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THE NATURALIZATION OF VALUE SYSTEMS IN THE HUMAN SCIENCES

by Robert M. Young

Preface

This essay is the result of more than one transformation. I had for some years intended to write an essay on the functionalist tradition in the human sciences. I had prepared a draft and amended it a number of times, when I received an invitation from the Course Team of an Open University course on ‘Science and Belief: From Darwin to Einstein’ to contribute a course unit. I set out to adapt my ideas to this context, but it was not an easy fit. In this re-publication of the essay I have not deleted the materials strictly relevant to the course rubric and the ‘Self-Assessment Questions’ (SAQ) which I found anathema at the time. (I made an attempt to re-absorb the points I made in them into the text but found that at this distance in time I could not do so without clumsiness and loss of flow.) I have also not modified the ‘explaining’ mode of discourse. Although this material was originally inserted for pedagogical reasons, it provides a useful way of conveying my historiographic argument. When I address the student directly, I might just as well be addressing my professional colleagues in the history of science and of culture.

It is very difficult even to begin to cover the relevant issues in the space allotted to this topic. This means that I will have to sketch some matters and leave out lots of others in order to focus on some key examples and their interconnections. I have made the problem worse by persuading the Course Team that my original brief was too narrow. I was asked to write on 'Religion and the Sciences of Mind' and to include psychological theories from Darwin to about 1940. I replied that 'religion' should be broadened to 'values', since the religious response to the problem of meaning and values in life and nature was being challenged by other approaches, some of which, in turn, purported to explain religion itself by reference to psychological, social and other forces. I also argued that 'sciences of mind' was too restricted, since one of the most striking features of the period is that those 'other approaches' included a wide range of disciplines which were challenging the claims of religion to provide the most convincing and satisfying grounding for value systems. These now make up what is called 'the human sciences' and include — in addition to psychology — sociology, anthropology, social psychology, psychoanalysis, psychiatry and numerous sub-disciplines.

Behind this argument for a reformulation of the unit was the position that, as I see it, 'science and belief' becomes a progressively inappropriate way of framing the developments in the post-Darwinian period. This is the sort of issue which historians differ over, as do scientists reflecting on their own disciplines. Until recently, most historians of science have been trained in, and have written on, the history of the physico-chemical sciences. I would like you to consider the issues in a different way by reassessing the role of the biological, medical and human sciences in the foundation of our most basic beliefs. Putting the matter very crudely, the approach to these issues which was based on the relationship between an individual's religious beliefs and a Newtonian cosmology and which was accepted in the late-eighteenth and the early-nineteenth centuries, was being replaced between Darwin's time and the 1930s by a more social approach rooted in a progressive biological order.

As a result of my arguing for a much wider brief it was agreed that I should treat both secularization and the broad stream of approaches under the title 'The Naturalization of Value Systems in the Human Sciences', i.e. the process by which other frameworks were sought to replace spiritual, 'other-worldly', religious explanations of nature, life and humanity with respect to fundamental values. Before attempting to carry out that brief, however, I want to reflect a bit more on the rubric of the course. I am doing this because I think it is important to make you aware of the issues embedded in how the units have been conceived: the writing of history, like the investigation of nature and society, involves choices among conflicting values. In different units are intermingled arguments which stress demarcations between science and belief and others which point out interactions between them. 'Belief' is also used in senses which are sometimes ambiguous in their social, political, ethical and religious meanings. This is not a result of carelessness or muddle but of the compromises involved in writing history as a group with differing approaches to the relations between science and belief/values. You, as students, are having to deal with two sorts of unstable basis: in the period with which the course is concerned, the basis for what is meant by 'belief' was changing; at the same time, some of those who are contributing to the course tend to think of belief in primarily religious terms, while others (including me) do not. You will have to thread your own way in this historical and historiographical labyrinth.  

Introduction

I think that at a very deep level the sciences are predicated on value systems and that they serve particular class interests. This approach isn't merely a quirk of my historiography or politics. The problem of the source and basis for values is also a key question, both in the period and in scholarship about the period. The impact of science on the human sphere — earth, life, 'man' (the contemporary term was characteristically sexist, and it would be anachronistic to alter it), and society — was such that the domains of fact and value became manifestly entangled. How the principal figures in the history of the debate and the scholars who study it sort out the issues, is itself part of the problem. As I have said, I cannot thread this labyrinth for you, but I do want you to know that I know that I am in it, too. Where I think I am is at the point of view which criticizes scientists and scholars who (more or less self-consciously) have sought to root their values in the laws of nature. I would prefer to debate values in terms of the kind of society we want to bring into being and to approach nature as a complex manifold (i.e., 'having various forms, features, applications' Shorter O.E.D.) that we labour to shape in our efforts to convert our vision into reality.

I'll start by summarizing some of my earlier writings on the subject, since they form the basis of my approach to the unit. At the beginning of the period we are considering, the debate about science and belief was occurring at two levels. There certainly was a conflict between the claims of science and those of religion. My reading of the literature has led me, however, to the interpretation that the explicit conflict between science and religion was, and remained, part of a more popular culture, one which we associate with polemicists on both sides, e.g., T. H. Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce in 1860; Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Brian in 1925. At another level, however, there was a subtle accommodation among the intellectual elite, with enlightened theologians more or less gracefully handing over to the custodians of the laws of nature the fundamental bases for social order and progress. This is what I argued in an essay on 'The impact of Darwin on conventional thought' (Young, 1970a). After rehearsing the 'Darwin v the Bible' version, I pointed out that it is significant that both Lyell and Darwin were buried with great honour in Westminster Abbey, while one of Darwin's earliest theological sympathizers, Frederick Temple, became Archbishop of Canterbury.

In another essay, 'Natural theology, Victorian periodicals and the fragmentation of a common context' (Young, 1969) I tried to explore and reflect on the integrative role which natural theology (investigating the existence and attributes of the Deity through the study of the phenomena of nature — 'the Book of God's Works') played in the early decades of the nineteenth century. There is evidence in the periodicals which were read by the Victorian intelligentsia, that natural theology provided a matrix which kept the issues of nature, life, mind and society in a single common context of intellectual and cultural life in which science was not separated from fundamental values. I suggested that one of the concomitants of the development of evolutionary theory was the break-up of this common intellectual culture and the fragmentation of the relevant issues into separate disciplines. These, in turn, took up different aspects of the problem of nature and the place of humanity in it. Clearly, there were other forces leading to the professionalization of the people who specialized in the topics which got hived off from the common context. Most historians of science who have written about these historical changes have treated them largely within intellectual history. To attempt to relate them to wider socio-economic forces in the decades around the turn of the twentieth century would use up space at a prodigious rate, and there is no reliable secondary literature to make the connections for us between, say, the professionalization of anthropology and the needs of colonial administrators in Britain (see Stauder, 1974; Gough, 1969; Weber, 1974) or the rise of professional sociology and the development of a relatively stable industrial democracy in America (see Gedicks, 1975; Schwendinger and Schwendinger, 1974; Lynch, 1977). Looking at the intellectual changes from the inside, all I felt able to say in the essay I'm summarizing is that the sorts of learned disputations across a wide set of issues, which appeared in the most prominent periodicals and which were kept together for a time in the debates of that remarkable forum, The Metaphysical Society (see Hutton, 1885) in the post-Darwinian period (1869-80), ceased to be part of a common context.

There are three interpretations which form the basis for my approach in this essay. First, that issues formerly treated in the domain of natural theology came progressively to be treated as part of the domain of science. Theological bases for such debates, where they remained, became increasingly less explicit. This, I take it, is the meaning of R. H. Hutton's remark on behalf of the theological party in the Metaphysical Society: 'The uniformity of Nature is the veil behind which, in these latter days, God is hidden from us’. Secondly, that the maintenance and reproduction of the values of the society — as expressed in the periodical literature— passed from a common culture to a set of particular disciplines, each with its own topic and periodical (these are actual titles of periodicals launched in the period which are still in print): Mind, Brain, Nature, Man (anthropology). Increasingly specialized writers worked more and more within developing academic disciplines. The broad issue of 'man's place in nature' was, for example, particularized in the editorial statement of the first issue of Mind (1876) as follows: 'MIND intends to procure a decision of this question as to the scientific standing of psychology' (quoted in Secondary Anthology, 2.2 p. 95). This fragmentation of topics was occurring in an era of growing professionalization.

To make my third basic interpretative point I have to go back before Darwin, because it would be very misleading to allow you to think that the problems I've been sketching were kept within theology, geology and general biology until Darwin; that then came On the Origin of Species, followed by the growth of the human sciences on a Darwinian foundation. It wasn't that way at all.

In 'The role of psychology in the nineteenth-century evolutionary debate' (Secondary Anthology, 3.2) I tried to show how psychology and other approaches which we would now include among the human sciences were already providing many of the materials for the foundation of evolutionary theory itself. An analogous case has been made about sociology and anthropology by John Burrow in his fine book, Evolution and Society: A Study in Mid-Victorian Social Theory (1966). He mounts a convincing argument that Darwin 'was certainly not the father of evolutionary anthropology, but possibly its wealthy uncle', and he was 'far away while the cradle of evolutionary social theory was being prepared' on the basis of other intellectual traditions (Burrow, 1966, pp. 100, 114). Burrow has been criticized for setting Darwinian and other traditions too starkly in competition and thereby under-estimating their common sources (Young, 1967a). His main point, however, remains unchallenged: evolutionary human and social science did not spring directly from the rock of Darwin's theory. Underlying and preceding the biological conceptions, which many took to provide the foundations of the human sciences, there were conceptions from psychology and social theory already in place. Instead of a train of influences like this:

ideas from geology,
the study of domestication of animals,
biological taxonomy (classification)
together led to the theory of evolution by natural selection,
which, in turn,
led to evolutionary psychology and social sciences;
instead of this, we have
various theories about mind, brain and society:
Malthusianism,
phrenology,
utilitarianism,
associationism,
neurophysiology,
positivism, statistics,
anthropology
and sociology.

These interact with studies of the history of nature and other versions of evolutionism to produce support for the evolutionism of Chambers (1844), Spencer (1852), Darwin/Wallace (1858), from which extrapolations were made to humanity and society.

The net result is a more convincing foundation for the human sciences, but it can hardly be called an independent foundation laid on the bedrock of the natural sciences — as opposed to earlier versions of the human sciences.

This is the point to recall that the furore around the theory of organic evolution was, at bottom, largely about the special places of 'man', the planet Earth and the history of life. There was a very good reason for being nervous about the impact of science on religion: it might undermine the foundations of values — the doctrines of transcendent free will, responsibility and the basis for goodness (these were just the fears expressed by Adam Sedgwick on reading Chambers; see Unit 12, Section 3.1). The issue is far from being sorted out today. Whence come the values which we set against the way things are? Religious people say that they come from God, are sustained by religious institutions, beliefs and practices, are propagated by teachers and are attested in holy writings. Secularists argue that they come from the hopes generated out of suffering and from visions of a better life within society itself, and that they are sustained by ethical beliefs, practices and writings. Radicals and revolutionaries believe that they are generated from the conflicts and contradictions inherent in the structures of ownership and social relations, which are basic to class societies, and are sustained by collective struggle against the existing order. It is worth noting that the Christians who oppose the absorption of the domain of transcendent values have something in common with secularists, radicals and revolutionaries: all want questions of values — whether they be seen as God's commandments, ethics or politics — to be considered as such. All prefer to treat evaluative questions directly rather than wrapping them up in another language or reducing them to problems in science or medicine. Considering an act sinful, wrong or reactionary, saintly, right or progressive is preferred to using scientific terms such as correct or incorrect, adaptive or maladaptive, normal or pathological.

The dubious extrapolation of the categories of science into other fields of knowledge is called scientism (such extrapolations from biology give rise to biologism). But when we speak of extrapolation from science into other domains, we also have to ask how the evaluative conceptions got into conceptions about nature in the first place. When values are taken out of the domain of religion we say that they are secularized. When they are then embedded in conceptions of nature and in scientific concepts, they are being naturalized. When they are then extrapolated from nature to humanity and society, the process is scientism. The philosophical position which lends legitimacy to the process of extrapolating values from the domain of facts (while obscuring the fact that evaluative conceptions had previously been embedded in the natural conceptions) is positivism. Positivism claims to separate facts from values and to treat facts independently from their contexts and meanings and values, but the overall effect is to sequester the values from open controversy by presenting them as legitimate extrapolations from the facts. It’s contradictory, but there you are...

Secularists, radicals, revolutionaries and Christians want to hold out for a basis for values which is to some degree separate from the existing order of nature and society. In differing ways and for differing reasons, they want to maintain a transcendent basis for values, bringing them to nature and society in order to criticize and change what is. The alternative approach is to argue that the source of order, progress and goodness is embedded in the laws of nature, life and society, without granting that that embedding was a process of human interpretation of the richness and complexity of nature to serve particular interests.

The traditions in the human sciences which I shall be sketching adopted this scientistic strategy on a scale which is so grand that it has become common sense for most people. Don't be surprised if you often feel lost in the theories and confused about what is going on. When this happens, read on to my interpretation or stop and return to the above list of definitions and try to work out which process is going on.

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SAQ 1

Summarize the main points of the Introduction so far in regard to the following:

(i) How did the role of natural theology change in the nineteenth century?

