousness.

Now we are seeing the world transcendentally—in words, beyond what the eye can see. Our shared world, our society, all began with the evolution of this eye. (Kornberg holds his hand over his eyes at this statement. He cannot believe the way the discussion is progressing.)

You haven’t been at all of our class meetings, so let me go back and recapitulate some of our earlier


We do not live in a world of “either/or.” We cannot choose between the real over the ideal, and fix on one over the other as our ultimate perspective on things. We cannot choose  “Mind over Matter,” say, or pit “Subject against Object,” and be successful -- as though one is right and the other is wrong. We live in a world of  “both/and.”

The answer to what is “the nature of things” is not on either side of these complementary pairs, but in their on-going opposition and synthesis, as their attributes come together.

There is, in other words, an ongoing transformation of things and objects into subjects. Evolution is an ongoing set of metaphors originally built into this physical world—in everything from stars to parts of our bodily structure, like our eye—and now moving beyond matter, as we know it. We are moving forward by building a new culture through our languages, our buildings, our systems of transportation, our bodies, and through consciousness.

Benedict: (momentarily surprised at the vistas the Dean is suddenly fanning out before them) The Dean is right. The real world is created by a constant synthesis between what a subject and object is, indeed, what is real and ideal. The complementary but opposing sides of these universals  -- the Real-and-Ideal, Mind-Matter, Inner-Outer -- have to be concretized in some material way. Then synthesized, based on the attributes we can know about things. (She pauses. The Dean pauses. The class pauses. Kornberg pauses. It seems like an eternity, and Kornberg is about to speak to bring everyone back again to their senses, when Prof. Benedict breaks the silence.)

Lao Tzu says: “Nature does not hurry. Yet everything is accomplished.” (She pauses once more. The Dean and the class prolong the silence that Kornberg now cannot bear. But she speaks again.) 

I think Professor Parsons is saying: we can now all talk on common ground. This notion of “sociality” contains all manifestations of what is subjective and objective.

Kornberg: You are beyond me! (His right hand flutters at the students sitting quietly in their seats.)

Dean: Look. The answers to our reiterated questions —“what is reality?” and Mary’s favorite “who are we”(smiling at her jocularly)—are found by working out these differences.

Benedict: Parsons is right. It all happens by sociality – by interacting, competing, adapting, adjusting, comparing, synthesizing. We are made up of matter and mind, and we are creating a new mix of, and from, these all of the time. Put that together. Parsons: We are social beings all the way. (Kornberg is unhappy, but he continues to remain silent.) I think sociologists have a role to play in our future. They study the arts in society; they build models of what people believe to be true. We could be interlocutors here. (Kornberg, on the other hand, is thinking to himself: “Parsons has this brainless idea that sociology is more complex than chemistry.”)

Benedict: Wait. In terms of some of the thinkers whose work you have called to our minds, that would be going too far. I will play devil’s advocate and, for a moment, presume to speak for them. Comte and Spencer would have no idea what you are talking about. They treasured objectivity and science. They did not have subjectivity in mind for your field. Comte wanted to copy physics. As you said, he proposed  – that the field could be called “social physics.” He did not see subjectivity as part of sociology.

Parsons: Right. But we do see that it is now. In a similar way, long before Comte, the Greeks could not see what he, and we, call “society.”

My point is that we are able to see more of our subject today: sociality with both its objective and its subjective sides. This search for the “subject” inside of the “object” is true for all disciplines, all fields of study. This tension is in every university department. It is in our word: subject matter.

Dean: What do you mean by that?

Parsons: We are constantly putting a subject into our object of inquiry, constantly putting our minds into matter. This is an ongoing synthesis that will carry us to the end of all our studies! (Parsons speaks with passion. Everyone is quiet, letting his statement sink in. The Dean is surprised, if not exactly worried. “Too much exuberance,” he thinks. “Parsons is starting to sound too partisan. Trying to include everyone in his viewpoint is not necessarily a bad thing—I’ve wanted something like that myself—but his tone is off.” The Dean is not sure where Parsons is going. For Kornberg, Parsons has now “gone over the hill.”

Dean: (getting up from his chair) Let’s all stand up and take a break: Stretch your arms up high. (He stretches up, modeling for them.) Bend forward and backward. (He bends.) Put your head back, and look high at the ceiling. (He looks up at the ceiling.) Now look down at your feet (looking down). Aah…aaaah. That’s better. Now you can all sit down again…(students settle back into their seats). Professor Parsons, what were you saying to us?

Parsons: In the 19th century, sociologists were looking at society objectively. That ideal of objectivity continued into the 20th century, with analytical theories such as “structural-functionalism” (The Dean thinks students may not know what these theories mean but does not stop Parsons; having gotten this far, he wants to hear him out.) Today, in the early 21st century, sociologists are developing a perspective between science and the humanities. We are learning about how to study society in its breadth and depth.

Dean: How?

Parsons: Sociologists have documented the way in which institutions shape what is right-and-wrong. The behavior of people has been examined according to what was functional versus dysfunctional about it, I mean how people have adapted to their own norms. We have examined behavior in reference to societal norms.

Dean: That model was in tune with the times. There was also a movement in psychology called “behaviorism.” (He glances at Derek who, he recalls, is majoring in that field.)

Parsons: Yes. Emile Durkheim moved sociology in this direction, down this path, with his rules on the scientific method. He saw social actions as “things,” or “objects,” to be studied. He studied acts of suicide in patterns that could be documented. He documented rates and variations of this social “deviation,” comparing its frequency of occurrence to degrees of social integration in groups. (Jane is alert. Having thought of suicide, imagining herself on a tall bridge in San Francisco while looking out her fifth floor dorm window, Parsons’ words now fly past her.) ) He would never have imagined looking into the  “inside story” of those who commit suicide. It would never have occurred to him look inside the emotional life of those people whom he counted as numbers, mere statistics. (“I could be a statistic,” it suddenly occurs to Jane.)

