Page images
PDF
EPUB

gies are the operative principle. Where a maximum number is fixed, mistrust toward the plurality, which does not operate toward its separate components, is, on the contrary, the effective principle.

Whether a prohibition is attached to a maximum or permission to a minimum, the legislators will not have been in any doubt that the result which they fear or wish occurs only quite irregularly, and in a merely average constancy in connection with the fixed limits, but the arbitrariness of the determination is in this case quite as unavoidable and justifiable as in the determination of a period of life after which persons assume the rights and duties of their majority. Without any question, subjective capacity for this responsibility occurs in the case of many earlier and in others later, in the case of none at one stroke in the precise minute fixed by law, but praxis can obtain the fixed standards which it needs only by means of dividing the series, which in itself is continuous, for the purposes of the law at a given point into two divisions, the quite distinct methods of treating which can find no precise justification in the objective characteristics of the two. Hence it is so extremely instructive that in all definitions from which the above examples are selected, the special quality of the persons affected by the definition does not at all come into consideration, although it necessarily determines each individual case. It is, however, nothing tangible, and as the tangible element there remains, therefore, only the number. It is essential to demonstrate the universally prevailing profound feeling that the number would be the decisive factor if the individual differences did not counteract their working; that, however, for precisely this reason these effects are securely contained in the ultimate total phenomena.

PROFESSOR DR. GEORG SIMMEL. UNIVERSITY OF BERLIN.

THE SCOPE OF SOCIOLOGY.

VIII.

[ocr errors]

THE PRIMARY CONCEPTS OF SOCIOLOGY." 1. The physical and spiritual environment. On the physical side we have said all that is needed for the purposes of this survey in the fourth paper of this series. In a word, sociology is not a physical science, but at every step the sociologist must be prepared to ask the question: To what extent are the activities of men that we are considering influenced by that natural environment which the physical sciences interpret? Sociology is science rather than philosophy—using both terms in an old sense which we shall explain away presently — for this reason: We are not trying to construct a speculative, conceptual abstraction, in order to make that the subject of our inquiry. We are not dealing with a subject that exists in a vacuum, or in the clouds, or merely within the realm of thought-phenomena. We are aware that an earthquake, or a thunderstorm, and an outburst of human passion or a play of human sentiment, occur in the same world, and have to be accounted for, in the case of the second order of facts, by reference in part to the same laws which operate in the case of the first order of facts. Why are crimes against property more frequent in winter than in summer, and why are the same classes of crime more ingenious in the temperate than in the torrid zone ? For one reason, among others; that in the former cases the struggle with nature for the means of subsistence is much more difficult. The conditions of life are more relentless. It costs more effort to live at all. The criminal impulse is more sharply stimulated under the pressure of the more acute necessity.

This perception that men are dependent upon physical nature is so obvious that it has often been impossible to break away from the force of its implications sufficiently to see that any other factor is concerned in human life. We have had materialistic interpretations of life galore, from some of the prePlatonists to living writers. The fact which all these philosophies have overworked is that every external act, and every subjective emotion which occurs in the case of any person, has the whole mass of physical surroundings and antecedents as its conditions. One does not utter a sentiment, or compose a song, or offer a prayer, or feel a transcendental emotion, without being, in some degree or sort, moved to the same by the soil and climate and technical processes and institutional arrangements which constitute the vehicle of one's life. But the fact that the same farm produces Websters whom the world has already forgotten and the Webster whom the world will never forget, proves that the materialistic interpretation of life is a snap-judgment. The physical environment is always present, but it is not all that is present. In considering any social problem we must always ask: How much does the physical environment have to do with the case ? The answer will in some instances be a negligible quantity. In others it will furnish the only clue to the situation, as distinguished from similar situations that turn out differently under other physical conditions.

* The first seven papers of this series appeared in this JOURNAL, Vol. V, Nos. 3, 4, and 5; and Vol. VI, Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4. 2 AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY, Vol. VI, pp. 47–60.

