General Sociology 

Chapter 11: The Value of Schäffle's Method

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A glance at the foregoing scheme shows that it uses, in some form or other, all the conceptions in Spencer's outline. Schäffle even elaborates some biological parallels more minutely than Spencer does. He dwells at great length upon the fact of social structure, and upon analysis of social structures. Accordingly, few people have taken the trouble to find out whether he has added anything to the Spencerian system. There is nothing in Schäffle's general analysis of society which might not be grafted upon Spencer's. There is nothing which is not implied in Spencer's terms, and possibly it is all expressed in a general way in his formulas. Nevertheless, one cannot read Schäffle carefully without presently becoming aware that the "social body" of his conception has more of real life in it than the "society" that Spencer dissects. Spencer's analysis affects one more like the disentangling of a mechanical puzzle, while there is more of the atmosphere of actual life in Schäffle's description of the social body.

The difference, as I see it, reduces to this : Spencer does not succeed in making his interpretation of society picture it as more than an organization of mechanisms. Schäffle's central conception of society is of an organization of work. Of course, mechanism implies work, and work implies mechanism. Moreover, language has grown up in such connection with the working processes of life that we cannot talk of mechanism without talking of work, and vice versa. For that reason, the ideas of mechanism, structure, and work (function) are in both of these systems, as certainly as they are in either. They have different degrees of importance in the two systems. The relative prominence of structure in the one system, and the relative importance of function in the other, give them the

( 168) rank, respectively, of a first step and a second step in approach to adequate analysis of human association.

Just as we have seen that arrangement of people into combinations (structure) is one of the prime factors in shaping their lives, so we must see beyond this, and become equally familiar with the companion fact that the sort of work performed by means of these structures is a still more direct and efficient molder of our lives. We may go even farther than this, and say that social structures are only external conditions of our lives, while social functions are parts of life itself.

To make this idea clearer, we may use biological distinctions of structure from function, with no thought of trying to make out that these particular structures and functions have any parallels in society.

Let us suppose that we have never heard the words " structure " and " function." Let us suppose we are attending our first demonstration in anatomy. The professor informs us that the object before him is a part of the body of a vertebrate of a high order. He tells us he will show how it is put together. He begins by pointing out one of its surfaces, which he calls a conjunctiva. He shows that this surface is convex. He points out that there is a part of the same body which is adjusted as a movable cover for this convex surface, to protect it in various ways. Then he shows how muscles are attached to this portion of the body, to give it various kinds of motion. Then he proceeds to dissect the different layers which make up this part of the body. He shows that it has three coats, to which he gives names. Then he points out a peculiar capsule in the center of the front portion of the part he is dissecting, and he gives this a distinguishing name. Behind this capsule is a fluid mass, and in front of it another fluid. Encircling the cases in which these fluids are carried are fibers which are woven into a great nerve running off into a more distant part of the body. So the demonstration might continue down to finer and finer details, and not a word might be said about anything except the way in which this piece of organic tissue is

( 169) made. Our attention is centered on its mechanical arrangement. The least possible thought is given to what it is all for.

It may be that I have not even suggested by these vague terms the organ that I have in mind. The moment that I mention the eye, however, we are aware that we know some things about the eye which are not made any more real by anatomical demonstration. Dissection brings structure to light that we knew nothing about before; but we did know before what the eye can do. We knew the various kinds of skill that the eye has. We knew how it helps us judge of the size and distance and quality of objects beyond our reach. These capacities of the eye to do work may, in their turn, be analyzed in endless detail, without any attention whatever to the particulars brought to view by the anatomist. In other words, the structure of the eye may be studied with no regard for its functions, and the functions of the eye may be studied with little knowledge of its structure.

It usually happens in actual practice that our knowledge of structure and functions in organic bodies is gained somewhat simultaneously, and when we think of the one, we do refer more or less to the other. It should be evident, however, that these closely related things are not one and the same thing. One may be thoroughly acquainted with the functions of the ear, without an item of information about the internal structure of the ear. On the other hand, a man deaf from his birth might become thoroughly acquainted with the anatomy of the ear, while he might never be able to form any satisfactory conception of the functions of the ear. We may be expert track athletes, with but the most shadowy notions of the bones of the foot, or of the muscles in any part of the body. The structure of the hand is one thing; the different things that can be done by the hand are quite another matter ; etc., etc.

Now, people are not merely putting themselves in structural formations. People are incessantly bringing things to pass. These achievements, from least to greatest, are certainly as

( 170) definite material for knowledge as the mere ways in which men arrange themselves, with reference to each other, in the process of bringing about these achievements. It was this phase of society that was most prominent in Schäffle's system. He regarded social structure as the leverage which made social achievement possible. He was quite correct in treating social structure, however, merely as a means. He was interested to go on from the elementary fact of how men are arranged, to the more vital fact of what they are doing by means of these arrangements.

