The field of variegated, tinkering inquiry into anything that can vaguely be deemed a “social” issue is called Sociology. In this article, I will wade briefly through the swamp of contemporary sociology, sifting through each element or “camp” in order to find the best elements. What I will eventually conclude, among other things, is that there is a large portion of contemporary sociology that is possessed by the demon of psychological reductionism, that is, the notion that all social process can be reduced to psychological motives or desires. This psychological reductionism, though claimed to have been addressed by contemporaries, has only been swept under the rug and risen again(though in slightly different form), such that there seems to be a trend of analyzing psychological questions and social question in tandem. Often, the psychological questions in mention have “social causes”, such that they are explained to be the result of something like “economic inequality” or “urban culture”. This approach is sadly mistaken and has fractured the so-called “discipline” of sociology beyond all recognition and coherence. And the main point to be made here is that the goal is not to gather sociology together again or to bind it into one coherent field. It may not even be the case that this much cannot be done, rather it is so that this shouldn’t be done. For if we are to salvage the redeemable “sociological qualities” of sociology, pulling them from the detritus and superfluousity, we must form a proper method of separating the discipline. Why? Let’s find out–
In the beginning–well at least one of the beginnings–there was a chap named Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes was initially a rather devout scholar of classical literature. He could quote his Aristotle. And until his early forties he was faithful to Aristotle’s philosophy. That is until he took a visit to France and had an encounter with Euclid. Euclid demonstrated to him the wonder and efficiency of geometric proof. Later, he visited Italy, attending a lecture given by the intellectual giant, Galileo. Hobbes assimilated the groundbreaking notion that statis is not the “natural” state of objects, and that, if left unmolested by external force, objects will “naturally” continue to move. (Visions of the Sociological Tradition, Levine) Conflating these new cornerstones of knowledge, Hobbes laid a cornerstone himself, that of the principle of societal change and dynamic direction. Yet Hobbes also opened up the door to psychological reductionism, or psychologism as we will use hereon. The conceptual leap dealt with by Galileo, from statics to dynamics, translated into a conceptual leap from the imposed, static configuration of men into an ideal, rigidly-hierarchical polis conceived of by Plato; to a chaotic society, fed by man’s psychological impulses and tempered by the state apparatus, a necessary force to keep the wretched citizens in line. And through the years, this psychological groundwork laid by Hobbes remained quite ingrained into social inquiry.
Both the brilliant social philosopher J.S. Mill and the man known as the founder of sociology, Augusta Comte, fell victim to the demon of psychologism. But there was one man of the times who knew better– Karl Marx. Marx knew that “It is not the consciousness of man that determines his existence–rather, it is his social existence that determines his consciousness.” (The Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper) But unfortunately, this astute assessment was diluted by his slew of specious reasoning. Namely, the vein of historicism running rampant through his works. That is, the notion that history moves according to different “stages” and that there are inexorable laws governing the transition between each stage. (The Poverty of Historicism, Popper) And the following sociological theories and “schools” built around Marx’s ideas, namely “Critical Theory”, exhibit(ed) much the same fallacy. And, sadly, the other German schools didn’t do much better. Phenomenology is flatly inadequate when it comes to analyzing the social realm; it amounts to nothing more than essentialist armchair psychology. This is not to dismiss the undoubted aesthetic pull of phenomenology. Admittedly, it has a certain artistic sensibility, as do many other fallacious notions. But in terms of building testable models and accurately explaining social phenomena, it amounts to nothing. And to be sure, it certainly isn’t only the Germans who have floundered. Overall, when it comes to “sociological theory”, something that proliferated wildly in France with Comte, to the other Frenchman Durkheim and then making its way to America with Parsons and Mills, nothing has amounted to much more than vague, mildly intellectually-pleasing social-musing. That is not to say of course that none of these theories were tested, rather, it is to say that something was and is fundamentally wrong, by and large, with the discipline known as sociology.
The problem begins with the vestiges of psychologism, is influenced by the Marxian relic of “adequate explainationism” and is magnified by the contemporary vein of social relativism.
