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Sociology

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The claims of sociology (socius, companion; logos, science) to a place in the hierarchy of sciences are subjected to varied controversy. It has been held that there is no distinct problem for a science of sociology, no feature of human society not already provided for in the accepted social sciences. Again it has been claimed that while the future may hold out prospects for a science such as sociology, its present condition leaves much to be desired. Furthermore, among sociologists themselves discussion and disagreement abound concerning aims, problems, and methods of the science. Beyond this confusion in scientific circles, misunderstanding results from the popular habit of confounding sociology with philanthropy, ethics, charity, and relief, social reform, statistics, municipal problems, socialism, sanitation, criminology, and politics. It is hardly to be expected that differences of opinion would not occur when scholars endeavour to describe in simple terms the complex social processes; to pack a vast array of historical and contemporaneous facts in rigid logical classes, and to mark off for research purposes sections of reality which in fact overlap at a hundred points. Nevertheless, efforts to create a science of sociology have led to notable results. Minds of a very high order have been attracted to the work; abundant literature of great excellence has been produced; neighbouring sciences have been deeply affected by the new point of view which Sociology has fostered; and the teaching of the science has attained to undisputed recognition in the universities of the world.

It is the aim of economic science to investigate the forms, relations, and processes that occur among men in their associated efforts to make immediate or mediate provision for their physical wants. The science deals with the phenomena resulting from the production, distribution, and consumption of wealth. The science of politics is concerned with the stable social relations resulting from the efforts of sovereign social units to maintain themselves in integrity in their internal and external relations and to promote human progress. The state is the institution in which these activities centre. Hence, the forms in which sovereignty is clothed, the processes of change which occur among them, and the varying functions of government are central problems in this field of investigation. The science of religions aims at describing the stable social relations which occur when men collectively endeavour to understand the law of their relation to a Supreme Being and to adjust their worship and conduct to His supreme will. The science of law is concerned with those principles, relations, and institutions through which the more important relations between the one and the many are defined, directed, and sanctioned by the sovereign state. The science of ethics aims at expounding the principles and sanctions by which all human conduct, both individual and social, is adjusted to the supreme end of man; or, in the Christian sense of the term, to the will of God. The science of history, which assumes the law of continuity in human society, endeavours to look out over its whole surface, to discover and describe in a large way the processes of change that have occurred in social relations of whatsoever kind. Each of these social sciences is analytical or descriptive, but in its complete development it should have a normative or directive side. To use the technical phrase, it is teleological. The complete function of each of them should include the setting forth of a purpose for human conduct and should offer direction towards it, which is modified by the relations in which each stands to the others.

Some sociologists endeavour to locate their science as logically antecedent to all of these. According to this view sociology should occupy itself with general phases of the processes of human association and should furnish an introduction to the special social sciences. Others endeavour to locate sociology as the philosophical synthesis of the results of the special social sciences, in which view it resembles somewhat the philosophy of history. Giddings includes both functions in his description of the science. He says in his "Principles of sociology": "While Sociology in the broadest sense of the word is the comprehensive science of society, coextensive with the entire field of the special social sciences, in a narrower sense and for the purposes of university study and of general exposition it may be defined as the science of social elements and first principles. . . . Its far-reaching principles are the postulates of special sciences and as such they co-ordinate the whole body of social generalizations and bind them together in a large scientific whole" (p. 33).

