The Relation Between Sociology and Other Sciences

The University of Chicago

For "substance of doctrine" I agree with everything that Professor Vincent said last week about the varieties of sociology. I join heartily in his closing remarks to the effect that if you will take hold of any social problem and follow it back, and out, and up, as far as investigation will go, you will have the reality of sociology whether you have a name for it, and a definition of it, or not.

At the same time, while this inclusive aspect of sociology should be emphasized, while it should be made plain that there is room for many types of workers, I find that I am getting to be somewhat strenuous for a single, rather rigid test to separate the sociological sheep from the non-sociological goats.

A thousand men may be directly employed in putting up a Chicago building. Every one of them may put into the building something that is utterly indispensable. In a way we may say that every one of them is an architect. In strict literalness, only one architect may have had anything to do with the work. We might apply the word "architecture" in a loose sense to the whole motley collection of processes, from the contracting and excavating for the foundation, through the masonry, and frame construction, and carpentering. and plumbing, and electric wiring. and steam-fitting, and elevator-installing, and roofing, and floor-laying, and plastering, and painting, and glazing, and decorating. Nevertheless, only one man, among all that combined their labor to produce the building, would be admitted to the society of architects. His peers know perfectly well why they class themselves with him and separate themselves from all the rest of his co-laborers. It is not because he could have pro-

( 12) -duced the building alone. It is because he is the only man in the whole collection who could think the building before it was produced, and think it in such a way that his thoughts could show other men how to produce it. Other men can think their particular jobs, and fit them into the jobs of other crafts. The architect is the only one who can plan the whole system of jobs in advance, and mark out jobs for all the different kinds of workers who are needed to complete the building.

Now, I distinctly do not intend to compare the sociologist to the architect, and other types of social scientists to the job workers on the building, in any sense that would imply that the sociologist has any function in the way of managing the work of other scientists. The point of the comparison is simply this: Neither the stone mason, nor the structural iron-worker, nor the carpenter, nor the plumber, nor the steam-fitter, nor the roofer, nor the decorator is an architect, merely by virtue of doing work that goes into the completed structure of a house. Each is what he is, but he isn't an architect. In the same way, neither of the thousand and one types of people who work, and work profitably, upon theoretical or practical social problems are necessarily sociologists. To my mind, it all depends, not on the fact that they are dealing with society, but on the way in which they deal with society.

It may be profitable to draw still another primary distinction, namely, between essential divisions of labor in the work of getting or applying knowledge, and the academic division of labor which is' represented by such conventional names as History, Political Economy, Political Science, Anthropology, Psychology, Ethics, Sociology, etc., etc. It is one thing to assign particular pieces of work to departments and instructors in a university, and quite another thing to make out the real reason, or lack of reason, that is underneath this conventional distribution. I am not now talking about the practical boundary lines between different departments in this or any other university; for there is no question at issue in that connection. For practical purposes the boundaries are as clearly defined, and as well understood as though they were marked by stone monuments set by surveyors.

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On the other hand, these mechanical divisions of labor in a university are veritable travesties of scientific landmarks. Not a man of us can ask a question about any actual human problem, without rough-riding through the preserve of every one of these academic divisions of labor before he gets a final answer. Academic divisions of labor are pedagogical conveniences, but, to a very considerable extent, they are scientific inconveniences and impertinences.

For instance, suppose we are asking what effect different tenures of land have on the efficiency of cultivation. The historian, or the moralist, or the political ,scientist, or the ethnologist, or the psychologist, or the sociologist might start this question, and the answer might be of great interest from the viewpoint of either. To get an answer to the question, we should have to apply technique and information classed within the mysteries of each of these specialists. We should have to ransack racial records, and interpret social customs, and political systems, and ecclesiastical practices, and industrial organizations, and legal and moral codes. We should have to know how to separate evidence from irrelevance in each of these fields. We should have to learn how to distinguish causes from effects in each of these relations, so as to be sure we had not mistaken the one for the other; and we should have to learn how causes of the different kinds modify and neutralize or energize each other, so as' not to imagine that we have in view results of a form of land-tenure, when they may be merely coincidences, connected with the tenure of land merely by the post quod propter quod assumption.

