Introduction to the Study of Society

Book I Chapter 3
The Relation of Sociology to the Special Social Sciences

Albion Small and George Vincent

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§ 21. A process of reorganization and redistribution of subject-matter is in progress among the social sciences, and for that reason it is impossible to speak most accurately of these in a few words under their usual names. Their titles have different meanings in the usage of different authors. They may be treated more precisely by reference to the phenomena with which they deal.

Whatever may be the ultimate assignment of territory to the several social sciences, there will always be need of bringing the results together into an exposition of society as a whole. Systematic knowledge of society in general is essential if a definite programme of social endeavor is desired. It is evident, too, that this work of combination will be per-formed most judicially, not by experts in the processes of investigation peculiar to the special social sciences, but by men trained to be experts in codifying the results of the special social sciences, and in organizing these groups of scientific data into a coherent social philosophy.

The primary function of Sociology at present is the correlation of existing knowledge about society. This work involves the discovery of unexplored regions of social phenomena, and the invention of plans for more effective social research and then for social endeavor.

 It is quite possible that the division of labor in Sociology

( 55) will eventually become so systematized that the function of Sociology will be restricted within more precise limits) At present, a miscellaneous responsibility confronts students who regard society philosophically. Such students are in the ranks of all the social sciences. Sociology is enlisting from this number recruits for the special work of organizing social knowledge of all kinds into a body of wisdom avail-able as a basis for deliberate social procedure. What effect Sociology may have upon reclassification of the social sciences, and upon its own permanent office, we need not conjecture. We shall describe the complicated scientific task which Sociology at present attempts to perform.

Society is a complex of activities and movements originated by the energy of those physical and psychical attributes which determine human motives. These elementary factors of social activity produce social phenomena that fall into groups, each of which is distinguished by certain common peculiarities. Society cannot be known through one group of these phenomena only, any more than matter can be known through a single one of its properties. Each of these groups of facts must be known separately, and then in its actual relation to coexisting groups, before society or social life can be understood.

This fact may, perhaps, be more easily perceived by aid of' chemical analogy. To know a chemical compound it is necessary to be informed about its separate constituents, the nature of the reaction in which they combine, and the properties of the resultant. However inadequate our present subdivisions of social knowledge, each of them is an attempt Io reduce the facts within a single group of social phenomena to scientific expression. The several social sciences thus roughly supplement and complement each other. Our general survey will show the necessity of the combining function which Sociology undertakes.

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§ 22.    Sociology is primarily historical and analytical. In this phase of its character, Sociology is most obviously dependent upon the sciences that are commonly regarded as distinctively social. Sociology includes these historical and analytical social sciences somewhat as the map of the United States includes the maps of the several states. All that is accurate in the general map with respect to local details depends upon particular surveys. These first furnish the data for construction of the maps of states, and then the separate surveys are reduced and combined into a general map. Knowledge of society, as a fact extending through the past and filling the present, depends upon particular knowledge of persons, events, and achievements past and present, in all the relations in which they have a permanent meaning. 

§ 23.  Historical and analytical Sociology involves, first, the results of the sciences concerned with physical man. Assuming a basis of knowledge about the inorganic and organic environment upon which man is dependent, or by which man is more or less conditioned, the sociologist needs, in the first place, to know as much as possible about man, as described by the biological sciences. Man as the subject-matter of " the highest section of Zoölogy "— man as the most highly developed of animals, particularly as the most highly developed nervous and psycho-physical type—is the primary datum of Sociology. 

Not problems of individual health alone, nor policies respecting the criminal or defective classes, wait upon the testimony of Biology for partial solution. Interpretation of the biological elements of human progress throughout the past will unlock many secrets about education and social combinations in the present. The biologist may or may not pursue his investigations for the purpose of contributing to

( 57) the solution of social problems. Whatever his purpose, if his results throw any light upon the facts of man's physical constitution, he is necessarily a contributor to Sociology. It is not the business of the sociologist to invade the province of the biologist with attempts to take the place of competent investigators. It is the business of the sociologist to recognize the physical elements in social reactions, to call them to the attention of the biologists, if the latter are not already concerned with them, and to use the results of biological research, together with all other related evidence, in such explanation of the past as will afford guidance for the future.