The “vestiges of psychologism” noted above can best be described as lumping problems of psychology into sociological inquiry. It is the asking of “why?” questions for psychological human variables–a psychological “why?”, in place of a functional, sociological “why?”. For example, a sociologist may inquire into the causes of urban poverty. The sociologist may acquire information that leads her to believe that urban poverty causes increased rates of depression. Then she will ask “why?” Why does urban poverty lead people to become depressed? Is it the decreased opportunities for exercise? Could it be the poor diet of urban residents? Etc.. My assertion here is that these are not sociological inquiries but psychological inquiries, left to be studied by a new field of “Social Psychology”.
The Marxian adequate explanationism can be defined as the tendency to mistake interpretations of society for doctrines or theories. I use the term “Marxian” rather than Marxist to highlight the fact that the idea was never directly discussed by Marx, rather it is a fallacy, an intellectual blind spot of Marx. Marx, simply, was the first sociological “grand theorizer”, creating the first system of society. As Karl Popper states, “It is possible, for example, to interpret ‘history’ as the history of class struggle, or of the struggle of races for supremacy… But historicists do not present them as such; they do not see that there is necessarily a plurality of interpretations…”(The Poverty of Historicism). I will argue that all previously posited “sociological theories” have fallen under the umbrella of this adequate explanationism.
The “vein of social relativism” noted above can best be described as a combination of the inconspicuous presence of the vestiges of psychologism discussed above and an undue emphasis on the fact that, in the social world, no culture, environment or experience is exactly the same. These two notions conflated form a lethal cocktail of contemporary sociological hyper-focus on culture and tradition, to the detriment of developing a sound framework of sociological analysis. It is true that no social situation can be identical to another; it is true that different cultures have different norms; and it is true that the environment has an effect on both the psychological state and the social life of the individual. But these facts do not warrant the sort of reaction that has ensued in sociology. These facts do not warrant such a hyper-focus on the personal, phenomenological(not in the sense of the school of thought) aspects of social structure.
My answer to these issues will be formulated by parsing the current “discipline” of sociology into a different structure altogether, removing some components and consolidating and supplementing others. First, a new manner of sociological thought will be presented. Then answers, in terms of the parsing of the discipline, will be presented in the form of statements and explanations of each statement.
Sociological theory, by and large, attempts explanation via a top-down approach. A general “theory of society” is formed and then phenomena are explained away via this theory.
Sociological Logic attempts a bottom-up approach, citing the “building blocks” of society as motivations, actions and “viewpoints”. Combining these we reach a structure of agreements, executions thereof, and fulfillments thereof. Then we can form certain “structures” of action, in tandem with the motivations and viewpoints that accompany them, with the help of modal logics, namely, deontic logic, doxastic logic and epistemic logic. Sociological Logic is founded on the principle of methodological individualism, transcending the often inadvertent, rampant practice of methodological psychologism. Sociological Logic may be tweaked, corroborated or contradicted via the use of empirical experiment and computational data.
Reshaping The Discipline
I) The portions of Sociology that examine the effects of culture and social environment upon the psychological aspects of the individual should be left to the fields of Anthropology and Psychology.
II) “Culture”, as the term is used in contemporary Sociology is quite vague. The portions of cultural that deal with issues of structure and formation of social groups and institutions shall be addressed with Sociological Logic. The other portions, dealing with tradition, holidays and aesthetic difference should be left to Anthropology.
III) Psychology, as it currently stands, is narrow in scope. I suggest that it may be helpful to expand Psychology into two portions, Social Psychology and Individual Psychology. This will allow Sociology to more effectively answer questions devoid of intense psychological influence, while still allowing Social Psychology and Sociology to collaborate.
IV) The nascent quasi-field of Computational Sociology should be expanded. Computational Sociology and Agent-Based-Modeling are perfect “environments” for Sociological Logic to operate within.
V) Quantitative Sociological analysis is vital to the proper operation of Sociological Logic. Quantitative social data will be used to guide and check Sociological Logic.
The New Structure
•Agent Based Modeling