There is a general tendency towards the establishment of a single dominant interest in social groups. Periods of unstable equilibrium tend to be followed by constructive epochs in which some one social interest tends to dominate. This is the case when social groups are primitive and isolated as well as when they are highly organized and progressive. It may be the food interest, the maintenance of the group against invasion, the thirst for conquest incarnate in a leader, or the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth that serves as the basis of social unity. In any case, the tendency of social groups towards unity is practically universal. In earlier stages of civilization the process is relatively simple, but today, when differences of climate, race, environment, type, and place are overcome by progress in transportation, travel, communication, and industry, the process is highly complex. Political institutions, languages, and race traditions no longer bound the horizon of the thinker. Today all states are submerged in the larger view of humanity. All cultures, civilizations, centuries, all wars, and armaments, all nations and customs are before the social student. Origins heretofore hidden are exposed to his confused gaze. Interpretations, venerable with age and powerful from heretofore unquestioning acceptance, are swept away and those that are newer are substituted. Dozens of social sciences flow with torrential impatience, hurling their discoveries at the feet of the student, Thousands of minds are busy day and night gathering facts, offering interpretations, and seeking relations. The social sciences have become so overburdened with facts and so confused by varying interpretations that they tend to split into separate subsidiary sciences in the hope that the mind may thus escape its own limitations and find help in its power of generalization. Economic factors and processes are studied more industriously than ever before, but they are found to have in themselves vital bearings other than economic. Political, religious, educational, and social facts are found saturated with heretofore unsuspected meanings, which in each particular case the science itself is unable to handle.

In this situation three general lines of work present themselves.

Professor Small thus describes the situation: "We need a genetic, static, and teleological account of associated human life; a statement which can be relied upon as the basis of a philosophy of conduct. In order to derive such a statement it would be necessary to complete a programme of analyzing and synthesizing the social process in all of its phases."

On the whole the sociological treatment of social facts is much wider than that found in the other social sciences and its interpretations are consequently broader. An endeavour is made in following out the social point of view to study social facts in the full complement of their organic relations. Thus, for instance, if the sociologist studies the question of woman suffrage, it appears as a phase in a world-movement. He goes back through the available history of all times and civilizations endeavouring to trace the changing place of woman in industry, in the home, education, and before the law. By looking outward to the horizon and backwards to the vanishing point of the perspective of history, the sociologist endeavours to discover all of the relations of the suffrage movement which confronts us today and tries to interpret its relation to the progress of the race. He will discover that the marriage rate, the birth rate, the movement for higher education, the demand for political and social equality are not unrelated facts but are organically connected in the processes that centre on woman in human society. The student of economics, politics, ethics, or law will be directly interested in particular phases of the process. But the sociologist will aim at reaching an all-inclusive view in order to interpret the entire movement in its organic relations to historical and actual social processes. Likewise, whether the problem be that of democracy, liberty, equality, war, armaments and arbitration, tariffs or inventions, the organization of labour, revolution, political parties, centralization of wealth, conflicts among social classes, the sociologist will endeavour to discover their wider bearings and their place in the social processes of which they are part.

The method employed in sociology is primarily inductive. At times ethnological and biological methods have predominated but their sway has been diminished in recent years. Sociology suffers greatly from its failure to establish as yet a satisfactory basis of classification for social phenomena. Although much attention has been given to this problem the results achieved still leave much to be desired. The general point of view held in sociology, as distinct from the particular point of view held in the special social sciences, renders this problem of classification particularly difficult and causes the science to suffer from the very mass of indiscriminate material which its scholarship has brought to view. Hence, the process of observation and interpretation has been somewhat uncertain and results have been subjected to vehement discussion. The fundamental problem for sociology is to discover and to interpret co-existences and sequences among social phenomena. In its study of origins and of historical development of social forms, sociology necessarily makes use of ethnological methods. It resorts extensively to comparative methods in its endeavour to correlate phenomena related to the same social process as they appear in different times and places. The statistical method is of the highest importance in determining quantities among social phenomena, while the prevailing tendency to look upon society from a psychological point of view has led to the general method of psychological analysis. The efforts to develop a systematic sociology deductively have not yet led to any undisputed results although the evolutionary hypothesis prevails widely. The range of methods to be found among sociologists might be fairly well illustrated among American writers by a comparison of the works of Morgan, Ward, Giddings, Baldwin, Cooley, Ross, Sumner, Mayo-Smith, and Small.