Sociology deals with the whole of social life, of which the physical life of individuals is necessarily a prime factor. This platitude contains the implication which has not been admitted until recently ; viz., that Sociology deals with a complex of elements, one of which can be understood only through the expositions of Biology. Social doctrine, which omits to take account of all available biological data, is obviously partial and premature. In this sense, Sociology is biological somewhat as Mineralogy is chemical.

§ 24.  The facts about man referred to in the foregoing paragraph constitute, on the other hand, only one element in the complex problem with which Sociology deals. A second element consists of the results obtained by the sciences concerned with psychical man. None of the methods or processes peculiar to Biology can discover the facts which most widely differentiate man from the other animals. Tracing nerve filaments can never discover a thought, nor can the measurement of skulls detect the play of emotions. Man as capable of distinct conceptions, of feelings, of volitions, — man as mind characterized by certain peculiarities, and acting in conformity with certain 

( 58) psychical laws, — is the object of another kind of observation, which will lead to unique results.

The gestures, signs, and symbols which men have used ; their words, their worship, their music, their laws, their literatures, their philosophies, their religions, are not merely curious in themselves, but they are betrayals of the psychical character of their originators. There is a study of man's mental productions which is as trifling as the mere collecting of curios. It is possible to read Isaiah, and Horner, and Cicero, and Shakespeare to less purpose than might be served by interpreting the rudest hieroglyphics.

The study of mind, as it appears in its monuments, whether these be in the form of inscriptions, or legends, or juridical codes, or national literatures, or social customs, is the investigation of another prime factor in the social prob-lem. Sociology is dependent upon such study of man's mental products as will interpret the essential psychical traits which they exhibit. Sociology accordingly places an estimate of its own upon a whole group of sciences or possible sciences, which are needed to deal with mental products as evidences of permanent mental characteristics. Sociology depends upon the sciences of man's mind, just as upon the sciences of man's body.

All the divisions of scientific labor which observe and classify and generalize the traits of man, the thinking animal, as exhibited in human thought products of every sort, will place Sociology in possession of one more approximately known quantity in the equation of life. Sociology, in turn, will react upon the investigation of special mental phenomena, as of all other facts relating to man. Sociology exhibits the totality of life, in which all special facts have their relations ; and thus performs a function of correlation, by maintaining a constant demand that the facts shall be viewed at last, not as isolated and independent,

( 59) but in their actual social subordination and dependence and integration.

§ 25. A third element of sociological data consists of the facts about man in the exercise of control over natural forces. Impossible as it would be to study man in any single. phase of his many-sided nature without reference to the other phases, it is not only possible, but serviceable, to employ these arbitrary distinctions between interrelated manifestations of human character and capacity. Knowledge of man, in either of the phases here distinguished, would be incomplete without evidence derived from observation of the other phases. With full regard for this actual interdependence, and even identity of phenomena, whose meaning has to be derived from observation of different relations, we make a separate division for knowledge about man as a creator of material objects.

Man's works disclose a factor or a system of factors in social combinations which must have a place in sociological doctrine in precise adjustment with knowledge of man's physical and psychical peculiarities. The sociological study of the products of man's handicraft is not proposed as the only method of investigating human industries, nor is the sociological purpose the only worthy aim in considering the results of human creative skill. Technical comparison of processes and products, both in the industrial and in the fine arts, has economic advantages when the comparisons are between the works of various epochs and races, just as in case they are between exhibits of competing manufacturers in a modern world's exposition. Utilitarian and aesthetic criteria of many kinds may properly separate and estimate the results of human workmanship under various categories. Sociology finds its particular use for that investigation of man's works which attempts to derive conclusions

( 60) about man's typical and permanent industrial desires and abilities.

Thus, while investigation of man in other respects brings into view man's creative processes and products, there is a special division of knowledge about man to be derived from study of the results of man's technical skill. Man's abodes, clothes, tools, weapons, utensils, ornaments, monuments, instruments of amusement or luxury, artistic creations, and industrial processes, form a body of facts, from which both history and prophecy about the industrial factor in human problems may be derived. Sociology thus depends, again, upon the knowledge of man, which shall be derived by the sciences that are devoted to the inspection of man's material works.