(ii) How were psychological and social theories related to Darwin's theory of evolution ?

(iii) What were the main changes in the 'human sciences'?

(iv) What two strategies were there for determining values?

 

(i) There was a decline in the role of natural theology in maintaining a sense of the coherence and order of nature and society.

(ii) Psychological and social theories played a very significant part in providing the foundations for evolutionary theory which, in turn, provided firmer scientific legitimation for the human sciences.

(iii) The main changes were: fragmentation of the issues surrounding human nature and society, concomitant with an increasingly professional treatment by academic experts working in demarcated disciplines with specialist periodicals.

(iv) There was a choice of strategies for determining values: treating them as transcendent and basing them in religion, ethics, politics; or extrapolating them from the laws of nature — via evolutionary social theory, biological or medical analogies — to apply to human nature and society, uniting secularism, naturalization, scientism and positivism.

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It would be easy to say, after we have canvassed the history of the naturalization of values in the human sciences, that the story adds up to a considerable scandal — a massive confidence trick. That is exactly how a close observer of Victorian science, Frederick Engels, described its early stages in 1875:

The whole Darwinist teaching of the struggle for existence is simply a transference from society to living nature of Hobbes's doctrine of bellum omnium contra omnes [a war of all against all] and of the bourgeois-economic doctrine of competition together with Malthus's theory of population. When this conjuror's trick has been performed (and I question its absolute permissibility... particularly as far as the Malthusian theory is concerned), and the same theories are transferred back again from organic nature into history it is now claimed that their validity as eternal laws of human society has been proved. The puerility of this procedure is so obvious that not a word need be said about it [Marx and Engels, 1965, p. 302].

That is all very well and salutary, but we are left with the problems of explaining how so many intelligent people could be so colossally duped for so long and of how to undo all the harm.

However, the issue is not as simple as Engels implies. Although flat rejection of the theory of organic evolution has lived on into the twentieth century, it is unlikely that many university students in institutions other than those based on fundamentalist religious doctrines would reject the theory of evolution outright. I can't say how many would reject its application to human history and social change. We are left with a problem of agonizing complexity and of the greatest importance: how to treat values in a post Darwinian world. That is, now that 'man and all his works' can be treated as ultimately the product of random mutation and natural selection, what basis is there for values which cannot be reduced to immutable laws of nature — the very slide from value to fact (or 'ought' to 'is') about which Engels was protesting, leading to the fatalistic conclusion that 'whatever is, is right'? We want to explain that which it is appropriate to explain in biological terms but not to become resigned and reductionist about human purposes, values and struggles for a better world.

It is not merely silly or 'puerile' to try to explain human matters in scientific — especially biological — terms. It is, however, a very vexed question to decide when, if at all, it is and when it is not appropriate to do so. This question is unresolved today, for example, in the wake of the discoveries of molecular biology about the mechanisms of biological inheritance. The view propagated by that discipline, of life as 'information', and by sociobiology (with its bid to take over ethics) leaves the question as open as it was in the immediate wake of Darwinism. I do not want anything in this essay to be taken to prejudge this question, but I will be trying very hard to show the consequences of the main forms of the naturalization of value systems which were, and remain, in vogue.

A suggestion about how to approach the disciplines, people and quotations that follow: I recommend that you make a habit of taking note of terms from the sciences as you come across them. Here are some of the ones to look for: adaptive/maladaptive, normal/pathological, adjusted/maladjusted, deviant, abnormal, psychopathology, social pathology, equilibrium, system, structure, function, organism, statics, dynamics, survival, fittest, process, morphology. I am sure you will find more. In conducting this exercise I think you will be struck by the pervasiveness of the reduction of transcendent ethical, social and political values to scientific concepts.

I have chosen to concentrate on those aspects of the human sciences after Darwin which most dramatically illustrate the attempt to make into natural laws the values of the prevailing social and political order and rationalize its changing needs. The main thread of my exposition runs from preparing the ground with a discussion of the ideas of Herbert Spencer to tracing the development of functionalism in psychology, anthropology and sociology, along with certain related developments, for example, behaviourism. Important assumptions which were very influential in the functionalist social sciences were worked out on the Continent in the work of Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, whom I discuss briefly. For the most part, however, I am tracing functionalist thought in Britain and America, where the tradition has been more important. At the end I have included a very brief section on the applications of this approach in industry and elsewhere in scientific management, and a section on psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. I have done this in order to show just how far functionalist thought has penetrated into applied spheres.

Where relevant, I have drawn attention to how the main figures in these disciplines treat religion, so that my exposition includes descriptions of their ways both of explaining and of replacing religion. It is important to emphasize that I make no mention of the traditions in the human sciences which have attempted to avoid the explanation of psychological and social phenomena in biological, medical or other terms drawn from science. Anti-scientistic points of view in the study of humankind are not free from some of the ethical and political criticisms I make of the functionalist and related positions, but at least they do not seek to end debate by appealing to the laws of nature. Among the traditions I do not consider are phenomenology, Gestalt theory, existential psychology, ethnomethodology, symbolic interactionism, and humanistic psychology (McNall and Johnson, 1975; Attewell, 1974). There are other, more recent developments in the human sciences which make scientific claims but which do not make the same lavish use of biomedical and other scientific analogies and reductions. I make no mention of these, either, for example, structuralism, linguistics, discourse analysis (nor do I define, here or elsewhere in the unit, terms which I do not propose to discuss).  

___________________________________________________________

SAQ 2

Let me remind you of the point I made in the Preface and earlier in this Introduction that the problem of the source and basis for values is a key question in the scholarship about the period, and that I am — and you are — involved in this problem. Read through the Introduction again and list what you think are the assumptions which indicate my position on the question of values.

Here is how I would describe my assumptions:

(i) that values are transcendent: we bring them to our interpretations of nature, human nature and society and that it is important to be as open about that as we can manage to be;

(ii) that the wholesale application of biological theories to human society has had, on the whole, a conservative influence;

(iii) that naturalistic ethics are fatalistic, prejudging and severely limiting our sense of the potential for social change;

(iv) that the extrapolation of the categories of science in general to other domains (scientism) is bad and sequesters from controversy the value systems embedded in the choice of scientific concepts;

(v) that the history of efforts to draw a line between facts and values has obscured the real values being propagated and that we need to find a different way of approaching the interpretation and transformation of nature. (This assumption is very much between the lines. It is not made more explicit here, because the terms of reference of the course do not invite explicit presentation of unit authors' own views.) (See Young, 1977; Radical Science Journal Collective, 1978; Young 1979, 1979a, 1979b, 1979c, 1979d; London Labour Process/Left Strategy Group 1979.)

___________________________________________________________

Spencer's social evolutionism

Let's plunge in with a sharp juxtaposition. In spite of Engels's remark 'that not a word need be said' about social Darwinism, he goes on (in the same letter of 1875 to the Russian sociologist, P. L. Lavrov) to expound an alternative view demarcating the domain of the human from that of the animal:

The essential difference between human and animal society consists in the fact that animals at most collect while men produce. This sole but cardinal difference alone makes it impossible simply to transfer laws of animal societies to human societies. It makes it possible, as you properly remark, "for man to struggle not only for existence but also for pleasures and for the increase of his pleasures, . . . to be ready to renounce his lower pleasures for the highest pleasure". Without disputing your further conclusions from this I would, proceeding from my premises, make the following inferences: at a certain stage the production of man thus attains such a high level that not only necessaries but also luxuries, at first, true enough, only for a minority, are produced. The struggle for existence — if we permit this category for the moment to be valid — is thus transformed into a struggle for pleasures, no longer for mere means of subsistence but for means of development, socially produced means of development, and to this stage the categories derived from the animal kingdom are no longer applicable’ {Marx and Engels, 1965, p. 303].

As Engels sees it, the self-conscious purposiveness of human production as a social activity, creating goods beyond those required for animal subsistence, leads to activities which transcend the categories of the animal kingdom.

At the other extreme from Engels's sharp demarcation between the animal and the human, lies the work of the most influential Victorian social thinker, Herbert Spencer, whose work stressed that the cosmic and ethical processes are one. In his first book, published in 1851, with the scientistic title Social Statics, Spencer wrote the following passages:

We commonly enough compare a nation to a living organism. We speak of "the body politic", of the functions of its several parts, of its growth, and of its diseases, as though it were a creature. But we usually employ these expressions as metaphors, little suspecting how close is the analogy, and how far it will bear carrying out. So completely, however, is a society organized upon the same system as an individual being, that we may almost say there is something more than analogy between them. [Spencer, 1851, p. 448]

A FUNCTION to each organ, and each organ to its own function, is the law of all organization. To do its work well, an apparatus must possess special fitness for that work; and this will amount to unfitness for any other work. The lungs cannot digest, the heart cannot respire, the stomach cannot propel blood. Each muscle and each gland must have its own particular nerve. There is not a fibre in the body but what has a channel to bring it food, a channel to take its food away, an agency for causing it to assimilate nutriment, an agency for stimulating it to perform its peculiar duty, and a mechanism to take away effete matter; not one of which can be dispensed with. Between creatures of the lowest type, and creatures of the highest, we similarly find the essential difference to be, that in the one the vital actions are severally decomposed into their component parts, and each of these parts has an agent to itself. In organizations of another order the same principle is apparent. [Spencer 1851, p. 274]

Similarly then as the experiences of all people in all times — experiences that are embodied in maxims, proverbs, and moral precepts, and that are illustrated in biographies and histories, go to prove that organs, faculties, powers, capacities, or whatever else we call them, grow by use and diminish from disuse, it is inferred that they will continue to do so. And if this inference is unquestionable, there is the one above deduced from it — that humanity must in the end become completely adapted to its conditions — unquestionable also.

Progress, therefore, is not an accident, but a necessity. Instead of civilization being artificial, it is part of nature; all of a piece with the development of the embryo or the unfolding of a flower. The modifications mankind have undergone, and are still undergoing, result from a law underlying the whole organic creation; and provided the human race continues, and the constitution of things remains the same, those modifications must end in completeness. As surely as the tree becomes bulky when it stands alone, and slender if one of a group; as surely as the same creature assumes the different forms of cart-horse and race-horse, according as its habits demand strength or speed; as surely as a blacksmith's arm grows large, and the skin of a labourer's hands thick; as surely as the eye tends to become long-sighted in the sailor, and short-sighted in the student; as surely as the blind man attains a more delicate sense of touch; as surely as a clerk acquires rapidity in writing and calculation; as surely as the musician learns to detect an error of a semitone amidst what seems to others a very babel of sounds; as surely as a passion grows by indulgence and diminishes when restrained; as surely as there is any efficacy in educational culture, or any meaning in such terms as habit, custom, practice;— so surely must the human faculties be moulded into complete fitness for the social state; so surely must the things we call evil and immorality disappear; so surely must man become perfect. [Spencer, 1851, pp. 64-65]

___________________________________________________________

SAQ 3

List the metaphors, analogies and allusions Spencer uses (or underline them). What does he think they prove?

On reading those passages — especially the last — you may well (as I do) feel beaten into submission by the wealth and range of his allusions. Notice that the first passage occurs nearer the end of the book than the others, suggesting a move from metaphor and analogy while, in fact, the passages I quoted next actually occur earlier in Spencer's book and display an orgy of identification of the human with the biological and physiological. He also slides neatly from learning to progress, to a remarkably sanguine doctrine of human perfectibility — all based on the theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Evolution is habit writ large.

___________________________________________________________

The date of Social Statics is important — seven years before the announcement of natural selection theory in the joint Darwin-Wallace paper of 1858. Of course, Robert Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (see Unit 12, Section 3.1) and the furore surrounding its evolutionism and the extending of it to human history had been in the public domain for seven years before Spencer's book appeared. In 1852. Spencer was to advocate evolution in an essay on 'The Development Hypothesis' in The Leader, and in 1855 he used the idea of the mechanism of learning by the repeated association of experiences and extended it (in a less sketchy way than in Social Statics) from the individual to the race, to account for both individual development and evolution of species by the inheritance of acquired characteristics. By 1860 there was no coyness about analogies or metaphors. He discussed 'The Social Organism' in evolutionary terms, freely mixing biological and social language:

Societies slowly augment in mass; they progress in complexity of structure, at the same time their parts become more mutually dependent, their living units are removed and replaced without destroying their integrity; and the extents these peculiarities are proportionate to their vital activities.

These are traits that societies have in common with organic bodies. And these traits in which they agree with organic bodies and disagree with all other things, entirely subordinate the minor distinctions: such distinctions being scarcely greater than those which separate one half of the organic kingdom from the other. The principles of organization are the same and the differences are simply differences of application [Spencer, 1860, p. 206].

Having established the common principles, Spencer feels able to pronounce with confidence on social and economic forms — particularly the ones which were in greatest need of justification because of the effects of the industrial revolution on jobs and the social order:

The doctrine of the progressive division of labour, to which we are here introduced, is familiar to all readers. And further, the analogy between the economical division of labour and the "physiological division of labour", is so striking as long since to have drawn the attention of scientific naturalists: so striking, indeed, that the expression "physiological division of labour", has been suggested by it. It is not needful, therefore, to treat this part of the subject in great detail. We shall content ourselves with noting a few general and significant facts, not manifest on a first inspection. [Spencer, 1860, pp. 211-12]

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SAQ 4

What is the interaction between social and biological concepts in the above passage ?

