Sociology and Human Welfare
University of Chicago
FROM the time when men first conceived of the possibility of a science of society, it was assumed that the enhancement of human welfare was to be the result of the discoveries made and the principles to be formulated. From Comte and Spencer to Giddings and Small it was held that, while we exalted objectivity and sought for disinterestedness in all our work, the goal of our endeavor was the understanding of our past and the solution of our problems, that human life might be enriched.
Now an interest in human welfare is as old as the earliest books and far older. What is distinctive about the rise of sociology is the conviction that human weal can be furthered by attempting a task that had never been previously under-taken, the attempt to study human nature, individual and collective, as a series of natural events, operating according to ordered sequences and capable of scientific formulation. Many other methods had been tried in the former centuries-this one was new.
For ages it was to the religious teachers that mankind looked for guidance in the pursuit of the good, and men spoke the messages that seemed to them in accordance with the will of the gods of their fathers. Other moral leaders, in a later period of history, sought the metaphysical principles from which could be deduced the rules of action by which it was believed men ought to live. But to pass from the metaphysical to the positive, from the deductive consequences of first truths and principles to the scientific understanding of the laws of human life, this was to be the insight of the earliest of the sociologists and it is still the method and procedure of all scientific students of society.
The praises of science are so eloquently sung and the triumphs of science in our day are so impressive that it is easy to forget how recent is this view and this still developing method. There were faint beginnings of it in Egypt and there was a false dawn in the age of Epicurus in Greece, but the darkness descended again and it was not till the seventeenth century that the leaders of European thought were able to formulate the method which social science was to adopt two hundred years later. The names of men of insight and wisdom adorn the pages of our histories but they worked and thought as artists, and what we
( 2) know as science did not appear until, one might almost say, it was long overdue,
The age of Elizabeth would surely be placed by most men in the modern era and in many respects it does seem to be-long to our own time. It was the age that gave to us our greatest poet, the brightest star in a brilliant galaxy, and with Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet as part of our contemporary drama, the ambition of every gifted actor, we can well call the age of Shakespeare our own. A century had passed since the great discoveries began, ships then sailed the seven seas, and the thoughts of men had been widened. But in many respects it was not modern but rather a period of transition. The law of gravitation was not yet dreamed of and the chemical elements were four in number, fire, water, earth, and air, as they had been for two thousand years. More significant still, the belief in magic and the occult and the practice of the magical arts of divination and witchcraft took the place of what was to become modern science.
Human welfare was destined to be greatly advanced when science should afford freedom from superstitious terror, banish famine, abolish scarcity, and give to the serf the means of his emancipation, but the age-old belief in magic and the occult had not died nor could it die till science, its only enemy, should cause it to disappear. It was in the year 1611 that The Tempest was written, that last message of a mature genius who seems to be saying to us that the wisdom of the wise is most fitly used to bring young lovers together, but the wisdom of Prospero was his knowledge of magic, and by his own power he raised a storm, commanded the good spirit Ariel, and foiled the evil designs of the degenerate son of Sycorax, the witch.
The age of Shakespeare, in many respects, indeed belongs to us and it is difficult to think of Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Spanish Armada as having occurred in the dim past. The first folio edition of the works of the great dramatist was not published till after colonies had been founded in Virginia and New England, ships were sailing to India, the world had been circumnavigated, and the Protestant Reformation was nearly a century old. And yet the intellectual outlook differed profoundly from our own. The word electricity had never been pronounced, nor the word barometer spoken. The first man, peering into a microscope at a piece of cork, was reminded of the cells of monks when he saw the box-like structures, and the cell as a unit of living forms was conceived---but this was after Shakespeare's day. The blood did not yet circulate and the earth had been turning on its axis for so short a time that it was still unaccustomed to the new habit! Even Milton, long after, never quite got used to it.
But although the scientific attitude toward the world was slowly gaining acceptance, there was one respect in which some of the dominant ideas of the Elizabethan age differed profoundly from our own and resembled those of the Melanesian savages. Magic, superstition, and the belief in and reliance on the occult powers still persisted and still continued to persist till the triumphs of science relegated them to the nursery and the prattle of children. The whole action of Hamlet turns on the ghost and his message, nor was the ghost a subjective illusion but a real ghost, seen by the guards and the skeptical and materialistic Horatio. The soothsayer in Julius Caesar really did have the gift of divination and would have been at home in London or Edinburgh, and might have received
( 3) more credence. In Macbeth, the witches were real witches and the audiences of that day believed in them profoundly.
