The Great Controversy; or
Both Heterodoxy and Orthodoxy in Sociology Unmasked

Luther Lee Bernard
Washington University

THE appearance of Dr. Ellwood's long heralded work on sociological method [1] has again raised the question of legitimacy and illegitimacy, of fundamentalism and liberalism, of purism and practicality, and even of estheticism versus human welfare in the field of the aims and procedures of the social sciences. Although this controversy has often been carried on humorously rather than acrimoniously, and with a vast difference of insight on the part of the various knights of the pen who have thrown ink at one another, it does seem that it is about time that someone said something that is both serious and pertinent in this paper-sward controversy. Perhaps, if the present writer, in his feeble way, undertakes to state objectively and impartially the issues as he sees them, some abler and better mounted knight of the pen may be able to settle the question for some time to come. And let me say at once that I think it is a serious question, however much unconscious humor has been spilled in the fray. I also believe that Dr. Ellwood's book is an ideal one from which to take a departure in this new direction of squaring the issues and of outlining the opposing philosophies of method in such a way that something more than words and wise cracks and epithets may come out of this war for righteousness.

Dr. Ellwood's book is well written—years of practice have given him a smooth, clear, and mellow style, it is serious, and it has much in it that is most admirable. In fact, I should like to recommend to those religious bodies of America who have advanced to the point of social and psychological insight that they recognize that there are left almost no men and few women with I.Q.'s above 100 who will any longer take seriously a body of doctrines based on magic and dietetic rituals, that they use Chapters IX to XIII of this book as a new doctrinal creed to guide their members in thinking and preaching about social relations and obligations in our civilization. I should also recommend that they ask Dr. Ellwood to prepare an additional and fairly full chapter on the sociological basis of religion, in order to round out their social credo and to give to the whole of it a functional connection with the religion of true humanitarian obligation and endeavor. It will do no harm to recommend, and this shows what I think of this part of Dr. Ellwood's little book.

This last part, which I have just recommended

( 65) so strongly to the leaders of religion and morality—and to all good citizens, and to those who might be better, as well—does not deal with methods in the social sciences. Rather it is concerned with such matters as the sociological bases of ethics, of law and government, of social work, of the science of education, and of social progress. There is lacking only a chapter on the sociological basis of religion. Dr. Ellwood is one of the clearest seeing men in our day when it comes to an analysis of the social values of our culture; in fact he is almost a seer in that respect, and he is entitled to all the leadership that truly benevolent institutions will give him when he speaks of social and ethical and religious values. He also has great moral fervor, a virtue largely lost in an age when men can vote wrong on almost every social question and yet be terribly serious about religious dietetics and homiletical magic. The church—and other serious institutions devoted nominally or actually to social welfare—have a great leader in Dr. Ellwood. Let us hope that he also has a following in them.

Now I wish I could speak in equally unrestrained praise of the first eight chapters of the book. I think it shows Dr. Ellwood's fundamental, liberalism of mind (sometimes his controversial enthusiasm is mistaken for intolerance) that he asked the editors to have me review his book, which he regards as in a way his most intimate contribution to social science. For more than twenty-five years Dr. Ellwood and I have argued on these and similar questions, and he has always emphasized more than I the opposition of our thinking. While I, on the other hand, have always believed that most of the controversy was due to a lack of adequate definition of the issues. The same, I think, is the explanation of most of the present day dispute over methodology in sociology and also over behaviorism and its opposites, whatever they may be (emotionalism, Fundamentalism, mysticism, supernaturalism, magic, psycho-analysis, etc., as they seem to be in different cases). While reading over the first eight. chapters of Dr. Ellwood's book and the introductory essay by Professor Howard E. Jensen, I was struck anew and even more forcibly with this same thought. I noted carefully the evidences of this interpretation as I read Dr. Ellwood's chapters. I wish, therefore, to make this appraisal not merely a review of Dr. Ellwood's book, but an attempt at orientation in the methodological controversy now going on between the radicals and the conservatives in the field, using Dr. Ellwood's book merely as an illustration of a confusion in thinking and of aims which I believe is very general. In fact, I believe the so-called radicals (I recognize that these terms are rather unadvisedly chosen) are as often intellectually and emotionally confused in the controversy as are the so-called conservatives.

