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CHAPTER II.: is there a social science? - Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology 
The Study of Sociology (London: Henry S. King, 1873).
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is there a social science?
Almost every autumn may be heard the remark that a hard winter is coming, for that the hips and haws are abundant: the implied belief being that God, intending to send much frost and snow, has provided a large store of food for the birds. Interpretations of this kind, tacit or avowed, prevail widely. Not many weeks since, one who had received the usual amount of culture said in my hearing, that the swarm of lady-birds which overspread the country some summers ago, had been providentially designed to save the crop of hops from the destroying aphides. Of course this theory of the divine government, here applied to occurrences bearing but indirectly, if at all, on human welfare, is applied with still greater confidence to occurrences that directly affect us, individually and socially. It is a theory carried out with logical consistency by the Methodist who, before going on a journey or removing to another house, opens his Bible, and in the first passage his eye rests upon, finds an intimation of approval or disapproval from heaven. And in its political applications it yields such appropriate beliefs as that the welfare of England in comparison with Continental States, has been a reward for better observance of the Sunday, or that an invasion of cholera was consequent on the omission of Dei gratia from an issue of coins.
The interpretation of historical events in general after this same method, accompanies such interpretations of ordinary passing events; and, indeed, outlives them. Those to whom the natural genesis of simpler phenomena has been made manifest by increasing knowledge, still believe in the supernatural genesis of phenomena that are very much involved, and cannot have their causes readily traced. The form of mind which, in an official despatch, prompts the statement that “it has pleased Almighty God to vouchsafe to the British arms the most successful issue to the extensive combinations rendered necessary for the purpose of effecting the passage of the Chenaub,”1 is a form of mind which, in the records of the past, everywhere sees interpositions of the Deity to bring about results that appear to the interpreter the most desirable. Thus, for example, Mr. Schomberg writes:—
“It seemed good to the All-beneficent Disposer of human events, to overrule every obstacle; and through His instrument, William of Normandy, to expurgate the evils of the land; and to resuscitate its dying powers.”2
“The time had now arrived when the Almighty Governor, after having severely punished the whole nation, was intending to raise its drooping head—to give a more rapid impulse to its prosperity, and to cause it to stand forth more prominently as an Exemplar state. For this end, He raised up an individual eminently fitted for the intended work” [Henry VII.].3
“As if to mark this epoch of history with greater distinctness, it was closed by the death of George III., the Great good, who had been raised up as the grand instrument of its accomplishment.”4
The late catastrophes on the Continent are similarly explained by a French writer who, like the English writer just quoted, professes to have looked behind the veil of things; and who tells us what have been the intentions of God in chastising his chosen people, the French. For it is to be observed in passing that, just as the evangelicals among ourselves think we are divinely blessed because we have preserved the purity of the faith, so it is obvious to the author of La Main de l’Homme et le Doigt de Dieu, as to other Frenchmen, that France is hereafter still to be, as it has hitherto been, the leader of the world. This writer, in chapters entitled “Causes providentielles de nos malheurs,” “Les Prussiens et les fléaux de Dieu,” and “Justification de la Providence,” carries out his interpretations in ways we need not here follow, and then closes his “Epilogue” with these sentences:—
“La Révolution modérée, habile, sagace, machiavélique, diaboliquement sage, a été vaincue et confondue par la justice divine dans la personne et dans le gouvernement de Napoléon III.
La Révolution exaltée, bouillonnante, étourdie, a été vaincue et confondue par la justice divine dans les personnes et dans les gouvernements successifs de Gambetta et de Félix Pyat et compagnie.
La sagesse humaine, applaudie et triomphante, personnifiée dans M. Thiers, ne tardera pas à être vaincue et confondue par cette même Révolution deux fois humiliée, mais toujours renaissante et agressive.
Ce n’est pas une prophétie : c’est la prévision de la philosophie et de la foi chrétiennes.
Alors ce sera vraiment le tour du Très-Haut; car il faut que Dieu et son Fils règnent par son évangile et par son Église.
Ames françaises et chrétiennes, priez, travaillez, souffrez et ayez confiance! nous sommes près de la fin. C’est quand tout semblera perdu que tout sera vraiment sauvé.