Now, this instance illustrates the situation in every academic department of the social sciences, whenever they touch a real human question. They simply cannot keep within the boundaries which they have drawn for their preserve. If they are dealing with mere hypothetical abstractions from the real social process, or if they are content merely to follow out certain phases of fact and stop there, the particular emphasis that they observe prevents them from appearing to encroach upon other specialists. It is really in this sense, and to this extent, that the agreement and harmony, of which I spoke a moment ago, exists between

( 14) academic departments. They are all exercising themselves chiefly on rudimentary technique, and are not under the necessity of carrying that technique very far in application to the real problems of life. If they were, it would be impossible to maintain the academic traditions of separateness. The different kinds of scientific workers would necessarily fall into hierarchies, like the laborers employed in building a house; each in the place determined by the actual relation of his work to the whole process of construction.

In order, therefore, to understand the elementary conceptions' of the sociological argument, we must be able to see through the whole petty claptrap of academic divisions. A real scientific process ignores it as thoroughly as' a lawyer pleading his cause selects his words and his constructions for the work they will do, regardless of the classifications of philologists and grammarians.

My argument, then, is that there is one great overtowering task for the human mind. That task is to find out the meaning of human experience. This is the inclusive, architectonic task of analysis, and then of synthesis, as we transpose knowledge into purpose. Now, I would divide thinkers primarily into those who have become conscious of this task, and have tackled it, from some point or other, and those who have not. The have-nots outnumber the haves some millions to one. By whatever name they call themselves, the majority are not sociologists. Whether they adopt the name "sociologist" or not, the minority are all in the same boat. They must inevitably, sooner or later, recognize their common lot, because they are prying into the same reality, and that reality must at last schoolmaster them all into one state of knowledge. The sociologists, as I use the term, are the people who have interpreted the omens to this extent and are deliberately trying to make out the forms and laws of relationship in human association in recognition of which we must at last organize all real knowledge of human affairs.

Probably, even to those who have studied sociology most, what I have said so far has a very abstract and empty sound. I will try to make it a little more definite.

So far as we are able to make out the contents of the savage

( 15) mind, whether in a primeval forest or in a modern city, it amounts to about this: Life presents itself as a daily and hourly recurring problem of ways and means to satisfy a very small collection of very primary wants. Life is a round of providing food and covering and shelter, and defense against nature and beasts and hostile men. There is no further outlook. The whole affair is summed up in a long-drawn-out striving to escape as many pangs of pain as possible, and to achieve as many as possible grunts of comfort. The people on this plane of life acquire a certain technique of food-getting, and house-building, and enemy-hunting, but beyond this they are conscious of no problem.

At the other extreme in principle are the people who get outside of themselves in thought, and encounter the question : What does this life of ours mean? What is it all about? Why live at all? Is there anything to wish for and hope for and work for, beyond food and clothes and shelter and comfort? If so, how shall we locate it and master it? We may typify this sort of people by the author of the book of Job, wrestling with the eternal problem of good and evil.

After men have once reached powers of reflection and abstraction that result in presenting this question, there is no salvation for them but in answering it. There is always the savage stratum, in every civilization, that has thought only for the elementary concrete facts nearest to the minimum problem of physical necessities. On the other hand, there is always a contingent of at least incipient philosophers. They are asking : What do these concrete experiences mean ? All the attempted sciences of human life that ever have 'existed or ever will exist are nearer or remoter consequences' of the disposition to ask this question. The actual form and content of the social sciences, as we find them at any moment, are reflections of the limitations within which the thinkers have been willing to confine themselves in their search for answer to the question.

From the beginning of abstract thinking, we have had, at the one extreme, philosophers, of whom Plato may be taken as the type. To them, as to the rabble, life as it presents itself in actual concrete experience is a great big mix. They find. no clue in con-

( 16) -crete circumstances that would show a place for everything, and help to put everything in its place. The confusion is hopeless. Such thinkers solve the puzzle by giving it up and betaking themselves to something easier. They withdraw themselves from the tangle of the real world and take refuge in a realm which their own minds construct. Apart and afar from literal life, they posit an idea. In their thoughts this idea conceives and brings forth a universe. Thereupon their task is to make this conceptual universe bring order out of chaos in explaining the actual universe.

