Studies in Social and Political Theory

Studies in Social and Political Theory

Studies in Social and Political Theory

Studies in Social and Political Theory

Excerpt

The studies which compose this volume are essentially organized about a critical encounter with European social theory in its 'classical' period — i.e. from the middle years of the nineteenth century until the First World War — and have the aim of working out some of the implications of that encounter for the position and prospects of the social sciences today. The issues involved can be classified broadly under four headings, as relating to the following series of problems: method and epistemology; social development and transformation; the origins of 'sociology' in nineteenth‐ century social theory; and the status of social science as critique.

Problems of method and epistemology

At the cost of some considerable oversimplification, and with the partial exception of the tradition of the Geisteswissenschaften in Germany, it is true to say that nineteenth-century social thought was dominated by the ambition of duplicating, in the sphere of human social life, the successes of physical science in mastering nature intellectually and materially. Nothing exemplifies this outlook more clearly than Comte's hierarchy of the sciences, which both explains the relation between the various sciences, natural and social, and offers an account of the tardy arrival of social physics on the scientific scene. The positive spirit first develops in relation to phenomena of the most general kind, far removed from human control: the objects and events studied in astronomy and physics. From these beginnings science progressively conquers the other realms of nature, moving through the chemical and the biological, to human social conduct itself; sociology is the last in the hierarchy of the sciences to come into being, because man's own social behaviour is the most difficult for him to subject to the objective scrutiny of science.

Comte's 'positive philosophy' has three particular features to . . .

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