With the success of Schäffle in carrying out this idea we are not now concerned. It is not necessary to follow him step by step. The facts about social functions are important; not his way of treating them. We may, however, allow him to suggest certain more obvious items which go to make up a general outline of functional relationships in society.

Men are always acting. They are not merely existing, like so many fossils or crystals in a museum. They are not merely so many standing illustrations of types of structure. They are doing something. The like is true of men in groups or social structures. A family, with its structure of more or less equal partnership of husband and wife, and of greater or less subordination of children to parents, is not an end in itself, as a sample of how individuals can be grouped. Any and every type of family comes into being because there are certain life-problems to be solved, and because experience in dealing with the problems gradually enforces the custom of approaching them in these family formations. The family structure then is to be understood, not as passive, but as active. It does work. So of economic, professional, political structures. They are agencies in bringing things to pass.

What are the sorts of things that are brought to pass in society, not what are the mechanical devices by which they are brought to pass, is the central question from the functional point of view. Schäffle occupies the whole of his first volume and the first fifty-seven pages of the second volume (i. e., to

( 171) the end of Book VIII) with the morphology and evolution of social types. This would seem to prove that structure is central with him, after all. In spite of the liberal share of attention given to these aspects of society, they are treated, however, as means of bringing the more significant aspects into clearer relief. Beginning with Book IX, the stress falls, not on the forms or the methods in which social tissues are constructed, but on the kinds of work that the social tissues accomplish.

Thus the family has the task of providing for the continuance of the race —propagation; for securing necessary relations to nature— settlement and shelter. Then it falls to the family to do much of the elementary work of preparing the children to take their places in carrying along the succession of technical workers, and observing the moral standards, the laws, the social order, the religion, that are traditional in the community.

When we pass from the family to larger and more complex structures, we are immediately face to face with differences of opinion about the ways in which they should be classified. For instance, in a given section of Chicago is a population of about thirty thousand people subsisting directly upon one industry. How shall we treat that population for scientific purposes? Shall we look upon them as falling into divisions which correspond with the categories of pure economic theory? Shall we treat them in the groupings necessary in legal theory? Shall we look upon them in the subdivisions which their race-differences suggest? Shall we deal with them as they are subdivided by affiliation with political parties or religious sects? These are all debatable questions. No matter what answer we might reach, the main point which we are now considering could not be permanently affected. In each and all of these relationships, men are bringing things to pass—they are functioning. This bringing things to pass, moreover, is by means of these different groupings, or in spite of them. The only valid way of deciding what use to make of these different groupings, in making up our whole idea of the thirty

( 172) thousand people in the given case, is to find out what part each sort of grouping plays, pro or con, in their bringing things to pass. By that means we shall at last arrive at a conclusive way of associating the different kinds of groupings with each other in our theories.

We need not bother ourselves with these questions now, however. They are suggested for the purpose of emphasizing the point that we need not be turned from the essential thing, if we find ourselves differing radically with Schäffle about proper ways of classifying social structures and functions. What we are chiefly concerned with now is the fact that there are such things as social structures and functions. Schäffle's analysis of the latter would serve to bring out the fact of their existence, even if we were quite sure that he has not detected the most important of them, nor put them in their proper orders and degrees of dependence. The thing to insist on now is that we get deeper into the essentials of society when our attention is fixed on what society is doing, than when we stop with making out the types and sizes of social formations.

Accordingly, we may take the next step in company with Schäffle. He passes from the family, and what it does, to the " people" (das Volk). He speaks of "popular existence" and "popular life" (Book X), with little to show whether he is thinking of the people in a tribe, or the people who make up a whole civilization, or whether he is using the concept "people" in highly elastic and contractile senses. This latter is really the case. He is not thinking of mechanical limitations of "the people " in any way, but merely of all the people who have an actual part in fixing the general conditions of life within a given area. With that understanding he can make out a good case for dividing the functions which people must perform, as follows (Books X and XI) : In the first place, there are all the tasks which radiate from the necessity of getting control of relations in time and space. These tasks are subdivided into, first, problems of settlement and transportation; second, problems of security and protection; third, the whole technique of civic

( 173) and public community life; fourth, the development of public industry, or the whole sphere of social transmutation of matter. In the second place, there are the functions which satisfy the wants of the inner life, which fall into five divisions, viz. (Book XII), first, social intercourse ; second, education ; third, science; fourth, aesthetic life; fifth, the religio-ecclesiastic life. In the third place, the functions connected with the chief institutions for unified volition and action throughout the whole range of external and internal life—the tasks of State and community.