As I shall acknowledge presently, there always has been, and there is always likely to be, a certain value in this largely unreal method of thinking. Speculative philosophy is one type of effort to answer the central human question: What does life mean' We need not try to deal out credit or discredit to such philosophy for its proportion of merit for search after truth. It is enough for the moment to place it, as one of the attempts to answer the main question.

At the other extreme there have always been men who, consciously or unconsciously, approached the same question from the opposite point of view. They have become conscious of a certain range of human interests, while they have ignored other interests, and they have tried to think systematically about those interests on which they center their attention. Then they have virtually—whether deliberately or not—tried to explain the meaning of life by means of their knowledge of these particular interests.

For instance, we may explain the growth of the so-called science of history in this way. For ordinary men it is a prodigious feat of the constructive imagination to take notice that the world is full of stronger men lording it over weaker men. Certain high-power tinctures of ordinariness, our Homers and our Virgils, have reflected vulgar interests, and rudimentary stages of generalization, by dressing up in fanciful form real or mythical exploits of heroes divine or human. They sing of "arms and a man." In these lyrics or epics, or merely in plain folklore, naïve versions of the meaning of life have been more or less evident.


But more sober, critical, literal attention to life is paid by another type of men. So far as life appeals to them seriously, it presents itself as at bottom the government of one man by another. The fact of great systems of sovereignty occupies the center of their field of view. The things chiefly worth remembering and reflecting on are the fortunes of men who conquer and wield political power, and thus control the destinies of all the rest of men. From this point of view Herodotus and Thucydides submit their answer as to the meaning of life. They set a model which is adopted, with variations, by the class of thinkers that we call historians down to the present hour. With a rough approximation to truth, we may say that all these men attempt to interpret life to us as an affair to be understood fundamentally as a function of government and sovereignty.

Of course, there has never been utter separation between the speculative and the positive method of approach, in the case of a single individual. Plato could not abstract himself utterly from the real world; while Herodotus and his successors have always seen the facts of history through the medium of a more or less definite philosophy. I am speaking now of types, without attempting to discuss the mixture of types in specific cases. I must also qualify the statement that the followers of Herodotus and Thucydides pictured life as an affair of government and of sovereignty. One species of their followers has held to that view. All the rest have more or less departed from it—for instance, the religious historians.

Two general propositions therefore, are in point with reference to the historians: First, the one common element in their purposes is search for some part of the meaning of life. Second, the one common article in their methodological faith is that the desired meaning is to be discovered by making out some continuitti' of human experiences.

A moment ago I used the phrase "the so-called science of history." Just now it is the fad to be facetious at the expense of sociology, because the sociologists cannot agree upon an exact description of their field. But within three years I have heard the confession in open meetings of the American Historical Asso-

( 18) -ciation, the American Economic Association, and the American Social Science Association for each of these sciences in turn, that it would be useless to spend time trying to make an acceptable definition of the division of knowledge in each case represented. Sociology is no more unfortunate in this respect than the older divisions of social science. They have simply existed long enough for their vagueness to have been accepted as inevitable. In point of fact, the supposed objectivity and unity of either of these sciences will never be made out, until it is a phase of that very unity which the sociologists are diligently laboring to discover.

I am not saying that the sociologists alone are scientific in their methods. On the contrary, the historians, the economists, and the political scientists are far in advance of the sociologists in perfecting their scientific technique. What I am urging is that the implicit task upon which we are all working is discovery of the meaning of human experience, and that the primary significance of the sociologists is in this message to their fellow-scientists : "Your technique cannot save you. It may be a millstone around the neck of your science. We shall never learn the meaning of human experience until we learn the meaning of all human experience. You cut human experience into convenient little abstract sections and thin layers, and when you have applied the microscope to them, you think you have found the secret of life. Human experience is not disconnected microscopic sections. It is a cosmos. Your abstractions will be abortions until you learn the meaning of them in their relations' to the living whole." If we stop to take an inventory, it turns out that we have "histories" of everything from civilization to coinage. We have "histories" of church doctrine, and "histories" of military tactics. We have "histories" of language, and of painting, and of prostitution. We have "histories" of the idea of the devil, and "histories" of hymnology, and "histories" of the conflict of science and religion. 'We have constitutional histories', and political histories, and industrial histories, and military histories, and social histories. Between historians of any two of these groups of subject-matter it is possible, and even probable, that we should find nothing more in common than the two traits already named : i. e., both are trying to

(19) make out some part of the meaning of life, and both are trying to do their share toward finding that meaning by running down a selected series of continuities.