Benedict: I think that Durkheim’s way, as outlined in his Rules of Sociological Method, remained the dominant trend in sociology throughout the 20th century.  

Parsons: Pretty much. Sociologists like George Lundberg, George Homans, Richard Emerson, and so many others laid out “principles of social behavior.” So, we never developed rules for gathering subjective data.[xlvii]

Kornberg: (He is following closely.) So how did sociology move into studying the subjective? (The Dean and Benedict know that they have discussed this turn in class before, but the methodology is complex enough to talk about it again from a different angle.)

Parsons: It’s a long story. Herbert Blumer's critique of The Polish Peasant, published in 1939, played a big role in opening the doors to a sociological study of “the subjective.” This study of Polish immigrants to the United States was in five volumes. Blumer read all of them at the University of Chicago.  The volumes held documents that illuminated the inner-and-outer lives of nearly two million Poles immigrating to the United States, in the years between 1880 and 1910. Its biographies and narratives taught Blumer about the subjective life of those immigrants. (Kornberg is curious.)

Most sociologists in the 1930s were skeptical of the use of biographies and personal documents. This book did not look sociological; it was not objective. The skeptics said that this kind of documentation was not done according to experimental procedure.

But slowly the science-model transformed into a kind of art-model for sociology. Sociologists who read those sorts of documents could think about how the information applied in new ways. They could see inside the personal lives and group consciousness of these immigrants, something like a theater of action. After that, they could map the objective movement of immigrants into institutions of the new world.[xlviii]

Benedict: Reading these accounts, you could identify, to some extent, with those whose lives were documented— almost join them personally, become like one of their members. You could virtually talk with these immigrants, feel their worries and concerns. (Kornberg does not look convinced.)

Hmmm. Our own class has a group consciousness, with different “layers of knowing.” But that is a complex matter. (The Dean interrupts her with a flick of his left hand. He assumes that she is referring to what happens on the surface in class behavior versus what lies below that surface—in the human emotions of students, and in conversations between and among them, in pairs and small groups. He does not want to divert into this complex subject and nods to Parsons to proceed.)

Parsons: Blumer’s qualitative study of The Polish Peasant, edited by Florian Znaniecki, contrasts with Émile Durkheim’s Rules of Sociological Method. Znaniecki wrote about rules that apply to cultural studies, and a method that looks into a substantive life with all its connotations and meanings.

In his work The Method of Sociology, published around 1934, he presents cultural data in types, with different methodological approaches, involving both logic and personal insight. A new method of sociology should be developed, he said.

In his final work Cultural Sciences, published around 1952, Znaniecki encouraged sociologists to see “functionality” as a “cultural specialty,” standing apart from their own theories, thinking about what they were representing as scientific “reality.”

Analytical functionalism was only one way to look at the world, he posited. He called on sociologists to specialize in substantive studies of culture. (The Dean wonders whether students are following Parson’s talk. Is it too academic, over their heads? He signals Parson to sum up his point. He does not know that most students are listening eagerly, understanding the thrust of Parsons’ point.)

These two different “rules of method” in sociology looked as though they were exclusive of one another. It was Durkheim’s rules on the one hand, and Znaniecki’s rules on the other. They appeared to be contradictions, moving in opposite directions. And so they did move independently, each one deeper into its own way. It was objective versus subjective from that point on, but mostly with the objective and analytical in the ascendancy. Now we are learning to combine them. (He stops, but this is a key point for Kornberg who does not want to leave this issue hanging.)

Kornberg: If you want your discipline to be a science, you must stay objective. I think the two views are mutually exclusive. 

Benedict: No, they are not. They are developing more together, finding greater commonality, just as Professor Parsons says.

Dean: Wait! (Benedict has answered Kornberg so sharply that it looks like another fight might flare up. And if it did, their argument could very well become too emotional and theoretical, beyond the comprehension of students.) Wait. I want to return to Professor Parsons. Please tell us what you think. How do these two methods come together? Make it as simple as possible for our students.

Parsons: The “claim” that something is true depends on a commonly recognized method to make a conclusion about it. If I say this board is ten feet long, you can test it. (He points to the blackboard.) We can agree on a common ruler and make the test. The “objective truth” depends on whether you have an agreed-upon method for determining something as a fact.

Kornberg: That sounds right. You need a common rule to test it.

Parsons: Currently, the rules on the subjective side of sociality are emerging. The truth about a belief in culture is based on an insight that comes from understanding the given symbols and their meanings. Something that you measure, like the length of a blackboard, does not mean that “fact” is completely “true” for everyone. The “Truth” is bigger. (Puzzlement travels across the faces in the room. What can Prof. Parsons mean? The Dean thinks: Truth?)

Most of us think that this word "subjective" is the opposite of "objective." That is, if something is subjective, it's not objective; if something is objective, it's not subjective.

That, my friends, is not true!

Kornberg: (quite negative) Oh. You are in a round robin. (He thinks Parsons is histrionic.)

Dean: Heavens. Let’s hold off on this for now. We will discuss this idea again—and at greater length and depth—in philosophy. (But Benedict does not want to stop.)

Benedict: I think we should continue. This point is important. The class needs to understand what we are talking about. Professor Parsons, could you tell us whether you think sociology is a science? (She hits the problem right on the nose.)

Dean: Well, I know you and Professor Kornberg were discussing this question in our last class, and we never really arrived at an answer. Professor Parsons, would you talk about this matter? Students can jump in with their questions.

Parsons: (forewarned, he goes to the blackboard and writes:)


(looking toward students) Do you know what that word means in English?

Jerry: (who is studying German.) It means, “to understand.”

Parsons: Yes, but for Max Weber it referred to a special kind of understanding. It means an accurate interpretation of a subjective fact. (Puzzlement ripples across the faces of students again, like a cloud shadow over a lake.)

 The meaning of the word Verstehen was part of a scholarly German debate about Geisteswissenschaft. Wait; I’ll translate that for you. This is a branch of learning that includes the arts, classics, philosophy, and history. Germans were asking: Where does sociology fit into the academic courses of study? Is it in the arts and humanities? The sciences? Where does it belong in the university?