The root of the whole difficulty is, I think, that both sides of the controversy have failed to distinguish two very different but equally legitimate aspects of scientific method-investigation or analysis, on the one hand, and generalization or synthesis on the other hand.[2] The older, especially the physical, sciences had no particular social necessity to snake prominent such a distinction, and as a. consequence it remained for the social sciences to fall into controversy as the result of a failure to emphasize the distinction. Those sociologists, and other social scientists, who are especially interested in ethical and social values and in constructive

( 66) social welfare programs stress particularly the aspect of generalization in sociological method. They are impatient for working conclusions, for indications as to what may be done in practical social situations. I can see this urge and emphasis throughout the early chapters of Dr. Ellwood and the introduction by Professor Jensen. It is a commendable attitude and emphasis and our civilization could not exist without such persons who are more interested in social programs than in sociological analysis and investigation. Without them the isolated and seemingly ethically unenthusiastic analytical investigators would have but little chance to grub for their facts.

Taking our civilization for what it is worth, and as values are today, the generalizers with their frequent ethical urge are not sufficiently appreciated. We have learned in our generation—as indeed Dr. Ellwood remarks—something that Socrates and Plato did not know, namely, that scientific knowledge does not in itself make a good world. Whether the world that results is good or bad depends on who uses the scientific knowledge and for what ends. It looks now—if I may be pardoned for interjecting this personal judgment—as if the exploiters (the unscrupulous advertisers, the plutocratic business and financial organizers, the arms and ammunition makers, the twenty or thirty millions of professional soldiers and ex-soldiers, the career diplomatists, etc.) were making more active and effective use of the results of social and psychological investigation than are the humanitarians. And perhaps part of the reason for this is that the humanitarians have placed less emphasis upon the use of sociological knowledge than upon the achievement of that knowledge.

I think Dr. Ellwood would agree, nay urge, all this. So far, a score for Dr. Ellwood. He wants to get something done in this world that will be good for the world as a whole, and he grows impatient with the somewhat socially negativistic investigator type, who is impatient with generalization and especially with application. This investigator type only too frequently doesn't "care a hang" for what happens to society if he can only get his "results.''[3] He may not even reflect that his indifference to social control and to standards of social morality may ultimately result in his losing his opportunity to investigate. This is unfortunate, perhaps inevitable, even if in the widest sense socially reprehensible. I say it is perhaps inevitable, for it may be that the true sociological investigator can work more efficiently, as the worker ants and bees work, if he becomes socially "desexed" or emasculated, as it were. Perhaps the nature of his task renders him socially abnormal, detached, and inverted, in order that his results may not be colored by his social interests and prejudices. I doubt if such is the case, but it is an arguable proposition. Certainly it is understandable that the investigator should be much more interested in sociological analysis and investigation in the laboratory or in the field than in the use that may be made of his findings. He is simply a specialized worker who is conditioned in the direction of analysis rather than in that of synthesis or generalization, and it is useful (at least within limits) for him to have this preferential interest, just as it is useful (also within limits) for the generalizer and the reformer to be more concerned with the use of sociological data than in their discovery.

These two types of methodologists are

( 67) supplementary to each other methodologically speaking. One is concerned with the methodology of analysis and investigation; the other with the methodology of synthesis, generalization, and application. Without the former (the investigator), the latter (the generalizer and the reformer) could not build a safe and sound social theory or construct a workable society. And without the latter, the former could not long continue on the investigator's job, for he would lack both orientation in his investigatory activities and protection in carrying them out.

Yet, strangely enough, these two types of methodologists are not very cordial to each other. The generalizer and the reformer are often very impatient with the analytical investigator, because he is forever and eternally finding new facts which tend to upset the nice generalizations and social programs of the former. The constructive social methodologists frequently come to look upon the analytical investigators as anarchists, as immoral, as enemies of society. And these latter in turn, noting the relatively greater zeal of the synthesists and reformers for a stable theory of society than for new facts, which may upset their social theories and social orders, retaliate with such epithets as "speculative thinkers," "philosophers," "metaphysicians," "dogmatists," "preachers," "reformers." Often they come to think of those they have so characterized as enemies of investigatory science, and I think I have detected in some degree just such an animosity, however veiled or unconscious, in some of the attitudes and exaggerations contained in Dr. Ellwood's book.