The social concept of the division of labour conjures up the image of a factory where one person does one operation, another person the next, dividing up work formerly done by a craftsman into a number of tasks which require much less skill and give much less satisfaction to the worker. Spencer treats the social concept of division of labour as the source of the biological conception whereby different parts of the body perform different physiological functions. The physiological version can then be used as a scientific anchor and justification for further social applications.

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Spencer proceeds to develop elaborate analogies between physiological functions and economic production in which greater division of labour produces superior commodities which circulate in society, 'just as the circulating mass of nutritive materials' becomes progressively differentiated and improved in a highly evolved organism (Spencer, 1860, p. 220).

Although Spencer saw his writings as championing the individual against interference by others or by bureaucracies, his view of life and society was, in the end, purely adjustive. He defined life itself as 'the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations'. Life, adaptation, the hierarchical division of labour, progress and evolution became essentially equivalent concepts. His secular, evolutionary theodicy became: whatever is, is right — or will be in due course as the result of evolution. I am, of course, using 'theodicy' in a metaphorical sense: instead of justifying the ways of God to man, Spencer is showing the essential harmony between his highest values and nature (see Unit 1, Section 3.3.2). Once again, as you saw in Unit 2 (Section 2.2.4), Spencer believed in the unity of the ethical and cosmic processes. Much of his grand, multi-volume Synthetic Philosophy, embracing science, psychology and ethology (the 'science of' ethics), was aimed at convincing the weary reader that biological adaptation assured that individualism and the general good were becoming progressively harmonized by universal — including social — evolution. Therefore, legislative, bureaucratic, institutional and state interference were not only unnecessary but positively harmful, since they might interfere with society's otherwise inevitable progress. This laissez-faire faith extended to opposing most of the public health and other warnings to the public which we now take for granted, such as the pure-food laws, standards of advertising, as well as compulsory education.

It is tempting to go on from Spencer to discuss the influence of the concepts of evolution and survival of the fittest, in their mixed economic and biological forms, on popular notions of progress and competition. It was taken up in the (misnamed) movement of 'social Darwinism' and used as an ideological justification of the most rapacious 'robber barons' in the high tide of individualistic capitalism around the turn of the twentieth century. The Course Team has decided, however, that it is too large a topic to handle properly, and that we should not pretend that we can do it any justice in a small space (see Unit 12, Section 7; Hofstadter, 1955; Josephson, 1934; Semmel, 1960; Bannister, 1979). Something must be said here, however, about the socio-economic and intellectual forces which were at work between the period of Spencer's work and the development of functionalist thinking, since it was social Darwinism which functionalism was supplanting.

The American financiers, Andrew Carnegie of the steel industry and John D. Rockefeller of the oil industry, were enthusiastic exponents of the application of the doctrine of 'the survival of the fittest': that open competition favoured the most deserving. 'Only through pruning', Rockefeller told a Sunday School class, 'could the American Beauty rose have been developed' (Collier and Horowitz, 1976, p. 887; see also Hofstadter, 1955, p.45, Bannister, 1979, pp. 134, 268-70, reports that this was, in fact, said by Rockefeller’s son, John D., Jr.). This approach was not confined, however, to popular rationalizations of monopolies and huge fortunes. 'Social Darwinism' is a misnomer, because it was Spencer's influence, not Darwin's, which played the leading part in spreading the doctrine. This does not mean, however, that Darwin avoided extrapolations from his theory to society. Whole sections of The Descent of Man (1871; 2nd edition, 1874) were straightforward applications of evolutionism to explain, for example, 'superior' and 'inferior' races and individuals. (See chapters 3-6, especially pp. l33-43 and A309 Conflict and Stability in the Development of Modern Europe, 1789-1970, Block II, Part 1, 'Varieties of social Darwinism'.)

Spencer’s books sold half a million copies in America and his influence on the founders of academic sociology in that country was enormous. One of them, Charles H. Cooley, said, 'I imagine that all of us who took up sociology between 1870, say, and 1890 did so at the instigation of Spencer'. Lester Ward, the first important American critic of Spencer, observed as late as 1898 that most American sociologists were 'virtually disciples of Spencer' (Gedicks, 1975, p.28; Schwendinger and Schwendinger, 1974, p. 108). Here are some examples of his widespread influence and of the influence of evolutionism in a wider sense. William Graham Sumner (1840-1910), a disciple of Spencer who was very prominent in American academic life, was professor of political and social science at Yale and was most influential in the 1880s. His theory of social evolution departed in some respects from Spencer's but he consistently appealed to evolutionary naturalism for its basis. L. T. Hobhouse (1864-1929) was the founder of academic sociology in Britain and sought to ground in evolutionary theory a belief in progress in the service of individualism.

On the Continent, two Germans used evolutionism as a putative basis for versions of socialism. Eduard Bernstein (1850-1932) argued that it supported non-revolutionary, i.e., 'evolutionary socialism', an approach which was influential in the development of social democracy associated with British Fabianism and the current Labour Party. Karl Kautsky (1854-1938) drew on Darwinism for the version of 'scientific socialism' which provided the foundations for the German Communist Party. To complete this short-list of uses to which evolutionism was put in the political sphere, I should mention the gentle anarchism of Prince Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) who interpreted Darwinism as a basis for co-operation in society (on these figures, see Arato, 1973; Lichtheim, 1961; Steenson, 1979; Sumner, 1963; Bernstein, 1961; Gay, 1952; Kropotkin, 1902; Woodcock and Avakumovic, 1950).

It is not an exaggeration, therefore, to claim that evolution was taken up as a rationalization for all sorts of popular movements from anarchism to fascism. Apart from space limitations, the reason I am not pursuing any of those paths is that I want to consider the influence of biological ideas in that tradition in the human sciences which has been most important in twentieth-century Britain and America. What I hope to have conveyed is not a single, consistent extrapolation from evolutionism but a wide variety of appeals to nature for ethical, social and political doctrines. If we were making a detailed study, we would go into the nuances; for example, that Spencer ceased to believe that perfection would be reached, only constantly approximated, and that Sumner became increasingly pessimistic about the tendencies of evolution toward degradation. (See Bannister (1979) chapter 5 for the nuances of Sumner's departure from aspects of and his growing pessimism.)

Most people who were influenced by some version of social Darwinism were not very careful or precise in their rendering of the issues. They found 'survival of the fittest' — a phrase of Spencer's which Darwin took up — useful in making sense of their world. Many also put an optimistic interpretation on the phrase. For example, Andrew Carnegie’s motto was: ‘All is well, since all grows better’ (Bannister, 1979, p. 80). This general lumping together of the issues also found its way into popular expositions of science in the period. In the article on 'Biology' in Chambers Encyclopedia (1882), we find:

For the place vacated by Paley's theological and metaphysical explanation has simply been occupied by that suggested to Darwin and Wallace by Malthus in terms of the prevalent severity of industrial competition and these phenomena of the struggle for existence . . . have thus come to be temporarily exalted into a complete explanation of organic progress. [Quoted in Bannister, 1979, p. 14]

Before we leave social Darwinism it is worth noting that it is a social philosophy which is far from dead. An editorial in Computer Weekly (24 Jan. 1980), for example, comments on the dominant role of IBM as follows: 'The problem of trying to regulate IBM is that what is good for IBM is in general good for the user, and as the company becomes more innovative and more competitive that becomes increasingly true. IBM is an inevitable product of the capitalist system in which survival of the fittest must always tend toward monopoly.'

One more point before we move on to the history of functionalism in the human sciences. This sort of careless jumbling of issues and rampant extrapolation was vigorously opposed from within the scientific community by people who were as close to the development and dissemination of evolutionism as T. H. Huxley and A. R. Wallace. Huxley's essay on 'Administrative Nihilism' (1871) and his Romanes Lecture on 'Evolution and Ethics' (1893) were aimed directly at Spencer's ideas. Wallace's writings contained many essays on the limits of natural selection as applied to man.  

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SAQ 5

Review the section on Huxley in Unit 2 (Section 2.3) and that on Wallace in Unit 12 (Section 5) and make sure you are clear about the bases of their objections to making extrapolations from organic evolution to society.

I won't try to repeat issues which were reviewed in those units. What I want to stress, however, is that both considered that the basis of values and ethics was independent of natural selection. Huxley considered them transcendent and part of an effort to combat the socially harmful effects of the struggle for existence. Wallace argued that evolution could not account for important mental attributes, and he ended up with spiritualist elements in his explanation of the sources of values. Huxley was a liberal, Wallace a socialist. But they were agreed that, as one writer in the Westminster Review put it in 1886: 'there shall, in spite of Nature, be equal conditions' (quoted in Young, 1971a, p. 224).

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Instead of pursuing the public debate on the use of evolutionism in rather loose ways, I want to turn now to its use in pure and applied fields of academic disciplines. Evolutionary concepts were combined with others from thermodynamics, physics, chemistry and medicine and were employed in laying the foundations of the behavioural and human sciences, which are currently the most reputable and pervasive expressions of belief in a stable, progressive social order. These developments, it seems to me, led to the institutionalization of the change from a natural theology to a secular, biologically based sense of the structure of nature and society — from justifying the ways of God to man to relying on the evolving order of nature, including human nature. At the same time (and in close relationship with changes in the structure of industry) these developments were concomitant with a shift from individualistic 'survival of the fittest' doctrines of social Darwinism to conceptions suited to a less rapidly changing and rapacious society in the early twentieth century. The earlier period saw the construction of an industrial base which involved intense competition. After the turn of the century, the era of managerial capitalism was being established. Technocratic and meritocratic controls replaced brute force. Power came to be exercised through experts who gained their positions 'on merit' in a competitive educational system and job market. Social life was experienced less as a jungle and more as an integrated network of careers. These developments parallel changes in social theory and social science which I shall outline.

Here is how a historian of the changing assumptions of sociology of the period describes the change:

In the face of severe economic depressions and labour rebellions of unprecedented scope and violence [in the United States], the ideology of Social Darwinism and laissez-faire gave way to a new ideology which acknowledged the need for the social regulation of economic life. The social carriers of this new ideology were intellectuals, humanitarians, social workers and Protestant clergymen who saw the possibility of all out class warfare in the growing combinations of capital in the trusts and monopolies and the growing militance of labour unions and socialist movements. It was out of this technocratic reform movement that the new discipline of sociology took shape. [Gedicks, 1975, p. 29]

A new and important group was emerging which has come to be called the 'professional-managerial class' or the 'service class' and which now makes up about a quarter of the working populations. As radicals see it, the role of this group of experts is to smooth out, to negotiate, 'to mediate the basic class conflict of capitalist society and create a "rational", reproducible social order' (Ehrenreich and Ehrenreich, 1979, p. 19).

If space permitted I should also want to look at the development of primatology, sex research, family studies, and related disciplines in the human sciences which Donna Haraway has shown to be closely integrated with functionalism under the guidance and patronage of the Rockefeller Foundation charities. The work of a central figure in many of these developments, Robert M. Yerkes, links the charitable foundations, universities, neurophysiology, endocrinology, personnel management, psychopathology, educational testing, personality studies, and social and sexual hygiene. Yerkes 'saw himself and his scientific peers working to foster a rational society based on science and preserved from the old ignorance, embodied especially in religion and politics' (Haraway, 1978, pp. 28, 28n, 40 -41). In an important complementary study, she presents an overview of the embodiment of value systems in 'The biological enterprise: sex, mind and profit from human engineering to sociobiology' (Haraway, 1979). 

4 Functional psychology and behaviourism

The influence of evolutionism on academic psychology occurred primarily through the functional school, which was most prominent in America. Before defining the functionalist approach, I want to say something about its origins, which owed more to Spencer than to Darwin.

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SAQ 6

Look back at Unit 12 to the passages from Darwin's Notebooks (Section 4). Which of his speculations can be said to refer to psychology?

Most of them; but the range of his interests in mental and behavioural phenomena is clear in extracts i, ii, vi, x, xv, xix, where he indulges in bold assertions of the importance of his theory to metaphysics, comparative psychology and the sources of intellect. He even speculated at one point that thought could be treated as a secretion of the brain, just as gravity is treated as a property of matter. This is quoted in 'The role of psychology in the nineteenth-century evolutionary debate', where it is also pointed out that Darwin did not pursue these implications very far (Secondary Anthology, 3.2). You will recall from Unit 12, Section 4 that On the Origin of Species had only one, cryptic sentence on man. It is preceded by a sentence on psychology which he modified in later editions to read, ’Psychology will be securely based on the foundation already laid by Mr. Herbert Spencer, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation' (Darwin, 1895, p. 402).