I do not myself consider this classification a very skilful piece of work. It is untenable in more than one way. It does not rest on a single principle, and the functions thus scheduled are neither mutually exclusive, nor are they listed in satisfactory correlations. This is, nevertheless, not fatal to the value of the exhibit. The main thing is discernment of function, as a more searching test of the meaning of human actions than mere structure. What the precise functions are that reveal this meaning most fully is a question to which we shall come presently. We may approach it by pointing out that just as Spencer, in spite of himself, tended to seek the meaning of social structure in structure, so Schäffle's limits are indicated by his tendency to see the meaning of social functions in function, rather than in causal and consequent conditions in the persons functioning. That is, we must see much clearer than either Spencer or Schäffle did, that no social function, any more than a social structure, is an end in any final sense. It is an intermediate factor, that gets its meaning from conditions in persons, which conditions, on the one hand, demand and maintain the function, and, on the other hand, result from the function. In other words, while function is more than structure, people are more than both. Any analysis of social facts that rests with social functions in the abstract is necessarily noncommittal as to the final interpretation of life.

There is something about Schäffle's treatment that suggests the bureaucratic order in which he grew up. Function seems

( 174) to him a happy way of giving the traditional social machineries something to do. The machineries are foreordained parts of the universe. Now, if we find a function that employs the machinery, we have explained the machinery, while this taken-for-granted machinery in its turn explains the function ! That is, we have the family, the State, the church, the school, the economic system, the scientific and æsthetic cultus; now, keeping themselves busy in their characteristic fashion is their function. Thus, a system of reasoning in a circle is only partially concealed in Schäffle's conceptions. As mere phenomena, not inquired about further, it is true that social structures are the means for performing social functions, and social functions are the ways for utilizing social structures. This is as though we should say, for instance : " Princes are people who live in luxury, and maintain an ornamental existence, without responsibility for earning a living; on the other hand, court functions, military parades, display of decorations, and similar spectacular performances, are occupations to employ princes." We should thereby make the princes and the shows account for each other, without really accounting for either.

What I am trying to point out is that, after we have recognized Schäffle's merit in signalizing the fact of social functions, over and above social structures, we must deny two things : first, that he succeeded in making a satisfactory schedule of social functions; and, second, that he discovered the proper center from which to find the meaning of social functions. Of course, this latter failure explains the former.

The proper social functions are the activities through which the essential human wants are evolved, gratified, balanced, adjusted between person and person, and then started on their next evolutionary cycle. These functions are by no means identical with operation of the structural machinery which we call institutions. The essential social functions are promotion of the primarily individual functions of securing sustenance, controlling nature, establishing working relations between

( 175) man and man in the common use of opportunity, acquiring knowledge, developing aesthetic activity, and realizing religion. The forms and combinations of these functions vary infinitely, with variations in the stages of social advancement, and innumerable minor circumstances. They must never be confounded with the routine operation of economic, civic, social, scientific, artistic, or religious structures. These routine performances are functions in the narrow, mechanical sense, but not necessarily in an intelligent human sense.

For instance, the function of a State is to maintain civic order. Russia is maintaining civic order in Finland. Ergo, Russia is discharging the immanent civic functions. The conclusion does not follow. Civic order is merely one of the means to human ends. The enlargement and enrichment of the lives of the people maintaining the order, not order itself, is the criterion of civic functions. Russia is crushing out the life of the Finns. The revolution of the wheels of government according to a despotic system is not discharge of the indicated social function. It is obstruction of the proper function through misuse of structure. So in the case of the mediaeval Romish church. It was the recognized structure in the service of religion. It was at the height of its power as a political and police force, but it was exterminating rather than promoting religion. Huss and Luther and Calvin and Knox were promoting the real functions of religion, while the church was satisfying itself with a routine that displaced the functions.

Thus we must distinguish between the mere workings of social machinery and the discharge of social functions. When the Russian fleet fired on the English fishing-vessels in the North Sea (October 24, 1904), the engines, and steering-gear, and batteries were all working according to their design; but these workings were not in the service of a social function, in a large sense. They were misapplied to the jeopardizing of the whole system of social functions. The machinery of a runaway engine is working according to the principles of its structure, but it is not fulfilling its proper office in the economy

( 176) of life. It is projecting itself to certain destruction. In like fashion, we must draw the line very sharply between mere operation of the social devices that have come into existence, and the performance of true social functions.

The latter is always to be tested by finding out what the motions of social machinery actually have to do with the real interests of the persons chiefly concerned. Judged by this test, those institutional actions alone discharge social functions which actually help more than they hinder the general process of developing, adjusting, and satisfying the wants of the people whom they affect. This brings us to the perception that we cannot make the most of the notion of social functions, until we find a way of representing to ourselves a sphere of relations by which the functions may be approximately explained. Functions are parts of processes, not parts of machineries. To know social functions, as far as they are knowable, we must become acquainted with the social processes within which they are incidental.