For instance, the chief reason why Germany cherishes a colonial policy today, and why the United States merely tolerates a provisional colonial policy, is the physical difference between German over-population and American under-population. On the other hand, the reason why Germany clings to the union of church and state, while America abhors it, is so very remotely connected with physical conditions that it would be a strain upon language and ideas to give the physical factor in the case any weight at all. Whether we

Whether we are dealing with percentages of individual cases of given types in a population, or with types of purely social organization on a large scale, the sociological program must always be to give the physical factor precisely the value which it has no more, no less, neither minimized nor exaggerated by any a priori, speculative assumptions.

Parallel with the physical environment we must prepare to give proportionate value to the second condition mentioned in

a

the title of this section, viz., the spiritual environment. As Professor Thomas has said in his paper on “The Gaming Instinct”:'

Psychologically the individual is inseparable from his surroundings, and his attitude toward the world is determined by the nature of suggestions from the outside. The general culture and social position of his parents, the ideals of the social set in which he moves, the schools he attends, the literature he sees, the girl he wants to marry, are among the factors which determine the lifedirections of the youth. From the complex of suggestions coming to him in the social relations into which he is born or thrown, he selects and follows those recurring persistently, emanating from attractive personalities, or arising in critical circumstances.

Professor Ross has used the term "social ascendency” for the whole sum of facts in a society by which tradition and derived standards impose themselves upon the individual. This social ascendency is partly by means of social machinery, like the industrial and the governmental systems. It is partly by means of ideas, customs, standards of taste, form, morals, which most of the persons affected by them do not express in words. They are an invisible presence, but they often dictate the course of social events as absolutely as a physical cause procures its effect. Perhaps the best illustration for Americans is the racesentiment in the South, as contrasted with the promiscuity of sentiment on the same subject in the North. A visitor from the North goes to a southern state, and before he has been there an hour, if he mingles with the people, he detects a something in the social tone which he has read about, but never before directly experienced. He finds himself among some of the most genial, warm-hearted, high-minded people he has ever seen, but he finds them governed by a code of sentiments toward the colored man which seem to him unintelligible and inconsistent. The northern man does not know how to draw the distinctions in his conduct toward the black man which the southern man draw's instinctively, and on the other hand the northern man will draw lines at points where the southern man does not feel the need of them. Here are two different spiritual environments. The southern man lives in an environment of race-distinctions. The northern man lives in an environment of merely personal distinctions. To the northern man personal likes and dislikes,

* AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY, Vol. VI, p.761.

. social inclusion or exclusion, will depend on the individual. His being a negro makes no more difference than his being a Spaniard or Italian or Russian or Englishman. To the southern man the idea of a socially acceptable negro is a contradiction in terms.

No argument on the merits of the case is implied in the illustration. The point is that these familiar mental attitudes are convenient evidences of the universal reality, viz., a spiritual tone, atmosphere, perspective, standard, which sets the limits of action for individuals in the community.'

It is necessary to emphasize the fact of the spiritual environment, partly because we have that familiarity with it which breeds contempt. It is so commonplace that we think it may be ignored. It is necessary, also, because in other cases the fact is like the pressure of the atmosphere. Each of us is affected by it most intimately, but few of us have discovered it. Just as every portion of space has its physical atmosphere, so every portion of society has its thought-atmosphere. This mental envelope largely explains habit and custom, impulse and endeavor, power and limitation within the society. To know the act, the person, the episode, the social situation, the social problem, the social movement in any single case, we must know the thought-environment or the spiritual environment in which it occurs. This is a requirement that is universal and without exceptions.?

2. The personal units.- Nothing more clearly signalizes the difference between present sociology and the older philosophies of history than the matter-of-fact analysis which we now make of the persons who compose society. We do not deal with the metaphysical conception of a fictitious individual, on the one hand, nor are we, on the other hand, any longer speculating about “society” as though it were an affair independent of persons,

* Vid. above, Vol. VI, pp. 354-6, “A Subjective Environment.”

2 It has recently been made use of in a very forcible way by PROFESSOR JOHN Dewey in a paper entitled "Interpretation of the Savage Mind," Psychological Review, May, 1902.

« PreviousContinue »