Si la France avait su profiter des désastres subis, Dieu lui eῦt rendu ses premières faveurs. Elle s’obstine dans l’erreur et le vice. Croyons que Dieu la sauvera malgré elle, en la régénérant toutefois par l’eau et par le feu. C’est quand l’impuissance humaine apparait qu’éclate la sagesse divine. Mais quelles tribulations! quelles angoisses! Heureux ceux qui survivront et jouiront du triomphe de Dieu et de son Église sainte, catholique, apostolique et romaine.”5
Conceptions of this kind are not limited to historians whose names have dropped out of remembrance, and to men who, while the drama of contemporary revolution is going on, play the part of a Greek chorus, telling the world of spectators what has been the divine purpose and what are the divine intentions; but we have lately had a Professor of History setting forth conceptions essentially identical in nature. Here are his words:—
“And now, gentlemen, was this vast campaign [of Teutons against Romans] fought without a general? If Trafalgar could not be won without the mind of a Nelson, or Waterloo without the mind of a Wellington, was there no one mind to lead those innumerable armies on whose success depended the future of the whole human race? Did no one marshal them in that impregnable convex front, from the Euxine to the North Sea? No one guide them to the two great strategic centres of the Black Forest and Trieste? No one cause them, blind barbarians without maps or science, to follow those rules of war without which victory in a protracted struggle is impossible; and by the pressure of the Huns behind, force on their flagging myriads to an enterprise which their simplicity fancied at first beyond the powers of mortal men? Believe it who will: but I cannot. I may be told that they gravitated into their places, as stones and mud do. Be it so. They obeyed natural laws of course, as all things do on earth, when they obeyed the laws of war: those, too, are natural laws, explicable on simple mathematical principles. But while I believe that not a stone or a handful of mud gravitates into its place without the will of God; that it was ordained, ages since, into what particular spot each grain of gold should be washed down from an Australian quartz reef, that a certain man might find it at a certain moment and crisis of his life;—if I be superstitious enough (as, thank God, I am) to hold that creed, shall I not believe that, though this great war had no general upon earth, it may have had a general in heaven? and that, in spite of all their sins, the hosts of our forefathers were the hosts of God.”6
It does not concern us here to seek a reconciliation of the incongruous ideas bracketed together in this paragraph—to ask how the results of gravitation, which acts with such uniformity that under given conditions its effect is calculable with certainty, can at the same time be regarded as the results of will, which we class apart because, as known by our experience, it is comparatively irregular; or to ask how, if the course of human affairs is divinely pre-determined just as material changes are, any distinction is to be drawn between that prevision of material changes which constitutes physical science and historical prevision: the reader may be left to evolve the obvious conclusion that either the current idea of physical causation has to be abandoned, or the current idea of will has to be abandoned. All which I need call attention to as indicating the general character of such interpretations, is the remarkable title of the chapter containing this passage—“The Strategy of Providence.”
In common with some others, I have often wondered how the Universe looks to those who use such names for its Cause as “The Master Builder,” or “The Great Artificer;” and who seem to think that the Cause of the Universe is made more marvellous by comparing its operations to those of a skilled mechanic. But really the expression, “Strategy of Providence,” reveals a conception of this Cause which is in some respects more puzzling. Such a title as “The Great Artificer,” while suggesting simply the process of shaping a pre-existing material, and leaving the question whence this material came untouched, may at any rate be said not to negative the assumption that the material is created by “The Great Artificer” who shapes it. The phrase, “Strategy of Providence,” however, necessarily implies difficulties to be overcome. The Divine Strategist must have a skilful antagonist to make strategy possible. So that we are inevitably introduced to the conception of a Cause of the Universe continually impeded by some independent cause which has to be out-generalled. It is not every one who would thank God for a belief, the implication of which is that God is obliged to overcome opposition by subtle devices.
The disguises which piety puts on are, indeed, not unfrequently suggestive of that which some would describe by a quite opposite name. To study the Universe as it is manifested to us; to ascertain by patient observation the order of the manifestations; to discover that the manifestations are connected with one another after a regular way in Time and Space; and, after repeated failures, to give up as futile the attempt to understand the Power manifested; is condemned as irreligious. And meanwhile the character of religious is claimed by those who figure to themselves a Creator moved by motives like their own; who conceive themselves as discovering his designs; and who even speak of him as though he laid plans to outwit the Devil!
This, however, by the way. The foregoing extracts and comments are intended to indicate the mental attitude of those for whom there can be no such thing as Sociology, properly so called. That mode of conceiving human affairs which is implied alike by the “D.V.” of a missionary-meeting placard and by the phrases of Emperor William’s late despatches, where thanks to God come next to enumerations of the thousands slain, is one to which the idea of a Social Science is entirely alien, and indeed repugnant.
An allied class, equally unprepared to interpret sociological phenomena scientifically, is the class which sees in the course of civilization little else than a record of remarkable persons and their doings. One who is conspicuous as the exponent of this view writes:—“As I take it, universal history, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the history of the great men who have worked here.” And this, not perhaps distinctly formulated, but everywhere implied, is the belief in which nearly all are brought up. Let us glance at the genesis of it.
