An explanation in the social sciences differs from that used in physical science. Since man seeks goals, one must often understand the effects of social action before the causes can be known. The fact that man has choice prevents the assumption of a strong deterministic position in social science. Similarly, the objectivity of the social scientist is weakened and his statements Of social causation are tempered by his own evaluations.
The problem of defining social reality remains. Moving from the organicism of Durkheim to the interpretive approach of Weber, one arrives at a position which recognizes the importance of the individual. It is an this level that the convergence between Christianity and social science begins.
The insistent problem in the philosophy of social science is concerned with the nature of explanation; is it similar to that used by physical science or not? This paper will attempt to defend the view that necessary differences exist and explore the contribution which such a position makes to a Christian view of social science.
Contemporary Views of the Nature of Social Science
In his authoritative work, Nagel claims that although methodological problems occur in the social sciences, they are not insuperable.1 While an objective social science is not possible, much can be done to sharpen the "law-like" statements made in the discipline. There is little likelihood that they will ever become as precise as those made by the natural sciences. Hempel asserts that, in natural science, explanation of an event means the explanation of some (not all) repeatable characteristics in a specified situation.2 It also means that explanation shows such an event to be expected in view of other events which are prior to or contemporaneous with that event. While social sci-
*Russell Heddendorf is in the department of political science and sociology of Geneva College, Beaver Falls, Penna. and contributing editor for sociology of the journal of the American Scientific Affiliation. Paper presented at the 20th annual convention of the American Scientific Affiliation at The King's College, Briarcliff Manor, New York, August 1965.
The more unique features of social analysis are found in the writings of others. Melden, for instance, believes that one cannot explain social action without understanding the rules which give them meaning. The use of moral judgment, then, is necessary to analyze social action.4 Brown becomes more teleological in his perspective and asserts that explanation of social action is possible through the use of intentions and functions.5 Hence, he stresses the goal-oriented nature of behavior. Finally, Winch claims that social science is more closely linked to philosophy than natural science.6 As is true with Melden, he notes the importance of understanding the social context through the use of subjective means. Since he is critical of J. S. Mill, perhaps it is best to start with that classic figure and arrive at the subjective position by more systematic means.The Deterministic Position of Mill
In a statement concerning the nature of sociology which is seldom referred to, John Stuart Mill states:
There are two kinds of sociological inquiry. In the first kind, the question proposed is, what effect will follow from a given cause.... There is also a second inquiry, namely, what are the laws which determine those general circumstances themselves? In this last the question is, not what will be the effect of a given cause in a certain state of society, but what are the causes which produce and the phenomena which characterize, States of Society generally? In the solution of this question consists the general science of Society.7
Mill alerts us to those elements of sociology with which one must be concerned; effects, causes, and the phenomena to be observed. Elsewhere he refers to these phenomena as social facts.8 By emphasizing the latter question in his quotation, he appears to claim that explaining the causes of social facts is the proper endeavor of sociology. Perhaps the proper question to be raised is whether we can ever adequately explain social facts.
Unfortunately, Mill provides little direction concerning the sequence of analysis to be followed in dealing with these problems. Does one deal with effects, causes or facts first, or are all of these elements dealt with at the same time?
In another statement showing his strong tendency toward organicism, he claims:
From whichever of the social elements we choose to set out, we may easily recognize that it has always a connection, more or less immediate, with all the other elements, even with those which at first sight appear the most independent of it . . . by displaying the manner in which every change in any one part, operates immediately, or very speedily, upon all the rest.9
Hence, Mill seems to suggest that the sequence of sociological inquiry is relatively unimportant, since the elements are so completely interdependent that the relationship of one to another will be apparent. As will be noted later, what Mill states here & significant, but the recognition of the connection of social elements will not always be readily apparent.
Perhaps Mill held an overly simplified view of sociology. Certainly it would not be unusual for his time if he did. For instance, he claims "there really is one social element which is thus predominant, and almost paramount, among the agents of social progression. This is the state of the speculative faculties of mankind."10O It is his assumption, then, that human knowledge "is the main determining cause of the social progress".11 Nevertheless, modern sociology finds greater justification in seeking for multiple causal factors rather than the primary causal factor.The Social Reality to be Observed
Assuming that the scientific steps to be taken by sociology do have a meaningful sequence, we can now attempt to understand what they are. First, it is necessary that the proper social phenomena be observed. To start with the wrong social facts is to prevent adequate understanding of cause and effects. It is further suggested that the effects of these facts must be understood before an adequate causal analysis may be commenced. It is only after there is assurance that the proper facts and effects have been isolated that the causes of social phenomena may be understood. The danger is always to take for granted the adequacy of the lower level of analysis.