§ 26. Historical and analytical Sociology is constructed, finally, by use of a fourth class of data, which represent man in his peculiarly social characteristics. De Greef, to whom reference has already been made, who is to be credited with most important contributions to the study of society, finds the special province of Sociology in the phenomena of " contract." The term is not happily chosen, because in this connection it is inexact unless employed with an unusual meaning. If De Greef's conception of the term "contract" be kept in mind, he will be seen, however, to have added definiteness to one notion of the province of Sociology. It would be more correct, though still vague, to say that Sociology deals especially with the phenomena of contact. `.The reactions which result from voluntary or involuntary contact of human beings with other human beings, are the phenomena peculiarly social, as distinguished from the phenomena belonging properly to Biology and Psychology. Some of these will have been observed in connection with the groups of facts already

( 61) mentioned. There remain unique classes of social facts which we may distinguish, in general, as facts of coöperation.

When men find themselves in proximity to other men, they instinctively attempt to adjust themselves to necessities or advantages which the association involves or permits. The activities properly called social may be said to consist of acquiescence in the requirements of physical and psychical contact between human beings, and appropriation of the opportunities of such contact between human beings.

In calling attention specifically to man as a coöperating animal, the reference is to those social facts which arise when men begin to take conscious account of each other, in attack and defense, purchase and sale, mastery and obediency, emulation, rivalry, organization, authority, persuasion, assent and dissent, with all farther relations involving volitional combinations of man and man. The whole institutional activity of man, viewed as attempted solutions of the problem of social adjustment, is in exhibition of the necessity and the capacity of man for coöperation. The various conventional relations of the sexes, the industrial structures, the divisions of caste, the arrangements for exchange of intelligence, the religious establishments, the political organizations, are significant to the sociologist as manifestations, on the one hand, of human wants in the most numerous and complex permutations, and on the other hand, of the limitations and possibilities of the human forces whose action and reaction it is the aim of Sociology first to understand, and afterwards to formulate into a philosophy of welfare.

§ 27. The title Descriptive Sociology may be accepted as the best designation for the body of organized knowledge called for by the schedule in the preceding sections. Our classification of the material out of which the ultimate

( 62) Sociology must be constructed is intentionally untechnical, for the reason assigned in the first paragraph of this chapter.

Without accepting any proposed terminology or classification of the sciences dealing with the same material from different points of view, we may epitomize the last section in the propositions: Sociology, in its historical and analytical department, or Descriptive Sociology, is the organization of all the positive knowledge of man and of society furnished by the sciences and sub-sciences now designated or included under the titles Biology, Anthropology, Psychology, Ethnology, Demography, History, Political and Economic Science, and Ethics. Descriptive Sociology attempts to combine the testimony of these special sciences into a revelation of the accidental and the permanent factors in social combinations, and thus of the forces to be taken into calculation in all doctrines or policies of social progress.

Nearly half a century ago, Mr. Herbert Spencer drew up specifications of the kinds of knowledge needed as a foundation for Sociology. Although it is a catalogue and not a classification, and although it pays no heed to division of labor among the social sciences, Mr. Spencer's outline of the desirable contents of Descriptive Sociology deserves to be quoted : —

"That which constitutes History, properly so called, is in great part omitted from works on this subject. Only of late years have historians commenced giving us, in any considerable quantity, the truly valuable information. As in past ages the king was everything and the people nothing, so in past histories, the doings of the king fill the entire picture, to which the national life forms but an obscure background. While only now, when the welfare of nations rather than of rulers is becoming the dominant idea, are historians beginning to occupy themselves with the phenomena of social progress. The thing it really concerns us to know is the Natural History of society. We want all facts which help us to understand how a nation has grown and organized itself. Among these, let us of course have an account of its government; with as little

