Page images

out into general use through the modifications that it will gradually make in all branches of social science and practice. A few years ago I called with a friend upon Professor Virchow. My friend thought that he was suffering from a disorder for which the celebrated pathologist would prescribe. When our errand was explained, Professor Virchow lifted both hands above his head in vigorous protest. "Why," he said, "I haven't written a prescription in twenty years, and I wouldn't dare to." Yet not a thoroughly educated physician or trained nurse in the world had received a diploma in those twenty years whose conduct in the sickroom had not been foreordained by Professor Virchow's work. If the sociologists of these two types realize any fraction of their hopes, the results will have a similar relation to social practice. They will be carried to society at large through applications made by workers of other sorts.

Again there are sociologists who prefer to call themselves psychologists, or historians, or economists, or political scientists, but their proper classification is indicated by the fact that they, consciously or unconsciously, work from a point of view that is strictly sociological. Others frankly call themselves sociologists, but they work chiefly upon psychological, or historical, or economic, or political, or other problems, yet with sociological organization of their work always in mind. The former are particularly interesting to the professed sociologists, for in spite of themselves they are vindications of the sociological argument. They admit more or less consciously every principal claim which the sociologists have made. They begin to assert with the zeal of new converts that the phase of social activity to which they give chief attention can be correctly estimated only when viewed as a part of all the rest of life. This is the strategic point of the sociological position. Use of this perception as a corrective of all surveys of social facts is the advance in thought which sociologists first of all demand.

Then there are sociologists whose immediate interest is in some concrete religious, or educational, or industrial, or political, or charitable, or criminological improvement. They want to find out what is worth doing, and how to do it. They want to pro

mote more success in everything that belongs to complete life, and they select some definite division of practical activity for their special effort. This species is very widely contrasted, in its peculiar traits, with the first and second; but the common generic trait of all the types is that they do their work in the spirit and from the point of view described above. The general sociologist does his generalizing with a view to its bearings at last upon all particular cases, and the concrete sociologist does his particularizing under control of regard for all the general truths that the social philosophers may formulate.

It is possible to counterfeit each of these types of sociologist, but the same thing is true of all specialists. We have no way in this country of patenting scientific titles. Every slack-wire acrobat and every chiropodist is at liberty to dub himself "professor." Every snake-charmer or fortune-teller may make gain of the title "psychologist." Every peddler of cure-alls for governmental corruption may glory in the title "political scientist.' Every inventor of a panacea for poverty may announce himself an "economist," and alas! each of these, if it suits his fancy better, may advertise himself as a "sociologist." It will probably be a long time before the general public, or even all college presidents, can draw as fair lines between spurious and genuine sociologists as are drawn between quacks and scientific workers in older professions. Meanwhile it is our business to live up to our own scientific standards, and to make the quality of our work distinguish itself.

Within each of the sociological groups referred to, as distinctive problems are under investigation, the methods are as critical, the results are relatively as creditable, as in any older division of science. To assert or to imply the contrary is a provincialism which scholars in other fields will be more and more anxious to avoid.

The public discussions alluded to above raised another point that deserves notice. Some of the most intelligent editorials upon the work of sociologists vigorously belabored the jargon in which sociologists express themselves. They complained that sociologists use language which common people cannot

understand. Letters frequently reach the editors of this JOURNAL voicing the same complaint. It must be admitted that there is a measure of justice in these rebukes, yet there is another side to the case which laymen do not appreciate, but investigators must not allow themselves to be confused about it. Scientific discussion is by no means a mere matter of rhetoric. It is not simply expressing something. It is often an essential part of the process of getting something to express. It is an attempt