Thus almost constantly Dr. Ellwood unconsciously misrepresents the viewpoint of the analytical investigators regarding sociological method, or picks out extreme cases and presents them as typical. Sometimes, it seems to me, he makes up straw men, as where he represents the analytical investigators and the behaviorists (apparently they are one and the same according to Dr. Ellwood's thinking) as insisting on the exclusive use of physical science methods in the social sciences. Surely these two groups would not recognize this characterization of themselves as true. There are cases, as Dr. Ellwood admits, where physical measurements can be used in social investigation. This is especially true in anthropology, in social biology, in social medicine and in social hygiene, in some aspects of education, and also in some phases of economics and social work. But every sociological investigator worthy of the name knows quite well that he has to deal for the most part with facts and relationships too abstract and conceptualized to be subjected to physical measurement methods. He also recognizes with Dr. Ellwood that the technical laboratory is too artificial and too circumscribed for most of the problems of investigation of the sociologist and that he must substitute controlled observation of the social world, or of some representative section of that world, as it actually exists for the artificial laboratory set up.[4]

That is why the investigator has developed statistics, surveys, case studies, so fully, in order that he may have a methodological device for controlled observation upon which he can rely. Even the physical sciences, in their more general and abstract aspects, also depart from the laboratory and fall back upon the same or similar methods of controlled observation as those used in the social sciences. One thing that the analytical investigator does insist upon, whether he works in the physical, chemical, biological, psychological or sociological field, is measure-

( 68) -ment. Now measurement simply means accuracy. It does not imply physical measurement, except where such methods can be used effectively. Statistical measurement of some form is much more frequent than physical measurement in the social sciences.[5] Dr. Ellwood's evident prejudice against statistical measurements seems to me to be one of the evidences of this fear and antagonism of the synthesizer and reformer directed toward the disintegrative activities of the analytical investigators. Over and over again Dr. Ellwood emphasizes the necessity for agreement, for cooperative programs of social control and voices his opposition to the critical and relativistic spirit in our society. Here again he represents a legitimate interest; but I feel that he expresses it somewhat blindly when he permits his fear of social disintegration to condemn meticulous measurement and the ideal of exactness in social investigation. In fact, Dr. Ellwood himself appears in the end to catch this point (p. 85) and admits that exact methods, even the methods of the natural sciences, should be used in so far as possible, but contents himself by asserting that they are not applicable in much or most of the sociological field. With this, doubtless, every competent sociological investigator would agree.

If Dr. Ellwood were the only one who manifests a strong prejudice against meticulous analytical investigation, and if there were no analytical investigators who evidence an equal prejudice against synthetic generalization and constructive social programs, there would be no occasion for this analysis or for the use of Dr. Ellwood as a case in point. But both types of prejudice are widespread and bitter. Such prejudice divides the field of social science in a very unfortunate way. The partisans of Dr. Ellwood's viewpoint (which, as I have said, is, like that of their opponents, based on a misapprehension and a failure to recognize two legitimate major divisions of methodology—the analytical and the synthetic and applicational) generally vent their strongest antagonism against the behaviorists. It is really amusing to read Dr. Ellwood's pen picture of a behaviorist, and I hope that this unconscious humor will soon dissolve the picture into the thin air out of which it is made. Apparently the behaviorist is a man (I take it that no woman has as yet so degraded herself as to become a behaviorist) who is so unconscious of intellectual and emotional values and relationships in society that he can see no evidence of mind and therefore insists upon using only physical measurements in the study of society. It seems that there was once a man named Zeliony (some believe his name was Seliony) who held to this viewpoint.[6] This man seems to be the only genuine instance of a sociologist (and Zeliony was a physiologist) that Dr. Ellwood cites as an example of this peculiar heresy. There is also some reference to John B. Watson (the psychologist) who, as a successful director of advertising, has come to the conclusion that people have no minds—or is it brains?

Now by some sort of legerdemain of scientific method, which is not explained, all of the rest of the behaviorists are made to conform to these two enfants terribles and to partake of their characteristics. I have sufficiently characterized this sort

( 69) of reasoning and misinterpretation elsewhere[7] and will not repeat the characterization here. I take this relatively unprovoked onslaught upon the behaviorists as another indication of the sort of fear of and prejudice against the analytical investigator who may undermine the carefully built up social generalizations and social programs around which the emotions of the synthetic methodologist are so strongly integrated. It so happens that the behaviorists are much interested in analytical investigation and they are making a vigorous attempt to analyze the behavior of men in society accurately and scientifically. But they are also equally interested in synthesis. That is why they define the behavioristic viewpoint as the study of adjustment behavior. They see social life or behavior from the standpoint of functional adjustment. They also are concerned with sociological generalization and constructive social programs, but they wish them to be built upon as thorough an analysis of the fundamental conditions of social adjustment as possible. They are not content merely to have a generalization or a plan of social control; they insist that social generalizations and controls be as accurate and as workable as possible. Otherwise, they believe, both generalizations and plans of control will fail. Because of this viewpoint they often find themselves in opposition to theologians, mystics, traditionalists, dogmatists, and other special interest groups of various sorts. The behaviorists also find these same groups arrayed against them. One only has to glance at the sources of opposition to the behaviorist emphasis to understand why it arises and persists.