At the end of the 19th century there was a big dispute around this new branch of learning. Where could they place a “science of society”? It sounded like an oxymoron: a science of the subjective?

Jerry: (eager.) What happened?

Parsons: A German philosopher by the name of Wilhelm Dilthey advanced the notion of “Verstehen” as a “participatory perspective” in social science. This concept became a key to the development of different methods in sociology. It required finding a way to interpret subjective data. Other fields, such as hermeneutics, were already forming around this idea.

Dean: (interrupting). Now you need to tell us—What is “hermeneutics?”

Parsons: Hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of texts. In religious studies, hermeneutics refers to the way people interpret the Bible or the Koran or some other text. The question in hermeneutics is: how do we interpret the “meaning” given in a text?

Now our question: How could sociologists interpret the subjective meanings of people and do it from an objective standpoint? This was the debate that arose around The Polish Peasant with its immigrant stories. (Curious, students are listening closely.) [xlix] 

Max Weber had advanced this notion of Verstehen into the study of society as the “interpretive understanding” of social data. He wrote about “ideal types” of meanings that develop in society. Sociologists will need to be trained, he said, to interpret the views of people and then to build ideal types. Ideal types allow for an objective setting in which the meanings occur. 

Jerry: Ideal types?

Parsons: By examining the characteristics of subjective data you form an ideal type. Because it is a construction of many meanings that people have about something, an ideal type will not correspond to all of the characteristics of any one particular case,. (to students) I know you need examples.

Weber looked at the beliefs of religious reformers in what he called the Protestant Ethic, but I mentioned to you the “data of social life” among Polish immigrants. Sociologists document what people feel and believe—that’s subjective data—and construct it into a type.

Dean: What did Weber do? Be specific.

Parsons: Well, look at a big organization like a federal government. People speak of it as a bureaucracy. And if you ask them what this means, they tell you it is made up of “red tape,” because that is what they face the whole time working they are working in it. So, you write down a list of the traits they give you about what constitutes “a bureaucracy.” Weber did precisely this. He listed traits for a bureaucracy. (The Dean points to the class to imply that they need examples of these traits.)  For example, a bureaucracy has offices in a hierarchy; it has a vertical and formal system of command and an official mode of communication; it is based on rationality; it has rules that are written down for everyone to follow; it has sanctions for breaking the rules; and so on.

Social researchers then put all those traits together as a scientific model to study a particular organization. I believe the Dean put one of those studies on your optional reading list. Was it Alvin Gouldner’s study of the Gypsum Factory? (The Dean nods Yes.)

If you look at Gouldner’s study, you can see how sociologists examine a particular organization according to those traits in the model, or ideal type. Sociologists check what they see —and hear—against their model. They ask: Were rules written down in this particular case? Do people see their rules as rational? And so forth. In this way sociologists are able to obtain insight into the nature of the beast, so to say. They compare their “type” with their case. And the “type” tends to be constructed from the bottom-up, done through subjective meanings.[l]

Dean: (Confirming.) You construct a set of traits into a model that seems to fit the general case. You research one case in particular and compare its general traits against that model. Your particular organization will show you traits that match – and others that do not match. (Parsons nods his head.)

So the traits begin with what people think and feel. Knowledge comes from the subjective world and moves into the objective world of the scientist. (Kornberg is following this closely.)

Jerry: You said the type is “constructed from the bottom-up.” What would it mean to start from the top down?

Parsons: It would mean starting abstractly, from your own theory in your own mind, and then to begin checking your case against that outside condition. This is what often happens in science.

Dean: (hoping that students are learning: They may not absorb everything, but he believes it is good for them to hear faculty think out loud.) Here’s what I believe: Sociology is a field of knowledge created between what is best in the hard sciences and the humanities.

Kornberg: A soft science might be a better way of putting it. (Not convinced about “accuracy.”)

Professor Benedict: (Happy to see progress.) And so it was with anthropology. Verstehen refers to an “engaged understanding.” It is part of that method of inquiry we talked about on the first day of class: “participant observation.” You have to be trained to be accurate in reporting on the way people view their lives.

Parsons: Using this method, Weber studied religions, comparing them. He could now show how he was accurate and how people give meaning to their ultimate values. This became a way to build social theory.[li]

Sociologists have to understand the meanings people express, get “inside” them and understand feelings. Then you can observe how that “meaning” fits into the life of society. And you can take an objective view.

Kornberg: (still skeptical.) You can’t get inside people, certainly not inside the feelings of other people. You can’t really know what others feel, not exactly!

Parsons: Not perfectly. You’re right. Critics like Mikhail Bakhtin and Dean MacCannell would agree with you. They think it is impossible for people born in one culture to completely understand people in another culture. They say it is wrong to interpret one culture's symbols through the symbols of another. Kornberg:  Yes, and it’s arrogant even to think that you can.  

Derek: (Majoring in psychology, he jumps in boldly, looking at the Dean.) Dean, you said the same problem happened in psychology in the 1920s—with that movement called “behaviorism.” Psychologists believed they could be “scientists” by only looking at the behavior of people, from the outside. Human feelings were ruled out. John Watson. . .[lii] Do you remember? (The Dean nods Yes.) But the best in the field moved on. Freud emphasized “science” in his work, but then Jung differed from him and studied “meaning and myth.” (Another nod, as the Dean sees that Derek comprehends.)

Benedict: So Verstehen does not involve a "total" understanding of what people feel and think. And it is the same in the physical sciences. All knowledge – from astronomy to music to zoology — is asymptotic.

Dean: (Interrupts.) Asymptotic? What do you mean?

Benedict: Ask Professor Kornberg. (smiling at him now deferentially.)