Pleading for an empirical approach to the world, Hume asserts "that causes and effects are discoverable not by reason but by experience".12 He seems to suggest that because of custom, it has been assumed that causal explanations are to be sought by means of reason. What is needed, then, is a reevaluation of method in order to proceed with greater accuracy. Until this is done, error is compounded upon error. In a similar fashion, it is necessary for the contemporary sociologist to evaluate what he knows in order to determine whether he is proceeding in the proper fashion.
Despite the work of Durkheim, to which reference will be made later, there is still uncertainty as to what constitutes the most profitable level for social analysis. Homans' recent criticism of contemporary sociology clearly underscores the misconception under which sociology has been laboring. 13 We have taken for granted the.existence of norms, roles, and institutions, while the question of their real existence was never asked. While trying to explain these phenomena, theories were never developed; analysis was confused for theory. Functionalism, which considered these phenomena to be "real", was never able to develop any viable theories.
It is Homans' claim, then, that sociology has been concerned with the wrong level of social reality. The only opportunity to explain social phenomena lies in the analysis of men rather than higher contextual social levels. Aware that such a position smacks of reductionism, Homans asserts that the psychological level is the proper level for sociological analvsis; it is not possible to keep the personal and the social separate.
If Homans should be correct, then it is apparent that functionalism has not directed our attention to the real phenomena. While many significant interrelations and insights have been presented, theoretical statements of cause and effect would not be readily achieved on this level of analysis. It should be noted, however, that Homans' main argument is not against functionalism or for theory as such, but rather, it is for a clear understanding of what constitutes the factual data of sociology.
The point which must always be kept in mind is that, in its immaturity, sociology has not developed the adequate definitions of referents upon which a conceptual scheme might be built. To rush into statements of cause and effect, without such a solid foundation, is to bring about the unfortunate situation to which Homans refers.
Having once developed their functional perspective from the contributions of anthropologists, it is entirely possible that sociologists became too independent and relied on their own assumptions. Certainly Gibson was guiding us in the direction suggested by Homans when be concluded:
This statement clearly directs us to the level of the individual for the initiation of research and the use of functional questions for further analysis. In both cases, the agreement of Gibson with Homans appears to be strong. Further, the emphasis to be put upon effects as the next step in inquiry is clear. The question of how to seek causes is not raised.The Value of the Holistic Approach
The tradition which is, essentially, being developed here is both positivistic and organic and takes its present form in functionalism. The argument, however, is that the representatives of the approach never clearly described the sequence of analysis to be followed. Nevertheless, it has been suggested that such a procedural approach is discernible. The original reference to Mill's work notwithstanding, it can also be observed that there has been little emphasis on a rigorous causal analysis.
One does not have to seek very far to discover the reason for this approach. Referring to Comte's "'inversion' of procedure", Hayek describes as "an indisputable axiom" the position "that where we have to deal with social phenomena, the whole is better known than the parts".15 This holistic approach results in an inability to adequately discern the relationship of parts to parts. In referring to this "idea of necessary connexion", Hume states "When we look about us towards external objects, and consider the operation of causes, we are never able, in a single instance, to discover any power or necessary connexion; any quality, which binds the effect to the cause, and renders one an infallible consequence of the other".16
The problem to which Hume alludes is the difficulty of determining the sequential pattern of events. In a statement which is highly reminiscent of Henderson's description of PareWs notion of equilibrium,17 Hume states:
We say, for instance, that the vibration of this string is the cause of this particular sound. But what do we mean by the affirmation? We either mean that this vibration is followed by this sound, and that all similar vibratiom have been followed by similar sounds: or, that this vibration is followed by this sound, and that upon the appearance at one the mind anticipates the senses, and forms immediately an idea of the other. We may consider the relation of cause and effect in either of these two lights but beyond these, we have no ideas of it."18
The question here is not whether an organismic approach to social phenomena is profitable or not. What is relevant is whether or not we have understood the proper means of proceeding with analysis. As Hume rightly notes, the problem is always one of definition; reasoning prevents us from clearly distinguishing among similar objects.19 From this we may conclude that the organismic approach is on solid ground when it has established the social facts to be observed and it is linked with a positivistic view.