Surely if Dr, Ellwood wishes to find a scientific middleground of coöperation between the two methodological extremes I have described, he could best find it in behaviorism. To insist on defining behaviorism in sociology in terms of some of the views of Zeliony or of Watson, when all of the behaviorists in sociology against whom Dr. Ellwood and the other anti-behaviorists (I almost said sociological Fundamentalists) are delivering their diatribes hold entirely other views than those Dr. Ellwood describes, is an act of either prejudice, fear, lack of candor, or poor logic. To be frank in truly behaviorist fashion, it looks to me like one of those straw men referred to above. What are the anti-behaviorists trying to defend against behaviorism? Surely it is not scientific truth, for the sole creed of the behaviorists is untrammelled investigation of the most important phase of society-human adjustment relations. Is it the traditions of the church, some prejudices about race or the position of women, the theory of instincts, or what other negro in the philosophical woodpile that the self-made opponents of the behaviorist approach are afraid to bring out into the sunlight where his true color may be seen?

One of the charges that Dr. Ellwood brings against the behaviorists is that they substitute the formula of the conditioning of responses in the process of learning and constructive thinking for such other categories as insight, imagination, values. Now there is no contradiction between the concept of conditioning and the other concepts used by Dr. Ellwood. The latter are but more general, less defined, and usually more clumsy forms of this more refined and specific concept of conditioning. Insight, imagination, and valuation, like suggestion and imitation, are but aggregate forms of conditioning of responses. All of these more general and aggregate forms of conditioning are important psycho-social processes and the terms which describe them are legitimate terms where they are

( 70) legitimate.[8] But just as the social psychologists found that they could not make headway without analyzing the concepts of imitation and suggestion into their constituent elements, so also is it necessary to break down the amorphous terms insight, imagination, and valuation into their constituent adjustment processes, In a similar way we have just broken down the sacred conceptual entity instinct into its constituent elements, an act in which Dr. Ellwood has finally acquiesced. These constituent elements are of course always conditioning processes. John Locke discovered long ago that new habits are built up by the process of conditioning responses (association, he called it) and Pavlov reemphasized the fact by actually demonstrating the neurophysiological processes in his laboratory. But it is such a simple process that any one can demonstrate the conditioning of responses without a laboratory. I am sure that there is nothing immoral in this method of learning. Anyway, it is the only method we have. Even the Gestalt process must, in the last analysis, be explained in terms of conditioned patterns.

Surely no behaviorist is going to object to such terms as insight, imagination, values, unless someone attempts to erect them into sacred mystical entities which arbitrarily and fiatistically determine human adjustments contrary to all causal sequence and law and order. It was, I take it, because the metaphysicians attempted to make a similar lawless mystical entity out of mind that Watson began to deny the objective reality of mind and to insist that all we could locate or describe and measure in the hypothesis of mind was behavior. By all means, let us keep the concept of values, just as we shall always have the important fact of values. But let us not treat this concept as a dead deity and worship it symbolically and mystically. Let us analyze and understand it, and thus use instead of worship it. If we use it we shall not be afraid to analyze it into its constituent elements, which happen to be processes of conditioning symbolic and overt responses.

Finally, Dr. Ellwood affirms the separateness and distinctness of the physical and mental (and moral) worlds and consequently of the methodologies which study these two worlds. This dualism of Dr. Ellwood, which is not borne out by any of the findings of science in the last one hundred years, explains I think in large part his strong opposition to measurement in scientific methodology and to behaviorism, which is so friendly to exact measurement (not necessarily physical measurement) as well as to synthesis. The other root of Dr. Ellwood's opposition to these methodological theories is, as I have already said, his emphasis upon synthesis and construction and his consequent fear of analysis. In fact, his metaphysical dualism is, I think, strongly connected emotionally with his synthetic social and scientific outlook. And I believe, furthermore, that the two get their connection largely through his traditional religious outlook. I doubt if Dr. Ellwood would dispute this interpretation. It is not meant as criticism, but as an attempt at an explanation. However, I believe that he, and many other sociologists who take a view similar to his own, are led into error by this metaphysical dualism in their interpretation of the distinctness of the methods of study in the physical and in the social sciences.