Kornberg: (pleased to be asked) It’s a line whose distance to a given curve tends toward zero. (Pause.) For example, when a line moves along a graph in some direction, the distance between that line and the asymptote becomes smaller than any distance that one may specify. (The Dean crinkles his face as though to say, “This means nothing.”) Well.  If a curve A has the curve B as an asymptote, one says that A is asymptotic to B. Or, B is asymptotic to A. So A and B are called asymptotic. (The class looks dumbfounded) Well, a linear asymptote is a straight line to which a graphed curve comes closer and closer, but still does not become identical to it. (The Dean grins as Kornberg goes on.) So, as a point moves along an infinite branch of a curve, the distance from the point to the line approaches zero, and the slope of the curve at the point approaches the slope of the line.

Dean: (Holding up his hand, he smiles and shouts:)

Wait! You’re beyond us. What can you possibly mean?

Benedict: (Pleased.) In other words, you can’t get there from here. Two lines do not converge into one line; they just get closer. Applying that same logic to human beings, you cannot be in total unison—I mean, you can’t get into a perfect identity —with another person. . Some part of you is always different. (Now the point is clear to the class. But Kornberg does not look too happy with the difficulty he has just had. So Benedict continues.)

You can get into a high degree of agreement in an understanding of another person, but it requires training to “perfect” this process. As we said in our first class, you must assume the role of others, at least to some extent, and try to develop a common identity, in order to understand them. It’s as tough as learning, ah –chemistry! (Smiles at Kornberg.)

Kornberg: (friendly enough) Well, I understand. Dean: The opposite of Verstehen would be total ignorance of everything that people say to one another. So we all have some capacity for empathy.

Benedict: We all have some capacity for empathy, because without it we could not communicate at all. Some “common identity” is needed to talk with one another.

Kornberg: (more respectful) But in science you must “separate” an objective fact from a subjective value. Science is about “facts,” not about “values.”

Benedict: But “fact” and “value” are both present in all of science, all the time. The point is to make them clear to people. (Kornberg reels back to retort.)

Parsons: Max Weber believed it was impossible to justify “ultimate values” in science. He said that ultimate values have metaphysical commitments. They define a general outlook, like an ethos or a religion. (Benedict whispers aloud “or like a science.”) But that outlook could also be hidden in the myth of a whole epoch.[liii]

Dean: A whole epoch! (His mind flips back to the work of Sorokin. The Dean knows Benedict and Kornberg are in a personal as well as professional debate. He wants to sustain a feeling of camaraderie and “colleagueship” in the class.)

Parsons: Weber believed that big value perspectives are subjective. Conflict among them cannot be resolved in a rational manner. An extensive value perspective cannot be eliminated totally from science.

Jerry: Why?

Parsons:  Weber says that there is no objective analysis "independent of special viewpoints," but he does not rule out the “ideal” of objectivity for scientific analysis. [liv] (Jerry has to think more about all of this.)

Kornberg: (Also thinking.) So, from Weber’s point of view, “objectivity” is an ideal within a value-oriented scientific perspective!

 Dean: Yes. This is what Professor Benedict proposed in our last class: Chemistry has a value-oriented scientific perspective. Scientists “value” impartiality, rationality, detachment, disinterest, and so on. These are the ideals of chemistry as of the other sciences. (Kornberg agrees and wonders where this is going.)

Chemists do not value subjectivity, irrationality, emotionality, and intimacy. (Kornberg agrees again.) These values are in the domain of art, for example, as exemplified in great novels, paintings, and poetry. Art has its own purpose and region of knowledge and expression.

Parsons: I think of art as part of society. We study it.

Dean: I think of art as part of our humanity. I appreciate it. (Boom! He throws out this different value orientation abruptly, but quickly nods to Parsons to proceed without debate.)

Parsons: So Weber is saying that all scientists have ideals, but they cannot fulfill them, exactly. You can never be totally objective; you can never be perfectly rational; you can never be completely detached.

Kornberg: Okay. (genuinely trying to understand .) It’s like a vacuum in chemistry. You can approach a vacuum but never reach it. A vacuum is an ideal type. (to students.) A vacuum is that condition of a space without matter in it, and we can never produce it perfectly.[lv]

Benedict: That’s a great analogy for what I’ve been saying. These “ideals” in science can never be achieved absolutely. We’re not perfect.

Kornberg: (to Parsons) Well, do you say a scientist has to be impersonal?

Parsons: No. In this I agree with Weber, who also said that objectivity should not be equated with impersonality. (The Dean looks at his watch to check the time. They’re getting close to the end.)

Benedict: In social science, a value can be expressed as a fact within the ideal of objectivity and neutrality.

Parsons: Ah! But the more emotion attending the expression of a value, the less it becomes a fact. If a fact carries a lot of emotion, it loses its function. So in sociology you must express emotion in a way that can be understood. (Now the Dean is thinking.)

Benedict: When anthropologists want to teach students about a tribal experience, they do this by giving it a proper setting—from some distance, at first. Students cannot identify with tribal emotions directly, with intensity, all at once. So the process is gradual. They need to feel the experience first as a fact of feeling. (This sounds odd to Kornberg.)

Fieldworkers may want students to understand a “tribal passion” expressed in a primitive ritual, say, but they do not want to overwhelm them with the experience. So, first they show a movie of the tribe in a ritual of excitement. The movie gives students a little of the feeling of being there, of being present at the ritual-- just enough for a beginning sense of what it is like. But from this small opening, students have a long way to go to really understand this ritual experience, and more about the tribe who practice it.

Ethnographers may write about the same tribal passion in a colorful—not purely factual— way to help readers understand the tribe better. They make analogies to events with which readers are familiar. It takes time to get into the real truth in another’s experience. The tribal experience that is happening, that too is reality. (Looks at Kornberg.)

Dean: So social scientists have to take into account the emotions of students and the emotions of the tribe and bring these two experiences together – student experience with that tribal truth in this case.

Benedict: Students must understand the subjective data. (Kroneberg notices these two words, which for him are contradictory, coming together in her phrase: subjective data.) In this case I’ve been sketching, a movie or a book filters tribal passions. They become a “felt-fact.”

Kornberg: A “felt-fact.” Now that’s new.