As a sociologist I put in my word that this is all well so far as it goes, but a world full of workers merely from this point of view would never succeed in making out the meaning of human experience. The more we unravel these distinct strands of human continuity, and follow them back till they are lost in the mass of undifferentiated experience, the more evident and importunate becomes the demand for explanation of the strands by knowledge of the web of experience from which they have been disentangled. In other words, when we have divided life up into an indefinite' number of series of continuities, we have not found out the meaning of life. We have merely made the enigma of life more perplexing. We thereby only succeed in giving ourselves more convincing evidence of the real task—viz., to make out what all these series mean, not merely in their detached sequences, but in their actual working combinations.

This brings us' to the cardinal principle that the meaning of experience is not to be discovered in continuity alone, in the historical sense. Social causation is always contemporary as well as consecutive.

Not with conscious attention to this principle, but with instinctive reference to it, political science and political economy have come into existence. We may speak of Macchiavelli as the father of political science. Of course, he drew his observations largely from history; but he reflected at least as directly upon his' first-hand contact with princecraft. The thing worth knowing being how to govern a state, Macchiavelli set himself the task of putting in order what he knew about the way in which this was (lone by successful princes. A social science of utility was thus founded. Political science unmixed with any other science, and kept as a pure abstraction. according to the scheme of definition-makers, would be restricted simply to this problem, viz: A certain system of political results being assumed as desirable, what maxims of conduct is it necessary for rulers to observe in order to achieve those results? The fact that nobody is content to confine

(20) himself to that form of question proves that people acute enough to deal with problems of government understandingly are at any rate partially conscious that an inquiry so limited would always be subordinate to a more fundamental inquiry, viz : What political results are desirable? Here again we raise a question which no academically bounded science can answer even in algebraic form. The answer is a function of the complete life of man. We must have a tentative solution of the main problem of the essential meaning of life, in order to furnish the answer. A political science that is moving along in harmony with the whole progressive gain of out-look and in-look about the meaning of life, must consequently be, not a permanent abstraction, but sooner or later a working partner with all the other types of investigation that are together closing in on the total meaning of life.

In other words, if our range of reflective interest were bounded by political utility, we should start with a more or less distinctly defined conception of what we meant by political utility. That conception would have to be either a hard and fast notion, fixed for all time, subject to no change; or it would have to be a provisional conception, subject to modification, in consequence of changes in our judgments of life-values. Assuming the former alternative, let us suppose that political utility, as we understand it, is represented by the utmost absence of friction in operating the present constitution and laws of the United States. But one of the three co-ordinate branches of this' governmental system is the legislative. Not to speak of the other ways in which our constitution and laws actually change their content from time to time, several thousand bills are introduced at every session of our national legislature alone. These bills propose amendment or repeal of old laws, and enactment of new ones. Every bill that becomes a law may alter the standard of political utility that previously prevailed. Here is then our dilemma as political scientists. Either we must he stand-patters, and demand that legislation shall be reduced to an empty form, that it shall forever reiterate what exists today; or our political science must have a way of going outside of itself, and of finding means of deciding, first, whether a proposed law actually does involve a modified standard

( 21) of political utility; and if it does, then our political science needs an objective standard by which to decide whether the innovation in types of political utility is desirable or undesirable. To put it in another way, we must either commit ourselves unalterably to the position that there is nothing in the world greater or better or more desirable than our present machinery of government, that this system bounds our moral world; or we must concede that our theory, our science, of this system of government is merely a subordinate term in the equation of life, and that it has always to be held subject to modification by the values of other terns in the same equation.