We listen to these speeches today very much as we hear the words of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, for the realm of fantasy has its esthetic appeal, but to Elizabethan audiences and to all the Europeans of that day they were terribly real. It is a wide-spread fallacy that magic and superstition are related to ignorance and a backward state of civilization.
A belief in a world of witches, spirits, demons, and occult powers and a superstitious attitude toward the unusual would seem to have no relation or correlation with intelligence, mental ability, or civilization. Much has been written about the Salem witches and the less than twenty victims are often cited as a reproach against the character and intelligence of the New England puritans. But during the lifetime of Shakespeare, in Scotland alone, there were 8000 executions for witchcraft, an average of four a week. When James VI of Scotland, who became James I of Britain, was returning home with his royal bride, Anne of Denmark, the ship was imperiled by a storm and the wizard who had caused the storm, a Dr. Fian, was sought, apprehended, and tortured with the most inhuman cruelties. One estimate has it that from 1575 to 1700 there were a million executions for witchcraft in Europe, not confined to any religious group, for one-third of them were Protestants.
It is well that we should call to mind that the Age of Magic lasted from a time before any history was written and did not cease till the Age of Science had fully dawned. When Rome was at the height of its greatness, magic, divination, and witchcraft flourished, and the same can be said of the glory that was Greece. It was the same in Egypt, and the trail leads back to the savage hordes before civilization in cities had appeared on the earth. Thomas Aquinas speaks in extensive discussions of the nature of the guardian angels and of the danger to which we are all constantly exposed from the whisperings of evil spirits. The sacred writings of Jews and Christians admonish that a witch must not be suffered to live, and the factual record of the power of the witch to bring back the dead to life can still be read in the holy books.
Great poets, great architects, mighty warriors, and eminent statesmen were produced in those ancient times, but neither wealth nor literary masterpieces were inconsistent with the magical and occult practices which seem to have no difficulty in flourishing side by side with the highest civilization. Magic can live and did live side by side with religion. Magic can flourish and for ages did flourish contemporaneously with splendid art. Magic was believed in and practiced by men of wide learning and of high moral character. It was science and the scientific method that alone brought an end to the age of magic.
The steps and stages by which the Age of Science came to be are too familiar to be repeated here. But we do know that, one by one, the differing aspects of the world were reduced to order and were differentiated and studied. Astronomy, botany, chemistry, and the rest were formulated into sciences, and, as fast as the laws of nature were discovered in anyone realm, the belief in magic and the occult disappeared with respect to the phenomena concerned, but only in that particular quarter.
There is one effect of the triumph of modern science, which is of great importance, which was hardly anticipated and which has largely escaped notice.
( 4) In a world where magic is practiced and occult conceptions rule, all nature is considered to be purposive and to be possessed of qualities. There was real anger in the tempest and gracious benignity in the spring sunshine. And, since nature was both favorable and precariously dangerous, some of these forces and qualities were good and some were evil. It has long been commonplace to speak of science as affording the control of nature but it would be more accurate to assign this gift to the magician, whether primitive or medieval. The rain-maker makes it rain. The wicked witch controls the storm or by her curses and imprecations occasions misfortune. Science does not so much control nature as obey her. Meteorology is limited to warnings of the tornado or the hurricane, with no thought that it can in any way be averted or diverted. Savages may shout and beat drums to end an eclipse of the sun; scientists can only for tell it and take pictures.
It is hardly too much to say that, when science had done its work, it had taken the life out of one realm of nature after the other. The planets were no longer heavenly forces, governing the lives of men, but dead spheres of known composition whose mass, direction, and velocity could be accurately plotted. And when biology was added to the list of sciences and life was studied as life, the effect was to reduce the processes as nearly as might be to a mechanical formulation.
The first effect of the scientific method when it approached its present degree of perfection was to remove all the qualities from nature and to conceive of everything natural as wholly mechanical. The stars revolved in accordance with a formula and all the occurrences in nature were to be expressed in equations. Mathematics was the wonderful tool of analysis and from being a tool it came to be conceived as an ideal. Whatever was quantitative was regarded as scientific, and those problems that did not yield to mathematical statement were ruled out of consideration. The Society of the Sigma Xi includes the students of all the subjects which its members regard as sciences and refuses to admit those scholars whom they do not regard as scientific workers, with the result that students of the social life of man are no more permitted to wear the symbolic key of the Society than the untouchables of India are allowed to enter the temple.