Dean: A “felt-fact.” That’s good. It combines some science, and objectivity, with some feeling… How are we doing? (Looking at Professor Kornberg.)

Kornberg: I think I’m getting an inkling of what you may be driving at.  It’s just so imprecise. . . .

Dean: But now I see something more. The social sciences are synthesizing what is best in the hard sciences with what is best in the humanities. I hope.

Parsons: (Grins.) I like that. Yes. (Without saying another word directly, Benedict and Kornberg feel like they are moving closer to one another. Kornberg is beginning to feel that the practitioners of the social “sciences” may have some reason to test what they call the truth. In spite of their lack of his own sort of rigor, they may have some sort of legitimacy in this quest.)

Dean: I want to get back to Evolution. Professor Parsons, could you tell students how they are part of an evolving community. 

Parsons: It is not just “they.” It’s “we.” We are in it now. (Smiles. And Mary smiles)

Dean: (Looks again at his watch, shocked.) Oops. Look. We are out of time. We must stop. Right now. My God. The time flew right by me. Check your watches. Are we overtime? (Students nod their heads.)

Thank you for your participation. Today more than usual we professors had thorny matters— unresolved questions—to debate and grapple with. Next time I want students to participate more. It’s your responsibility as well as ours: Don’t let this faculty dominate. Students, you are our teachers. We learn from you. (Looks hard at them.) Thank you. We hope these same professors will join us again.  (Faculty nod.)

Go now!

(Everyone stands up, books in hand. As a group, they are worried about getting to their next class on time.

Mary was happy to hear Professor Parsons say that he is on a quest to learn more about “who we are.” She has a few further questions to address to him, in particular. Kathleen, on the other hand, is thinking, reluctantly, that she should go to see a counselor; and Jane has sunk lower than ever before. Jane is sick to death, feels like it is not worth her staying in class any longer. If she is part of this unknown community, she must be just a number. She plans to see her mother tomorrow.

Professors Benedict and Kornberg meet in the hallway. They are both pleased with the way things have gone this time. They talk about having lunch together, tomorrow. They want to discuss what happened in this class, and the complicated ways in which different people grapple with a common goal—a pursuit of truth. Their eyes are bright as they look at each other. )





[i] Plato, The Republic, translated by Desmond Lee, (NY: Penguin Classics, 1955).

[ii] Ibn Khaldun (1332–1395 C.E.) His work premiers a sociological perspective: he developed a theory of social conflict, a dichotomy of "town" and "desert," a sense of a power elite that happens when warriors conquer a city. His six books include works on politics, urban life, and economics. His theoretical outlook was on the concept of community as he saw it developing in tribes and kinship groups.


[iii]  Sociologists have defined society as a people who interact in such a way as to share a common culture. Most people think of society as identified with a “nation-state,” but it is much more than this. The social bond may also be part of a group identity—as with ethnic or racial communities—or a gender identity, or based on shared beliefs and values. The term society can have a geographic base and refer to people who share a common culture in a particular location.

[iv]  See Thomas Hobbes, De Cive, or the Citizen, 1651. It is important to note that Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) introduced the idea of natural rights of individuals. Grotius said that we each have rights to preserve human life. He proposed a basis for moral consensus in the face of religious diversity and anticipated the rise of natural science.

[v] Democracy in America (1835) was Alexis de Tocqueville’s major work, published after his travels in the United States. It could be considered an early work in sociology and political science.

[vi] The Oxford English Dictionary records the idea of a sovereign as one “who has supremacy or authority over others, like a ruler, governor, lord, or master.” The term was probably introduced into English around 1290. John Locke (1689) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762) are philosophers who formed the basis for its development as a concept. Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought: Volume 2: The Age of the Reformation. Also see my web page – www.2.bc.edu/~bruyn. Look for “The Philosophy of Civil Society” and “Popular Theories of Civil Society.”


[vii] Saint-Simon was crucial to the development of social science starting on the same footing as natural science. He was influential for the thinking of Auguste Comte and the field of economics. He also influenced Thomas Carlyle, Michel Chevalier, John Stuart Mill, and Léon Walras.


[viii]  The first European Department of Sociology was founded in 1895 at the University of Bordeaux by Émile Durkheim. The first sociology department in the United Kingdom was developed at the London School of Economics in 1904. In 1919, Max Weber established a sociology department in Germany; in 1920, Florian Znaniecki did the same in Poland.


[ix] The first books with the term “sociology” in the title appeared in the middle of the 19th century; this helped the study to become accepted as a discipline in universities. In the United States, Lester Frank Ward published Dynamic Sociology in 1883. Sociology was taught by its name for the first time at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, in 1890 under the course title “Elements of Sociology.” The Department of History and Sociology was established at the University of Kansas in 1891, and Albion W. Small established the first full-fledged independent university department of sociology in 1892 at the University of Chicago. Small also founded the American Journal of Sociology in 1892. Randall Collins, Four Sociological Traditions. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.)


[x] T. W. Adorno et al., The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology (New York: Harper, 1976). P. H. Furfey, The Scope and Method of Sociology (New York: Harper, 1953). G. Lenzer (ed.), Auguste Comte and Positivism (New York: Harper, 1975)


[xi] Friedrich Engels is a German philosopher, who developed “communist theory” alongside his collaborator Karl Marx, co-authoring The Communist Manifesto (1848). Engels edited the second and third volumes of Das Kapital after Marx's death.


[xii] The National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) is a private, nonprofit membership and research organization that is a leading source of information on employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), equity compensation plans such as stock options, and ownership culture. They hold dozens of meetings annually, and provide services to thousands of members.

[xiii] The first articulation of Spencer’s evolutionary perspective occurred in his essay “Progress: Its Law and Cause” published in the Westminster Review in 1857, which later formed the basis for the First Principles of a New System of Philosophy (1862).  