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as may be of gossip about the men who officered it, and as much as possible about the structure, principles, methods, prejudices, corruptions, etc., which it exhibited; and let this account include not only the nature and actions of the central government, but also those of local governments, down to their minutest ramifications. Let us of course have a parallel description of the ecclesiastical government—its organization, its conduct, its power, its relations to the state; and, accompanying this, the ceremonial, creed, and religious ideas—not only those nominally believed, but those really believed and acted upon. Let us at the same time be informed of the control exercised by class over class, as displayed in social observances — in titles, salutations, and forms of address. Let us know, too, what were all the other customs which regulated the popular life out-of-doors and in-doors, including those concerning the relations of the sexes, and the relations of parents to children. The superstitions, also, from the more important myths down to the charms in common use, should be indicated. Next should come a delineation of the industrial system; showing to what extent the division of labor was carried; how trades were regulated, whether by caste, guilds, or otherwise; what was the connection between employers and employed; what were the agencies for distributing commodities; what were the means of communication; what was the circulating medium. Accompanying all which, should be given an account of the industrial arts technically considered; stating the processes in use, and the quality of the products. Further, the intellectual condition of the nation in its various grades should be depicted; not only with respect to the kind and amount of education, but with respect to the progress made in science, and the prevailing manner of thinking. The degree of aesthetic culture, as displayed in architecture, sculpture, painting, dress, music, poetry, and fiction, should be described. Nor should there be omitted a sketch of the daily lives of the people — their food, their homes, and their amusements. And, lastly, to connect the whole, should be exhibited the morals, theoretical and practical, of all classes, as indicated in their laws, habits, proverbs, deeds. These facts, given with as much brevity as consists with clearness and accuracy, should be so grouped and arranged that they may be comprehended in their ensemble, and contemplated as mutually dependent parts of one great whole. The aim should be so to present them that men may readily trace the consensus subsisting among them, with the view of learning what social phenomena coexist with what others. And then the corresponding delineations of succeeding ages

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should he so managed, as to show how each belief, institution, custom and arrangement was modified, and how the consensus of preceding structures and functions was developed into the consensus of succeeding ones. Such alone is the kind of information, respecting past times, which can be of service to the citizen fur the regulation of his conduct. The only History that is of practical value is what may be called Descriptive Sociology. And the highest office which the historian can discharge is that of so narrating the lives of nations as to furnish materials for a Comparative Sociology, and for the subsequent determination of the ultimate laws to which social phenomena conform."

§ 23.    Mr. Spencer's identification of History and Descriptive Sociology is far from final, but our purpose does not require discussion of the division of labor among the social sciences. The classes of details which Mr. Spencer enumerates, rather suggestively than exhaustively, are doubt-less portions of the material with which Sociology must deal, and if the actual importance of this material is justly appraised, it is of secondary importance to formulate the respective relations of History and Sociology to the common subject-matter.

For our purpose, it is necessary and sufficient to point out once more that the fundamental question of Sociology — namely, What are the precise facts involved in social relations? — can be answered only by generalization of all the evidence about man and society that is obtainable by combination of the historical and the analytical method. History, as usually written, exhibits facts in all their accidental form and environment, so far as the latter can be reproduced. History, as exhibited in Descriptive Sociology, omits the accidents of time, place, personality ; and emphasizes the typical and the characteristic in social facts.

Another customary, though by no means necessary, difference between Historiography and Sociology appears in the fact that the former deals preferably with the order and sequence of events, and with the exhibition of cause and

( 65) effect ; the latter treats the same facts rather as exhibiting normal or abnormal conditions, permanent or temporary forms of social structures and functions. It is quite possible that the anthropologist, the ethnologist, or the historian may at last perform all the work in this field which the sociologists are beginning to undertake. The scientific principle to be insisted on is, that whoever does the work, or under whatever name, there is need of that contribution to knowledge which Descriptive Sociology can now offer only as a prospectus ; viz., a combination of all the descriptive data furnished by the special sciences of society into a body of knowledge fit to serve as the basis of Constructive Social Philosophy.

§ 29. The department of sociological method to which this manual is an introduction is entirely included within Descriptive Sociology, as above characterized. For that reason, we may dismiss, in a few words, the scientific relations of the later divisions of Sociology.

Knowledge of reality passes directly and naturally into conceptions of the contained possibility. A body of generalized facts about man and society immediately suggests ideal constructions of the included elements. The questions spontaneously arise : Are the facts rationally related? Are the elements of social combinations adjusted in accordance with immanent economies? Is there a possible criterion of social coördination, by the use of which we may conclude with reference to a given fact, or social group, or civilization, that it is more or less normal than some other actual or imaginable social phenomenon with which it may be contrasted?