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Darwin, then, deferred to Spencer in matters of psychology. The development of functional psychology has other sources as well. It can be traced indirectly to the use of the concept of 'function' in a psychological (rather than in a strictly physiological) sense by the phrenologists (see TV 07 Skull). Among direct influences, Spencer's work was the most important, but it was reinforced by that of contemporaries who treated mental activity in biological terms (especially Alexander Bain and G. H. Lewes in Britain; see Young, 1970, chapters 3 and 5). These ideas were taken up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the early 1870s in a discussion group not unlike London's Metaphysical Society. The difference was that the Cambridge group, the Metaphysical Club, were much less reserved and sceptical about evolution and even less troubled by theological issues. They were enthusiastically applying evolutionary ideas to all sorts of spheres — philosophy, social and political theory, jurisprudence, and especially psychology. The resulting theories were to become pervasive in American intellectual life. (There is a full discussion of this group and its influence in Wiener, 1949; cf. Russett, 1976, chapter 3.) They form a loose family under the name 'pragmatism', with 'practice' as the key test of validity or truth. Pragmatists emphasized learning through doing, adaptation, and a biological version of the 'principle of utility': organisms seek pleasure and avoid pain. Beliefs and the consequences of actions could be treated as a generalized version of this basic rule, so that ethics could use as a test the greatest good of the greatest number. Consequences as experienced, i.e., what happened in practice, was, once again, the acid test. Functionalism was, in effect, pragmatist psychology. The philosophical and psychological ideas of the most eminent member of the Metaphysical Club, William James (1842-1910), were particularly influential in developing pragmatism and applying it in the psychological sphere. His ideas led John Dewey (1859-1952) to modify his earlier idealism (see Unit 1, Section 2.2.1) towards a biological view of mind. It was partly through Dewey's influence on leading psychologists at Chicago, Columbia and Yale Universities that an explicitly functional psychology came into being. Its identity as a 'school' was developed through debates with the 'structuralist' point of view which was then prevalent.

Structuralism grew out of the European tradition in psychology and was preoccupied with sensation, perception, intellectual processes. The 'structuralist' point of view was associated with the German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt ('the father of experimental psychology') and his Anglo-American disciple, E. B. Titchener. (For details, see Boring, 1950, chapters 16 and 18.) Structuralist psychologists stressed mental contents and structures at the expense of mental acts and what people and other organisms do. The polarity, then, was between structure and functions. An idea can be treated as a mental content in the mental structure called 'intellect'. A structuralist would be keen to trace the path from sensation to idea. In contrast, 'willing' or 'wishing' is an active process, which a functionalist would be keen to relate to adaptation to the environment.

The influence of James's Principles of Psychology (1890 and still available in paperback) was decisive in the American debate in propagating an adaptive and environmentalist approach to psychology. Instead of concentrating on how we experience sensations, perceptions, conceptions and how we think, the functionalists concentrated on how we act in our surroundings. As James says in stressing the influence of Spencer, 'to have brought in the environment as vital was a masterstroke' (quoted in Young, 1970, p. 195). One sign of how this approach to mental life bore on the naturalization of values was a further volume by James in which he explores, as a sort of 'natural history' by a psychologist, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). James's study is completely sympathetic and unpolemical, but it is not about the truth of beliefs; rather, it is about the psychology of belief.

Inspired by James's work, Dewey went on to develop a functionalist psychology which attracted a wide following. He wrote prolifically across a broad spectrum on education, social psychology, philosophy and industrial democracy. Although he was a less original thinker than James, he was very effective in getting pragmatism and functionalist psychology institutionalized in research and teaching, where a whole philosophy of education came to be based on his ideas of capturing the pupil's interest and building on that. His ideas are often (I think unfairly) blamed for declining intellectual standards in American education, for example, the substitution of home economies and learning to drive a car, for the three 'Rs'. He advocated that once one had captured the student's interest they should be lured toward difficult subjects. Less gifted disciples interpreted his ideas of adaptation as 'give 'em what they want; anything to keep them interested'. (There is a good discussion of this in the section on ‘Education in a Democracy’ in Hofstadter, 1963, where the difficulty of applying the idea of ‘life adjustment’ is critically examined.)

The leading exponent of functional psychology in its narrower sense was James R. Angell (1869-1949), who went on to become President of Yale. In his essay delineating 'The Province of a Functional Psychology' (his Presidential Address before the American Psychological Association in 1906), he traced its ancestry to Aristotle and its modern expressions to Spencer and Darwin, noting its common roots with pragmatism. Its approach to mental activity was

... as part of a larger stream of biological forces which are daily and hourly at work before our eyes and are constitutive of the most important and most absorbing part of our world. The psychologist of this stripe is wont to take his cue from the basal conception of the evolutionary movement, i.e., that for the most part organic structures and functions possess their present characteristics by virtue of the efficiency with which they fit into the extant conditions of life broadly designated the environment. With this conception in mind he proceeds to attempt some understanding of the manner in which the psychical contributes to the sum total of organic activities, not alone the psychical in its entirety, but especially the psychical in its particularities — mind as judging, mind as feeling, etc.

This is the point of view which instantly brings the psychologist cheek by jowl with the general biologist....

We find nowadays both psychologists and biologists who treat consciousness as substantially synonymous with adaptive reactions to novel situations. [Angell, 1907, pp. 444-5, 447]

It is easy to see functional psychologists moving away from the study of intellect to the consideration of the organism in its environment.

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SAQ 7

What is this position likely to mean when applied to people's lives?

In the case of people, functionalism turned out to mean the study of fitting in with and succeeding in the family, society and work. The influence of the functional point of view reflected both the biological and the wider sense of the adaptive aspect of its assumptions. It led to research in comparative and physiological psychology and to contacts with general biology. When applied to humans it promoted work in applied and social psychology and connections with industry, advertising, counselling and psychotherapy, i.e., various ways of fitting people into jobs, getting them to consume certain products and promoting psychological and social adjustment. Functional psychologists were evolutionists in a very broad sense, studying and attempting to develop techniques for promoting harmony between organisms, including humans, and their environments.

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Functionalism did not maintain a separate identity as a school of thought after 1930. Less than a decade after Angell's manifesto, functionalism was challenged in an aggressive methodological claim from J. B. Watson (1878-1958), who asserted that the study of mental functions could not be scientific, because they were not accessible to controlled scientific experimentation. There is strict continuity in this tradition: Watson studied under Angell, who, in turn, had been James's pupil and Dewey's colleague. Watson's first statement of 'Psychology as the behaviorist views it' (1913) was characteristically forthright and laid the foundations of the 'Behaviourism' of the next decade, henceforth the dominant American school until the 1960s. Watson began:

Psychology as the behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior. Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness. The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal response, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute. The behavior of man, with all its refinement and complexity, forms only a part of the behaviorist's total scheme of investigation. [Watson 1913, p. 547]

Behaviourism, then, is positivism applied to psychology (see Unit 1, Section 2.3.1). Just as Watson found it easy to jettison consciousness, he had no place for instinct. Both mental and the biological centres of humans and other organisms became irrelevant to the project of conditioning organisms to the requirements of the environment. Watson's intellectual influence was great, and his methodological innovations were applied across a wide range of disciplines, such as, 'Don't interpret voters' attitudes in political science; study their 'voting behaviour". His own academic career, however, was cut short by a sexual scandal, and he was forced to earn his living outside the universities. He turned to advertising, and we owe many of the sophisticated techniques of modern adverts to his application of behaviourist techniques to selling products (and election candidates) in the media, e.g., the assertive, rapid-fire repetition of the product's name, coupled with instructions in the imperative mode. He also lectured from public (non-academic) platforms and wrote in women's magazines. He was belatedly fêted by the American Psychological Association in 1957, the year before he died.

Watson's most famous claim appears in a course of lectures, published as Behaviorism (1924):

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select — doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. [Watson, 1924, p. 104]

In one century biologism had moved from the 'innate' talents and propensities of phrenology (see TV 07) to the pure environmentalism of behaviourism. In phrenology practically all that matters is the innate mental faculties; in behaviourism, however, it is the conditioned experience of the organism: one extreme refers all to biological inheritance, the other to lived experience in the environment.

The spirit of Watson's project was carried on inside academic psychology by B. F. Skinner (1904- ), the psychologist at Harvard who developed techniques of 'operant conditioning' (especially as a result of rewarding pigeons for performing desired tasks). He went on to argue that he could 'shape' any behaviour by carefully building up its elements and arranging the appropriate rewards. Out of this behavioural technology there have been developed techniques for conditioning mental patients with token rewards, of treating 'sexual deviation' by aversive (painful) conditioning, and of teaching by machines. The American Central Intelligence Agency has also funded a considerable amount of research, including some of Skinner's, for its own purposes. (Marks, 1979, p. 160. Funding of work by other eminent researchers in the human sciences is discussed on pp. 147-8, 157, 159 - Eysenck; 160, 187, 188 of Marks's study of CIA research in behavioural control.)

Skinner carried his approach to human relations into the realm of social engineering by writing a fictional account of a utopian community, Walden Two (1948), a book in which the question remains unresolved as to what values and what way of life should be implemented by the behavioural technologists, i.e., who shall programme the programmers of the community. The question is not entirely hypothetical, since several communities have been set up on Skinner's model. He took the issue up again two decades later, and in Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971) faced head-on the humanistic objections which had been made to his earlier argument. Rather as Watson had 'solved' the problems of mind and of innate endowment by jettisoning the concepts, Skinner 'solves' the problem of freedom and dignity by declaring that these are futile objectives which should be replaced by 'a technology of behavior', which he believes will eliminate the social diseases of want, war and illness. Technique is all, and the problem of the basis for transcendent values remains outside disciplined discourse: 'how' is science; 'why' is nowhere.

Indeed, some of the most striking findings in recent psychology have come from the work of Stanley Milgram, whose research on Obedience and Authority (1974) shows that experimental subjects, placed in the right environment in which the authority of experts is emphasized, will press a button which they believe may deliver a fatal electrical shock to another subject. The sole reward is the knowledge that they have faithfully followed the instructions of the scientific expert.

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SAQ 8

How does this research connect with the issues of scientism and the naturalization of value systems ?

Behaviourism has moved from its parent tradition, functionalism. In so doing it has elevated adjustment into an imperative. The work of Skinner and Milgram concentrates on the technology of inducing obedience. By means of the biological concept of adaptation, the social one of adjustment gains legitimacy, and by an easy slide, the problem becomes one of 'engineering' obedience. Once naturalized, this goal pushes out others, and scientism generalizes it to make it the goal of social engineering. Other goals and the debates on them are left with no place in the scientific endeavour.

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5 Foundations of functionalist social science: Weber and Durkheim

The theories outlined above — pragmatist philosophy, functional psychology and behaviourist methodology — all concentrate on the direct, practical consequences of what organisms, including human ones, do. They all trace their inspiration to evolutionism, largely as popularized by Spencerians in the United States. The experience of the organism-environment interaction is seen by all of these approaches as the key to learning and progress. These approaches have also been very influential in the development of Anglo-American social science, especially sociology and social anthropology. However, the two theorists whose work played the largest role in laying the foundations of functionalist social science were a German and a Frenchman, Max Weber (1864-1920) and Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). Their influences extend far beyond their impact on British and American functionalism, so the story I shall tell here is a very incomplete one.

Weber's work developed in constant interaction with the Marxist tradition — so much so that he has been called 'the bourgeois Marx' to emphasize his efforts to offer satisfactory explanations within the existing social order of the phenomena which Marx stresses in his critique of capitalism. Where Marx emphasized the dependence of the consciousness and values of people on the contradictions in their socio-economic circumstances, Weber saw intellectual culture as a relatively autonomous sphere in social life. (For a very clear comparison of Marx and Weber on capitalism, see Birnbaum, 1953; for a lucid contrast of Marx and Durkheim see Lukes, 1967; for an overview of Marx, Durkheim and Weber see Giddens, 1971).

Weber's position has been most influential in the form of his theory of the motivating role of the religious ideology of Protestantism in the early development of capitalism, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905). Like William James, he treated religion as a topic in the study of motivation and historical causation and not as a set of beliefs that he was advocating. Where Spencer concentrated on tracing a natural basis for values and opposed their institutionalization in bureaucracies, Weber stressed the social aspect of beliefs and saw the bureaucratic state as a precondition for capitalism. That is, he thought that the sorts of guarantees Spencer sought in organic processes should properly be referred to the very social institutions Spencer anathematized. Although Weber was explicitly opposed to explaining social phenomena in biological terms, his theories nevertheless became potent tools in the hands of those who interpreted societies in terms of organic analogies. His position had the same effect as the one examined above under behaviourism, since it sequestered the basis for values from the problem of how to maintain the social order, a problem which he treated in technical terms. Weber was taking this line in reaction to positions which were in vogue when he wrote: the conservative derivation of political norms from history by the organicists of the 'Younger Historical School' in Germany, on the one hand, and the Marxist view that historical analysis and social values are causally related, on the other. He argued that the expertise of the social scientist and government bureaucrat could and should be separated from politics. He believed that values could not be rationally derived, but once arrived at by irrational processes, their implementation becomes a technical issue requiring value-neutral experts. The 'rationality' of social engineering was thus divorced from the goals and the basic structure of society as a whole and reduced to a much narrower sort of thinking, a 'technological rationality'. In Weber's theory, science is concerned with the analysis, and bureaucracy with the implementation, of values and goals which are given by the system and which are not themselves subject to critical analysis. While the biological reductionists had removed critical evaluations from the analysis of the social system by rooting them in biological evolutionism, Weber considered values irrational and beyond the reach of analysis. He turned instead to the supposedly neutral role of the experts who both study the system and run it.

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SAQ 9

If biological scientism is extrapolation from supposedly biologically given values, how can Weber's separation of the technical roles of experts from values be scientism as well?