Round their camp-fire assembled savages tell the events of the day’s chase; and he among them who has done some feat of skill or agility is duly lauded. On a return from the war-path, the sagacity of the chief and the strength or courage of this or that warrior, are the all-absorbing themes. When the day, or the immediate past, affords no remarkable deed, the topic is the achievement of some noted leader lately dead, or some traditional founder of the tribe: accompanied, it may be, with a dance dramatically representing those victories which the chant recites. Such narratives, concerning, as they do, the prosperity and indeed the very existence of the tribe, are of the intensest interest; and in them we have the common root of music, of the drama, of poetry, of biography, of history, and of literature in general. Savage life furnishes little else worthy of note; and the chronicles of tribes contain scarcely anything more to be remembered. Early historic races show us the same thing. The Egyptian frescoes and the wall-sculptures of the Assyrians, represent the deeds of leading men; and inscriptions such as that on the Moabite stone, tell of nothing more than royal achievements: only by implication do these records, pictorial, hieroglyphic, or written, convey anything else. And similarly from the Greek epics, though we gather incidentally that there were towns, and war-vessels, and war-chariots, and sailors, and soldiers to be led and slain, yet the direct intention is to set forth the triumphs of Achilles, the prowess of Ajax, the wisdom of Ulysses, and the like. The lessons given to every civilized child tacitly imply, like the traditions of the uncivilized and semi-civilized, that throughout the past of the human race, the doings of conspicuous persons have been the only things worthy of remembrance. How Abraham girded up his loins and gat him to this place or that; how Samuel conveyed divine injunctions which Saul disobeyed; how David recounted his adventures as a shepherd, and was reproached for his misdeeds as a king—these, and personalities akin to these, are the facts about which the juvenile reader of the Bible is interested and respecting which he is catechized: such indications of Jewish institutions as have unavoidably got into the narrative, being regarded neither by him nor by his teacher as of moment. So too, when, with hands behind him, he stands to say his lesson out of Pinnock, we see that the things set down for him to learn, are—when and by whom England was invaded, what rulers opposed the invasions and how they were killed, what Alfred did and what Canute said, who fought at Agincourt and who conquered at Flodden, which king abdicated and which usurped, &c.; and if by some chance it comes out that there were serfs in those days, that barons were local rulers, some vassals of others, that subordination of them to a central power took place gradually, these are facts treated as relatively unimportant. Nay, the like happens when the boy passes into the hands of his classical master, at home or elsewhere. “Arms and the man” form the end of the story as they form its beginning. After the mythology, which of course is all-essential, come the achievements of rulers and soldiers from Agamemnon down to Cæsar: what knowledge is gained of social organization, manners, ideas, morals, being little more than the biographical statements involve. And the value of the knowledge is so ranked that while it would be a disgrace to be wrong about the amours of Zeus, and while inability to name the commander at Marathon would be discreditable, it is excusable to know nothing of the social condition that preceded Lycurugus or of the origin and functions of the Areopagus.
Thus the great-man-theory of History finds everywhere a ready-prepared conception—is, indeed, but the definite expression of that which is latent in the thoughts of the savage, tacitly asserted in all early traditions, and taught to every child by multitudinous illustrations. The glad acceptance it meets with has sundry more special causes. There is, first, this universal love of personalities, which, active in the aboriginal man, dominates still—a love seen in the urchin who asks you to tell him a story, meaning, thereby, somebody’s adventures; a love gratified in adults by police-reports, court-news, divorce-cases, accounts of accidents, and lists of births, marriages, and deaths; a love displayed even by conversations in the streets, where fragments of dialogue, heard in passing, show that mostly between men, and always between women, the personal pronouns recur every instant. If you want roughly to estimate any one’s mental calibre, you cannot do it better than by observing the ratio of generalities to personalities in his talk—how far simple truths about individuals are replaced by truths abstracted from numerous experiences of men and things. And when you have thus measured many, you find but a scattered few likely to take anything more than a biographical view of human affairs. In the second place, this great-man-theory commends itself as promising instruction along with amusement. Being already fond of hearing about people’s sayings and doings, it is pleasant news that, to understand the course of civilization, you have only to read diligently the lives of distinguished men. What can be a more acceptable doctrine than that while you are satisfying an instinct not very remotely allied to that of the village gossip—while you are receiving through print instead of orally, remarkable facts concerning notable persons, you are gaining that knowledge which will make clear to you why things have happened thus or thus in the world, and will prepare you for forming a right opinion on each question coming before you as a citizen. And then, in the third place, the interpretation of things thus given is so beautifully simple—seems so easy to comprehend. Providing you are content with conceptions that are out of focus, as most people’s conceptions are, the solutions it yields appear quite satisfactory. Just as that theory of the Solar System which supposes the planets to have been launched into their orbits by the hand of the Almighty; looks feasible so long as you do not insist on knowing exactly what is meant by the hand of the Almighty; and just as the special creation of plants and animals seems a tenable hypothesis until you try and picture to yourself definitely the process by which one of them is brought into existence; so the genesis of societies by the actions of great men, may be comfortably believed so long as, resting in general notions, you do not ask for particulars.