It is Durkheim, of course, who most clearly represents this school. His argument is very close to that which has already been developed here. First, "Theory would be introduced only when science bad reached a sufficient stage of advancement."20 Second, "when a science is in its infancy, we do not have the right to affirm the existence of such facts . . . it is possible to establish that facts have a meaning, and what the meaning is, only when the explanation of the facts is sufficiently advanced."21 (emphasis supplied) Third, the understanding of defined facts comes from an understanding of their consequences. While the "sole function of the definition is to establish contact with things" it is the purpose of consequences to allow for a definition of these phenomena.22 It is Durkheim's claim, then, that if crime is a social fact, "we define crime in terms of punishment (because) in order to understand crime, we must begin with punishment."23
From these statements, we may repeat the claims made heretofore. When a science is as immature as sociology is, at present, we cannot take for granted the phenomena which we are studying; it is necessary to be sure of the factual nature of things. In addition, the effects caused by the existence of such facts should be readily understood in order to reaffirm the definition of those things which are being studied. It is only after such procedures have been disposed of that we can become involved in the explanatory function of theory.24The importance of Studying Effects
It should be clear now that once the social phenomena which we are studying are defined, the next step in analysis should be the study of effects, so that greater clarity and specificity of these definitions might be achieved. In addition, the isolation of effects can point us to possible causes.
Returning to Durkheim, we should examine his now famous reference to the normality of pathological conditions in society. Having once established that crime is a social fact, Durkheim insists that it is normal, not only because it is inevitable and, in fact, contributes to the welfare of the society, but also because it acts as a guide concerning morality in the society. Thus, it serves a useful purpose and can be the basis for suggesting changes which should be introduced in order to increase stability. To understand the reality of crime, it is first necessary to comprehend the effects which it might have.
Once it is seen that crime is "normal", we gain a more clear insight concerning the nature of crime but the problem now centers in the consequences of crime. Using more recent functionalist terminology, if it is possible for crime to be both functional and dysfunctional in its consequences, bow are we to determine what causes are to be sought? Durkheim himself suggests that the causes of crime are legion, since crime is relative and depends on "that definition which the collective conscience lends" to the criminal act.25
It is precisely at this point that the positivistic position is weakened by the need to make a choice among those causes and effects which are possible. The scientist, obviously, can no longer be completely objective and his choice must be formed by meaningful values which are available to him. In his contribution to the methodology of the social sciences, Weber clearly delineates the problem:
how is the causal explanation of an individual fact possible - since a description of even the smallest slice of reality can never be exhaustive? The number and type of causes which have influenced any given event are always infinite and there is nothing in the things themselves to set some of them apart as alone meriting attention. A chaos of "existential judgments" about countless individual events would be the only results of a serious attempt to analyze reality "without presuppositions". And even this result is only seemingly possible, since every single perception discloses on closer examination an infinite number of constituent perceptions which can never be exhaustively expressed in a judgment. Order is brought into this chaos only on the condition that in every case only a part of concrete reality is interesting and significant to us, because only it is. related to the cultural values with which we approach reality. Only certain sides of the infinitely complex concrete phenomenon, namely those to which we attribute a general cultural significane~e - are therefore worthwhile knowing. They alone are objects of casual explanation.26
There is a definite subjective element in causal analysis; we must choose those causes and effects which are of special relevance. Effects are also chosen, however, for the purpose of clarifying the definition of a social fact. Though this defining function of effects appears to be more objective, we must remember that facts are also subject to cultural values. While the choice of effects to be used in seeking causes is immediately based on cultural values, the choice of those effects which assist in understanding the fact is more objective, once the nature of the fact has been established.
If we are to understand crime as normal, we center our attention upon those consequences of crime which make it useful. These, however, may not be adequate for understanding the causes of crime, and we must make additional choices of those consequences which will guide us to possible causes. It seems apparent, then, that the importance of studying the effects of social facts stems from this two-fold function of effects, with subjectivity of choice increasing as there is concern for seeking causes.