In as far as modern sociology has been developed on the philosophical side it has naturally been unable to remain free of metaphysics. It shows a marked tendency towards Agnosticism, Materialism, and Determinism. "He would be a bold man", says Professor Giddings, addressing the Amer. Economic Association in 1903, "who today after a thorough training in the best historical scholarship should venture to put forth a philosophy of history in terms of the divine ideas or to trace the plan of an Almighty in the sequence of human events. On the other hand, those interpretations that are characterized as materialistic . . . are daily winning serious respect." Even when the science has been confined to the humbler rôle of observation and interpretation of particular social facts and processes, its devotees have been unable to refrain from assumptions which are offensive to the Christian outlook on life. Theoretically, social facts may be observed as such, regardless of philosophy. But social observation which ignores the moral and social interpretation of social facts and processes is necessarily incomplete. One must have some principle of interpretation when one interprets, and one always tends towards interpretation. Thus it is that even descriptive sociology tends to become directive or to offer interpretations, and in so doing it often takes on a tone with which the Christian cannot agree.

If, for instance, the sociologist proposes a standard family of a limited number of children in the name of human progress, by implication he assumes an attitude towards the natural and Divine law which is quite repugnant to Catholic theology. Again, when he interprets divorce in its relation to supposed social progress alone and finds little if any fault with it, he lays aside for the moment the law of marriage given by Christ. When, too, the sociologist studies the relation of the State to the family and the individual or the relations of the Church and the State he comes into direct contact with the fundamental principles of Catholic social philosophy. When he studies the religious phenomena of history, he cannot avoid taking an attitude toward the distinctive claims of Christianity in his interpretation of the facts of its history. Thus it is that sociology, not only on its philosophical side but also on the side of observation, interpretations, and social direction, tends to take on a tone that is often foreign to and as often antagonistic to Catholic philosophy. Professor Ward would forbid pure sociology to have anything to do with the direction of human conduct. He says, for instance, in his "Pure Sociology": "All ethical considerations in however wide a sense that expression may be understood must be ignored for the time being and attention concentrated upon the effort to determine what actually is. Pure Sociology has no concern with what Sociology ought to be or with any social ideals. It confines itself strictly with the present and the past, allowing the future to take care of itself." But he would give to what he terms Applied Sociology the function of directing society toward its immediate ideals. He says: "The subject matter of Pure Sociology is achievement, that of Applied Sociology is improvement. The former relates to the past and the present, the latter to the future." Sociology can scarcely avoid interpretation and direction of human conduct and hence it can hardly be expected to avoid taking very definite attitudes towards the Christian outlook on life.

Modern sociology hopes to arrive at a metaphysics through the systematic observation and interpretation of present and past social facts and processes. In the Christian view of life, however, the social sciences are guided by a sanctioned metaphysics and philosophy. This philosophy is derived not from induction but from Revelation. This view of life accepts at the outset as Divinely warranted the moral and social precepts taught or re-enforced by Christ. Thus, it looks out upon the real largely from the standpoint of the ideal and judges the former by the latter. It does not, of course, for a moment forget that the systematic observation of life and knowledge of its processes are essential to the understanding and application of the Divine precepts and to the establishment of the sanctioned spiritual ideals which it professes. But Christian social philosophy did not, for example, derive its doctrine of human brotherhood by induction; it received it directly from the lips of Christ. And the consequences of that Christian principle in human history are beyond all calculation. The Christian view of life does not confound the absolute with the conventional in morality, although in the literature of Christianity too much emphasis may at times be placed upon what is relative. A Christian sociology, therefore, would be one that carries with it always the philosophy of Christ. It could not look with indifference on the varied and complicated social processes amid which we live and move. In all of its study and interpretation of what is going on in life — which is largely the function of sociology — it never surrenders concern for what ought to be, however clearly or dimly this "ought" is seen. While modern sociology is seeking descriptive laws of human desires and is endeavouring to classify human interests and to account for social functions, it is seeking merely for changes, uniformities, and interpretations unconcerned with any relation of these to the Divine law. Christian sociology, on the contrary, is actuated mainly by concern about the relations of social changes to the law and Revelation of God. It classifies processes, institutions, and relations as right or wrong, good or bad, and offers to men directive laws of human desire and distinctive standards of social valuations by which social conduct should be governed.