Both take the values as given and so protect them from critical debate. In both cases the values are given in the social system, and the social scientist is only concerned about their maintenance. Weber's scientism was at a different level from that of organic analogies, but it is scientism none the less.

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Weber's emphasis on the subjective and irrational aspects of social life, the conscious intentions of people which embody the social values or goals of the society, and the apparent separation of fact from value were all taken up by later functionalists in the service of a theory of social integration and equilibrium based on 'empirically' given norms.

In an important critique of the theories of 'Industrialism and Capitalism in the Work of Max Weber', the Marxist social critic Herbert Marcuse writes, 'His theory of the intrinsic value-freedom, or ethical neutrality, of science reveals itself as that which it is in practice: an attempt to make science "free" to accept obligatory valuations that are imposed on it from the outside' (Marcuse, 1968, p. 202). In the applied sphere, the Weberian concept of civil service played an important part (among many other factors) in giving legitimacy to the image of the obedient, unassuming, conscientious servant of the state. It is just this willingness for a bureaucrat to separate the technique and efficiency with which a job is done, from questions of humanity, responsibility and guilt, which were at the centre of the war crimes trials at the end of World War II. The most notorious (belated) trial was that of Adolph Eichmann, who organized the transportation of Jews and others to the Nazi concentration camps where more than six million people were systematically killed or worked to death. Eichmann admitted that he did the work but insisted that he was 'not guilty'. He had done his job conscientiously, he argued, and it was not for him to question the underlying ethical and humanitarian issues. Indeed, he said he had always done his best to behave in humane ways and that the guilt belonged to those who had authority over him, his superiors. (This position is the object of the reflections of the social philosopher Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil - Arendt, 1963). I cite this example to emphasize how important the issue is. The submerging of values from the surface of social decisions can have the gravest consequences.

The other person who was, along with Spencer and Weber, most influential in the development of functionalist sociology was Emile Durkheim. Like Weber, he was opposed to Spencer's biological reductionism, but he shared Spencer's concern for the basis of social integration or solidarity. Another contrast is that Durkheim was a socialist, whereas Spencer was a radical individualist. Durkheim shared Weber's emphasis on the role of social norms and causes rather than referring to another, biological, level to explain human behaviour. He went further and argued for the autonomy of 'social facts', which he advocated treating as a different level of nature, one which could not be reduced to individual psychological or biological explanations. But in rejecting biological reductionism, Durkheim did more than any other academic sociologist in the functionalist tradition to establish the centrality of biological analogies. His theories involved a move from the biological concepts of 'adaptive' and 'maladaptive' to the biomedical ones of 'normal' and 'pathological' along with a crucial conflation of the concepts of 'norm' and 'normal' (explained in the quotation below). Normative categories thereby become scientized. In this assumption, that there can be a science of ethics, Durkheim was in a common tradition with Spencer and with more recent ideas in ethology and sociobiology. For example, E. O. Wilson, proponent of a biological approach to the human sciences, writes, 'Scientists and humanists should consider together the possibility that the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of philosophers and biologicized' (Wilson, 1975, p. 562; for a collection of readings on the current debate, see Caplan (1978). Here are some representative passages from Durkheim's The Rules of Sociological Method (1895) in which his biomedical concepts are apparent:

Briefly, for societies, as for individuals, health is good and desirable; disease on the contrary, is bad and to be avoided. If, then, we can find an objective criterion, inherent in the facts themselves, which enables us to distinguish scientifically between health and morbidity in the various orders of social phenomena, science will be in a position to throw light on practical problems and still remain faithful to its own method. [Durkheim, 1895, p. 49]

We shall call 'normal' these social conditions that are the most generally distributed, and the others 'morbid' or 'pathological'. If we designate as 'average type' that hypothetical being that is constructed by assembling in the same individual, the most frequent forms, one may say that the normal type merges with the average type, and that every deviation from this standard of health is a morbid phenomenon.... It is the function of the average organism that the physiologist studies; and the sociologist does the same. [Ibid., pp. 55-6]

The healthy constitutes the norm par excellence and can consequently be in no way abnormal. [Ibid., p. 58]

Now, it is important, from the very beginning of research, to be able to classify facts as normal and abnormal, save for the few exceptional cases, so that the proper domains can be assigned to physiology and pathology, respectively. [Ibid., p. 63]

The various principles we have established up to the present are, then, closely interconnected. In order that sociology may be a true science of things, the generality of phenomena must be taken as a criterion of their normality. [Ibid., pp. 74-75]

...health is something that is defined as inherent in things. For then the object of our efforts is both given and defined at the same time. It is no longer a matter of pursuing desperately an object that retreats as one advances but of working with steady perseverance to maintain the normal state, of re-establishing it if it is threatened, and of rediscovering its conditions if they have changed. The duty of the statesman is no longer to push society toward an ideal that seems attractive to him, but his role is that of the physician: he prevents the outbreak of illnesses by good hygiene, and he seeks to cure them when they have appeared. [Ibid., p. 75]

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SAQ 10

Underline the biological and medical terms in the above passages. What do you think happens to political disagreements and non-conformists in this schema?

Durkheim candidly translates ethically and politically contested issues into ones of maintaining status quo, which is taken to be normal if average. Extreme political dissidence and non-conformity become the object of the physician's 'curative' ministrations. There is, alas, a growing literature on various forms of this practice, East and West. (See Medvedev, 1971; Goffman, 1968; Kesey, 1972; Fireside, 1980). His biographer concedes that this approach 'blinded Durkheim to the possibility of real historical alternatives at any given stage of development' (Lukes, 1973, p. 30).

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Durkheim saw himself as heir to earlier French advocates of a biologically based social science, Henri Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte, whose work we cannot consider here. Saint-Simon (1760-1825) was an extremely important early theorist of a biological approach to the human sciences, while Comte (1798-1857) was the founder of positivism. (See the essays on them in Raison, 1969, for a quick introduction. For the purpose of relating their work to this unit, see Greene, 1959; Manuel, 1956, 1972; Haines, 1978). Although Durkheim was in constant conflict with aspects of Spencer's sociology, at a deeper level he adopted many of the fundamental concepts which Spencer shared with Saint-Simon and Comte. The line between biological analogies and biological reductionism is hard to maintain in the face of page after page of biological terms. The net effect is to experience the elements and relationships in social relations as pre-given by a framework which is not open to challenge. Durkheim was a consistently sociological functionalist, but his concepts at the level of the social were still biological ones. He says, for example, 'The function of a social fact ought always to be sought in its relation to some social end' (Durkheim, 1895, p. 111) at the same time that he whole heartedly embraced the (albeit social) 'struggle for existence'. He concentrated on the contribution of the part to the whole in maintaining the stability or equilibrium, in explaining The Division of Labour in Society (1893), a feature which he considered the key to social solidarity. Primitive societies, he said, were characterized by homogeneity, involving less division of labour and exhibiting a rougher, mechanical solidarity. Population pressure and competition led progressively to heterogeneity and greater division of labour in societies which increasingly exhibited truly integrated, organic solidarity. Homogeneity and heterogeneity, as you may recall from Unit 2, are familiar terms from Spencer's 'Law of Evolution'. His ideas are retained but expressed in purely social terms:

No doubt the current formula, which defines social life as a correspondence between the internal and the external milieu, is only an approximation; however, it is in general true. Consequently, to explain a social fact it is not enough to show the cause on which it depends; we must also, at least in most cases, show its function in the establishment of the social order. [Durkheim, 1895, p. 97]

But the language in which social functions get discussed is redolent of biologism (i.e., scientism using biological concepts):

There are a number of circumstances where different functions enter into competition. Thus, in the individual organism, during a long fast, the nervous system is nourished at the expense of the other organs, and the same phenomenon is produced if cerebral activity develops too considerably. It is the same in society. In time of famine or economic crisis, the vital functions are obliged, in order to maintain themselves, to support themselves at the expense of less essential functions. [Durkheim, 1895, p. 271]

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SAQ 11

What's slippery in that analogy?

In a famine it is understandable that the body preserves the delicate brain tissue at the expense of, say, stored fat or the bulk of muscles. Is it so uncontroversial that, in the analogy, the landowners, factory owners and government (the 'vital functions') should remain well-fed while the peasants and workers (the 'less essential functions') starve? It is a matter of social and political priorities to define the 'vital functions' and the 'less essential functions' in a society. Why not share the food out equally? Then, perhaps, take a poll as to what action to take when supplies run shorter.

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Biological language is pervasive in Durkheim's writings. Sociology was concerned with the study of 'social morphology' (forms or structures); the 'pathology' of the division of labour; and individual anomie (normlessness, cutting one off from solidarity and likely to lead to suicide, the subject of one of his major works). His arguments are characteristically conducted in terms of the sort of detailed biological analogy quoted above. This remained true, even as his views became more traditional and idealistic. As he moved away from seeing society as a system of organs and functions, his emphasis on the role of morality and religion and on society as 'a focus of moral life' remained functionalist: 'Its true function is to create the ideal' (Peyre, 1960, p. 25; Lukes, 1973, p. 5).

Durkheim's last book reflected this increasing emphasis on the role of ritual in cementing the existing social order. In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912), he set out to explain religion as a social product which expressed the character of the social totality. The same thing has to be said of this book as has been said of those of James and Weber on religion: they are studying it and attempting to explain religious practices, experiences and influences. The extent to which the claims of believers may or may not be true is not important to the enquiry in the way that it would matter to believers. Durkheim considers various 'primitive' forms of worship — animism, naturism, totemism, and the ideas of soul, spirit and gods, along with attitudes to ritual. In doing so, however sympathetically, he was treating the transcendent as merely social and was silent about whether or not it could have a divine basis as well. He was himself a non-believer and was born a Jew. His treatment of religion could be said to be so tolerant as to be positively harmful:

The most barbarous and the most fantastic rites and the strangest myths translate some human need, some aspect of life, either individual or social. The reasons with which the faithful justify them may be, and generally are, erroneous; but the true reasons do not cease to exist, and it is the duty of science to discover them.

In reality, then, there are no religions which are false. All are true in their own fashion; all answer, though in different ways, to the given conditions of human existence. [Durkheim, 1912, pp. 14-15]

Similarly, he in no way foresees the demise of religion. This is not because of doubts about its eternal truth but because of his view of its social function:

Thus there is something eternal in religion which is destined to survive all the particular symbols in which religious thought has progressively enveloped itself. There can be no

society which does not feel the need of upholding and reaffirming at regular intervals the collective sentiments and the collective ideas which make its unity and its personality. [Ibid., pp. 474-75]

(Doesn't this remind you of Spencer in Unit 2? A further passage with Durkheim's views on the relationship between science and religion appears in the Primary Anthology, item 6j.)

Although Durkheim's work was concerned with the social level of integration and stressed the need for positive norms in individual and social life, he was accepting the fundamental features of society and only setting out to explain the contributions of particular social phenomena to the maintenance of the whole. Organic analogies helped to create a conception of sociology which justified the increasing division of labour and opposed radical structural change. Spencer had taken for granted mid-Victorian laissez-faire. Weber's liberalism, in effect, supported the bureaucratic Prussian state. In his turn, Durkheim was attempting to strengthen the moral solidarity of the unstable French Third Republic (1870-1909). It was from these highly ideologically committed sources that the major orientations and assumptions of 'value-free' social science were selected and, in some cases, reinterpreted.

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SAQ 12

Using examples from the discussion of Weber and the passages quoted from Weber and Durkheim, find examples of (i) naturalization of values; (ii) scientism; (iii) positivism. Use the definitions given above (three paragraphs before SAQ 1). What criticisms have I made of these ways of dealing with values?

I have been criticizing, first, the covert packing of values into social theories by the choice of biological concepts which favour stability, equilibrium, slow change, and the use of the results to justify particular ethical and social beliefs; and second, the alleged separation of facts from values, when the values are already part of the facts. You may or may not agree with the values being propagated (I don't), but it is important to notice that we are being prevented from having that debate by the way the issues are formulated.

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6 Functionalist anthropology

From the 1920s, Durkheim's work was the single most important intellectual influence on the originators of functionalist anthropology in Great Britain, Bronislaw Malinowski and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown. They turned to his theories in reaction against the dominant late nineteenth-century conception of anthropology (discussed in Unit 12). By the 1920s there was a very strong reaction against the use of biological analogies to explain away exotic customs. An important concomitant of this abandonment of the 'doctrine of survivals' was the fact that anthropologists began to leave their studies, their books and their collections of anecdotal evidence and to undertake field trips involving intensive study of contemporary 'primitive' societies. Three important theoretical consequences of this fieldwork were:

(i) A shift from a licence to explain away, to a passionate desire to make sense of, and the politico-economic need to control more closely, the relations between social phenomena in colonial societies (for substantiation see Stauder, 1974; Bonte, 1974-5; the journal Review of African Political Economy). This led anthropologists to seek to understand and explain the contribution of apparently exotic customs to the social system and involved a theoretical revolution away from the doctrine of survivals and towards functionalism;

(ii) The abandonment of the historical dimension of anthropological explanation which (in different ways) had been central to the work of Spencer, Weber, Durkheim and — the usually unmentioned alternative position — Marx and Engels. Historical explanations had acquired a very bad reputation by the 1920s as a result of their speculative use by nineteenth-century evolutionist anthropologists, such as E. B. Tylor and L. H. Morgan; they were replaced by meticulous ethnographic fieldwork among existing tribal societies;

(iii) The consequent need to abandon a unitary model of the history and structure of humankind and to retreat into a cultural relativism which has only lately been challenged by anthropologists. They have sought to re-emphasize unity among the varieties of humankind by moving to a deeper, structural level of analysis of cultural practices and symbols.