The work which Sociology begins to perform, in attempting a synthesis of known social facts, would be profitless without the use of the combined and generalized facts for

( 66) constructive purposes. While the fundamental procedure of Sociology is that already discussed as the province of Descriptive Sociology—namely, the scientific exhibition of facts—there is a second process that calls for a distinct division of Sociology, to which the name Statical Sociology, or Social Statics, best applies. The conception of Statical Sociology, to which the method of this book leads, corresponds in form, but not in content, with that of Herbert Spencer; it is the doctrine of the "equilibrium of a perfect society." This use of terms is in sharp contrast with that of Comte.

While Sociology is primarily concerned with social facts, it uses them as the raw material of social ideals. There is a conception of Sociology, in which ideals have no more place than in the science of Geology. In spite of his recent protestations, Herbert Spencer makes of Sociology, at most, only a descriptive science of conditions upon which human ideals can have hardly more influence than they can upon climate. The sciences of pure fact are the foundation of all the arts, but they are not themselves the arts. Unless Mathematics and Physics and Chemistry and Biology taught us what to avoid and what to attempt, they would avail no more toward increase of human welfare than the rules of the game of chess or the genealogies of the British Peerage.

The physical sciences have steadily gained in men's es-teem, because they have interpreted the conditions within which human tasks must be undertaken, the possibilities which human effort might hope to realize, and the resources available for accomplishing human purposes. Sociology would be a sterile pursuit if it did not at least supplement the physical sciences in development of the art of life. Professor Wagner of Berlin has lately said : " Social Science is justified by two suppositions—first, that ideals may be

( 67) formed which are in the line of advancing welfare ; second, that economic and other facts with which welfare is concerned are capable of more or less modification by exercise of the human will."

Sociology is, accordingly, not the abortive affair which Herbert Spencer has made it appear. Sociology is, first, we must repeat, the synthesis of all that has been learned about society, as it has been, and as it is, in its structure and in its essence. Sociology is, second, the science of social ideals; it is a qualitative and approximate account of the society which ought to be. By universal consent, inquiry about what ought to be has been made the task of Ethics. Statical Sociology is, therefore, an ethical discipline. Social Statics is, in brief, Social Ethics.

It will be seen, however, that the method of Statical Sociology here contemplated is the method of inspection and induction, not that of speculation. Statical Sociology is, in a further sense, a synthesis of antecedent sciences. Statical Sociology is the exhibition of the withheld completions of society. Social facts being given in Descriptive Sociology, it is a subsequent scientific process to exhibit the social ideals which the facts implicitly contain. This process has little in common with the methods of the many well-meaning but unscientific social agitators, who have experimented and dogmatized upon social problems with such unconsciousness of the complexities involved, that they have brought all investigation of social ameliorative possibilities under suspicion of Quixotism.

There is a method of Statical Sociology which is not the imagination of Utopias. Scientific coördination of social material does not exploit dreams of what might be if essential facts were other than they are. It does not waste time upon fancies of life that might be led if laziness were the condition of affluence, or if ignorance were the passport to

( 68) influence, or if altruism were earlier in order of evolution than egoism. Statical Sociology is a critical and constructive use of the materials of Descriptive Sociology. It takes ac-count of the demonstrated facts and forces of society, of individuals, and of inanimate nature, in so far as the latter determines social possibilities. From this material it derives systematized knowledge of the neglected economies of life, and thereupon a symmetrical ideal of the social life in which immanent social potencies shall be realized.

§ 30. The third main division of Sociology, the portion to which the other divisions are introductory, deals with the theory of active Social Dynamics. The ultimate task of Sociology was expounded in a masterly way by Mr. Ward in his earlier work. In the preface he writes : —

"Sociology is reproached even by those who admit its legitimacy with being impracticable and fruitless, the prevailing methods of treating it, including those employed by its highest living advocates, to a great extent justifying this charge. There are dead sciences as well as dead languages. The real object of science is to benefit man. A science which fails to do this, however agreeable its study, is lifeless. Sociology, which should of all sciences benefit man most, is in danger of falling into the class of polite amusements, or dead sciences. It is the object of this work to point out a method by which the breath of life may be breathed into its nostrils."

