Vilfredo Pareto (1916

)

Mind & Society

Source: Mind & Society, publ. Dover, 1935. First dozen pages reproduced here.

1. Human society is the subject of many researches. Some of them constitute specialised disciplines: law, political economy, political history, the history of religions, and the like. Others have not yet been distinguished by special names. To the synthesis of them all, which aims at studying human society in general, we may give the name of sociology. 2. That definition is very inadequate. It may perhaps be improved upon - but not much; for, after all, of none of the sciences, not even of the several mathematical sciences, have we strict definitions. Nor can we have. Only for purposes of convenience do we divide the subjectmatter of our knowledge into various parts, and such divisions are artificial and change in course of time. Who can mark the boundaries between chemistry and physics, or between physics and mechanics? And what are we to do with thermodynamics? If we locate that science in physics, it will fit not badly there; if we put it with mechanics, it will not seem out of place; if we prefer to make a separate science of it, no one surely can find fault with us. Instead of wasting time trying to discover the best classification for it, it will be the wiser part to examine the facts with which it deals. Let us put names aside and consider things. In the same way, we have something better to do than to waste our time deciding whether sociology is or is not an independent science whether it is anything but the "philosophy of history" under a different name; or to debate at any great length the methods to be

On the other hand.followed in the study of sociology. We must give battle on the theorem. In considering the definition of sociology just above we found it necessary to hint at one or two norms that we intend to follow in these volumes. On the other hand. he may state his principles as mere indications of one course that may be followed among the many possible. We are no longer called upon to contest it. The principles that a writer chooses to follow may be put forward in two different ways. for if we concede it. If they are so accepted. We might do the same in other connections as occasion arises. In that case any logical implication which they may contain is in no sense demonstrated in the concrete. and we have nothing left to set against it. on the contrary. we might very well set forth our norms once and for all. He may. And let knowledge of such relationships be obtained by any method that will serve. and relationships be inferred from the facts directly. But suppose. We are interested in the end. ask that his principles be accepted as demonstrated truths. in the first place. Suppose Euclid's postulate that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points is set before us as a theorem. and much less or not at all interested in the means by which we attain it. Let the mathematician develop the . the whole system of Euclidean geometry stands demonstrated. 4. 3. and people may then give to that inquiry any name they please. Let us keep to our quest for the relationships between social facts. Let us consider an example. but is merely hypothetical hypothetical in the same manner and to the same degree as the premises from which it has been derived. It will therefore often be necessary to abstain from drawing such inferences: the deductive aspects of the subject will be ignored. all their logical implications must also be regarded as proved. Each of those procedures has its merits and its defects. Here we prefer to follow the second. the postulate be put forward as a hypothesis.

which we elect to follow. Profiting by such experience. In that sense and in no other should the statement of principles which we are here making be taken. we will reject them. if they seem not to be in such accord. we will accept them. the results attained by celestial mechanics on the whole would still stand.are possible. They would simply have to be retouched and supplemented. among the many courses that might be chosen. and our statement of principles serves merely as an indication of that course. or. Considering things from that point of view. If they are in accord with the concrete. our doubts should prove well founded. instead of quarrelling over first principles. other geometries . We do not posit any dogma as a premise to our research. 5. Today we suspect that that attraction may be something different from what it was once thought to be. let us say. the geometry of Lobachevski. But that is just a hint. geometry would not exist even today. Our freedom of choice has not been fettered by any anticipatory concession. it does not follow that he rejects all other geometries. The science of celestial mechanics developed as a result of the hypothesis of the law of universal gravitation. And that observation is of general bearing. and if he goes on and expounds the geometry of Lobachevski. we are here setting out to apply to the study of sociology the methods that have proved so useful in the other sciences. and we may study them without in the least surrendering our freedom of choice in the concrete. Therefore anyone who joins us along such a course by no means renounces his right to follow some other.logical consequences that follow from it. From the first pages of a treatise on geometry it is the part of the mathematician to make clear whether he is expounding the geometry Of Euclid. in the light of new and better observations of fact. All sciences have advanced when. .non-Euclidean geometries . If before proceeding with their researches mathematicians had insisted upon deciding whether or not the postulate of Euclid corresponded to concrete reality. people have considered results. but even if.