For instance, suppose the proposition is a constitutional, amendment providing for election of senators by direct ballot, instead of by legislatures. Such a proposition at once challenges the authority of that standard of political utility upon which, for the sake of argument, we are supposing our political science to be based. It introduces a modified conception of the kind of society we wish our government to secure. By what means shall we decide that the kind of society which would be promoted by popularly elected senators would be better or worse than the kind of society of which our present Senate is' a factor? The type of political science which we are now discussing hypothetically would have prejudiced the case in one way. It would have assumed our present political system as a finality. By this very assumption it would make itself helpless for the present purpose. That is, it would have begged the question of human desirability. On the other hand, whoever proposes to change the present political order of the United States assumes a burden of proof that something else is better. If it is' not a final order, why is it not? Whatever the proposed answer, it would have to rest on some principle broad enough and deep enough to serve as a common measure of existing standards of political utility, and of each and every other standard that might be brought into competition with it.

Before passing to the other alternative in political science, I should say that no such freak is known to exist as the political scientist who would deliberately and frankly support the concep-

( 22) -tion of political science just illustrated. No political scientist has ever been heard of who did not, as a matter of fact, entertain some notion of a meaning of life in excess of political utility in the strict sense. The consequence is that no political science has ever been written in which the critical eye could not read between the lines more or less emphatic implications that the political science must after all, at last, be a function of a more inclusive science. Political utility is only a segment of human utility. This is not a theory of academic partisanship, it is not a professional bias that creates imaginary relations. It is a fact, which no bias can successfully ignore. This being the case, scientific progress, so far as political science is concerned, depends upon the degree in which actual political scientists have reconciled their specialization with this larger reality.

We may now go back to the other possible alternative in presumptions of political utility, viz., that political utility is a relative term, varying from age to age, from country to country, from race to race, in accordance with an indefinite number of circumstances. The moment we take this view we have committed our political science to interminable cycles of struggle with two questions instead of one ; viz.: first, by what ways and means shall a given type of political utility be achieved; i. e., the question of political science in the narrowest sense; and, second, by what token shall we know whether a given type of political utility is preferable to another; for instance, a system in which the electoral franchise is restricted to men, versus one in which it is shared on equal terms by men and women?

It would be easy to show that, whatever steps we consent to take toward answering this latter type of question, these steps leave us no stopping-place till we have arrived at some result which we are willing to accept in answer to the fundamental question : What is the whole meaning of life? That is, we either expand our so-called political science into an all-round life-philosophy, or we acknowledge that it is merely fractional in its character, and that it must be supplemented by divisions of science which explore other segments of life-values. If we take the former of these alternatives, we virtually make the scope of

(23) political science identical with that which I claim for sociology. I have no interest in quarreling about names, with men who take this view, and prefer to call it political science. If they are doing all that man can do to push inquiry into the whole meaning of life, God bless them, whatever identification tag they wear! My interest as a sociologist is in pointing out that men who organize their work from this point of view are on the same quest with the sociologists. Our business is to understand each other as soon as possible, and to help each other all we can in so perfecting our methods that we may make our utmost contribution to knowledge. Many German political scientists' apparently mean just what I do by sociology when they use the term Staatswissenschaft. Literally translated, the term would be the "science of the state," or "civic science," or simply "civics." Interpreted by what some of them actually put into the term, it leaves' out of the schedule nothing that occurs in human experience. The same is much more evidently true of another term which is used in much the same way by writers who start rather from the economic point of view, viz., Socialwissenschaft.[2] There is nothing in a mere name, one way or the other. The chief strategic method for which the sociologists are fighting is interpretation of the parts of life by the whole of life. Whoever is not against us' in this fight is on our side. The main contention is that no single connected series of human experiences can explain itself, because each series is a function of all the other human experiences that have occurred antecedent to it, and that are contemporary with it. Neither can any single crosssection of human experience explain itself, because it is merely a passing phase of the myriad series of causes and effects which are making the life of one moment and unmaking it in the next. The problem of human knowledge is an endless task, first, of analyzing all the experiences of life into their elements ; second, of reconstructing these elements in such a way that they will interpret each other to our understanding, as they do not to our direct observation. The sociologists are attorneys for this latter share of the process of knowledge.

