The "Social Forces" Error

Albion Small

Although I think Professor Hayes has a case against Professor Ward, I am not convinced that the latter is as far wrong as the former would have us believe. We all wish Professor Ward were here to speak for himself, and there is not much room for doubt that he would be able to make a strong showing for his side of the argument.

Since I was among those whom Professor Ward read out of the ranks of the sociologists last year by special mention, because we did not accept his version of the social-forces idea as closing the case for sociology, I am naturally inclined to protest against such relegation. On the whole, how-ever, I may be pardoned for referring to the ancient case of the bishop and the judge arguing the question which was the bigger man, and the clincher of the judge: "When you say to a man, `You be damned,' he may not be; when I say to a man, `You be hanged, he will be." So long as Professor Ward is only the bishop, while the Sociological Society is the judge, we may all escape being either damned or hanged for differences of opinion about the social forces.

Speaking seriously, it seems to me that Professor Ward's psychology is vulnerable at more than one point, but Professor Hayes has asked us to support his attack at a point where much ammunition might be used without effect. To put it briefly, Professor Hayes's contention raises a false alarm. At the present moment certainly the sociologists are not putting into the concept "social forces" a vitiating ratio of the metaphysical preconceptions against which he warns. On the contrary, if I understand the trend of our thinking at the present time, Professor Hayes's challenge of the conception "social forces" is very much as though lie were attorney for one of the parties in litigation over Chicago traction properties, and should take issue with another attorney's phrase "electricity hauls the cars." It might immediately be agreed by all parties concerned that when predicated of electricity the term "hauls" means a different series of technical antecedents and consequents from that which connects the generation of force with the movement of the cars in the case of a cable, or in the more ancient case of horses. Yet in the absence of a more convenient phrase it might also be conceded, without danger to anything at issue, that for the purposes in question the word "hauls" is a sufficiently precise symbol for what takes place, whether in the use of horses, cables, or dynamos. The essential thing is that, so far as transportation and the nickels that pay for it are concerned, we tell the story by the word electricity in the one case, just as we did by the words cable and horses earlier; and the word "hauls" doesn't claim anything not in the facts.

It seems to me that the like is true of the phrase "social forces" in sociological parlance. That is, Professor Hayes has made the phrase "social forces" responsible not only for all the possible flaws in Professor Ward's

( 639) psychology, but also for all the metaphysical vagaries which we might today conceal under the words if our thoughts in connection with them were other than they actually are.

To take a case of cause and effect in society for illustration: The individuals who represent the type American academic man do not all act alike. But they are alike the products of certain cosmic and biological forces. These latter, however, may be taken for granted and canceled from the reckoning when we are trying to locate the differentiating factors which account for the behavior of certain specimens of this type in one way, and of certain other specimens in other ways. For instance, certain of that type have this week pilgrimaged to Providence, certain to Indianapolis, certain to Minneapolis, certain to St. Louis. Why did they not all stay at home or else go to the same spot? The answer is not to be found in the remoter terms in the series of causation back of the phenomenon American academic man. It is to be found in the variants in the case of different varieties of the phenomenon. One American academic man is stimulated by psychology, another by history, another by geology, another by sociology. In each case responsiveness to a particular type of stimulus is all that is necessary in the way of explanation of the psychologists seeking their kind, the historians theirs, etc. The sociologist strictly as such need not at any rate press back farther for explanation. To my mind, therefore, it is a very innocent verbal device to say that our interest in sociology was the force that brought us here, our colleagues' interest in chemistry was the force that carried them to Minneapolis, etc. We might mean that this mental circumstances is a force of the same order as that which produces horns on oxen or inhibits them on horses. We might mean that it is a force of the same order which produces combustion when oxygen and hydrogen meet under certain conditions. We might mean that it is a force of the same order which keeps Niagara in motion. No one of us really thinks that any other of us has any such connotation in mind while using the phrase "social forces." When we refer to a valuation in men's minds as a "social force" we of course mean that it is a psychical force, whatever a psychical force may turn out to be.

I do not know of a more important range of problems than those which are called up by the question, What may be found out about the genesis of mental states? Perhaps I should modify what I said a moment ago about the limitations of strictly sociological search by admitting that all the answers we shall ever get to the question will probably contain contributions by both psychologists and sociologists. Meanwhile it seems hyper-critical to challenge the proposition that mental states once in existence are real social causes. This does not mean that they are final causes, any more than the locomotives that drew our trains were final causes. The locomotives and the mental states are factors back of which it is needless

( 641) to go for certain reaches of explanation. That being the case, it would seem to me an altogether needless and profitless self-limitation if we should deny ourselves the convenience of referring to these social causes as "social forces."


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