Malinowski (1884-1942) was a Pole who spent most of his academic career at the London School of Economics. It has been argued that the epistemological foundations of his functionalism were indebted to the pragmatist philosophical writings of C. S. Peirce and William James (Leach, 1957), but although there are important affinities among their ideas, Malinowski's most explicit acknowledgements are to Durkheim.

Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1955), who was British, had a peripatetic career until he became Professor of Anthropology at Oxford (1939-48). He traced his own fundamental conceptions to Montesquieu ('social system'), Comte ('statics' versus 'dynamics'), Spencer (social evolution via diversification and adaptation), and, above all, to Durkheim (the central concept of 'function').

Malinowski became increasingly concerned with the relations between social functions and the basic psychological and biological needs of individuals, needs which he considered to give rise to secondary, instrumental social and cultural institutions. He was thus, contra Durkheim, reducing the social to the individual and the individual to biological need. Radcliffe-Brown's analyses continued to emphasize the role of strictly social elements in maintaining the overall functional unity of highly structured social systems. He never departed from the Durkheimian conception of the autonomy of the social from the biological. With these different emphases, Malinowski and Radcliffe Brown worked out the basic functionalist approach which came to dominate the British School of social anthropology in the 1940s and 1950s. Together they made 'functionalism' a fighting term (rather as Watson had made 'behaviourism' one in American psychology) and insisted that studies of contemporary societies conducted according to this approach could achieve far more than could the simple collection and analysis of ethnographic facts. Hitherto unnoticed relationships in cultures could help reveal the integrative character of societies.

Malinowski described himself as the 'arch-functionalist' and arrogated to himself (only half jokingly) the title of 'Founder of the Functionalist School of Anthropology'. He said that 'the magnificent title of the Functional School of Anthropology has been bestowed by myself, in a way on myself, and to a large extent out of my own sense of irresponsibility' (Firth, 1957, p. 11). Those who have rejected Malinowski's theoretical pretensions have continued to admire his detailed descriptions and analyses, especially the standards he set for the technique of intensive fieldwork.

The most full-blown statement of anthropological functionalism is an essay by Radcliffe-Brown, 'On the concept of function in social science' (1935), which appears in the Prlmary Anthology (item 6i) and which you should now read with the following question in mind.

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SAQ 13

Write down a list of the physical, biological and medical terms Radcliffe-Brown uses so promiscuously. What is their cumulative effect?

If one considers what sorts of terms might go in their place, it is easy to see how they propagate a particular model of society as stable, without contradictions and without its priorities and values amenable to public contestation and collective action for change. The central concepts of 'process', 'structure' and 'function' are applied without any sense of past or future.

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It would be difficult to overestimate the influence of this approach over the past half century. The collection in which the essay currently appears is a basic text for all anthropology students. I bought my copy a decade before writing this unit, and it was the seventh reprint of the paperback edition. By the mid-1950s it was argued that all British social anthropology was functionalist, and functionalists held all the major chairs in the country. Although Radcliffe-Brown said that 'functional unity' was only an hypothesis and a matter of degree, it increasingly became an assumption which equated 'is' and 'ought' and begged evaluative and political questions just as neatly (and circularly) as natural theology and Spencer had done: whatever is, is best. 'How manifold are thy works, O Lord. In wisdom hast thou made them all', says the Psalmist. It could be argued, for example, that suicide is functional, because it reduces conflict between the individual and society. Indeed, Audrey Richards reports that

...the belief in the importance of every institution within a culture to the continued existence of that culture led to the charge, often made by [colonial] administrators, that functional anthropologists were not prepared to allow for any change in the tribes they were studying. Field-workers were even suspected of supporting ritual murders or cannibalism on the ground that in some way or other they contributed to "tribal integration". [Richards, 1957, p. 19]

When working with colonial administrators, anthropologists could help to rationalize policy and provide advice for, and in some cases work directly in, the organization of economic exploitation and counter-insurgency (See Horowitz, 1967; Asad, l973; Hymes, 1974, especially Part III: 'Studying Dominated Cultures').

Much of the criticism of functional anthropology has been directed at its almost exclusive concentration on 'integration', 'dynamic equilibrium' and 'organismic holism' — concepts which stress the coherence, stability and balance of social forces. Its followers have paid relatively little attention to change, conflict and to the contradictions inherent in social life and at the interface between socio-economic orders, for example, when a tribal culture undergoes urbanization and industrialization. This approach to society is variously attributed to the unintended consequences ('latent functions' in functionalist jargon; 'false consciousness' in Marxist terms); to the use of organic analogies in intensive, often myopic studies of small-scale societies, and/or to deep ideological commitments (see Mills, 1970; Demerath and Peterson, 1967 — a very useful collection; Gouldner, 1971; Goddard, 1972).  

7 Functionalist sociology

There have been important interactions between British functionalist anthropology and American functionalist sociology, but the origins of the latter can be traced rather precisely to a small group of scholars at Harvard in the 1930s. (The traditional distinctions between 'anthropology' and 'sociology' is that anthropologists study exotic, 'primitive' societies, while sociologists study 'modern' ones. In recent times the distinction has broken down, for example, when anthropologists study modern urban settings.) There is a remarkable account of it by Barbara Heyl in the Secondary Anthology (3.1) 'The Harvard "Pareto Circle"’ (the article is not a set text, but it is highly recommended). Here is my gloss on her story.

The members of the group were heirs to the pragmatist tradition and were influenced by Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown, but the main catalytic influence on their work was the charismatic personality of an eminent biologist, L. J. Henderson (1878-1942), who formed a circle of young scholars around himself (my approach to Henderson is very different from the one taken in Unit 11). He was consciously attempting to formulate a social theory which could rebut the prevailing liberal and Marxist analyses of society which were gaining adherents in the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s. For his main weapon in this battle he chose the writings of the aristocratic and profoundly anti-democratic French-Italian sociologist, Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), whose theories provided much of the intellectual basis of Italian Fascism. Pareto saw society as a system of mutually interacting particles which move from one state of equilibrium to another. Henderson's disciples later recalled that he used Pareto to cast doubt on belief in any real goodness in people or any validity for liberal, much less socialist, ideas and traditions. Henderson added a number of thermodynamic, physico-chemical and biomedical analogies to Pareto's formulations so that the concepts of 'system' and 'equilibrium' acquired a wide range of allusion. He also wrote sympathetically about nineteenth-century natural theology as a useful model for studying both biological and physico-chemical systems in a remarkable book on The Fitness of the Environment (1913).

Members of Henderson's circle went on to attain eminence in key positions and to give the 'right' direction to the growing influence of American social science. From their beginnings in the avowedly anti-radical 'Pareto Circle' they and their followers and students have propagated functionalism under the guise of value-free analysis throughout the social sciences and liberal arts in America. A historian of the movement claimed (in 1959) that functionalism was synonymous with sociological method. A decade later it was argued that functionalism was simply a synonym for explicit scientific analysis in general. We have to grant that its wealth of scientific terms, concepts and models makes this all too plausible. Functional analyses have been offered to explain all aspects of society and culture, including the reductio ad absurdum of so describing social conflict in Lewis Coser's The Function of Social Conflict (1956) and even Revolutionary Change in Chalmers Johnson's (1966) book of that title. For example, chapter 4 is entitled 'The Disequilibrated Social System' and chapter 6, 'Measuring Disequilibrium'. Here is a sample:

Social science can contribute to the avoidance of revolution by identifying in advance probable future instances of dissynchronization between value structures and patterns of environmental adaptation—that is, conditions requiring either politically-sanctioned change or revolutionary change. [Johnson, 1966 p.166]

(For an overview, written from within the disciplines, of the strengths and weaknesses of functionalism in the human sciences, see Martindale, 1965. For strong claims on behalf of functionalism, see Davis, 1959.)

The work of Robert K. Merton (b.1910 and a member of the 'Pareto Circle') has been most influential in developing and refining the conceptual aspects of functionalism and its application to science itself as a topic in sociology. In his best-known essay, 'Manifest and Latent Functions' (1949), he draws heavily on the theoretical work of Weber, Durkheim, Radcliffe-Brown and members of the 'Pareto Circle' (especially Talcott Parsons and Clyde Kluckholn) and buttresses this with lavish references to analogies from contemporary physiology and biology of internal balance of 'homeostasis' (Cannon). There is hardly any room for the text on the pages where he appeals to this literature in the footnotes of his book, Social Theory and Social Structures. I reproduce here two pages of his article::

This much is the text of his page 100:

(100) SOCIAL THEORY AND SOCIAL STRUCTURE

neutral to their contents, and may serve equally well as containers for ideological poison or for ideological nectar.

THE LOGIC OF PROCEDURE

Prevalence of the Functional Orientation

The functional orientation is of course neither new nor confined to the social sciences. It came, in fact, relatively late on the sociological scene, if one may judge by its earlier and extended use in a great variety of other disciplines. [fn49] The central orientation of functionalism — expressed

Now there is a line across the page, and the rest of the page — about nine tenths — is footnote:

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The footnote begins with two quotations:

"The intensity of the exertions evoked by the national danger far exceeded ordinary capacities of human beings. All were geared up to an abnormal pitch. Once the supreme incentive had dis-appeared, everyone became conscious of the severity of the strain. A vast and general relaxation and descent to the standards of ordinary life was imminent. No community could have gone on using up treasure and life energy at such a pace. Most of all was the strain apparent in the higher ranks of the brain workers. They had carried on uplifted by the psychological stimulus which was now to be removed. 'I can work until I drop' was sufficient while the cannon thundered and armies marched. But now it was peace: and on every side exhaustion, nervous and physical, unfelt or unheeded before, became evident."

"In all revolutions there comes a the period of inertia when the fatigue of the effort compels a pause in the process of innovation. That period is bound to come with the cessation of hostilities. After a life on the heights the human constitution seems to demand tranquillity and relaxation. To insist, in the period of pause that we gird up our loins for a new and difficult journey, above all for a journey into the unknown, is to ask the impossible.... When hostilities against Nazism cease, men will want, more than anything, a routine of thought and habit which does not compel the painful adaptation of their minds to disturbing excitement."

Merton comments (still in the footnote to page 100):

The Gibbonesque passages in the first [quotation] are, of course, by Churchill, the Winston Churchill between the Great Wars, writing in retrospect about the aftermath of the first of these: The World Crisis: Volume 4, The Aftermath, (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1928), 30, 31, 33. The observations in the second [quotation] are those of Harold Laski, writing during the Second Great War to say that it is the policy of Mr. Churchill to make "the conscious postponement of any issue deemed 'controversial' until the victory is won [and] this means . . . that the relations of production are to remain unchanged until peace comes, and that, accordingly, none of the instruments for social change on a large scale, will be at the national disposal for agreed purposes." Revolution of our Time, (New York: Viking Press, 1943), 185, 187, 193, 227-8, 309. Unless Churchill had forgotten his analysis of the aftermath of the first war, it is plain that he and Laski were agreed on the diagnosis that significant and deliberately enacted social change was unlikely in the immediate post-war era. The difference clearly lay in the appraisal of the desiralbility of instituting designating changes at all. (The italics in both [quotations] were by neither author.)

It may be noted, in passing, that the very expectation on which both Churchill and Laski were agreed — i.e. that the post-war period in England would be one of mass lethargy and indifference to planned institutional change — was not altogether borne out by the actual course of events. England after the second great war did not exactly repudiate the notion of planned change.

Now we have another line followed (still on p. 100) four lines of footnote 49:

__________

49. The currency of a functionalist outlook has been repeatedly noted. Forex ample: "The fact that in all fields of thinking the same tendency is noticeable, proves that there is now a general trend toward interpreting the world in terms of interconnection of operation rather than in terms of separate substantial units. Albert

Now there are a few lines of text on page 101:

MANIFEST AND LATENT FUNCTIONS (101)

in the practice of interpreting data by establishing their consequences for larger structures in which they are implicated — has been found in virtually all the sciences of man — biology and physiology, psychology, economics and law, anthropology and sociology. [fn 50] The prevalence of the

Another line across the page, and the text of footnote 49 continues, followed by footnote 50. Please note that this scholarly apparatus of citation and notation threatens to squeeze the text off the page. It is there to shore up his sociological functionalism by appealing to the authority of (and famous authorities in) other disciplines in the physical, biological, medical and social sciences, along with philosophy of science. Methinks he protests too much: it is rampant scientism, reaching for the authority of nature to support what are, after, political and social doctrines which do not have the authority of science as a part of their foundations. This is a striking example of the naturalization. of value systems.

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[fn 49 cont’d:]

Einstein in physics, Claude Bernard in physiology, Alexis Carrel in biology, Frank Lloyd Wright in architecture, A. N. Whitehead in philosophy, W. Koehler in psychology, Theodor Litt in sociology, Hermann Heller in political science, B. Cardozo in law: these are men representing different cultures, different countries, different aspects of human life and the human spirit, and yet all approaching their problems with a sense of 'reality' which is looking not to material substance but to functional interaction for a comprehension of phenomena." C. Niemeyer, Law Without Force, (Princeton University Press, 1941), 300. This motley company suggests anew that agreement on the functional outlook need not imply identity of political or social philosophy.