Our attention is now turned to the question of validating the claim that causes may be derived from effects. The definition of cause offered by Hume seems critical here; he states:
In reducing these statements to their elements, Mill states "cause, as (Hume) interprets it, means the invariable antecedent."28 This definition agrees with Comte's approach, Mill maintains, and establishes the methodological perspective so strongly defended by Durkbeim.Causality as a "Guiding Principle"
To define a causal relationship, however, is not to solve all of the problems in establishing one. In defense of empirical methods, Hume claims that no cause can be established by reason alone. While it is possible to reduce the many possible causes of many effects into a few general causes, the establishment of the ultimate causes of these principles is probably outside the realm of human inquiry.29
Not only are ultimate causes difficult to ascertain, but we can only assign to causes a probability of their existence. It is Hume's contention that the influence of custom is too readily accepted in this field; the philosopher accepts the cause which is generally understood to result in an effect. It is only when the usual cause doesn't produce the usual effect that some "secret" cause is considered to be the important factor.30 Hence, it is not likely that one A411 arrive at more than a probability that a particular cause is responsible.
In these circumstances when dissimilar effects result from similar antecedents, Pap claims that the " principle of causality . . . is best described as a guiding principle of causal inquiry that owes its successes to a contingent feature of the universe."31 Of significant importance, then, is the need to ascertain whether effects are dissimilar before one can claim more than probability for a causal statement.
Not only must our attention be refocused onto effects in order to establish any meaningful causal statement, but it is also necessary to determine the circumstances surrounding the causal relationship.32 If two causes produce the same effect, it may be assumed that the circumstances were comparable. When a difference exists between causes and effects, however, it may be assumed that the relevant circumstances were different.
Once again we return to the problem of what constitutes a social fact, for if it is perceived that a particular cause of crime does not result in the expected consequence, the "reality" of crime in that case must be further explored. As criminologists have noted, crime is relative to its legal definition, which is changeable. If it should be found that an increase in a crime results in a decrease in the rate of punishment, which is not at all unlikely, a change in the laws pertaining to that crime is quite likely responsible. Since laws are, in effect, the social definition of the crime, it is necessary to reevaluate our understanding of the nature of crime; i.e., is it an act or a social interpretation of that act?Maelver's Three Axioms
Having arrived at this point, it is now instructive to turn to the work of MacIver, who, McEwen suggests, is most helpful in arriving at a definition of causality.33 MacIver's scheme is succinctly stated in three "axioms": 1) whatever happens has a cause, 2) where there is a difference in the effect there is a difference in the cause, 3) every cause is the effect of a prior cause and every effect is the cause of a posterior effect.34
The implications of the first axiom suggest that each happening is an event in a specific process and to "explain anything is to discover the order within which it falls."35 In this process, "cause is the conjuncture viewed as active; effect, the conjuncture viewed as being acted upon."36 To understand cause and effect is to understand the nature of their activity or passivity. What we are observing, then, is what "is both acted upon and acting at the same time."37
For MacIver, then, the meaning of being a thing or to have existence is to be an object in this process which is both acting and being acted upon. The establisbment of what this thing is which is to be observed is gained by understanding, in a general sense, the process in which it has its being. By stressing the nature of this process, MacIver tends to clarify the earlier statement by Hume and illuminates the claims of Mill.
The second axiom alerts us, again, to the importance of effects. By observing a difference in the consequent, we know there is a difference in the antecedent. Observing water as an element in the process of freezing, we understand that there is a change in the temperature. The important point seems to be that the drop in temperature might not be apparent if the freezing of the water were not observed, The validation of our claim that the analysis of effects leads to an understanding of causes, assuming the surrounding conditions are identical, is strengthened.
It is important to note the significance of MacIver's statement "that the search for causes is directed to the difference between things".38 Not only is it necessary that we know what it is which we are observing, but it would also be necessary to have some basis for determining difference. If such an observable element is not capable of measurement, it cannot be certain that the change resulting in an effect is the basis for understanding difference.
The third axiom reminds us that a thing may be both a cause and an effect at the same time. Observing the freezing of water suggests that it is being acted upon by the cold, but it also reminds us that the forming ice is acting upon the shore line as expansion takes place. The events occurring in a particular time period in the freezing process, then, may be both effect and cause.