[xiv] Spencer wrote “The Developmental Hypothesis” in 1852, seven years before Darwin's Origin Of Species. His hypothesis was not taken seriously, as he did not have the documentation needed for public debate. But Spencer, not Darwin, coined the terms "evolution" and “survival of the fittest.” Darwin never used these terms. Spencer’s essay on the “Developmental Hypothesis” was published anonymously in The Leader for March 20, 1852. Spencer's identity was revealed and reproduced in Herbert Spencer, Essays Scientific, Political & Speculative, Williams and Norgate (3 vols., 1891) pp.1–7]. Spencer’s outlook on evolution influenced economists like Thorstein Veblen, and sociologists like William Graham Sumner at Yale.


[xv] Spencer believed that the “law of nature” changes all forms in the universe from simple to complex. The human mind evolved in the same way. Principles of Biology of 1864, in his System of Synthetic Philosophy, vol. 1, p. 444.


[xvi] Joachim L. Dagg. “A Metaphor for Herbert Spencer's Explanatory System Inst. Phytopathology and Plant Protection,” Grisebachstr. 6, Georg-August-University, 37077 Göttingen, Germany. Spencer’s defenders say that he need not have apologized for his analogy. Scientists use analogies today, such as The Selfish Gene (Dawkins, 1976);Gaia (Lovelock, 1988); and The Red Queen (Ridley, 1993). Dagg describes Spencer's explanatory system as structured like a hologram, where each part reflects the whole from a different perspective.

[xvii] Spencer argued that societies evolved from simple to compound and doubly compound structures, going through stages in succession according to degrees of complexity. He distinguished between militant and industrial societies, based on a difference in social organization brought about by degrees of social regulation. Types of social structure depend on the relation of a society to other societies in its environment.

[xviii] Spencer also saw “internal forces” related to evolution in the physical body. In effect, “If the head of a bison becomes much heavier, the muscles of the neck are put to greater exertions; and its vertebrae have to bear additional tensions and pressures, caused both by the increased weight of the head, and by the stronger contractions of the muscles that support and move it. These muscles also affect their special attachments: the dorsal spines suffer augmented strains; and the vertebrae to which they are fixed are more severely taxed. This heavier head then requires a stronger fulcrum: the whole thoracic arch, and the forelimbs, which support it are subject to greater continuous stress and more violent occasional shocks. And the strengthening of the forequarters cannot take place without the centre of gravity being changed, and the hind limbs being differently reacted upon during locomotion. Anyone who compares the outline of the bison with that of an ox, will see how a heavier head affects the entire osseous and muscular system. Besides this multiplication of mechanical effects, there is a multiplication of physiological effects.” See Dagg, op. cit. (From Spencer, 1898, pt. 3, ch. 10, §155, p. 512 and Spencer, 1898, pt. 3, ch. 9, § 151, p. 504f).

Dagg describes the final section of the Principles of Biology 2, as relevant to ecological questions, and the “Ying and Yang of population dynamics” …in a “moving equilibrium.” In later parts of the Synthetic Philosophy, Spencer wrote of a transcendental force called the “Infinite and Eternal Energy from which all things proceed.” David Wiltshire, The Social and Political Thought of Herbert Spencer. (New York: Oxford, 1978).


[xviii] Brian J. Day, “Hopkins' spiritual ecology in ‘Binsey Poplar’" Victorian Poetry, Volume 42, Number 2, Summer 2004, pp. 181-193, (West Virginia University Press, 2004)


[xix] Ferdinand Tonnies was working on a typology called Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft in 1885 at the University of Kiel when Durkheim’s work in sociology was first appearing. Durkheim critiqued the differences between his view and that of Toennies. 


[xx] This discussion occurs in Durkheim's 1893 work on The Division of Labour in Society.


[xxi] Talcott Parsons’ theory came to be called “structural-functionalism” and became part of an elaborate model of “systems and subsystems.”  He argued that in order for society to survive, each system within it must meet four functional prerequisites: adaptation (to the physical environment); goal attainment (a way to organize resources to achieve goals and obtain gratification); integration (forms of internal coordination and ways of dealing with differences); and pattern-maintenance (means of achieving comparative stability). Each system, then, develops four specialist subsystems in the process of meeting these requirements. In other words, the four systems— often called cultural, social, personality, and biological— form what Parsons calls the general system of action. Each system corresponds to a functional prerequisite. The social system itself has four subsystems, in hierarchical order: 1) the socialization system (pattern maintenance); 2) institutions of social control (integration); 3) the political system (goal attainment); and 4) the economic system (adaptation). Each of these can be seen in terms of further, more specialized, subsystems.



[xxii] Talcott Parsons, Structure of Social Action: Vol. II. Free Press. ([1937] 1967; 1951). Parsons identified social systems in terms of subsystems. First is the societal community, the core subsystem that is composed structurally of norms that "define the obligations of loyalty" to the society for its actors. Second, pattern maintenance, or the fiduciary subsystem, composed of values that legitimate the culture and impose moral obligations on actors. Third, the polity subsystem, made up of powerful collectivities that interpret the sanctioned norms that are binding on society (such as the courts), and that enforce the sanctions for violations of norms (such as the police). Fourth, we see the economy subsystem of the social system, composed of the practical, rational, and technological roles that allow the actor to effectively adapt to the environment. George Ritzer (1996). Modern Sociological Theory, 4th edition, (New York: The McGraw Hill companies Inc.)


[xxiii] The subjective side of sociology can be seen in research like that of Thomas and Znaniecki’s  Polish Peasant and William F. Whyte’s  Street Corner Society. They exemplify attempts to understand the subjective life of people by objective observations.

[xxiv] Parsons linked the Freudian superego with Durkheim's collective conscience. Talcott Parsons on Institutions and Social Evolution: Selected Writings. Edited by Leon H. Mayhew. (1983), p. 363. Critics were concerned that Parsons was trying to represent all sociological theory. The abstractness of Parsons’ thought diminished the importance of the subjective and empirical side of sociology. The “subjective side” involves understanding how people actually see things. Parsons emphasized the universal and the objective side, but not the particular and subjective side. So his theoretical system could not encompass work in the whole field.