Separation of statical and dynamic investigation is demanded in the interest of scientific precision. Clearness of thought requires distinction of facts and forces from possible organizations and applications and adjustments. It is possible to discover, for example, that the institution of private property in land is or is not arbitrary, according to the positive criteria already explained. The discovery is quite independent, on the other hand, of possible policies looking to the maintenance or the abolition of the institution of landed property.

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Separation of statical and dynamic doctrines is also demanded in the interest of practical social coöperation. History, past and present, is full of the disasters and con-fusions which follow precipitate identification of social programmes with social principles. The social economy of truthfulness, for example, is not to be confounded with justification of torture to compel assent to truth. The right of every man to enjoy the product of his own labor is not to be identified with any proposed scheme for securing to men the fruits of their labor. The social situation would be wonderfully simplified if men could stop confounding principles with programmes. There is hardly a contemporary social question which is not involved in this confusion. Social principles and popular programmes are not necessarily correlates, any more than the laws of motion are prophecies of perpetual motion.

The separation thus made between Statical and Dynamic Sociology is of cardinal importance. This is not because room is to be made for dealing with fantastic visions in the one case, and then with stern realities in the other. It is not because there is a place in science for consideration of ideals whose elements are impracticable. It is simply because inextricable confusion has resulted from jumbling the two subjects of thought—first, essential social economies, second, methods of appropriating and realizing those economics. The physical facts of falling water, of atmospheric currents, of the power of steam and of electricity, are antecedent to, and completely separable in thought from, the water wheel and the windmill and the steam engine and the dynamo.

In a similar way, the peculiar data of Statical Sociology are antecedent to and separable from any device of social organization or machinery for the application or development of those data. Scientific thought and practical

( 70) endeavor have rushed into needless entanglements from failure to observe and use this obvious distinction. The world was never so earnest and determined about social solutions as it is to-day. Social self-knowledge has progressed beyond the attainment of any earlier time. Social doctrinaires have never been more industrious. Divisions are still created between men of good will, apparently on questions of principle, when the only real difference between them is upon the relatively superficial judgment of policy. The march of progress is consequently obstructed by the needless scattering of forces.

The scientific division of Sociology, therefore, corresponds with the practical desirability of discriminating principles and policies. Engineers are agreed to-day upon principles which show that our present methods of using fuel waste a large fraction of its energy. The proofs are quite independent of schemes for saving the waste. Statical Sociology reaches analogous conclusions about wastes in the operations of society. Dynamic Sociology proceeds to investigate means of employing all the available forces of society in the interest of the largest human welfare.

Sociology is thus the organization of all the material furnished by the positive study of society. Sociology is, first, Descriptive — coördinated facts of society as it is ; second, Statical—the ideal which right reason discloses of society as it ought to be ; third, Dynamic — the available resources for, changing the actual into the ideal.


I. On the basis of De Greef's classification of social phenomena (Introduction to Sociology, Vol. I., p.214), show how the same social facts may be the subject-matter of distinct social sciences.

2. On the basis of De Greef's classification, show how many possible social sciences may be developed.

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3. On the basis of De Greef's classification, show whether the courses of study in typical American colleges afford an adequate introduction to comprehensive knowledge of social activities.

4. On the basis of De Greef's classification, show whether a synthetic study of society will be more or less necessary, as knowledge of social phenomena becomes more precise.

5. Criticise De Greef's classification of social phenomena, and propose one or more substitutes.

6. What errors of judgment are likely to develop from study of man chiefly in his physical characteristics ?

7. What errors of judgment are likely to develop from study of man chiefly in his intellectual characteristics ?

8. What errors of judgment are likely to develop from study of man chiefly in his industrial characteristics ?

9. What errors of judgment are likely to develop from study of man chiefly as a political factor ?

10. Criticise Herbert Spencer's demands upon the science of History.

11. Show in what sense and to what extent Herbert Spencer's Descriptive Sociology has contributed to Social Philosophy: (a) as addition to knowledge; (b) as index of needed knowledge.

12. Show what natural qualifications and what special training are essential for a specialist in Sociology.

13. Explain and classify the facts which make accurate analysis of society more practicable now than in earlier periods.

14. Characterize and classify all known attempts to collect and organize circumstantial knowledge of contemporary social conditions.

15. Examine Dr. Herron's account of "The Scientific Ground of a Christian Sociology." (The Christian Society, Chap. I.)


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