In dealing with the relation of sociology to political economy,

( 24) what has already been said in connection with political science has to be repeated with changed terms.

In brief the situation is this : Adam Smith in effect defined the boundaries of a purely technical inquiry when he proposed the problem that may be expressed in this way : What laws must a nation observe in order to amass the largest quantity of wealth? Thereupon political economy became primarily an inquiry into the conditions which govern increase of national wealth. A logician from Mars, unless Mars is a sophists' colony, would have no difficulty whatever in placing such an inquiry where it belongs in the scale of knowledge. He would sec at once that wealth is an incident in human life. and that the ratio of the importance of this incident varies from time to time, from place to place, from civilization to civilization. He would see that the question, How shall we increase wealth? is always subordinate to the question, Why should we increase wealth? and to the less genera question, What ratio do the reasons for increasing wealth bear, under existing circumstances, to the reasons for providing the other incidentals of life? He would, accordingly, see that, on its merits as a section of science, not according to its capacity to stir up popular interest, political economy subtends relatively a very small angle of knowledge. It deals with material things and the means of obtaining them. But life, whether of the individual or of a nation, does not and cannot consist of the things that are possessed. It cannot do without a modicum of them, and it cannot advance from range to range of achievement without controlling corresponding quantities of them. But things are merely preliminaries to life. They bear the same relation to life that dealing out rations to an army bears to fighting battles. The commissary department is necessary, but supplies are not strategy. We are simply generalizing that proposition when we repeat that wealth is not life. We can no more solve the problem of life by solving the problem of wealth than we can solve military problems by analyzing foods'. Life consists not in the accumulation of things, but in the experiences of persons. We are living in a stage of the development of western civilization in which the item of wealth occupies a far larger share of attention than its place in the scale of

(25) human values justifies. For this reason, during the better part of a hundred years, political economy has been able to occupy a scientific prominence ridiculously out of proportion to its logical significance in the totality of human knowledge. Economists have gravely assumed that their economic knowledge qualifies them to settle all sorts of questions of public policy. This is as though pure mathematicians should claim the right to dictate the settlement of the financial and engineering and architectural problems involved in rebuilding San Francisco. The most convenient case in point is General Walker's volume, Political Economy, published in "The American Science Series for Schools and Colleges," in 1883. The opening paragraph reads as follows :

Political Economy, or Economics, is the name of that body of knowledge which relates to wealth. Political Economy has to do with no other subject whatever, than wealth. Especially should the student take care not to allow any purely political, ethical, or social considerations to influence him in his investigations. All that he has, as an economist, to do is to find out how wealth is produced, exchanged, distributed, and consumed. It will remain for the social philosopher, the moralist, or the statesman, to decide how far the pursuit of wealth, according to the laws discovered by the economist, should be subordinated to other, let us say higher, considerations. The more strictly the several branches of inquiry are kept apart, the better it will he for each and for all.[3]

If the proof of the pie were not in the eating, I should have no comments to pass on this paragraph, nor on the type of economic presumption that it represents. The amusing way in which the program works out in practice, however, is the sufficient reason for using this writer to point my moral. In the last 130 of the 476 pages in this book on Political Economy, as just defined, General Walker applies his economic principles' to questions of public policy covering a range of social problems which can no more be solved by economics alone than problems' in the treatment of diseases can be solved by anatomy.

The absurdity of the nonsequitur element in this situation is' mitigated, but not removed, by the remark with which General Walker concludes the section just quoted, viz:

The economist may also be a social philosopher, a moralist, or a states-

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man, just as the mathematician may also be a chemist or a mechanician; but not, on that account, should the several subjects of inquiry be confounded.

From the standpoint of the pure logician standing outside of all the social sciences, and criticising them simply and solely as samples of reasoning, the clue to the conflict of claims between economics and sociology is briefly this: The economists have proceeded upon the assumption that being an economist one thereby is at once social philosopher, moralist, and statesman to the extent necessary to furnish an authoritative interpretation of life. The sociologists maintain, on the contrary, that this is no more necessarily the case than that the mathematician is ipso facto a chemist or a mechanician.