But now, if, dissatisfied with vagueness, we demand that our ideas shall be brought into focus and exactly defined, we discover the hypothesis to be utterly incoherent. If, not stopping at the explanation of social progress as due to the great man, we go back a step and ask whence comes the great man, we find that the theory breaks down completely. The question has two conceivable answers: his origin is supernatural, or it is natural. Is his origin supernatural? Then he is a deputy-god, and we have Theocracy once removed—or, rather, not removed at all; for we must then agree with Mr. Schomberg, quoted above, that “the determination of Cæsar to invade Britain” was divinely inspired, and that from him, down to “George III. the great and the good,” the successive rulers were appointed to carry out successive designs. Is this an unacceptable solution? Then the origin of the great man is natural; and immediately this is recognized he must be classed with all other phenomena in the society that gave him birth, as a product of its antecedents. Along with the whole generation of which he forms a minute part—along with its institutions, language, knowledge, manners, and its multitudinous arts and appliances, he is a resultant of an enormous aggregate of forces that have been co-operating for ages. True, if you please to ignore all that common observation, verified by physiology, teaches—if you assume that two European parents may produce a Negro child, or that from woolly-haired prognathous Papuans may come a fair, straight-haired infant of Caucasian type—you may assume that the advent of the great man can occur anywhere and under any conditions. If, disregarding those accumulated results of experience which current proverbs and the generalizations of psychologists alike express, you suppose that a Newton might be born in a Hottentot family, that a Milton might spring up among the Andamanese, that a Howard or a Clarkson might have Fiji parents, then you may proceed with facility to explain social progress as caused by the actions of the great man. But if all biological science, enforcing all popular belief, convinces you that by no possibility will an Aristotle come from a father and mother with facial angles of fifty degrees, and that out of a tribe of cannibals, whose chorus in preparation for a feast of human flesh is a kind of rhythmical roaring, there is not the remotest chance of a Beethoven arising; then you must admit that the genesis of the great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown. If it be a fact that the great man may modify his nation in its structure and actions, it is also a fact that there must have been those antecedent modifications constituting national progress before he could be evolved. Before he can re-make his society, his society must make him. So that all those changes of which he is the proximate initiator have their chief causes in the generations he descended from. If there is to be anything like a real explanation of these changes, it must be sought in that aggregate of conditions out of which both he and they have arisen.
Even were we to grant the absurd supposition that the genesis of the great man does not depend on the antecedents furnished by the society he is born in, there would still be the quite-sufficient facts that he is powerless in the absence of the material and mental accumulations which his society inherits from the past, and that he is powerless in the absence of the co-existing population, character, intelligence, and social arrangements. Given a Shakspeare, and what dramas could he have written without the multitudinous traditions of civilized life—without the various experiences which, descending to him from the past, gave wealth to his thought, and without the language which a hundred generations had developed and enriched by use? Suppose a Watt, with all his inventive power, living in a tribe ignorant of iron, or in a tribe that could get only as much iron as a fire blown by hand-bellows will smelt; or suppose him born among ourselves before lathes existed; what chance would there have been of the steam-engine? Imagine a Laplace unaided by that slowly-developed system of Mathematics which we trace back to its beginnings among the Egyptians; how far would he have got with the Mécanique Céleste? Nay, the like questions may be put and have like answers, even if we limit ourselves to those classes of great men on whose doings hero-worshippers more particularly dwell—the rulers and generals. Xenophon could not have achieved his celebrated feat had his Ten Thousand been feeble, or cowardly, or insubordinate. Cæesar would never have made his conquests without disciplined troops, inheriting their prestige and tactics and organization from the Romans who lived before them. And, to take a recent instance, the strategical genius of Moltke would have triumphed in no great campaigns had there not been a nation of some forty millions to supply soldiers, and had not those soldiers been men of strong bodies, sturdy characters, obedient natures, and capable of carrying out orders intelligently.
Were any one to marvel over the potency of a grain of detonating powder, which explodes a cannon, propels the shell, and sinks a vessel hit—were he to enlarge on the transcendent virtues of this detonating powder, not mentioning the ignited charge, the shell, the cannon, and all that enormous aggregate of appliances by which these have severally been produced, detonating powder included; we should not regard his interpretation as very rational. But it would fairly compare in rationality with this interpretation of social phenomena which, dwelling on the important changes the great man works, ignores that vast pre-existing supply of latent power he unlocks, and that immeasurable accumulation of antecedents to which both he and this power are due.
