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148 It was about 150 years ago that William Graham Sumner was born, the son of an English machinist who endowed him with a work ethic, a sense of personal integrity, and a stubborn independence from the world—qualities that were cloned on the son in such a way that they were never shaken. Later in his life, Sumner developed a love for what he called the “forgotten man”—the independent citizen who worked hard, paid his debts and taxes, dutifully raised his family, and perpetuated community values. Sumner might have been reviving the ghost of his father. It was about 120 years ago that Sumner, after having been trained for the Episcopalian ministry, read Herbert Spencer, and that momentous occasion began his conversion to the infant field of sociological studies. And it was at Yale, about 100 years ago, that Sumner offered the first academic course—in the world, it is believed—with the title of “sociology” in it. This was an event whose great symbolic import we can celebrate today but whose full significance was, no doubt, scarcely perceived by Sumner himself. 7 Sociology as Science, Humanism, and Art (1994) From Tocqueville Review 15, no. 2 (1994): 5–18. s o c i o l o g y a s s c i e n c e , h u m a n i s m , a n d a r t 149 Sumner believed his sociology to be a science—at least the beginnings of one—and certainly not an art. But a number of his formulations fit the theme of the field as both art and science, and I will refer to them from time to time. the main argument: sociology in the larger picture of human inquiry As many students in college recognize, one clever and sometimes effective ploy in confronting a question on a final examination—especially a question whose answer does not occur to them immediately—is to redefine the question. “Before we can consider the question, it is necessary to clarify its meaning,” begins the answer. If pursued creatively enough, this strategy can consume the entire time devoted to the question and throw enough dust in the eyes of the examiner to earn a decent grade. I promise not to take up my entire remarks with clarifications. I will, however, make an initial clarification of the assigned theme of “sociology as art and science” and in doing so will reveal my major argument. Here is the clarification. Instead of addressing the topic of “sociology as art and science,” I will maintain that over the past century the major debates and dilemmas in our field—right up to the present—can be understood in terms of sociology’s proximity to three intellectual outlooks. These may be referred to as the scientific orientation, the humanistic orientation, and the artistic orientation. At the risk of anthropocentrism, I put sociology in the center of the map and represent the three neighboring orientations as surrounding it (see figure 2, next page). First, a few definitional notes: • Sociology I will not define for the moment, and by not doing that I shorten my remarks considerably. • By the scientific orientation I refer to inquiry that focuses on natural laws and logically closed theoretical formulations; on causal, even deterministic analysis; on a dispassionate attitude toward the subject matter under study; on empirical study; on precision and measurement; and on a method of inquiry that isolates and controls many possible causes in order to arrive at the decisive ones. 150 l a t e r e x p l o r a t i o n s • By the humanistic orientation I have in mind inquiry that focuses on the human being; includes a preoccupation with the human condition (including human suffering); and deals above all with human meanings, systems of which constitute culture. What I am calling humanism overlaps in complex ways with humanitarianism, humaneness, and the disciplines in the humanities, but I will forego trying to explicate this complex conceptual geography. • In the artistic orientation I include two rather different connotations— first, an aesthetic orientation toward subject matter, or an emphasis on pattern; and, second, an emphasis on the application of knowledge, as in the “art of medical practice” or the “art of the possible.” My basic thesis is the following: sociology, having differentiated in complex ways out of all three of these orientations, still maintains connections with all of them...


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