Economics as it developed under Christian influences related largely to the search for justice in property relations among men rather than to the evolution of property itself. What ever attempts were made to correlate and interpret economic phenomena, they were inspired largely by the search for justice and by the hope of holding industrial relations true to the law of justice as it was understood. Political science as it developed under Christian influence never lost sight of the Divine sanction of civil authority. The study of the forms and changes of government, little as the underlying processes were then understood, never departed far from the thought of the state as a natural and Christian phenomenon and the exercise of its authority as a delegated power from on high. Thus, whatever there was of social science, rudimentary because of the static view of society which obtained, it grew out of the study and application of the moral and social principles derived from the Revelation of God and presented to the believer through the instrumentality of the Church. The great emphasis placed in our days of wonderful social investigation and of world-views of social processes causes those earlier attempts at social science to appear crude, yet they developed organically out of their historical surroundings, retaining, for all time, titles to no mean consideration. Scattered here and there throughout theological and moral treatises in Christian literature there is a vast amount of sociological material, which has its value in our own time. The present-day endeavours of sociology to classify human desires and fundamental interests appear to have been anticipated in a modest way in the work of the medieval Scholastics. Theological treatises on human acts and their morality reveal a very practical understanding of the influence of objective and subjective environment on character. Treatises on sin, on the virtues, on good and bad example touch constantly on social facts and processes as then understood. The mainspring of all of this work, however, was not to show forth social processes as such, not to look for theretofore unknown law, but to enable the individual to discover himself in the social process and to hold his conduct true to his ideals.

To some extent there is confusion in speaking of sociology in this way since reference appears to be made rather to moral direction than to social investigation. The relations between all of the social sciences are intimate. The results established in the fields of the social sciences will always have the greatest importance for Christian ethics. It must take up the undisputed results of sociological investigation and widen its definitions at times. It must restate rights and obligations in the terms of newer social relations and adjust its own system to much that it can welcome from the hands of the splendid scholarship now devoted to social study. Bouquillon, who was a distinguished theologian, complained that we had not paid sufficient attention to the results of modern social research. Illustration may be found in the problem of private property, which is a storm centre in modern life and is the object of most acute study from the standpoint of the social sciences. Suum cuique may be called the law of justice that is back of all social changes and is sanctioned for all time. But the social processes which change from time to time the content of suum may not be neglected. Changes in the forms of property, varied consequences from the failure to have it at all and from the having of it in excess, are seen about us every day. It is undeniably the business of ethics to teach the sanctions of private property and defend them, but it must willingly learn the sociological meaning of property, the significance of changes in its forms, and the laws that govern these changes. This is largely the work of other social sciences. Ethics must proclaim the inviolable natural rights of the individual to private property in certain forms. It must proclaim the pernicious moral consequences that may flow from certain property conditions, but it will fail of its high mission unless in its indispensable ethical work it take account of the established results of social investigation. Economics, ethics, sociology, politics are drawn together by the complex problems of property and each has much to learn from the others. And so, whether the problem be that of the Christian family, the relations of social classes, altruism, the modification of the forms of government, the changing status of woman, the representative of the Christian outlook on life may not for a moment ignore the results of these particular social sciences.

Closer relations have been established between Christian ethics and sociology in modern days. Modern social conditions with their rapid changes, accompanied by ethical and philosophical unrest, have set up a challenge which the Christian Church must meet without hesitation. The Catholic Church has not failed to speak out definitely in the circumstances. The School of Catholic Social Reform, which has reached such splendid development on the European continent, represents the closer sympathy between the old Christian ethics and the later sociological investigation. Problems of poverty seen in its organic relations to social organization as a whole, problems and challenges raised by the modern industrial labouring class, demand for a widening of the definitions of individual and social responsibility to meet the facts of modern social power of whatsoever kind, reaffirmations of the rights of individuals have been taken account of in this whole Christian modern movement with the happiest result. There has been produced an abundant literature in which traditional Christian ethics take ample account of modern social investigations and the theories thus formulated have created a movement for social amelioration which is playing a notable part in the present-day history of Europe.