to formulate a real problem where the layman has no suspicion that a problem exists. It is hazarding a thesis to be tried against the attacks of competent critics. It is an hypothesis to be tested. It is a tentative generalization. Simply because it is a generalization, whether it proves valid or not, it is beyond the usual range of ordinary reflection. That is, the subject and the predicate extend beyond the horizon of everyday vision. No matter how precisely they are expressed, therefore, they do not present a clear image to minds not accustomed to that outlook. If the proposition were expressed so that it would mean more to the layman, the language might lose the very elements that contain its peculiar meaning for the specialist. Of course, it is an affront to omniscient democracy to intimate that every man is not as competent a specialist as any man upon such a familiar subject as human society. Of course, if the average man does not take in the full meaning of a sociological proposition, it is the fault of the sociologist who utters it. Nevertheless, it will be necessary for a good while to come that men who are actually advancing knowledge shall talk to each other a great deal in language that says little or nothing to the layman. On the one hand, the layman has no business to find fault with this, and, on the other hand, if he does, the specialist has no business to mind it. Whatever may have been their sins of abstruseness, American scholars have committed more and greater sins through overambition to impress the public. Premature plays for popularity are much more deplorable than mysterious technicality. In the end scientific tasks are performed sooner and better if scientists address themselves exclusively to their kind, till they convince each other that they

have something to say. It is time enough then to throw away the technicalities and put the new knowledge into general circulation.

The really flagrant sins that have been committed in the name of sociology in recent years have been inflammatory utterances, in terms that found quick response in popular feeling, while there was no proper social knowledge behind them. They conveyed definite impressions, but they were simply audacious appeals to prejudice. Serious sociology is a deliberate plan to discredit that sort of thing and to find a basis for social opinion in a sufficient analysis of social facts. The details of this analysis will not be edifying to the multitude. They will seem academic and pedantic. No doubt they will be, to a considerable extent, as this has been the case in nearly every other field of knowledge. In the end, however, sound learning will be promoted sooner and faster by discussing unsettled problems in the technical language appropriate to problems, than by a parade of simplicity which encourages the public to assume that open questions are settled.

The necessity for this professionalism varies in different divisions of sociology. It is greatest among the first two types named, and least in the fourth group. Members of the latter are less likely to offend the public by excessive obscurity of terms than by the moderation of their conclusions. Popular impatience craves what the serious sociologist can never furnish. There is always a brisk demand for social specifics, but relatively languid interest in social hygiene. One could get tooted as a social prophet any day by publishing a scheme to do away with government. If one merely points out a practicable way of improving the workings of government, it may be a generation before he gets a hearing. A new way to abolish private property would command wide attention at any moment. A feasible plan of juster taxation would have a long and thankless struggle for a chance to explain itself. A crusade to smash "trusts" is always in order, and there is never a lack of spectators eager to see the fun. Serious analysis of inequities in the workings of corporations, and proposals of sane remedies, meet

indifference at best and contempt as a rule. The man who promises to end crime, if society will only adopt socialism, counts as a statesman and a seer with the contingent always ready to accept visionary promises at par. The man who points out an available means of removing temptations to crime, or of heading off criminal propensities before it is too late, is too commonplace to spur the radical imagination. Ten thousand people will swallow a cure-all to one who will think. The sociologist who asks the public to reflect, instead of flattering the demand for quick and complete remedies for social ills, sends himself to Coventry for a long term.

The conclusion of the whole matter for the sociologists is that, when we reach results which are ripe for popular consumption, we should spread the news as widely as possible, and in the plainest terms. On the other hand, while sociology is good for nothing unless it can enrich average life at last, our primary task is to work out correct statements of social problems and valid methods of solving them. We ought not to be distracted either by popular clamor for quick results or by ignorant misrepresentation of our aims. Our main business is to study society by methods which competent judges must indorse.

The worst enemy of the sociologists is defect of scientific patience. Itch to be talked about, without having made any real contribution to knowledge, is the stigma of the pseudo-scientist. Genuine research, no matter how slow in reaching results, and no matter how minute the result in each case, will in due time win for the real sociologists, as for all others scientific workers, their fair share of appreciation.



« PreviousContinue »