Recognizing what truth there is in the great-man-theory, we may say that, if limited to early societies, the histories of which are histories of little else than endeavours to destroy or subjugate one another, it approximately expresses the fact in representing the capable leader as all-important; though even here it leaves out of sight too much the number and the quality of his followers. But its immense error lies in the assumption that what was once true is true for ever; and that a relation of ruler and ruled which was possible and good at one time is possible and good for all time. Just as fast as this predatory activity of early tribes diminishes, just as fast as larger aggregates are formed by conquest or otherwise, just as fast as war ceases to be the business of the whole male population, so fast do societies begin to develop, to show traces of structures and functions not before possible, to acquire increasing complexity along with increasing size, to give origin to new institutions, new activities, new ideas, sentiments, and habits: all of which unobtrusively make their appearance without the thought of any king or legislator. And if you wish to understand these phenomena of social evolution, you will not do it though you should read yourself blind over the biographies of all the great rulers on record, down to Frederick the Greedy and Napoleon the Treacherous.
In addition to that passive denial of a Social Science implied by these two allied doctrines, one or other of which is held by nine men out of ten, there comes from some an active denial of it-either entire or partial. Reasons are given for the belief that no such thing is possible. The invalidity of these reasons can be shown only after the essential nature of Social Science, overlooked by those who give them, has been pointed out; and to point this out here would be to forestal the argument. Some minor criticisms may, however, fitly precede the major criticism. Let us consider first the positions taken up by Mr. Froude:—
“When natural causes are liable to be set aside and neutralized by what is called volition, the word Science is out of place. If it is free to a man to choose what he will do or not do, there is no adequate science of him. If there is a science of him, there is no free choice, and the praise or blame with which we regard one another are impertinent and out of place.7
It is in this marvellous power in men to do wrong...that the impossibility stands of forming scientific calculations of what men will do before the fact, or scientific explanations of what they have done after the fact.”8
Mr. Buckle would deliver himself from the eccentricities of this and that individual by a doctrine of averages.... Unfortunately the average of one generation need not be the average of the next:...no two generations are alike.9
There [in history] the phenomena never repeat themselves. There we are dependent wholly on the record of things said to have happened once, but which never happen or can happen a second time. There no experiment is possible; we can watch for no recurring fact to test the worth of our conjectures.”10
Here Mr. Froude changes the venue, and joins issue on the old battle-ground of free will versus necessity: declaring a Social Science to be incompatible with free will. The first extract implies, not simply that individual volition is incalculable—that “there is no adequate science of” man (no Science of Psychology); but it also asserts, by implication, that there are no causal relations among his states of mind: the volition by which “natural causes are liable to be set aside,” being put in antithesis to natural, must be supernatural. Hence we are, in fact, carried back to that primitive form of interpretation contemplated at the outset. A further comment is, that because volitions of some kinds cannot be foreseen, Mr. Froude argues as though no volitions can be foreseen: ignoring the fact that the simple volitions determining ordinary conduct, are so regular that prevision having a high degree of probability is easy. If, in crossing a street, a man sees a carriage coming upon him, you may safely assert that, in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of a thousand, he will try to get out of the way. If, being pressed to catch a train, he knows that by one route it is a mile to the station and by another two miles, you may conclude with considerable confidence that he will take the one-mile route; and should he be aware that losing the train will lose him a fortune, it is pretty certain that, if he has but ten minutes to do the mile in, he will either run or call a cab. If he can buy next door a commodity of daily consumption better and cheaper than at the other end of the town, we may affirm that, if he does not buy next door, some special relation between him and the remoter shop-keeper furnishes a strong reason for taking a worse commodity at greater cost of money and trouble. And though, if he has an estate to dispose of, it is within the limits of possibility that he will sell it to A for £1,000, though B has offered £2,000 for it; yet the unusual motives leading to such an act need scarcely be taken into account as qualifying the generalization that a man will sell to the highest bidder. Now, since the predominant activities of citizens are determined by motives of this degree of