Since all of the social sciences are concerned with the same complex fact of human association, it is but to be expected that the older sciences would have contained in their literature much that in the long run is turned over to the newer ones. Sociological material is found, therefore, throughout the history of the other social sciences. The word "sociology" comes from Auguste Comte, who used it in his course of positive philosophy, to indicate one of the sections in his scheme of sciences. Spencer sanctioned the use of the word and gave it a place in permanent literature by using it unreservedly in his own system of philosophy. He undertook to explain all social changes as phases in the great inclusive process of evolution. Society was conceived of as an organism. Research and exposition were directed largely by the biological analogy. Schaeffle, Lilienfeld, and René Worms were later exponents of this same view. Later schools in sociology have emancipated themselves from the sway of the biological analogy and have turned toward ethnological, anthropological, and psychological aspects of the great problems involved. Repeated attempts have been made to discover the fundamental unifying principle by which all social processes may be classified and explained, but none of them have met general acceptance. The drift today is largely toward the psychological aspects of human association. Professors Giddings and Baldwin may be looked upon as its representatives in the United States. Aside from these attempts at systematic or philosophical sociology there is scarcely an aspect of human association which is not now under investigation from the sociological standpoint. That this activity in a field of such great interest to the welfare of the human race promises much for human progress is beyond question. Even now statesmen, religious teachers, educators, and leaders in movements for social amelioration do not fail to take advantage of the results of sociological research.


Sources

See ETHICS; PSYCHOLOGY; CHURCH; and articles on the other social sciences.
The following text-books summarize the field of sociology from various standpoints: WARD, Outlines of Sociology (New York, 1898); DEALY, Sociology (New York, 1909); GUMPLOWICZ, Outlines of Soc. (tr. MOORE), pub. by Amer. Acad. of Soc. and Pol. Sc. (1899); GIDDINGS, Elem. of Soc. (New York, 1898); BASCOM, Sociology; BLACKMAR, Elem. of Soc. (New York, 1905); STUCKENBERG, Sociology (New York, 1903).
The following general treatises aim to present the new sociological point of view: Ross, Social Control (New York, 1901); IDEM, Soc. Psychology (New York, 1908); COOLEY, Soc. Organization (New York, 1909); SMALL, General Soc. (Chicago, 1905); IDEM, Meaning of Social Science (Chicago, 1910); McDOUGAL, Soc. Psychology (London); BALDWIN, Social and Ethical Interpretations (New York, 1902); KIDD, Soc. Evolution (New York, 1894).
Systematic Treatises: SPENCER, Principle, of Soc.; SCHAEFFLE, Bau und Leben des sozialen Korpers; LILIENFELD, Gedanken über die Sozialwissenschaft der Zukunft (5 vols., Mitau, 1873); LETOURNEAU, La sociologie, tr. TRALLOPE (Paris, 1884); TARDE, The Laws of Imitation, tr. PARSONS (New York, 1903); SIMMEL, Soziologie (Leipzig, 1908); WARD, Pure Soc. (New York, 1903); IDEM, Applied Soc. (New York, 1906); GIDDINGS, Principles of Soc. (New York, 1899); IDEM, Inductive Soc. (New York, 1901).
Periodicals: Annales de l'inst. interna. de soc.; Rev. intern. de soc.; American Jour. of Soc.
Discussions of the nature and relations of sociology will be found in Reports of meetings of economic, historical, and political sciences associations and in text-books on the various social sciences. For discussion of the science from a Catholic standpoint, see SLATER, Modern Sociology in the Irish Theo. Quart., VI, nos. 21, 22.

About this page

APA citation. Kerby, W. (1912). Sociology. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14115a.htm

MLA citation. Kerby, William. "Sociology." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14115a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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