The Analysis of Social Change Reconsidered: A Sociological Study

By J. A. Ponsioen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THEORIES ANALYZING DYNAMICS OF INCLUSIVE SOCIETIES BY THE USE OF SPECIFIC CONCEPTS

A. INTRODUCTION, CONCEPTUALIZATION IN SCIENCE

1. Before discussing special theories we may recall the role concepts play in science. Concepts are not only words, but words bearing mental contents, their significance. Looking in a dictionary we find "significances", "meanings", for almost any word. In daily life, words are used for transmission of mental contents from the speaker to the listener. Already, here is the problem of uncorrupted transfer by making clear what you mean by the words used. In science, words with their contents also have another function to make outside reality, which is not immediately observable, accessible to the mind.

An intelligent distinction between two types of concepts is made by Cassirer when he distinguishes "Strukturbegriffen" (concepts of/for cultural realities) from "Naturbegriffen" (concepts of/for nature). The latter is expressed by such words as water, table, bread, and associates one word with one thing which is immediately observable. Such words are, in Cassirer's terminology, signs or signals. Concepts of culture, however, he calls symbols, because they are meant to express parts of reality which are not directly observable (as, e.g., hypothetical realities such as atoms, causality or interdependence in nature, the social and psychic life, metaphysical truths, religious beings). Concepts of culture miss the direct link with observation and attempt to grasp concealed reality. Science, mainly dealing with this part of reality, uses this type of concepts. Cassirer rightly calls them structural concepts, because they are constructed by us in order to reveal the unseen and unknown.

A scientific concept is always an element of a system of concepts, of a more or less complete apparatus for covering the field of a given science. This is a necessity because an isolated concept is not delineated, lacks precision. Any science needs a set of concepts which makes sure that 1) its entire field is covered, 2) no overlapping takes place, 3) no gaps

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