The Laws of Social Psychology


Florian Znaniecki

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In the course of the last forty years a certain new way of thinking has gradually developed in opposition to the dogmatic self-assertion of natural science, on the one hand, and to the formal rationalism of mathematics, on the other hand; representing a revolution in the world of thought analogous to that which at the time of the Renaissance freed Western Europe from the dogmation and formalism of mediaeval scholastics. It underlies to a greater or less degree the personalism of Nietzsche, the sociological philosophy of Durkheim and his school, the various aspects of relativism presented by Poincaré, Mach, and Le Roy, the humanism of F. C. Schiller, the pragmatism of James and Dewey, and of their numerous adherents. This way of thinking emphasizes the relative, historical character of all our values, even of reality itself, as it appears to our practical experience, as well as of the "laws" evolved by our theoretic reflection about it. In the light of this new conception the whole world appears as a historical product of human activities. Although science and philosophy are thus found to be merely historically relative human values, they remain positive values, and the ultimate purpose of showing their relativity is not to undermine, but to improve them.

So far, however, this revolutionary way of thinking has expressed itself, like every revolutionary movement, primarily in criticism of traditional dogmas, and has not contributed as much as it should toward positive scientific and philosophical progress. This seems to me explicable by the fact that each of the several schools belonging to the new current still clings to some fundamental dogma of the past.

(VIII) Such a dogma is; for instance, Durkheim's concept of Society as a concrete unity of conscious beings; whereas with pragmatism, it is the biological Darwinian conception of the active and thinking individual; while even Schiller, the most thorough among the leaders, still seems to accept the traditional idea of man as a psychological entity. Such presumptions conflict with the most essential tendencies of the new movement; they check it at every step and prevent it from developing all its creative possibilities. The modern intellectual revolution will be fully achieved only when it penetrates into every nook and cranny of our knowledge, re-states all its problems and re-shapes its methods, as completely as the Renaissance did with mediaeval knowledge.

I have tried elsewhere to make historical relativism under the term of "culturalism" consistent-with itself. The present book is an attempt to apply its principles within that limited but important domain of positive scientific research which traditional methodology has given up in despair -the domain of human action. If this application demonstrates that the new way of thinking, far from being (as its enemies claim) detrimental to theoretic achievement, is capable of raising the standards of scientific explanation in this field, it shall not have been made in vain.


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