"Humanitarian" sociologies we have to satiety . Of metaphysical sociologies (with which are to be classed all positive and humanitarian sociologies) we suffer no dearth. equally intolerant. For the believer there is but one good course. and numberless other authors. When we say that . Letourneau. Without disparagement of any of those estimable sociologies. but of religions nevertheless. one cannot admit that there are any other truths in the world. and other such sciences. Faith by its very nature is exclusive.they are about the only ones that are being published nowadays. But those who have no faith whatever will take their oath upon either Koran or Gospels .or. Christian. If one believes oneself possessed of the absolute truth. therefore. Hitherto sociology has nearly always been expounded dogmatically. The Mohammedan will not take oath upon the Gospels. De Greef.6.' We are by no means asserting that sociologies derived from certain dogmatic principles are useless. Let us not be deceived by the word "positive" that Comte foisted upon his philosophy. after the fashion of chemistry. So the enthusiastic Christian and the pugnacious free-thinker are. So far as experience is not contrasted with observation. on the Social Contract of Rousseau. we here venture to expound a sociology that is purely experimental. and religions of the same sort are to be seen in the writings of Spencer. refer to experience alone. nor the Christian upon the Koran. just as we in no sense deny utility to the geometries of Lobachevski or Riemann. all others are bad. we shall. His sociology is as dogmatic as Bossuet's Discourse on Universal History. as a favour to our humanitarians. were it only to see the grimace Senator Berenger would make and the brethren of that gentleman's persuasion. physics. and similar sociologies we have to some small extent. We simply ask of such sociologies that they use premises and reasonings which are as clear and exact as possible. for love of brevity. It is a case of two different religions. and have to be. we intend to take only experience and observation as our guides. In all that follows. nor even would they scruple to swear on the Decameron of Boccaccio. Catholic.

there are usually but two classes of theories: there are theories that are true and theories that are false. preceptive." Such propositions." "Love thy neighbour as thyself. ." we shall for the moment use only the latter term. of the tendencies and inclinations of human beings. for the image of social activity is stamped on the majority of such propositions and theories." the reader must supply the adjective "observational. For example: "Youth lacks discretion." the reader must add "and by observation.a thing is attested "by experience." barring specification to the contrary. 8. descriptive.that is. nor thy neighbour's wife. Viewed from the outside without regard to any intrinsic merit with which they may be credited by faith. 7. To avoid endless repetition of the words "proposition" and "theory. They are felt rather than explained. and so on. 9. constitute theories. but whatever we say of "theories" should be taken as applying also to "propositions. For that reason we shall study them at great length in the course of these volumes. cosmogonies." "Covet not thy neighbour's goods." When we speak of "experimental sciences. systems of metaphysics." "Learn to save if you would not one day be in need. all such propositions and theories are experimental facts and as experimental facts we are here obliged to consider and examine them. for classification is a first step that is almost indispensable if one would have an adequate grasp of any great number of differing objects. The terms "true" and "false" are left vaguely defined. combined by logical or pseudo-logical nexuses and amplified with factual narrations of various sorts. Propositions and theories have to be classified at the very outset. and often it is through them alone that we manage to gain some knowledge of the forces which are at work in society . For the man who lets himself be guided chiefly by sentiment for the believer." and so on. theologies. or otherwise. That examination is very useful to sociology. that is . Current in any given group of people are a number of propositions.

instead of leaving the solution of it to experience as we proposed doing. At any rate. accordingly. a theory has been shown to be true. Were we to meet those assertions with contrary ones. Independent of the minds that produce or accept them. When. must accept "true" propositions and reject "false" ones. it follows. we shall be giving a solution likewise a priori to the problem we have set ourselves. daring to voice that opinion. Theories. the study of it is complete. both sets of assertions would have the same value . and then whether the assertions are or are not corroborated by experimental facts. we are obliged to admit the possibility of both a positive and a negative answer.yet that is an axiom of modem currency. have an absolute character. every "intelligent" human being. The axiom that every proposition which is "true" is also "beneficial. 2. 11. however." and vice versa. experimentally. and it is useless to inquire whether it be beneficial or detrimental.zero. 3. But in order to do that. we need simply determine first of all whether the terms used in the assertions correspond to some experimental reality. it is inadmissible that a theory may be beneficial to certain classes of society and detrimental to others . If we would remain within the realm of experience. and. The person who fails to do so is either not honest or not rational. Oftentimes three further axioms are present: 1. for it is evident that if we bar one of those two possibilities a priori. The axiom that every "honest" man. .10. and many people deny it without. we too would be reasoning a priori.

such as the "element" known to chemistry. It is sufficient for the moment to have called attention to it. In a theory one may detect descriptive elements. Experimental matter Ia. In the manner just described. We may consider it under various aspects: 1. which is made up of a number of elements. now imaginary. "feelings. is like a rock. appeals to sentiment. already. Here. and all such things may be said to constitute the matter of the theory. now concrete. and such things may be thought of as constituting the instrumentalities whereby the "matter" mentioned above is utilised in order to rear the structure that we call a theory. and functionings of certain entities. Let us try therefore to classify theories. Logical Ib. is one aspect under which theories may be considered." traces of religious and ethical beliefs. A theory. using the method we would use were we classifying insects. Objective aspect. the structure has been reared the theory exists. Non-logical nexus nexus . In order to take account of all possible combinations that may arise from the character of the matter and the character of the nexus we must distinguish the following classes and subclasses: CLASS I. But there are other things in a theory: there are logical or pseudo-logical arguments." we say. The theory may be considered without reference to the person who has produced it or to the person who assents to it . 13.12. axiomatic assertions. now abstract. or rocks. now real. plants. and so on. It is now one of the objects that we are trying to classify. We perceive at once that a theory is not a homogeneous entity. rather."objectively. but without attaching any metaphysical sense to the term.