And so nature which had from time immemorial been regarded as inclusive of conscious purpose, volitional choice, and discriminate qualities was now considered so machine-like that the red of the rose and the taste of the sea water were discarded from nature altogether. Color became a wave-length, written out to the third decimal, and the tones of the voice were accurately defined as air waves of definite lengths and speed.
The experiences of men alone remained as conscious events with qualities too insistent to be denied. They were not denied, but they were rejected from nature and banished as subjective, just as the fairies and demons had been discarded. This was the great disjunction.
This confusing error became firmly rooted and is, in our time, widely entertained. To regard nature as mechanical and everywhere mensurable in terms of operational units is indeed to rule man out. And so our social science labors under the handicap of having to devise methods for the investigation of problems that are thought of as outside the realm of nature. The disjunction of man and nature is, it seems to many of us, a false disjunction. It raises problems that are false problems because they are unreal.
( 5) Once admit that man is a part of nature and they disappear. If we are to say man and nature, then we are entangled in the theories of how the mind, which is immaterial, can affect or be affected by the body which is composed of the same elements as the rat.
It is to the founder of sociology that we are chiefly indebted for the corrective formulation. His first writings were not of sociology, for he had not coined the word; he wrote rather of social physics and it was his conviction that human life could be studied and understood with as much certainty and as much assurance as any of the other natural sciences. Lester F. Ward wrote widely of the psychic factors in society and it is the contention of all who are trying to make of ours a natural science that this aspect of human life is of central importance. There is nowhere any denial of the psychic factors in human life. Some would name them by strange names but they must recognize them and do recognize them. Some would try to make even the psychic factors mechanical and mathematically measurable, but the result of their efforts have proved disappointing and are, so far, negligible. But to those who deny man and the mind of man a place in nature, there is left only a technique that bears a suspicious resemblance to the procedure of the magician.
The welfare of mankind is the chief concern of the sociologist. The way in which the welfare of the race can be advanced is no monopoly of the scientist but, if the science of man is to be successful in its enterprises, it is necessary to do as the older sciences have done, isolate problems, devise methods, and learn one by one the conditions antecedent to each of the important objects of our concern. This would seem to be possible only if man and the mind of man and all the feelings and experiences of man are restored to a place in nature so that we may use the methods that have been so fruitful in trying to understand the other riddles that nature presents.
Nature indeed appears in many forms and under many aspects. Some natural objects are inanimate and inert, and sciences have grown up in answer to the need to know of rivers and avalanches and the history of the Alpine peaks. Some aspects of nature are alive but sessile, and sciences have arisen that speak of the plants, from the cedar which is in Lebanon to the hyssop that springeth from the wall. Again, nature appears in mobile forms, and from ants and whales to birds and beavers they have been studied and made known. just what warrant there could ever be for stopping at this point and excluding man and his feeling and his products from nature would be difficult to imagine but for the historical facts which have been cited. To say that man must not be thought of as a part of nature because man has culture, because we learn from our parents and retain what we can of the things they have made, is to rule out of nature any modification ever produced by a living thing.
The termite "nests" in the tropics rise as high as twenty feet and represent a striking modification of the surface of the terrain. No one would care to rule out these structures from nature, although the huts of the natives are often less impressive in size and even inferior in cunning. A denuded landscape after a swarm of locusts has eaten every green thing is desolate, but we regard it as natural, while the destruction of a forest by human beings is usually referred to as not to be so included. A beaver dam will flood an area and a succession of them will produce important alteration in a region
( 6) and we have no difficulty in including this in the catalogue of natural events, while it is difficult for us to do the same thing when we consider a dam made by human effort.
It would seem to be not only a great gain to overcome once more the false separation of man from nature; it would seem to be a necessary condition for the building up of a science of human society. For if there is to be a science there must be laws to be formulated; if there are laws to be formulated there must be uniformities to be discovered. The very notion of a science implies that these can be discovered and made known.
If, therefore, man be considered as a product of nature, wholly and without residue, differing from the other beings in nature and with his own organization and potentialities, then personality and character, groups and institutions, can be studied as Comte would have us study them. "Social physics," his earlier term, was not a happy one and he abandoned it, but it does carry the implication of the science of society as a natural science in precisely the same sense that physics is so called.