regularity, there must be resulting social phenomena that have corresponding degrees of regularity—greater degrees, indeed, since in them the effects of exceptional motives become lost in the effects of the aggregate of ordinary motives. Another comment may be added. Mr. Froude exaggerates the antithesis he draws by using a conception of science which is too narrow: he speaks as though there were no science but exact science. Scientific previsions, both qualitative and quantitative, have various degrees of definiteness; and because among certain classes of phenomena the previsions are approximate only, it is not, therefore, to be said that there is no science of those phenomena: if there is some prevision, there is some science. Take, for example, Meteorology. The Derby has been run in a snow-storm, and you may occasionally want a fire in July; but such anomalies do not prevent us from being perfectly certain that the coming summer will be warmer than the past winter. Our south-westerly gales in the autumn may come early or may come late, may be violent or moderate, at one time or at intervals; but that there will be an excess of wind from the south-west at that part of the year we may be sure. The like holds with the relations of rain and dry weather to the quantity of water in the air and the weight of the atmospheric column: though exactly-true predictions cannot be made, approximately-true ones can. So that, even were there not among social phenomena more definite relations than these (and the all-important ones are far more definite), there would still be a Social Science. Once more, Mr. Froude contends that the facts presented in history do not furnish subject-matter for science, because they “never repeat themselves,”—because “we can watch for no recurring fact to test the worth of our conjectures.” I will not meet this assertion by the counter-assertion often made, that historic phenomena do repeat themselves; but, admitting that Mr. Froude here touches on one of the great difficulties of the Social Science (that social phenomena are in so considerable a degree different in each case from what they were in preceding cases), I still find a sufficient reply. For in no concrete science is there absolute repetition; and in some concrete sciences the repetition is no more specific than in Sociology. Even in the most exact of them, Astronomy, the combinations are never the same twice over: the repetitions are but approximate. And on turning to Geology, we find that, though the processes of denudation, deposition, upheaval, subsidence, have been ever going on in conformity with laws more or less clearly generalized, the effects have been always new in their proportions and arrangements; though not so completely new as to forbid comparisons, consequent deductions, and approximate previsions based on them.
Were there no such replies as these to Mr. Froude’s reasons, there would still be the reply furnished by his own interpretations of history; which make it clear that his denial must be understood as but a qualified one. Against his professed theory may be set his actual practice, which, as it seems to me, tacitly asserts that explanations of some social phenomena in terms of cause and effect are possible, if not explanations of all social phenomena. Thus, respecting the Vagrancy Act of 1547, which made a slave of a confirmed vagrant, Mr. Froude says:—“In the condition of things which was now commencing....neither this nor any other penal act against idleness could be practically enforced.”11 That is to say, the operation of an agency brought into play was neutralized by the operation of natural causes coexisting. Again, respecting the enclosure of commons and amalgamation of farms, &c., Mr. Froude writes:—“Under the late reign these tendencies had, with great difficulty, been held partially in check, but on the death of Henry they acquired new force and activity.”12 Or, in other words, certain social forces previously antagonized by certain other forces, produced their natural effects when the antagonism ceased. Yet again, Mr. Froude explains that, “unhappily, two causes [debased currency and an alteration of the farming system] were operating to produce the rise of prices.”13 And throughout Mr. Froude’s History of England there are, I need scarcely say, other cases in which he ascribes social changes to causes rooted in human nature. Moreover, in his lecture on The Science of History, there is a distinct enunciation of “one lesson of History;” namely, that “the moral law is written on the tablets of eternity.... Justice and truth alone endure and live. Injustice and falsehood may be long-lived, but doomsday comes at last to them, in French revolutions and other terrible ways.” And elsewhere he says that “the miseries and horrors which are now destroying the Chinese Empire are the direct and organic results of the moral profligacy of its inhabitants.”14 Each of these statements tacitly asserts that certain social relations, and actions of certain kinds, are inevitably beneficial, and others inevitably detrimental—an historic induction furnishing a basis for positive deduction. So that we must not interpret Mr. Froude too literally when he alleges the “impossibility of forming scientific calculations of what men will do before the fact, or scientific explanations of what they have done after the fact.”