It could be suggested that MacIver puts causal analysis into its proper perspective for the social scientist. Causality is not something which is absolute and inviolate. As MacIver reminds us, the "prior and posterior are always relative".39 It is also important to note that causation is universal.40 As long as things exist, there must be causes, and the establishment of relationships among events in a process is a proper causal analysis. The fruitfulness of the analysis largely depends on the quantifiability of the things themselves and the extent to which they are bound into a close relationship to one another.Causal Analysis in Durkheim's SUICIDE
The theoretical position to which reference has been made so often is that of positivistic organicism. The classic analysis in this tradition is Durkheim's Suicide, which so clearly presents quantifiable data which can be seen to exist in a relationship because of the close linkage which the various elements in the study have with one another. A detailed analysis of sections of this study, then, should prove of assistance in illustrating the principles which have been presented.
In determining what constitutes suicide, Durkheim claims it is necessary to establish those "common qualities objective enough to be recognizable by all honest observers".41 With this goal, he is then able to define suicide as "all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result."42 Nevertheless, this definition is not as capable of objective observation as Durkheim might suppose. Is it possible for all observers to be aware that a particular act will produce death? Those of us who are unfamiliar with the death dealing qualities of hemlock would not necessarily know that Socrates, in keeping with Durkheim's definition, committed suicide. As was earlier suggested, the Weberian position which stresses the value of "understanding" of the actor's intentions is necessary here.
This weakness notwithstanding, the definition greatly limits the actions to be observed. In addition, it establishes the importance of motivation in suicide; it is intentional action. If suicide were nothing more than individual action, Durkheim would have little interest in it. For him, the reality of suicide is found in its appearance as a social phenomena; it "is itself a new fact sui generis, with its own unity, individuality and consequently its own nature - a nature, furthermore, dominantly social."43 As a social fact, then, suicide can be studied, not on the individual, but the social level where it finds its clearest expression in the measurable suicide-rate.
Through the use of these statistics, Durkheim shows that suicide is not caused by cosmic, normal psychological, or psychopathic factors. The causal explanation, therefore, is reduced to social factors. The complexity of such causes still presents a formidable problem, but, as in the case of crime, it can now be assumed that suicide is a normal pattern of action and the process to be studied can be found in the routine of daily life.
It is clear that Durkheim understands the nature of causal analysis. Realizing that causes and effects will vary with differing conditions, he assumes that different types of suicide will be found. Hence, he uses the relativity of causes and effects as a strength rather than a weakness; he seeks different types of suicide rather than ultimate, unvarying causes. The process of causal analysis is used to sharpen the classes of social facts which are to be studied before the causes themselves are to be sought.
Realizing that different types of suicide are possible because of the surrounding circumstances, Durkheim is now able to distinguish these types from the differing attitudes toward suicide permitted by societies. It is not only that a society allows a person to assume his right to take his life, but in some societies it is necessary that a person take his life. The former condition leads to egoistic suicide and the latter altruistic.
Referring to this distinction between these two different forms, Durkheim. states:
(in the case of altruistic suicide,) the weight of society is thus brought to bear on him to lead him to destroy himself. To be sure, society intervenes in egoistic suicide, as well; but its intervention differs in the two cases. In one case, it speaks the sentence of death; in the other it forbids the choice of death. In the case of egoistic suicide it suggests or counsels at most; in the other case it compels and is the author of conditions and circumstances making this obligation coercive. . . . This sacrifice then is imposed by society for social. ends. . . . The destiny of one must be that of the others.44In the case of altruistic suicide, it is clear that although the suicide is an individual act, it has social It might be well to balance the perspective used effects and causes. Indeed, the understanding of altruistic suicide is that it is not only normal but moral; to ignore committing suicide when it is expected is to bring dishonor and disrespect to oneself. The unnatural state of a person who lives when he has no right to acts as a blot upon the society which can only be removed by suicide. In these situations, suicide is functional for establishing re-equilibriurn in the society. The explanation of altruistic suicide is not possible without recognizing these effects which result.
The section of Durkheim's
work which is most well social environmental factors were necessary to create
known deals with anomic suicide. Comparing egoistic the fertile ground. Without these two factors, capital
suicide with anomic, he notes that the latter occurs when ism, as defined by Weber, wouldn't develop.
man's activity lacks regulation while the former stems Using the comparative method of analysis, Weber
from man's inability to find a basis for existence in life.45 set out to find other societies which had one of the
The types of suicide have different causes because circumstances surrounding their occurrence differ.