But to call a human event a natural event implies no approval of it. Nature is not always propitious, for there are earthquakes and floods as well as fertile earth and good seasons for growing things. The advantage in regarding suicide, murder, robbery, divorce, and war as natural events is that it makes their scientific study possible. For every event is the culmination of a history and the scientific task consists chiefly in discovering the sequences which have brought it about. It is not too much to say that if we knew the events that culminate in acts of delinquency, all of them, we should have in our possession the knowledge which would enable us to prevent it wholly, or at the worst to resign ourselves to what cannot possibly be avoided, just as we accept the inevitability of storms at sea.
Sociology will most surely contribute to human welfare if it becomes more rigidly scientific, studying nature and man, not to admire, not to condemn, but to understand. Religious leaders have tried and they are still cordially urged to continue their efforts; political leaders have striven and they will always be necessary functionaries; moral teachers and reformers have made their contribution and there is no reason why they should not continue to do what they can. Science alone has not yet been tried, and sociology will contribute to human welfare by bringing to bear on these our social concerns the same temper and procedure which has produced the organized sciences which we so rightly admire and whose success is our challenge and inspiration.
Sociology may almost be defined as the coming to self-consciousness of society. Our undergraduate teaching makes students aware of much that is familiar in their experience but unnoticed and unrelated till it is adequately organized. If universities exist to enable men to under-stand their past and to solve their problems, surely sociology has an important function, for social relations cannot be understood apart from the past and social problems have become some of the most insistent. It was Professor Seligman, an economist, who wrote in the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences that the most important of all of the social sciences is sociology. Whether or not this be true, and surely they are all indispensably important, it does emphasize our right to magnify our office and to realize that we are engaged in a task of vital importance.
But if sociology is, or is about to be, a
( 7) science, there is an important qualification and an essential limitation to the activities appropriate to those who practice it. For science is devoted to the pursuit of truth, to the accumulation of knowledge, to the solution of problems. The scientist is not the ruler or the administrator or the maker of policies. These latter we have always had and shall always need, but scientists who devote their lives to the study of the problems of society have only recently appeared. It is well to know what their task is and what should appropriately limit their activities.
The religious prophets, the ethical teachers, the reformers, and the agitators all have one thing in common that marks them off from the scientific sociologist—they know the answers. Listen to any gifted propagandist, from a Socialist candidate for president to the nearest soap-box orator, and you will be impressed by the voice of authority, confident and assured. The preacher in his pulpit appropriately declares: "Thus saith the Lord."The prophet calls with the voice of authority, for he could not be a prophet if he were in doubt. The agitator could not agitate if he were not certain that he has found the answer to questions which the sociologist modestly asks. They work their work; we, ours.
Agitators, inciters to revolt, these men and women appear and their conduct demands interpretation. Indeed, the sociologist finds valuable material in studying revolts, as a laboratory man studies experiments. Some confused men among us are tempted from time to time to join the emotional uplifters, but, from Sumner to Park, voices have been raised in solemn warning. Evangelistic souls preaching a change of heart as a panacea for our ills are not so numerous as formerly but names of earnest men will occur to every reader who could thus be actively characterized, and yet who claim a place among sociologists.
The scientist is the enquirer, the investigator, the searcher, the researcher. The task of the sociologist of seeking to discover the answer to scientific problems would seem to be difficult enough. If a scientist has found the solution co his problem, it is his duty to communicate it to his fellows and this we do by publication in our learned journals. In this way the discoveries of one man can be tested and confirmed by his brethren or modified in view of conflicting factors or inadequate reasoning. But once the solution has been found and verified, it carries its own defense. We do not need to propagandize about the law of gravitation. What could be more unfitting than to rouse men's emotions in support of what can be rationally demonstrated?
It is in the first verse of the Second Psalm that the sacred poet asks a question which he does not answer. "Why do the heathen rage?" he wants to know, and is content to record that "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall have them in derision." It might be permitted to suggest that the heathen rage because they are not scientific. It does not seem appropriate for a sociologist to rage. It is out of character for an objective scientist to throw him-self emotionally into a cause, however holy. Society has set us apart and given us a mandate to do what only a few people can do and what even fewer are trying to do, to study, clear-eyed and unemotional, the causes and conditions of importance in our social life.
