The Sociology of Knowledge: An Essay in Aid of a Deeper Understanding of the History of Ideas

By W. Stark | Go to book overview

PREFACE

THE present book is in the first place an introduction to the subject whose name it bears, the so-called 'sociology of knowledge'. Anyone who reads it right through from beginning to end will, it is hoped, have some idea of the themes with which this study has been concerned and of the main solutions to its problems which have been attempted. I have endeavoured to give an account both of permanent trends and recent developments.

But I have tried to provide more than a mere summary; I have done my best to re-think the whole subject and to clarify its issues. There was great need of such clarification. In the past, two rather disparate, nay irreconcilable, preoccupations have coexisted within the sociology of knowledge and constantly cut across each other: the study of the political element in thought, of what is commonly called 'ideology', and the investigation of the social element in thinking, the influence of the social groundwork of life on the formation of a determinate mental image of reality. The one has sought to lay bare hidden factors which turn us away from the truth, the other to identify forces which tend to impart a definite direction to our search for it. I have radically separated the two subjects, as will be seen from chapter 2, and have then concentrated on the latter; thus laying the foundations of what might be called a 'pure' theory of the social determination of thought, or, alternatively, a social theory of knowledge. Nor is this the only clarifying distinction which I have striven to introduce; others are contained in the middle section of the first chapter and in chapters 4-8.

The picture of the sociology of knowledge which has emerged from my considerations is in some essential points different from that traditionally entertained. So far, the names which have loomed largest have been those of Marx and Mannheim on the one hand, Nietzsche and Pareto on the other. In consequence of my strict distinction between social determination and ideological distortion of thought, they have unavoidably been dislodged from the centre, and pushed outward towards the perimeter, of the stage, and their place has been taken by Max Weber, in whose spirit (I hope I may say) the present treatise has been conceived. In so far as Max Weber was a disciple of Heinrich

-ix-

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