While I was serving a seven years' apprenticeship as a teacher of history and economics, with no thought of another vocation, and while I was trying to use General Walker's book as a basis for instruction in economics, the anomaly of the whole methodological presumption upon which current valuations of economic theory rested compelled me to calculate my bearings for myself. I would utter not a word or hint in disparagement of economic science. My affair is to make clear the necessary subordination of economic science in the complex process of interpreting life as a whole. Some of the men of largest mold that have dealt with social questions during the past century have been economists, and the economic basis of their opinions has doubtless been as secure as any portion of the reasoning upon which our policies have been founded. More than this, the public questions which have been to the fore during the past century have been of a nature which made it both safe and wise, in a large proportion of cases, to allow the economic factors to be decisive for working purposes; but this does nothing whatever to remove the fact that the whole problem of economics, even if it could be solved to stay solved for all times and places, is merely a fragment of the problem of life. With reference to the whole problem of the meaning of life, and the largest view of the conduct of life, we are merely in the kindergarten stage of social intelligence. Judged by the rules of exact science, our logical wrestlings with the problems of life so far are chiefly according to the easy-going rule

( 27) of catch-as-catch-can. If our problem is enlarged in scope from that of material gain, to that of the meaning of life in its whole intent and extent, the economic problem falls into a perspective which gives it very much the same relation to the life-problem at large that a supply of paint and a few yards of canvas would bear to the production of another Raphael.

Behind and around the economic problem are such problems as these : What other interests besides wealth occupy human life? What are the relations of these interests to each other? Are these relations constant or variable, and, if the latter, what are the principles and laws of variation? What ratios of value have these interests to each other in the economy of human life? By what means may we discover whether our valuations of these different interests are valid? What laws must be observed in getting satisfaction of these different interests ? By what evidence shall we decide whether we are devoting proportionate or disproportionate attention to the different kinds of normal human interests? What laws must be observed in harmonizing human interests?

The great joke of nineteenth-century social science has been its grave and confident assumption that expert skill was required in solving the problems of Wealth, and government, but that untutored common-sense is the only outfit necessary in dealing with any possible surplus problems for which history and economics and political science did not amply provide. Very slight logical analysis beneath the surface of this naïveté reveals that a new series of sciences is not merely possible but necessary before we can penetrate very far into the literal meaning of life.

Although his disciples have pretty generally ignored it. there is good reason to believe that Adam Smith quite distinctly perceived that substantially the hierarchy of questions just recited surrounds and subordinates the economic question. He probably had no doubt that a science which would securely answer all these questions was necessary in order to give economic science its final place in our system of knowledge. At present there are two possible logical alternatives for political economy: first, frankly to confine itself to the rôle of a technology of wealth-getting; second,

(28) to enter into loyal correlation with an inclusive life-philosophy. Even if the former alternative were adopted, political economy would have to be revised whenever economic institutions came to be operated in accordance with modified social valuations. The questions that I have just proposed open up, therefore, some of those vistas of lange Gedankenreihen, with which Sombart is telling his economic colleagues they must learn to correlate their specific material, if they are to save economic theory from provincialism.

In all that I have said, I have gone far toward showing why the miscellany of so-called sociological pursuits that Professor Vincent told about last week not only may exist, but in the nature of the case must exist. Sociology is primarily a synthetic, co-ordinating conception. So long as we think of reality as cut up into detachable parts, which may be treated as entities in and of themselves, it is possible and natural to think of sciences of those parts of knowledge, clearly distinct from each other, and accurately definable in terms of the subject-matter which they monopolize. The moment we propose the question, What is the meaning of life? we imply an impeachment of the conception that the truth can be told about life if we divide it off into isolated unities. Our presumption is that these divisions of partial convenience are at last not traits of separation, but imaginary lines drawn by our reflection through a reality every phase of which must be known through its relations with the whole. Human life is an affair of individuals of like passions with each other, with essentially identical dependence upon the physical environment, with the ground-plan of their make-up substantially of one type, but in the course of generation after generation passing into individual and group variations which confuse their meaning in the whole life-process. Some individuals and groups come to be at an advantage, others at a disadvantage, physiologically or psychologically or institutionally, in adjusting themselves to the conditions of life. Each of these phases of human experience, whether past or present, has its quota of value in making out the meaning of life as a whole. To my mind, the distinctive function of sociology, as a division of labor in social