[Now we get footnote 50, stuffed to overflowing with authoritative citations:]

50. The literature commenting on the trend toward functionalism is almost as large and considerably more sprawling than the diverse scientific literatures exemplifying the trend. Limitations of space and concern for immediate relevance limit the number of such references which must here take the place of an extended review and discussion of these collateral developments in scientific thought.

For biology, a general, now classical, source is J. H. Woodger, Biological Principles: A Critical Study, (New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1929), esp. 327ff. For correlative materials, at least the following are indicated: Bertalanffy, Modern Theories of Development, op. cit., particularly 1-46, 64 ff., 179 ff.; E. S. Russell, The Interpretation of Development and Heredity: A Study in Biological Method, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), esp. 166-280. Foreshadowing discussions will be found in the less instructive writings of W. E. Ritter, E. B. Wilson, E. Ungerer, J. Schaxel, J. von Uexküll, etc. The papers of J. Needham — e.g., "Thoughts on the problem of biological organization," Scientia, August 1932, 84-92 — can be consulted with profit.

For physiology, consider the writings of C. S. Sherrington, W. B. Cannon, G. E. Coghill, Joseph Barcroft, and especially the following: C. S. Sherrington, The Integrative Action of the Nervous System, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1923); W. B. Cannon, Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage, chapter 12, and The Wisdom of the Body, (New York: W. W. Norton, 1932), all but the unhappy epilogue on "social homeostasis"; G. E. Coghill, Anatomy and the Problem of Behavior, (Cambridge University Press, 1929); Joseph Barcroft, Features in the Architecture of Physiological Function, (Cambridge University Press, 1934).

For psychology, virtually any of the basic contributions to dynamic psychology are in point. It would not only be low wit but entirely true to say that Freudian conceptions are instinct with functionalism, since the major concepts are invariably referred to a functional (or dysfunctional) framework. For a different order of conception, see Harvey Carr, "Functionalism," in Carl Murchison, ed. Psychologies of 1930, (Clark University Press, 1930); and as one among many articles dealing with substantially this set of conceptions, see J. M. Fletcher, "Homeostasis as an explanatory principle in psychology," Psychological Review, 1942, 49, 80-87. For a statement of application of the functional approach to personality, see chapter I in Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry A. Murray, ed. Personality in Nature, Society and Culture, (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1948), 3-32. The important respects in which the Lewin group is oriented toward functionalism have been widely recognized.

For law, see the critical paper by Felix S. Cohen, "Transcendental nonsense and the functional approach," Columbia Law Review, 1935, XXXV, 809-849, and the numerous annotated references therein.

For sociology and anthropology, see the brief sampling of references throughout this chapter. The volume edited by Robert Redfield provides a useful bridge across the chasm too often separating the biological from the social sciences. Levels of Integration in Biological and Social Systems, Biological Symposia, 1943, VIII. For an important effort to set out the conceptual framework of functional analysis, see Talcott Parsons, The Social System, (Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press, ]951).

That’s the end of the example of Robert K. Merton’s use of argument from scientistic authority.

Merton's approach remains the most influential in the sociology — and the historical sociology — of science. I hope I have shown that the result is a form of scientism stands in the stead of a critique of the conception of science held by its practitioners: a scientistic sociology of science.

Another member of the 'Pareto Circle', Talcott Parsons (1902-79) was pre-eminent in developing the implications of functionalism for general theory in sociology. He acknowledged fundamental debts to our familiar, growing list: Spencer, Malinowski, Pareto and Henderson, but centres (as does Merton) on the aspects of the conceptions of Weber and Durkheim which place the concepts of 'norm' and 'system' at the heart of the problem of social order. Historical and economic factors practically disappear in his analyses, while systems of subjective values and norms come to the forefront. In his later work his social analyses were merged with an adjustive interpretation of unconscious motivation drawn from psychoanalysis (see below, Section 9) which he subsequently brought back into the context of a biological concept of social evolution in Societies: Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives (1966). Notice the familiar naturalization: from social norms to terms based in psychology and then to those of evolutionary biology. He employed psychoanalysis as a theory for explaining the internalization of social controls, the process by which people learn to conform to the prevailing norms of society. Social evolutionism was promoted from an implicit to an explicit model to answer the charge that his grand theory of The Social System (1951) could not deal with social change. The result is that society becomes 'one giant moving equilibrium'. The study of the mechanics of social integration became the definition of sociology, and social scientists developed closer and closer links with industry and government. Following Weber, Parsonian functionalism substitutes the intentions of people, called 'the actor-situation frame of reference', for the Spencerian 'organism-environment' one. Here is a sample of the result:

The "dynamic motivational process" of goal-oriented, role-playing actors interacting in culturally patterned situations — which constitute the independent variables of the system — are located in the structural setting, and the test of their significance is their functional relevance for the maintenance or change of the system. [Buckley, 1957, p. 25; see also Parsons, 1951, pp. 19-22 and Parsons, 1970 — an autobiographical reflection.]

Any departure from established social norms, including radical or ultra-conservative political activity, is stigmatized as 'deviance', and the labelling of deviants and the advertisement of their violations of social boundaries is importantly functional, that is, it helps in 'boundary maintenance'. Actions which challenge the prevailing norms are, in a crucial conflation, 'abnormal', examples of psychopathology or, if group behaviour, Social Pathology (Lemert, 1951). Following the Weberian separation of fact and value, Parsonian theory indulges in such 'descriptions', yet at the same time does not anywhere bring the prevailing values under critical scrutiny. Many issues simply never arise. As one critic pointed out,

Conspicuously absent in Parsonian society, or relegated to minor significance, are violence, coercion, domination, exploitation, scarcity, misery, contradiction, and irreconcilable conflict.... The very features which Parsons banished from society... are reasserting themselves with a vengeance. These new developments can hardly be ignored nor can they be incorporated by Parsonian Theory. [Therborn, 1980, p. 11. See Baritz, 1960; Erikson, 1964; Lemert, 1951; Wootton, 1959]

By the end of the 1950s the second-generation advocates of the functional point of view felt that they could declare 'the end of ideology' in an era of consensus politics in America and to a lesser extent in other advanced capitalist countries in the West. I am referring, particularly, to the American sociologists Edward Shils. Seymour Lipset and Daniel Bell. (For literature on the 'end of ideology' debate, see Bell, 1960; Lipset, 1960, chapter 13; MacIntyre, 1971; Young, 1971, pp. 198-201; Waxman, 1968; Rejai, 1971). It would be worth considering this debate with care, since the claim that ideologies are passé is another way of claiming that the prevailing value system is naturalized and no longer amenable to contestation.

The heritage of the apologetics of Comte, Spencer, Weber and Durkheim was declared to be neutral, objective, positive science. Social science was defined as a combination of problem-solving and social engineering, with no role in making a critique of existing institutions, practices and values. Its rationalizations were complemented and generalized in new versions of equilibrium and systems models in cybernetics, operational research and general systems theory — abstract disciplines concerned with organizational aspects of communication and the control of any phenomena, from gunnery to stock control in a supermarket, to allocation of world resources or weapons systems. When science is the basis, the model, the method and the technique, the values of the existing order of society are veritably naturalized. No perspective is left from which to mount a critical evaluation. The entire space of reasonable discourse is appropriated.

I am no longer surprised to receive this sort of advert for a book — for Edward Goldsmith's The Stable Society: Its Structure and Control—Towards a Social Cybernetics. 'Today we live in a disintegrating society. In this thought-provoking book Edward Goldsmith examines a traditional, stable human society and the social controls which help to maintain its stability. From his examination a model emerges, complex yet intensely logical. The book is in four parts, based on papers that have appeared in The Ecologist from 1974-6: 1. Society as a System. 2. The Family Basis of Social Structure. 3. The Religion of a Stable Society. 4. Science and Social Control' (The Ecologist Catalogue, 1979).

You might think I made all that up in order to knit together all the issues I've been discussing, but I didn't. My neighbour gave it to me, thinking it might be just the book for me. If you have found the argument of this unit at all persuasive, you won't be in a rush to accept the book's approach, except, perhaps as a rationalization for a prematurely stable social order — a case study of functionalism in the human sciences. Another exponent of this way of thinking, Stafford Beer, argues that the problems which face humanity are not political or economic but cybernetic (Athanasiou, 1980, p. 31).

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SAQ 14

Where do you think this leaves us in our efforts to find a foundation in science for social science for what is realistic as a social order to strive for?

I think it leaves us much deceived, because it allows us to believe that we can rest our perplexities on a firm foundation when we are, in fact, on shifting sands. There is, I would argue, no haven from the open clash of values and interests to be found in method, rhetoric, analogies, or derivations from biological, medical and physico-chemical conceptions. Values can neither be put aside or left to speak for themselves when embedded in naturalized language. They have to be made explicit and spoken for as such. When it is alleged that facts and values can be separated, close scrutiny often finds values lurking on the 'fact' side of the fact-value divide. When it is alleged that values can be derived from natural laws or analogies, we find the pre-existing value systems have been packed into the very conception of nature which is offered as the reliable bedrock. Biological models tend to convert contradictions into conflicts, conflicts into maladaptations or maladjustments, leaving the clear implication that some process such as therapy or counselling should lead to adaptation or adjustment. This view of society certainly deserves a hearing, but as long as it is expressed in terms of 'structures', 'functions', 'social organisms', 'equilibrium', its basis in a consensus model rather than one stressing conflict or contradictions, the real question of what sort of society one wants to live in never gets raised. The question is somehow 'against nature', since the existing order is so effectively naturalized. If we can only see it in those terms, how can we conceive it otherwise and set about changing it?

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That would be a tidy place to end, but there are two topics which I think should be considered before concluding. They are dangling here, not because I think them less important than the ones already considered, but because I could not think of a way of

fitting them into the tightly woven set of connections from Spencer to Parsons. It may be a good thing for them to come at the end, though, since they help to show how the very general ideas discussed above enter directly into the lives of individuals at work and when they are troubled enough to seek psychological help. The first topic is concerned with the application of the human sciences to industry but has been generalized into a form of social engineering for all settings. The second began in the clinical sphere as a technique for ameliorating neuroses, but has been extended to the philosophy of civilization. In the short sections following I can only hint at the sort of critique a longer presentation would allow.  

Taylorism: scientific management

Biologistic ideas of the division of labour have been carried into the interpretation and organization of factory work in the period around the turn of the twentieth century in which the products of the first industrial revolution were being transformed into a more efficient, highly integrated moving assembly. Jobs were analysed and fragmented in the name of creating structures and functions which contributed to the smooth physiology of the overall organism. What Spencer had described metaphorically was put into practice in the re-designing of the purposive movements, handling of raw materials and use of means of production which make up the labour process of workers. Conceptions of 'adjustment', 'integration', and 'equilibrium' became the basic assumptions of research on improving 'efficiency' (itself a concept borrowed from physics) in the factory. The process began in steel making but was quickly applied to the operation of machine tools, making armaments and, most productively, in automobile assembly.

The father of the application of the assumptions and methods of functionalist science to the labour process of workers was Frederick W. Taylor (1865-l915). He was the first 'efficiency expert' and invented the systematic study of work processes, workers' movements, special tools and precise timing by stop-watch (perhaps better known as 'time-and-motion' studies).

I reproduce here two pages (1426-27) from his classic paper, ‘Shop Management’, published in the Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1903:

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it, one, two or three watches, whose stop and start movements can be operated by pressing with the fingers of 'he left hand upon the proper portion of the cover of the note-book without * [see below for asterix footnote] the knowledge of the workman who is being observed. The frame is bound in a leather case resembling a pocket note-book, and has a place for the note sheets described. A sketch of this watch-book is shown in fig. 294. [There is a drawing of an open book with hollowed-out places for two stop watches.] The operation selected for illustration on the note sheet is the excavation of earth with wheelbarrows, and the values given are fair averages of actual contract work where the wheelbarrow man fills his own barrow. It is obvious that similar methods of analyzing and recording may be applied to

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[This is Taylor’s (somewhat disingenuous) asterix footnote:]

* The writer does not believe at all in the policy of spying upon the workman when taking time observations for the purpose of time study. If the men observed are to be ultimately affected by the results of these observations it is generally best to came out openly, and let them know that they are being timed and what the object of the timing is. There are many cases, however, in which telling the workman that he was being timed in a minute way would only result in a row, and in defeating the whole object of the timing; particularly when only a few time units are to be studied on one man’s work and when this man will not be personally affected by the results of the observations. In these cases the watch book of Mr. Thompson, holding the watches in the cover, is especially useful. A good deal of judgment is required to know when to time openly, or the reverse.

[Now to page 1427:]

work ranging from unloading coal to skilled labor on fine machine tools.

333. The method of using the note sheets for timing a work man is as follows:

After entering the necessary descriptive matter at the top of the sheet, divide the operation to be timed into its elementary units, and write these units one after another under the heading "Detail Operations." (If the job is long and complicated, it may be analyzed while the timing is going on, and the elementary units entered then instead of beforehand.) In wheelbarrow work as illustrated in the example shown on the note sheet (Fig. 293), the elementary units consist of "filling barrow," "starting" (which includes throwing down shovel and lifting handles of barrow), "wheeling full," etc. These units might have been further subdivided — the first one into time for loading one shovelful, or still further into the time for filling and the time for emptying each shovelful.