Another writer who denies the possibility of a Social Science, or who, at any rate, admits it only as a science which has its relations of phenomena so traversed by providential influences that it does not come within the proper definition of a science, is Canon Kingsley. In his address on The Limits of Exact Science as applied to History, he says:—
“You say that as the laws of matter are inevitable, so probably are the laws of human life? Be it so: but in what sense are the laws of matter inevitable? Potentially or actually? Even in the seemingly most uniform and universal law, where do we find the inevitable or the irresistible? Is there not in nature a perpetual competition of law against law, force against force, producing the most endless and unexpected variety of results? Cannot each law be interfered with at any moment by some other law, so that the first law, though it may struggle for the mastery, shall be for an indefinite time utterly defeated? The law of gravity is immutable enough: but do all stones veritably fall to the ground? Certainly not, if I choose to catch one, and keep it in my hand. It remains there by laws; and the law of gravity is there, too, making it feel heavy in my hand: but it has not fallen to the ground, and will not, till I let it. So much for the inevitable action of the laws of gravity, as of others. Potentially, it is immutable; but actually, it can be conquered by other laws.”15
This passage, severely criticized, if I remember rightly, when the address was originally published, it would be scarcely fair to quote were it not that Canon Kingsley has repeated it at a later date in his work, The Roman and the Teuton. The very unusual renderings of scientific ideas which it contains, need here be only enumerated. Mr. Kingsley differs profoundly from philosophers and men of science, in regarding a law as itself a power or force, and so in thinking of one law as “conquered by other laws;” whereas the accepted conception of law is that of an established order, to which the manifestations of a power or force conform. He enunciates, too, a quite-exceptional view of gravitation. As conceived by astronomers and physicists, gravitation is a universal and ever-acting force, which portions of matter exercise on one another when at sensible distances; and the law of this force is that it varies directly as the mass and inversely as the square of the distance. Mr. Kingsley’s view, is that the law of gravitation is “defeated” if a stone is prevented from falling to the ground—that the law “struggles” (not the force), and that because it no longer produces motion, the “inevitable action of the laws of gravity” (not of gravity) is suspended: the truth being that neither the force nor its law is in the slightest degree modified. Further, the theory of natural processes which Mr. Kingsley has arrived at, seems to be that when two or more forces (or laws, if he prefers it) come into play, there is a partial or complete suspension of one by another. Whereas the doctrine held by men of science is, that the forces are all in full operation, and the effect is their resultant; so that, for example, when a shot is fired horizontally from a cannon, the force impressed on it produces in a given time just the same amount of horizontal motion as though gravity were absent, while gravity produces in that same time a fall just equal to that which it would have produced had the shot been dropped from the mouth of the cannon. Of course, holding these peculiar views of causation as displayed among simple physical phenomena, Canon Kingsley is consistent in denying historical sequence; and in saying that “as long as man has the mysterious power of breaking the laws of his own being, such a sequence not only cannot be discovered, but it cannot exist.”16 At the same time it is manifest that until he comes to some agreement with men of science respecting conceptions of forces, of their laws, and of the modes in which phenomena produced by compositions of forces are interpretable in terms of compound laws, no discussion of the question at issue can be carried on with profit.
Without waiting for such an agreement, however, which is probably somewhat remote, Canon Kingsley’s argument may be met by putting side by side with it some of his own conclusions set forth elsewhere. In an edition of Alton Locke published since the delivery of the address above quoted from, there is a new preface containing, among others, the following passages:—
“The progress towards institutions more and more popular may be slow, but it is sure. Whenever any class has conceived the hope of being fairly represented, it is certain to fulfil its own hopes, unless it employs, or provokes, violence impossible in England. The thing will be.17 ...“If any young gentlemen look forward....to a Conservative reaction of any other kind than this....to even the least stoppage of what the world calls progress—which I should define as the putting in practice the results of inductive science;—then do they, like King Picrochole in Rabelais, look for a kingdom which shall be restored to them at the coming of the Cocqeigrues.”18
And in a preface addressed to working men, contained in an earlier edition, he says:—
“If you are better off than you were in 1848, you owe it principally to those laws of political economy (as they are called), which I call the brute natural accidents of supply and demand,” &c.19
Which passages offer explanations of changes now gone by as having been wrought out by natural forces in conformity with natural laws, and also predictions of changes which natural forces at present in action will work out. That is to say, by the help of generalized experiences there is an interpretation of past phenomena and a prevision of future phenomena. There is an implicit recognition of that Social Science which is explicitly denied.
A reply to these criticisms may be imagined. In looking for whatever reconciliation is possible between these positions which seem so incongruous, we must suppose the intended assertion to be, that only general interpretations and previsions can be made, not those which are special. Bearing in mind Mr. Froude’s occasional explanations of historical phenomena as naturally caused, we must conclude that he believes certain classes of sociological facts (as the politico-economical) to be scientifically explicable, while other classes are not: though, if this be his view, it is not clear how, if the results of men’s wills, separate or aggregated, are incalculable, politico-economical actions can be dealt with scientifically; since, equally with other social actions, they are determined by aggregated wills. Similarly, Canon Kingsley, recognizing no less distinctly economical laws, and enunciating also certain laws of progress—nay, even warning his hearers against the belief that he denies the applicability of the inductive method to social phenomena,—must be assumed to think that the applicability of the inductive method is here but partial. Citing the title of his address and some of its sentences, he may say they imply simply that there are limits to the explanation of social facts in precise ways; though this position does not seem really reconcilable with the doctrine that social laws are liable to be at any time overruled, providentially or otherwise. But, merely hinting these collateral criticisms, this reply is to be met by the demurrer that it is beside the question. If the sole thing meant is that sociological previsions can be approximate only—if the thing denied is the possibility of reducing Sociology to the form of an exact science; then the rejoinder is that the thing denied is a thing which no one has affirmed. Only a moiety of science is exact science—only phenomena of certain orders have had their relations expressed quantitatively as well as qualitatively. Of the remaining orders there are some produced by factors so numerous and so hard to measure, that to develop our knowledge of their relations into the quantitative form will be extremely difficult, if not impossible. But these orders of phenomena are not therefore excluded from the conception of Science. In Geology, in Biology, in Psychology, most of the previsions are qualitative only; and where they are quantitative their quantitativeness, never quite definite, is mostly very indefinite. Nevertheless we unhesitatingly class these previsions as scientific. It is thus with Sociology. The phenomena it presents, involved in a higher degree than all others, are less than all other, capable of precise treatment: such of them as can be generalized, can be generalized only within wide limits of variation as to time and amount; and there remains much that cannot be generalized. But so far as there can be generalization, and so far as there can be interpretation based on it, so far there can be science. Whoever expresses political opinions—whoever asserts that such or such public arrangements will be beneficial or detrimental, tacitly expresses belief in a Social Science; for he asserts, by implication, that there is a natural sequence among social actions, and that as the sequence is natural, results may be foreseen.