The overconfidence of the emotional advocate marks him' off from the sober recognition by the scientist of the difficulties which are hidden from him whose desires modify his conceptions. It is
( 8) recognized that administrators and those who vote for them often have to act in an emergency when they have insufficient knowledge, for emergencies will nor wait, but the scientist has a less exacting task. He can search and seek, waiting till the problem is solved before announcing his conclusion.
There are those, indeed, who have identified the emotional advocate with the magician. Thomas has written that the "ordering and forbidding" technique of control is essentially the same as magic, since it aims at securing results by an actof the will instead of by a patient search for the means appropriate to the end in view. Dewey has also written that the exhortation to use your will"to over-come a bad habit is not only futile but is identical with magic, neglecting conditions and the appropriate means to reach a desired goal.
The scientist labors to ascertain truth, to establish relations, to discover essential sequences, to formulate into "laws"the generalized uniformities that appear and, when communicated to others, are verified. And when his truth is brought to light there is no need to sweat and groan in order to vindicate it, no need to shout in order to have it accepted; for the world is so eager for solutions to its problems that, though he announce it in a whisper, yet would all the world hear and rejoice. We do not believe in scientific truth, we demonstrate it and take up the next task.
The possibilities for human welfare that are promised by a developing sociology are related to another important consideration,-the organization of a co-operative effort. In all the ages that went before, the great men wrought and spoke as artists, and we are very humble when we consider how mighty were the giants in those days. The great genius rarely or never works by rule nor does he communicate a method-indeed it is often impossible to discover that he has any-thing like a method. Organized science, on the other hand, has not only a demonstrable method, but also a communicable technique so that the unit becomes the laboratory and not the teacher, the department in the university and not the individual professor. And thus it comes co pass that contributions of importance can be expected from men who have no outstanding gifts save the ability to learn and the patience to labor. Sociology, like the other sciences, can use the gifts of ordinary men and the larger and larger integration of our organized associations make the discovery of new truth the work of a group in which any one individual assumes a secondary role. We have only begun to learn the value of this procedure but the promise of it is very real and very great.
Sociological writing and formulation did not begin as an academic product and it is significant that neither Comte nor Spencer nor Ward began their studies under the auspices of universities. At the present time, however, it is chiefly in the institutions of learning that these interests are receiving attention. Professors of sociology who are allowed leisure for research have been, at least in America, the most important contributors to our science. There are, however, indications that society will make an increasing use of sociologists in nonacademic fields and that to some extent sociology will be-come a profession to be practiced and not only a subject to be taught. It is to be hoped that even these men will be able to preserve unaltered their scientific objectivity and their theoretical interest.
Sociology is so new and so immature that we have not yet succeeded in securing complete unanimity either in the formula-
9) -tion of the nature and scope of our discipline or in the exact
methods to be employed. This is not only not surprising but it was to be
expected-indeed there is reason to think that we shall arrive at the desired
agreement in a far shorter time than was necessary in the case of our older and
more mature sisters. In a single generation we have made an extraordinarily
promising beginning. No human enterprise is more important. If we could only
discover the causes of war-
It is hardly fitting to say very much about the ultimate object of our endeavors when the task we have set for ourselves has so lately begun. It may be permitted to say, however, that we no longer hope for a golden age in any future, however remote. A generation ago the idealists among the undergraduates shared widely the hopes and dreams of Tennyson. I remember well the day the news of his death came to the college campus and how the revered president in chapel read with feeling the lines that foretold the far-off divine event to which the whole creation was assumed to be moving. Today we have a more sober feeling, sadder and, it may be, wiser. Even if we should succeed in solving all our present problems, we have a feeling that new crises will arise and new difficulties black the path of man. It hardly seems that any stability of organization will be more than temporary, for the tempo of social change is increasing, and the probability of social disorganization will be greater. But, when these new problems do appear, we shall hope that the sound methods we shall have passed on to our children will enable them to be met with courage and success.
Man is surely learning steadily to re-construct his own environment and to control his own destiny. In spite of the confusion and disorder of the world at this moment, there is every reason to believe that we shall learn what we desire to know.
The doctrine of providence has had to be abandoned and the nineteenth century doctrine of progress has very few advocates. Yet it cannot be denied that the written memory of man which we call history does record that it has been given to mankind to move forward not a little in the direction which all men of good will had hoped that we should go. And al-though the present problems are many and perplexing, and although the problems of the future will be equally serious, yet it is our faith that the mind of man will not prove inadequate to its task.