In my previous post, I began to describe Franklin Giddings‘ account of biological and social evolution. As with the first posts for this blog, the post painted with a broad brush, without nuance and given to jumpiness. Giddings was a rather prominent sociologist in his time, but like most early sociologists (including his rival Albion Small), he has been lost to time. Dorothy Ross’ magisterial Origins of American Social Science accounts for Giddings sociology as “straightforward evolutionary positivism.” He “cut through” many of the dilemmas induction and deduction and of articulating a science that was both an account of nature and an explication of a historical narrative by rendering science “description.” He was deeply indebted to Ernst Mach and Karl Pearson, whose elitist values and Darwinism Giddings “probably” cherished (Origins of American Social Science, 228; for her account see pgs. 227ff.)
Giddings work at Columbia in statistical methods and sociology renders more explicable Paul Lazarsfeld’s work at Columbia much later in the tradition Giddings founded (more on how I disagree with sociology being a march toward quantification in a later post). Ross’ emphasis is on Giddings methods and his embodiment of some of the accreditations of his times: his focus on competition, assimilation and association, his elitism and positivism, his “deep fear” which he shared with other “American sociologists of social fragmentation,” and of the rise of quantification in the social sciences. All of these factors make his work emblematic and exemplary of his generation of social theorists whom came to intellectual sentience during the Gilded Age, only to be dogged with pessimism after the First World War. Ross also makes clear that his project is very much a baroque failure.
Ross’ account is exemplary and correct. I want to point out some assumptions. The first is that her account is in many ways indebted (unacknowledged perhaps) to the work of Imre Lakatos. In Lakatos’ vision of scientific progress, all great minds have methodological insights used in the development of a research program which they use to train cadres of students, whom form schools which protect and apply these insights to their work. The most numerous and successful schools are better able to fight pitched battles in the university against other schools for scarce academic resources. In this war of all against all, all intellectual products are part of programs (which Ross mentions specifically) which crystallize around methods- methods which are debated and which have university-political ramifications. Ross’ account of Giddings reduces his sociology (he was as well known as an economist who penned intriguing work with John Bates Clark, which renders her description of him as a “sociologist” misleading to the less-than-expert; he was both and none) to a methodology and a research program. Philosophers of science are very concerned with the status of research programs, of induction and deduction. I am unsure whether turn of the century social theorists -or theorists of the “Progressive Era”- should be described in a manner which Ernest Nagel would understand. In all fairness, Giddings’ Inductive Sociology makes something of- unsurprisingly- induction, but it is short, early and programmatic. Understanding him in this fashion- at the expense of his writings on social and biological evolution and the interconnection between nature and society- has the effect of modernizing him, a Lazerfield or Merton in waiting, which if his writings on race, language and nation are presented in their fullness, he can not be.