[xxv] Sorokin believed that the West was in a terrible crisis but that this would only be a transition to a very different phase of civilization. His “phases” can be summarized in another way: First, the ideational is a culture is built around God, or some transcendental source of truth; in it, material concerns are secondary to spiritual ones. Second, the idealistic culture synthesizes spiritual and material values through reason. Third, the sensate culture is built around material concerns that de-emphasize the spiritual as the foundation upon which the culture is built.  Each one of them is a partial truth, and so true human “flourishing” would be out of balance if civilization focused too heavily on one mentality over another. Neither ideational nor sensate cultures can go on forever without experiencing a correction—marking a transition from one state to another. There is no indication of these phases moving in a progressive sense.

[xxvi] A special sub-system will keep its rules through different mentalities, changing very little, like a chess game. But Sorokin argues that the “ceaseless flux of history” has rhythms that are far from random or subject to the whims of the gods. A culture is determined by its major themes, following an inner necessity, subject to its own destiny, and eventually self-destructs. Over time, one cultural theme carries within itself its own demise through the exhaustion of its key premises.


[xxvii]  See Lewis Coser, Masters of Sociological Thought (1970).

[xxviii] Sorokin believed we now live at the end of a Sensate phase that lasted several hundred years. This stage has reached its limits, and so we are in the twilight zone of a disintegrating culture, no longer able to give meaning and significance to human life.

Hans Speier criticized Sorokin's study of history, arguing that he used methods of empiricism to refute Sensate and empirical culture, a contradiction. Lewis Coser, on the other hand, argues that some of Sorokin's propositions written in the 1930s have a prophetic character. What he wrote about the possible destruction of humankind by the pushing of buttons, and about a coming celebration of hard-core pornography, showed an almost uncanny sense of things to come in the world of the 1970s.


[xxix]  Professor Kornberg  is quoting Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, talking to Women's Own magazine, October 31, 1987. She says, "I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbor. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation."


[xxx]  Stephen Jay Gould addressed this question of “fact versus theory” in his argument for sustaining science against creationism. He said. “Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors, whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered. Moreover, "fact" does not mean "absolute certainty." The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms. This is an abridgment from Speak Out Against the New Right, edited by Herbert F. Vetter (Boston: Beacon Press, 1982)

[xxxi] The Oxford English Dictionary speaks of the earliest use of the term “government” in the 1400s, referring to the discipline of a knight in front of a lady. The reference to government “as a concept” began in 1566, as it came to refer to a “king or a prince that hath under his governement so manye thousands of men.” Thomas Hobbes, whose work Leviathan was the basis of social contract theory, was born in 1588.


[xxxii]  Each of these civil orders is a study in itself. The legal order is changing through professional studies of law and through the countless individual actions of courts on the specific cases before them. Not all social interactions are observable for their collective impact on society, and so they require studies to interpret them. Legal associations change among lawyers, as lawyers specialize in different systems of law: civil law, criminal law, city and state law, business law, divorce law, constitutional law, international law, and so on.

The government order is changing, as leading political figures compare national systems of democracy, including the role of party organizations and electoral systems that are emerging today and call for change. Developing nations are writing new constitutions with new voting systems; national leaders are calling for a system of global governance. There are regional federations evolving around the world.

The religious order is changing, as its organizations divide and re-merge in attempts to ameliorate conflicts. Churches, mosques, and temples are changing in stages of re-organization with self-studies, re-visions, and renewals of faith

The business order is changing with world markets. Business corporations are in a continuous adjustment between centralization and decentralization of authority. Trade and union associations are changing at the national and international levels, as big corporations take center stage, helping to link regional treaties among governments. For details: Severyn Bruyn, A Civil Republic (Bloomfield, CT. Kumarian Press, 2005).


[xxxiii] The Puritan model had their Protestant antecedents in the Christian Reformers of Holland and the Calvinists of Switzerland. The democratic idea was born as a memory kept from ancient philosophers, like Plato and Aristotle, who taught about this idea. Ancient Greeks taught about, and practiced, a form of democracy at a time when slavery was countenanced in their society and when women could not vote. The sociological idea of democracy can be defined scientifically as a “type” with many traits, evolving slowly as an idea in society.


[xxxiv] Sociologically speaking, social forces in whole institutions are at work. Individuals are relatively independent at their own level of consciousness, but they are equally caught up in these societal changes that move across and through institutions.

Institutions of society are interdependent in their evolution, but it takes careful studies to see what is happening among civil orders.


[xxxv]   William Graham Sumner, Folkways: a study of the sociological importance of usages, manners, customs, mores, and morals (Boston: Ginn and Co., 1906)

[xxxvi]  Socrates was put to death for speaking “unpopular ideas” on the street, but the idea of sedition evolved, first appearing in England around 1590 during the Elizabethan Era. It meant the "notion of inciting by words or writings of disaffection towards the state or constituted authority."


[xxxvii] Spencer’s main body of work includes First Principles (1862), Principles of Biology (1864), Principles of Psychology (1870), and Principles of Sociology (1876). The Jesuit paleontologist and anthropologist Teilhard de Chardin read Spencer. Chardin’s work gained popularity through his attempting to recast the Roman Catholic worldview into an "evolutionist" framework. Alfred North Whitehead formulated a sort of process cosmology. His work was associated with the work of Henri Bergson, Samuel Alexander, Jan Smuts, Lecomte de Nuöy, and C. Lloyd Morgan, and with the thought of Teilhard de Chardin, Julian Huxley, C. H. Waddington, Theodosius Dobzhansky, W. H. Thorpe, and Rene Dubos. See George R. Lucas, Jr., The Genesis of Modern Process Thought: A Historical Outline with Bibliography. American Theological Library Association Bibliography Series, 7. (Metuchen, NJ and London: The Scarecrow Press, 1983. 54–98).


[xxxviii] Cyanobacteria were once classified as "blue green algae" because of their resemblance to eukaryotic green algae. Although both groups are photosynthetic, they are only distantly related. Cyanobacteria lack internal organelles, a discrete nucleus, and the histone proteins associated with eukaryotic chromosomes.