Reduced to a more concrete form, the case may be put thus:—Mr. Froude and Canon Kingsley both believe to a considerable extent in the efficiency of legislation—probably to a greater extent than it is believed in by some of those who assert the existence of a Social Science. To believe in the efficiency of legislation is to believe that certain prospective penalties or rewards will act as deterrents or incentives—will modify individual conduct, and therefore modify social action. Though it may be impossible to say that a given law will produce a foreseen effect on a particular person, yet no doubt is felt that it will produce a foreseen effect on the mass of persons. Though Mr.Froude, when arguing against Mr. Buckle, says that he “would deliver himself from the eccentricities of this and that individual by a doctrine of averages,” but that “unfortunately, the average of one generation need not be the average of the next;” yet Mr. Froude himself so far believes in the doctrine of averages as to hold that legislative interdicts, with threats of death or imprisonment behind them, will restrain the great majority of men in ways which can be predicted. While he contends that the results of individual will are incalculable, yet, by approving certain laws and condemning others, he tacitly affirms that the results of the aggregate of wills are calculable. And if this be asserted of the aggregate of wills as affected by legislation, it must be asserted of the aggregate of wills as affected by social influences at large. If it be held that the desire to avoid punishment will so act on the average of men as to produce an average foreseen result; then it must also be held that on the average of men, the desire to get the greatest return for labour, the desire to rise into a higher rank of life, the desire to gain applause, and so forth, will each of them produce a certain average result. And to hold this is to hold that there can be prevision of social phenomena, and therefore Social Science.
In brief, then, the alternative positions are these. On the one hand, if there is no natural causation throughout the actions of incorporated humanity, government and legislation are absurd. Acts of Parliament may, as well as not, be made to depend on the drawing of lots or the tossing of a coin; or, rather, there may as well be none at all: social sequences having no ascertainable order, no effect can be counted upon—everything is chaotic. On the other hand, if there is natural causation, then the combination of forces by which every combination of effects is produced, produces that combination of effects in conformity with the laws of the forces. And if so, it behoves us to use all diligence in ascertaining what the forces are, what are their laws, and what are the ways in which they co-operate.
Such further elucidation as is possible will be gained by discussing the question to which we now address ourselves—the Nature of the Social Science. Along with a definite idea of this, will come a perception that the denial of a Social Science has arisen from the confusing of two essentially-different classes of phenomena which societies present—the one class, almost ignored by historians, constituting the subject-matter of Social Science, and the other class, almost exclusively occupying them, admitting of scientific co-ordination in a very small degree, if at all.
[1.]Daily paper, January 22, 1849.
[2.]The Theocratic Philosophy of English History, vol. i. p. 49.
[3.]Ibid., vol. i. p. 289.
[4.]Ibid., vol. ii. p. 681.
[5.]La Main de l’Homme et le Doigt de Dieu dans les malheurs de la France. Par J. C., Ex-aumonier dans l’armée auxiliaire. Paris, Douniol & Cie., 1871.
[6.]The Roman and the Teuton, pp. 339–40.
[7.]Short Studies on Great Subjects, vol. i. p. 11.
[8.]Ibid., vol. i. p. 22
[9.]Ibid., vol. i. p. 24.
[10.]Ibid., vol. i. p. 15.
[11.]History of England, vol. v. p. 70.
[12.]Ibid., vol. v. p. 108.
[13.]Ibid., vol. v. p. 109.
[14.]Short Studies on Great Subjects, p. 59.
[15.]The Limits of Exact Science as applied to History, p. 20.
[16.]Ibid., p. 22.
[17.]Alton Locke, new edition, preface, p. xxi.
[18.]Ibid., pp. xxiii. xxiv.
[19.]Ibid., preface (1854), p. xxvii.