We have thus taken brief account of two conceptions which have been prominent in the history of sociological theory : the conception of social structure, and that of social functions. These concepts have been, in turn, centers for ambitious sociological systems. Those systems are no longer regarded as serious competitors for leadership in social theory. They have served their day, and social theorists cannot be fully equipped without thinking through the problems which those systems 'confronted and tried to solve. The clue idea in each of those systems is not, and never can be, obsolete. The concepts social structure" and "social function," or some substitute which we cannot imagine, will always be indispensable in analysis of the social reality. The principal deposit of permanent value left by the two types of sociological theory developed around the two notions " structure " and " function," consists of the two, conceptions, as elementary terms in more adequate explanation. The work of testing these ideas, as embodied in sociological systems, has trained thinkers to carry analysis far-

( 177) -ther, and to propose more adequate programs of social interpretation. We are now at a point from which we may with advantage approach the most searching scheme of social analysis that has thus far been proposed. In reaching this line of transition from two partial views of social reality to the most comprehensive view at present possible, it is worth while to take time for a restatement of our problem. We may put it in this summary form :

When one starts to think about the facts of human experience, there is no logical stopping-place until answers have been found to the questions: (1) What are the essentials in human association? (2) How do these essentials change their manifestations from time to time? (3) By virtue of what influences do these variations occur? (4) What social aims are reasonable in view of these conclusions from experience?

Every scheme of sociology, and every special inquiry that has been pursued by sociologists, would be found to deal with one or more of these questions. We cannot describe the work of sociology better than by saying it is an attempt to answer these four questions.

However the sociologists appear to differ among themselves, very slight examination will show that every one of them has found his employment in trying to find out something that would tend to diminish uncertainty in one or other of these directions. All the different systems or theories of sociology will be found to grapple more or less wisely with some part of these questions. What the sociologists, and others who did not call themselves by that name, have done instinctively, and accidentally, and without system, must be done reflectively, and deliberately, and methodically, if our most searching questions about cause and effect in human experience ever receive answer. In order to answer these questions, we must use the elementary notions " structure " and " function " for what they are worth, while we proceed to more searching analysis of the actual social process.

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An illustration at the outset may help to explain these abstract statements.

We find at a given spot on the earth's surface, at a given time, a group of people leading a quiet, uneventful life, tending their flocks, and tilling the soil in a small way. In another spot we find the temporary bivouac of a tribe of people who never stay long in a place; who never hunt, except for sport or when in desperate need; who never till the soil; but they harry peaceful folk, rob them of their food, disperse, enslave, or kill them. At another spot we find men who neither till the soil nor rob those who do, but they trade, and improve their condition by passing from one owner to another the things that someone else has made. Again, we find groups of men who live, not by farming, nor robbing, nor trading, but by separating themselves from their fellows and praying, relying on the seculars to furnish material support for this spiritual exercise. Or, again, we find groups that neither farm nor rob nor trade nor pray—at least not as a vocation—but they devote their time to increasing knowledge. In each case we may compare the group with others doing substantially the same thing in ways so different that we may easily overlook the similarity. The cattle-raider of the Scotch Highlands seems to have nothing in common with the East India Company taking possession of a continent, the white settlers pushing the American Indians off the earth, or the Russians grasping Manchuria. The caravan packed with curious products of strange lands hardly betrays relationship with the ocean liner carrying freight enough to burden an army of camels, or the railroad train trundling masses of goods at a speed that no living creatures could overtake. The howling dervish, or the slayer of sacrificial beasts, seems to pursue totally different aims from the Salvation Army lassie or the intoner of the liturgy of the Anglican church. The Chinese mandarins and the Hebrew scribes suggest no relationship with the occupants of modern laboratories, or the explorers in social science. Yet one does not observe any type of man long without beginning to sus-

( 179) pect that one may find in it every other type of man more or less disguised. One gets hold of the idea that these men are all alike; that the one is doing what all are doing, and that all are doing what the one is doing. We get the notion that, if we could look down below the surface of these lives in turn, we should find radically similar springs of action, and we should find that the conduct which on the surface seems so unlike and unrelated, really is the same essential activity, with variations to be accounted for after slight attention to the surroundings in which they occur.

What is the key to this identity in diversity? How may we find out the common element in lives that seem so unlike? How may we account for the differences? What conception of the principles that should govern life do our perceptions of these social facts and laws enforce?

These questions must be asked over and over again, and answered with reference to every stage of human development with which we can get acquainted, if we are to reach the utmost intelligence possible about the practical problems of modern life. These questions may seem at first abstract and scholastic. They may seem to concern closet philosophers merely. To be sure, they can have no direct practical value for people who cannot apply large generalizations to specific cases. For everyone with mental power to correlate the particular with the universal, the detail with the principle, the small with the great, these questions are keys to intelligent conduct of life.

Our next step in planning adequate methods of analyzing human experience will be an approach to ways of answering these questions.


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