( 29) science, is the mapping of the whole scope of human experience as a functional process, in which the elements of human experience get their meaning. I recognize, however, the purely formal character of this division of scientific work. Not many people should engage in it. Possibly its future will be something like that of general biology, which is now merely a name for a synthetic view of the whole system of cause and effect that operates in vital phenomena; while all the concrete biological science is investigation of particular relations in which these laws appear. In order that sociology may get what Professor Ross calls "body," it must get out of the mere algebraic and geometric formulation of life-relations, and find the reality in actual human experiences. Referring now to a remark at the beginning, I would accordingly, for broadly scientific purposes, not at all to justify the division of academic departments, apply the term "sociological" to any division of labor, larger or smaller, which is actually trying to find out the meaning of a phase or fragment of life, historical, contemporary or constructive, in its relation with the whole life-process. In this sense, all historians, all ethologists, all political scientists, all economists, all social ameliorators, are sociologists, in the degree in which they consent to hold their part of scientific or social work as perpetually incidental and subordinate to advancing knowledge of the whole human process. We can learn of this process precisely, only by studying the processes that compose it. These processes range from the baby getting acquainted with his toes, to collisions of civilizations. Whoever is studying any part of any one of these processes, whether from the historical, the analytic, or the constructive point of view, provided he works with the presumption that the process he is studying somehow gets its full and final meaning from its connections with all the rest of human experience, is doing all that the sociologist asks. He has logically correlated his work with the system of advancing knowledge which will grow into the ultimate social science.

Perhaps I have blundered in leaving myself so little room to speak of the relation of sociology to psychology. This is not because the relation is obscure or unimportant, but because in present sociology the function of psychology is regarded as too

( 30) evident for discussion. We take it for granted that the last answer which the human mind can ever give to the inclusive question, What is the meaning of life? will be, first, a version of objective experience in terms of the subjective experience which psychology explains; and, second, a valuation of each phase of the process in terms of the human personality in which the subjective and the objective experiences meet. Whether psychologist or sociologist will be senior partner in the business of reaching this rendering of life is a question that gives me the least possible concern. It is enough to know that, from this on, psychologists and sociologists will have so much in common that neither can afford to leave the other very long out of sight.

I said in the beginning that, even in our day of positive science, we cannot refuse to credit a certain value to speculative forms of philosophy. Every methodologist knows that knowledge does not and cannot progress in the line of strict induction alone. We put a few facts together in the form of a generalization. Then we use that generalization as a sort of staging to stand on while we are scanning a wider horizon for more facts. When we have enough new facts in our possession we construct another outlook tower of this material and proceed to explore further. Presently some thinkers are left standing upon the watch-towers long since abandoned by others who are afield for more facts. The two kinds of searchers' pass signals back and forth, and are thus of mutual assistance. Social science is no more and no less dependent upon this interchange of method than physical science. We may call in Tennyson's hard-worked "flower in the crannied wall" to help us do justice to these reciprocating phases of the progress of knowledge:

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies:
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

True, but there is another attitude of our minds, and one that we have to adopt provisionally every now and then, to escape

(31) losing our bearings in uncharted confusion. We say: "If I knew, all in all, what God is, and what man is, then I should know, all in all, what the flower in the crannied wall is."

Social science, like all other science, has been, on the whole, an irregularly ascending spiral from nescience to knowledge. To speak after the manner of the mathematicians, it has been a function of alternate inspections of flowers in crannied walls, and inferences from men and gods largely of our own construction. We are approaching something like reasoned and reasonable reciprocity between the particularizing and the generalizing search for real knowledge. How large a part we shall require of the hundred million years which Professor Chamberlin allows us for tenancy of our planet, in order to make social science as exact as possible, is a question that worries me much less than the immediate issue: Shall we apply all the logic that we ought to know, to our part in advancing, social knowledge?

There is work enough for every type of competent laborer in the co-operative task of discovering the meaning of life.


  1. The original published version of this document is in the public domain. The Mead Project exercises no copyrights over the original text.

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