[xxxix] Our knowledge of iron metabolism in the brain at the cellular and molecular levels is still limited. Iron seems to be distributed in a heterogeneous fashion among different regions and cells of the brain. Brain iron “concentrations” increase with age and in certain diseases and decrease when iron is deficient in the diet. In children, insufficient iron in the diet is connected with decreased brain iron and with changes in behavior and cognitive functioning. The Neuroscientist, Vol. 6, No. 6 (2000), 435–453.


[xl]  Steven Weinberg, “Lonely Planet,” Science and Spirit, 10:1 (April–May, 1999). In his book The First Three Minutes (Basic, 1977; 1988, reprint), Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg made the remark, "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless." Weinberg also writes with hope that science can find a universal theory, uniting the laws of nature into a single statement that is mathematically, philosophically, and aesthetically complete. Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature (Vintage, 1994).

[xli] John D. Barrow, Theories of Everything: The Quest for Ultimate Explanation (OUP, Oxford, 1990); Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe. There is nothing new about over-generalizations. Rene Descartes had his “mechanical” philosophy of the 17th century, claiming that all forces could ultimately be reduced to contact between tiny solid particles.

[xlii] Schopenhauer wrote that materialism is “the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself." Arthur Schopenhauer,

The World as Will and Representation. (New York, Dover Publications, Inc.  1969), chapter 1.

[xliii]  Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura has explanations for changing phenomena, like erosion, evaporation, wind, and sound. Famous are his principles, such as  "nothing can come from nothing" and "nothing can touch body but body."


[xliv] M. F. Land; R. D.Fernald. "The black Eyes". Annual Review of Neuroscience 15: 1–29. Russel D. Fernald, (1997), "The Evolution of Eyes"  Brain, Behavior and Evolution 50 (4): 253–259, 1992.

[xlv] G. Halder, P. Callaerts, P. W. J. Gehring, et.al. (1995). "New perspectives on eye evolution." Current Opinions in Genetic Development, 5 (pp. 602–609).

S. I. Tomarev, P. Callaerts, L Kos, et al. (1997). "Squid Pax-6 and eye development." Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 94 (pp. 2421–2426).

[xlvi]  Russel D. Fernald, Aquatic Adaptations in Fish Eyes (New York: Springer, 1998.)

[xlvii] Social theories of exchange propose that humans “reciprocate valued activities” (e.g., giving respect and getting help) and that these transactions are "held together" by the principle of reinforcement. Exchange transactions that involve reciprocal reinforcement by “partners” increase in frequency or probability. Those transactions that are not mutually reinforcing, or are costly to the partners, decrease in frequency over time. George Homans, “Social Behavior as Exchange.” American Journal of Sociology, 63 (6) 1958: 597–606. R. Emerson, “Power-Dependence Relations” American Sociological Review, 27(1) 1962: 31–41. Peter Blau, Exchange and Power in Social Life. New York: Wiley. 1964.

[xlviii] The Social Science Research Council sponsored a panel discussion of Blumer’s critique in 1938. It was about the value of personal documents in social research. The first volume of The Polish Peasant contains 764 letters exchanged among immigrants and their families back in Poland. The letters were chosen out of some 10,000 collected by the authors.


[xlix] Twentieth-century philosophers, such as Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer, have criticized the romantic character of Verstehen in Dilthey. But others say the significance of Dilthey was his interest in "facticity" and "life-context" for human understanding. Verstehen also played a role in Edmund Husserl and Alfred Schutz's analysis of the "lifeworld." Jürgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel transformed the concept of Verstehen toward a transcendental-pragmatic philosophy of language and a theory of communicative action.


[l] Alvin Gouldner. (1955). Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy, London: Routledge and Paul. Gouldner had a whole team of researchers observing workers in a Gypsum mine, looking at the introduction of bureaucracy into the workplace. For more examples, see Peter Blau (1953/1963). The Dynamics of Bureaucracy: A Study of Interpersonal Relations in Two Government Agencies, University of Chicago Press. Michael Burawoy, Manufacturing Consent: Changes in the Labour Process under Monopoly Capitalism (University of Chicago Press, 1979.) Catherine Casey. (1995). Work, Self and Society: After Industrialism. (London: Routledge). David Collinson (1992). Managing the Shopfloor: Subjectivity, Masculinity and Workplace Culture, New York: de Gruyter.  David Collinson spent three years in a "hard" working environment in the North of England, looking at how workers used the construction of identity as a strategy for dealing with the circumstances they faced in the workplace. M. Dalton, (1959). Men who Manage (NY: Wiley.) Erving Goffman, Asylums: Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1961.


[li] Weber wanted to understand the subjective meaning of religious action and inaction. To make that understanding objective, he developed ideal types with the possibility of finding causal relationships among them. In this case, he developed types of prophecy, charisma (spiritual power), routinization, and others. This became his method for treating subjective phenomena comparatively. Ninian Smart. "The Study and Classification of Religions," in Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed. Max Weber, Sociology of World Religions: Introduction (1920).


[lii] John Watson, Behaviorism (revised edition). University of Chicago Press, 1930.

[liii] Edward Bryan Portis, Max Weber and Political Commitment: Science, Politics, and Personality (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986), p. 22, 75. Weber says that ultimate values cannot be objectively (empirically) established. "The nature of the cause the politician seeks to serve by striving for and using power is a question of faith." Max Weber: Political Writings, "The Profession and Vocation of Politics," p. 355.


[liv] Weber would maintain that objectivity is possible -- after a particular perspective with values and ends has been established. He believed the political analyst could adhere to the principle of objectivity once that perspective had been laid out. In other words, once a “general value perspective” is determined, one can strive for objectivity.


[lv] A vacuum is a volume of space that is proposed as empty of matter. In reality, no volume of space can be perfectly empty. A perfect vacuum with a gaseous pressure of absolute zero is never achieved in practice. Austin Chambers, Modern Vacuum Physics. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2004.