It is true, of course, that at the two extremes of mechanics and social psychology we have a functional dualism, both of the objects studied and of the methods of

( 71) studying these objects. In the one case we have theoretically inert masses and in the other theoretically self-directing individual personalities. But as a matter of fact (unless we believe with the vitalists that organic matter introduces a wholly new "vital principle"; with the spiritualists, that cerebrate beings are controlled by a new principle of "mind" or the "soul"; and with the instinctivists that social life introduces a new entity, the "social instinct") our whole body of scientific study teaches us that there is nowhere any break between the methods of behavior of physical masses and social beings, except a gradual modification of responses characterized by increasing complexity and decreasing stability or equilibrium. It is the same with methods of scientific investigation or analysis and synthesis. The higher up we go in the scale of measurement and synthesis the more complex are the things we must measure and generalize. Likewise, and correspondingly, the more complex become our methods and devices of measurement and synthesis. But that is all. The apparent dualism is at the two extremes, and not inherent in the process of development itself. It is but a logical illusion—caused by our failure to discover or to hold in mind all of the intermediate steps in the developmental process, both of the realities studied and of the methods of study.

In this all too brief analysis I have attempted to explain a fundamental error and prejudice in our current discussion of scientific method. Dr. Ellwood is by no means the outstanding example of this failure to analyze the field of investigation and its problems with insight and without bias. He merely happens to be one of the more vocal, because he is one of the more active and earnest, of our sociologists ranged on one side of the controversy. Dr. Ellwood has never claimed to be a technical analytical investigator of the type described here. He is a synthetic generalizer and a leader in the formulation of social programs. He has done distinguished service in both of these latter fields. Yet I doubt if he has any well defined conscious methodology even in these fields. Such methods as he has developed are described in Chapter V (p. Si, especially) as scientific imagination (which is nothing more nor less than the universally recognized and accepted hypothesis projection), psychological analysis, and historical interpretation or comparison. He assimilates to these, especially to historical interpretation, the methods of statistics, of the social survey, and the case method. His own use of statistics has been mainly informal rather than formal. Altogether his methodology may be summarized under the general heading of observation, for his use of psychological analysis has not entered into the details of formal technical processes (witness his opposition to the concept of conditioning of responses). He has actually used insight and imagination effectively in arriving at important and generally valid synthetic conclusions. So have many other sociologists of our day. In fact, I believe he is right in claiming that many or most of the larger and more important of our problems of social control must be reached and solved at the present time on this basis, aided of course by various forms of controlled observation and analysis.

In all this he is, I think, sound. It is only when he goes outside of the field in which he has served with so much distinction and attempts to write a book on method, in which he criticizes methods he does not himself use on metaphysical grounds that are not valid and from a viewpoint of interpretation that is apparently motivated by misunderstanding and controversial prejudice, that his work

( 72) is less sound and worthy of praise. Let me repeat that I believe his last five chapters, which are more or less unconsciously the result of general methods of which he is master (although he has not given us a detailed analysis of these methods), are exceptionally good and are worthy of adoption as a religious, educational, and social credo. Let me also express again the hope, or at least the wish, that those well intentioned defenders of tradition and other subjectively intrenched values, who are especially likely to be in enthusiastic sympathetic agreement with Dr. Ellwood in his attacks upon "mensuristic" methods in social science and upon that modern dragon, behaviorism, may also receive with equally sincere acclaim his splendid analysis of sociological values contained in the last five chapters of his book. It would, in all probability, mark the beginning of their intellectual regeneration and of their spiritual reform.


  1. Methods in Sociology: A Critical Study, By Charles A. EIlwood. Durham, N. C.. Duke University Press, 1933.
  2. See L. L. Bernard, ed., The Fields and Methods of Sociology, 1934, Part I, Chs. i, viii, and ix, for this distinction,
  3. See "Sociological Research and the Exceptional Man," Pub. Amer. Sociol. Soc., XXVII: 3-19 (May, 1933).
  4. See "On the Making of Textbooks in Social Psychology," Jour. Educa. Sociol., V: 67-81 (1931).
  5. For more detailed discussions of these problems of methodology, and especially of measurement, see "Some General Problems of Sociological Measurements," S. W. Soc. Sci. Quart., XII: 310-320 (1931) and "Social Progress and Scientific Method," Amer. ]l. Sociol., July, 1925.
  6. Ellwood, op. cit., p. 33.
  7. "Social Psychology Studies Adjustment Behavior," Amer. Jour. Sociol. XXXVIII: 1-9 (1932).
  8. See L. L. Bernard, An Introduction to Social Psychology¬, 1926, pp. 322-323.

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