While egoistic suicide occurs in rather stable conditions of freedom, the anomic variety is characterized by crisis and the establishment of states of di-sequilibrium. Whether such conditions are periodic or chronic in a society is of little importance. What is meaningful is that in the anomic form the individual feels cutoff from society while in the egoistic he perceives him self to be without meaning in it.
What, then, are the social
facts and causes with which Durkheim. is concerned? First, he attempts to
explain elements in the suicide rate. Why do more Protestants than Catholics
commit suicide? Why do single individuals commit suicide more often than the
married? These questions represent, for him, the different types of suicide and
constitute social facts. Second, he does not presume to give final explanations
for these facts in the form of ultimate causes. In avoiding reductionism, he is
satisfied to isolate purely social causes which are above the levels of
individuals or social relationships.
Nevertheless, Durkheim realizes that such conclusions are still not a complete explanation of suicide, for it still varies with the unique individual. "Of course, not all the peculiarities which suicide may present can be deduced in this fashion; for some may exist which depend solely on the person's own nature. Each victim of suicide gives his act a personal stamp which expresses his temperament, the special conditions in which he is involved, and which, cannot be explained by the social and general causes of the phenomenon."46 To more than approximate the explanation of suicide at this level is not possible and it might be added, confirms the justification of Weber's contributions.
The Weberian Position
It might be well to balance the perspective here here with some comments on Weber's work. Despite the fact that causal analysis is possible in social science, Weber serves to remind us of the hazards in such an undertaking.
Weber's famous essay The
Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism was the first of a series of
comparative studies of religion which he planned and made. It was his thesis
that a capitalistic spirit, as exemplified by the Puritan "ethic", was
a critical variable in the development of capitalism. In addition, certain broad
social environmental factors were necessary to create the fertile ground.
Without these two factors capitalism would not have developed.
Using the comparative method of analysis Webber sought to find other societies which had only one of the critical factors and not the other in order to observe whether capitalism developed. In Ancient China, Webb felt a case had been found to validate his thesis. The results could be simply shown as follows:
Western Europe Environment conducive Protestant Capitalism
for capitalism Ethic
Ancient China Environment conducive No comparable No capitalism
for capitalism ethic
It should be stressed that Weber's object was not to develop a tightly structured causal analysis. Rather, he could suggest that the Protestant Ethic was causal only after first establishing the existence of the effect, capitalism. Weber's greatest point of vulnerability lay in the definition of capitalism, not in his causal analysis. His methodology was far too cautious to permit claiming a law-like characteristic for the Protestant Ethic which would always result in capitalism.
At one point, his chief critic, R. H. Tawney, argues that "material and psychological changes went together, and of course the second reacted on the first. But it seems a little artificial to talk as though capitalist enterprise could not appear till religious changes had Weber's conclusions as "susceptible, it may perhaps be held, of more than one interpretation. "48
Weber never intended to be
so deterministic. It was precisely for this reason that Weber closes by saying
"it is, of course, not my aim to substitute for a one-sided materialistic
an equally one-sided spiritual causal interpretation of culture and of history.
Each is equally possible."49 Perhaps he who claims more for social analysis
doesn't truly understand its nature.
In bringing this paper to a close, I would hardly expect anyone to have a more clear understanding of the nature of causal analysis in social science. Though the issues are too complex at present to allow for lucid interpretation, I would hope that the differences in the means of explanation between the physical and social sciences are apparent.
In addition, we should be reminded of the points at which Christianity and the type of social science which has been described converge. First, one cannot adequately understand a "social fact" without considering the impact of the individual. On several occasions, it has been noted that analysis should start on the individual level. Secondly, causal analysis must consider the intentions of the individuals in their actions. Social behavior is increasingly teleological in nature in our society, and by orienting himself to the future, man causes his behavior to be less capable of being predicted. Finally, the patterns of causal relationships are non-deterministic and susceptible to the influence exerted by the individual and other unanticipated social forces. Within this framework exist the foundations of a valid causal analysis in social science and the opportunities, and dilemmas, of a Christian interpretation.NOTES