This variety might be called transitional. and the nexus logical. The classification just made. The person who thinks he is using logic and is mistaken will class among logical theories a proposition that a person aware of the error will locate among the non-logical. comprising the type that is strictly pure. A person who regards as experimental certain elements that another person regards as non-experimental will locate in Class I a proposition that the other person will place in Class II. comprising a deviation from the type. Non-experimental matter IIa. which brings us closer to Class II. For the study in which we are engaged they are often far less important than the subclasses Ia or IIa. The nexus . Explicitly the matter is still experimental. with the matter strictly experimental and the nexus logical.Others of like nature might be considered. The subclass Ia comprises all the experimental sciences. Ia2. or specious reasonings calculated to deceive. the general principles. Two other varieties may be distinguished in it: Ia1. Logical IIb. Non-logical nexus The subclasses Ib and IIb comprise logical sophistries. acquire (implicitly or explicitly) a significance transcending experience. but they are far less important than this one. but the abstractions.CLASS II. is dependent upon the knowledge at our command. we shall call it logico-experimental. The abstractions and general principles that are used within it are derived exclusively from experience and are subordinated to experience. like any other that might be made.

or modify certain sentiments. Why does a given person assert that A = B? Conversely. In this connection. logical elements and non-logical elements. Why does a given person assent to the propositionA = assent. Theories may be considered with reference to the persons who produce them and to the persons who assent to them. as well as upon other individuals to produce. In reality. Subjective aspect. the sentiments. We shall therefore have to consider them under the following subjective aspects: a. contain experimental elements and non-experimental elements. that is. a given theory may be a blend of such types . B? Conversely. Causes in view of which a given person assents to a given theory. 2. it is important to keep the theory distinct from the state of mind. that it reflects.it may. why does he do so? These inquiries are extensible from individuals to society at large. 3. if he makes that assertion. Certain individuals evolve a theory because they have certain sentiments. but then the theory reacts in turn upon them. Aspect of utility.classification above is a classification of types of theories. why does he do so? b. Causes in view of which a given theory is devised by a given person. if he gives such . intensify.

As regards the person assenting to the theory II. As regards the person asserting the theory Ib. As regards the person individuals assert that A = B? And why do other individuals believe that A = B? 3. Why do certain the theory IIb. Subjective aspect. As regards the person asserting assenting to it. 14. Objective aspect. we must answer the following questions: 1. too. Aspect Of utility. and also from the standpoint of their individual or social utility. that we are to consider propositions and theories under their objective and their subjective aspects. These considerations. What advantage (or disadvantage) do the sentiments reflected by . We may say. To recapitulate: Given the proposition A = B. or is it not? 2. or from their usage in common parlance. However. the meanings of such terms must not be derived from their etymology. but exclusively in the manner designated later. Is the proposition in accord with experience. then.I. Utility or detriment resulting from the sentiments reflected by a theory: la. Utility or detriment resulting from a given theory: IIa. are extensible to society at large.

frequently mere accord with the sentiments of the person defending the thesis. as regards the other question. Propositions not in accord with experience that are asserted and accepted because of their accord with sentiments. would be detrimental to society. if accepted." "The sentiments reflected in the proposition are beneficial because true. to individuals or society. We shall see. c. to individuals or society. as we proceed with our experimental research in chapters hereafter. and for the person who accepts it? In an extreme case the answer to the first question is yes." In this extreme case.the proposition A = B have for the person who states it. . the latter being now beneficial. because it istrue. Propositions in accord with experience that are rejected because they are not in accord with sentiments. the latter being beneficial. now detrimental. Propositions in accord with experience that are asserted and accepted because of their accord with sentiments. and for the person who accepts it? What advantage (or disadvantage) does the theory itself have for the person who puts it forward. we may find that data of logico-experimental science are present. and then "true" means in accord with experience." "The theory itself is beneficial because true. one adds: "People say (people believe) that A = B. and in such event "true" signifies not accord with experience but something else . that the following cases are of frequent occurrence in social matters: a. and which. But also present may be data that by no means belong to logico-experimental science. and then. b. oftentimes exceedingly so.

Further Reading: Biography | Spencer | Talcott Parsons | Weber | Comte Philosophy Archive @ marxists. Experience alone can enlighten us. to society. detrimental to others. and now beneficial.d. now detrimental. On all that we can know nothing a priori. and which are beneficial to certain individuals. Propositions not in accord with experience that are asserted and accepted because of their accord with sentiments.org .

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