Leaving the Cave: Evolutionary Naturalism in Social-Scientific Thought

By Pat Duffy Hutcheon | Go to book overview

Fourteen
Emile Durkheim and Max Weber A Matter of Boundaries

But he sits, and beneath his thoughts his broad wrists almost break as his mind grows heavier, always heavier.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke, In the Certosa

T he latter half of the nineteenth century was a time of territorial expansion within universities. No sooner had the natural sciences become firmly established than psychology began to make inroads under Wilhelm Wundt in Germany, Sigmund Freud in Austria, G. Stanley Hall and William James in America and Ivan Pavlov in Russia. Meanwhile Martineau, Comte, Spencer and others had been registering a claim for a separate discipline called "sociology." This was to be a broadly conceived study of the evolution of sociocultural institutions, which they assumed would involve a scientific search for comprehensive and absolute laws of development comparable to those identified by natural science.

Of those responding to the challenge, two are outstanding in the influence they have wielded -- although both have had to yield to Marx in terms of lasting effects on sociology. Emile Durkheim is responsible for establishing the new discipline in France, and Max Weber is generally credited with the same accomplishment in Germany. Both were, to some extent, offering an alternative to Marxism. Both were close in age to Dewey, Bergson and Husserl, and therefore presumably in contact with the original work of those scholars. Both had been influenced in their view of science by Descartes. However, apart from the goal of establishing the academic and scientific credibility of sociology, the two shared little else. The story of their contradictory approaches sheds considerable light on the troubled history of social science to this day.

Max Weber was an admirer of Machiavelli, Kant, Schopenhauer, Fichte and Nietzsche. He had become convinced that the human studies deal with a reality so discontinuous with nature that they require a science equally unique in approach and objective. He also concluded that, within the realm of the hu

References for this chapter are on p. 255-57.

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