334. The letters a, b, c, etc., which are printed, are simply for convenience in designating the elements.

335. We are now ready for the stop watch, which, to save clerical work, should be provided with a decimal dial similar to that shown in fig. 295. The method of using this and of recording the times depends upon the character of the time observations. In all cases, however, the stop watch times are recorded in the columns headed "Time" at the top of the right-hand half of the note sheet. These columns are the only place on the face of the sheet where stop-watch readings are to be entered. If more

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Taylor worked in America as a mechanical engineer and was very influential between 1890 and 1920, by which time his methods were used throughout industry. His admirers said that his introduction of the stop-watch to the study and control of the labour process of the industrial worker was 'the greatest economic

event of the nineteenth century'. He was compared with Darwin, and indeed, he drew heavily on social Darwinist ideas. He saw the factory as an organism and made the division of labour into a general principle. He broke the task down into the smallest possible units and separated the mental from the manual aspects, with the 'functional foreman' in charge of the mental aspects and the worker following minutely detailed instructions for every movement. He demanded complete obedience from workers, measured their output in tenths of seconds and in terms of horsepower. In return he delivered considerably higher wages (though they did not rise as much as productivity, so that profits were proportionately increased more than wages).

There was serious resistance to the loss of autonomy and craft skills which Taylorism (as it came to be called) entailed, but the gains in efficiency, control over the labour process and wages won out in the long run. This occurred only after much struggle and even Congressional hearings in Washington over the efficacy of the system and the conflicts it evoked. Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management (1911) became the model for the management of other social activities and were applied to the home, to farms, churches, educational institutions and government. Later versions were applied to the organization of office work and large bureaucracies, and these 'management sciences' were also brought in to reorganize British local government and the National Health Service. 'Efficiency' became the watchword for all spheres of life and work, with 'conception' increasingly separated, and worked out in different departments from 'execution'.

Taylor was considered a blunt, tactless man, and his methods reflected this approach. The next generation of efficiency experts turned to psychology and sociology and devoted attention to the attitudes of workers. The ideology of scientific management had to be modified to induce workers to produce willingly, to give up what was called (by management) 'artificial restriction of output', to achieve in the psychological realm what Taylor had advocated in the area of manual operations. The problem of convincing the workers to identify their interests with those of the firm should have a familiar ring: it is a problem in applied functionalism — 'fitting in'. It was a member of the Harvard 'Pareto Circle', a disciple of Henderson, Elton Mayo (1880-1949), who did the pioneering research on 'the human and social problems of an industrial civilization' (these words are in the titles of his books), sorting out the kinds of praise, understanding, group dynamics and other alterations of the work situation which would yield greater output.

In the decades since the 'human factor' was added to Taylor's scientific control of movements, there has been an increasing refinement of ways of achieving 'job satisfaction'. Industrial management came progressively to be based on an adjustive model drawn from psychotherapy. Mayo led the way in introducing this approach in an attempt to eliminate the conflicts associated with trade union organization and resistance. Taylor had allowed no place for trade unionism; Mayo and his successors learned to live with the unions and elicit their co-operation. Industrial unrest is treated as a form of maladaptation to the organism of industry. As one consultant put it, 'The industrial labourer does not know that he is emotionally maladjusted, so he mistakenly attributes his dissatisfaction to his job.' Another pointed out the need to eliminate the monotony of repetitive, specialized tasks and described socialist or even anarchist beliefs as 'symptoms' which can arise if this is not done. These examples are drawn from the literature of the social sciences in industry.

The industrial counsellor has the task of discussing with the workers their 'attitudes towards problems, not the problems themselves'. One consultant put it this way:

At least half of the grievances of the average employee can be relieved merely by giving him an opportunity to "talk them out". It may not even be necessary to take any action on them. All that they require is a patient and courteous hearing, supplemented, when necessary, by an explanation of why nothing can be done.... It is not always necessary to yield to the worker's requests in order to satisfy them. [Baritz, 1960, p. 201]

 

This is an unusually sanguine expression of a general phenomenon: the development of various techniques for manipulating people by 'scientifically' manipulating their motives. It is called 'breaking through the attitude barrier' by increasing 'job satisfaction', or 'job enrichment' by means of 'worker participation', 'consultation', 'staff councils'. The more workers participate in decisions affecting their welfare, the more happy and productive they are supposed to become. As one employer, enlightened by the latest methods of motivational research and personnel management said, 'I don't want you to do it my way because I say, "Do it my way". I want you to do it my way because you feel deeply that my way is the best way.'

Scientific management and the management sciences are the applied aspect of the naturalization of value systems in the human sciences. The books available to all on industrial psychology and industrial relations are explicitly based on the functionalist human sciences.

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SAQ 15

How does the biological analogy apply in scientific management?

The norms and goals laid down by management, and the industrial conditions on the job are seen as the 'environment' to which the worker has to adapt. Every task, however routine and subjectively unrewarding, is represented as a part of the division of labour, and the worker is supposed to be persuaded that it is rewarding to be making a small but significant contribution to the whole. Rejection of management's prerogatives — militancy, working to rule, strikes and other aspects of worker resistance — finds no constructive place in the functionalist version of the social organism of the workplace.

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There are numerous manuals and paperback series spelling out the procedures for obtaining worker co-operation, for bringing about their consent without the use of force and without making the real relations of power explicit. The connections between these manuals and the wider movement of functionalist social science are well attested.* The ways of representing social relations which were traced in earlier sections of this unit from Darwin and Spencer through functionalist psychology, anthropology and sociology are currently being experienced as very material forces throughout contemporary work and life, since they, literally, lead to the designation of the actions and attitudes which make up people's work.

*There is not space to spell out these connections. For a brief overview, see Young (1972). More detailed studies are Baritz (1960), Haber (1964). Bendix (1956), Child (1969), Rose (1975), Braverman (1974), Young (1976), Aronowitz (1978), Cockburn (1977). On the history of Taylorism, see Taylor (1911, 1947), Kakar (1970), Nadworny (1955), Aitken (1960), Urwick and Brech (1945, 1946, 1948), Palmer (1975), Mayo (1933, 1949), Callahan (1962). There are many, many books available in paperback editions on the station platform book- stalls from which managers commute to the metropolises, which summarize and apply functionalist management ideas. For example, see Herzberg (1966), Davis and Taylor (1972), Thomas and Bennis (1972), Warr and Wall (1975). Finally, there is a very useful, one-volume selection of articles and readings covering these developments from Taylor to recent times: Tillett, Kempner and Wills (1970).  

9 Freud and psychoanalysis

Along with industrial psychology and the social sciences, the most influential sphere in which biological theories have been employed to provide the basis for secular theories of human nature and society, is that of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy. The origins, assumptions, different schools and ramifications of psychoanalysis involve an extremely complex set of issues and historical forces. For our purposes, however, a small number of aspects are most relevant. First, psychoanalysis was founded, and dominated until his death, by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) who spent all but the first four and last two years of his life in Vienna. His training and approach to the problems of neurotic patients came from Darwinism, clinical medicine, and physicalist physiology (an approach to bodily functions which was strictly experimental and was closely allied to conceptions drawn from physics).

Freud spent many years in neurophysiological research in the very successful laboratories of the 'Helmholtz School'. He was inspired by evolutionism (see Sulloway, 1979), approached the mind in physiological terms drawn from his laboratory research and went to work as a clinician specializing in the problems of people whose early life experiences — especially in the intense emotional interactions of the family — had led them to have psychological or psychosomatic symptoms for which no organic cause could be found, yet which were not of the kind which led to a diagnosis of insanity. Some examples of these symptoms are: severe feelings of inferiority, obsessions, compulsions, impotence, frigidity, 'hysterical' blindness or paralysis, depression. Freud combined a long-established theory of psychological functioning, the 'association of ideas', with an emphasis on the most primitive impulses and conflicts. His technique was to uncover the underlying sources of the symptoms by requiring the patient to say to a trained psychoanalyst exactly what came into his/her mind — 'free association'. Strong feelings which reflected important childhood conflicts were projected onto the psychoanalyst. This process occurred for fifty minutes, several times a week over several months or years. The aim of this 'talking cure' was to uncover and work through painful memories which were not normally available to efforts of recall, but which were active in influencing behaviour and repressed in 'the unconscious', a region of the mind which contained the most primitive, painful and dangerous impulses, forces and memories.

Key elements in Freud's view of the mind and in his therapeutic approach were: the existence of the unconscious as a repository for primitive and repressed material; the assumption of mental determinism; the existence and importance of sexual impulses and conflicts in infancy; and the efficacy of free association with the psychoanalyst as the person with whom one interacted in working through neurotic conflicts. He based his approach to psychology on a biological instinct theory which ultimately came down to two basic forces which he called (i) Eros — producing libido or life enhancing energy, especially including infantile sexuality, and (ii) Thanatos — an aggressive, destructive impulse and a need to return to a state of inertia or quiescence, which he eventually equated with a death instinct (or 'Thanatos') — an equation which most of his followers have not accepted.

Psychoanalysis and the therapies related to it have been very influential and have alleviated much suffering. My aim is not to pursue those matters but to consider the two aspects of Freud's thought which are most relevant to the naturalization of value systems: his pessimism and his views on religion. A third topic is not about Freud's own work but concerns palliative versions of psychotherapy which have become a substitute for religion for many people. Freud believed that the progress of civilization occurred through the control and channelling of Eros by guilt:

...the sense of guilt is an expression of the conflict due to ambivalence, of the eternal struggle between Eros and the instinct of destruction or death. This conflict is set going as soon as men are faced with the task of living together. So long as the community assumes no other form than that of the family, the conflict is bound to express itself in the Oedipus complex [whereby the child is in fundamental conflict with the parent of the opposite sex and with the authority of the father; the resolution of this conflict lays the foundations for the adult conscience], to establish the conscience and to create the first sense of guilt. When an attempt is made to widen the community, the same conflict is continued in forms which are dependent on the past; and it is strengthened and results in a further intensification of the sense of guilt. Since civilization obeys an internal erotic impulsion which causes human beings to unite in a closely-knit group, it can only achieve this aim through an ever-increasing reinforcement of the sense of guilt. What began in relation to the father is completed in relation to the group. If civilization is a necessary course of development from the family to humanity as a whole, then — as a result of the inborn conflict arising from ambivalence, of the eternal struggle between the trends of love and death — there is inextricably bound up with it an increase of the sense of guilt, which will perhaps reach heights which the individual finds hard to tolerate. [Freud, 1930, pp. 132-3]

Freud considers the 'sense of guilt as the most important problem in the development of civilization' and seeks 'to show that the price we pay for our advance in civilization is a loss of happiness through the heightening of the sense of guilt' (ibid., p. 134). He considers the value of civilization an open question and is not put off by

...the critic who is of the opinion that when one surveys the aims of cultural endeavour and the means it employs, one is bound to come to the conclusion that the whole effort is not worth the trouble, and that the outcome of it can only be a state of affairs which the individual will be unable to tolerate.

...The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction. [Ibid., pp. 144-45]

It is in the light of this weary pessimism that we should see Freud's views on religion, which he treated as a general version of our deepest hopes, fears and prohibitions. He was not himself a religious man; nor was he polemically anti-religious. Rather, in a series of exploratory and reflective essays he considered the psychological and social sources of religion: Totem and Taboo (1912-13), The Future of an Illusion (1927), Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), and Moses and Monotheism (1937). His own view, according to his biographer, was that 'such beliefs could be fully accounted for by the psychological and historical factors he had investigated, so that he personally could see no reason for adding to them an external supernatural one' (Jones, 1957, p. 361). His historical speculations on the origins of Judaism and, to some extent, of Christianity have not stood up to scholarly scrutiny, but his psychological analysis has been widely influential.

Freud wrote in an early essay, 'I believe that a great part of the mythological view of the world, which reaches into the most modern religions, is nothing other than psychological processes projected into the outer world’ (Freud, 1904; his emphasis; quoted in Jones, 1957, pp. 352-3). He later wrote, 'Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed within as a result of biological and psychological necessities' (ibid., p. 359). The root of the need for religion lay in the Oedipal, or father, complex through which every child goes. He traced religion, civilization, law, morality, and the beginnings of community life to this single source. The tremendous power of religious feelings lay, he argued, in the 'return of the repressed', powerful emotional conflicts which were symbolically re-enacted in religious rituals. God is seen as a generalized representation of the prohibitions and ideals which are gradually internalized as the child's conscience. This generalization is also related to the individual's helplessness before nature and culture:

. . . man makes the forces of nature not simply into persons with whom he can associate as he would with his equals — that would not do justice to the overpowering impression which those forces make on him — but he gives them the character of a father. He turns them into gods, following in this, as I have tried to show, not only an infantile prototype but a phylogenetic one. [Freud, 1927, p. 17]

Similarly, the precepts of civilization

. . . were credited with a divine origin; they were elevated beyond human society and were extended to nature and the universe.

And thus a store of ideas is created, born from man's need to make his helplessness tolerable and built up from the material of memories of the helplessness of his own childhood and the childhood of the human race. It can clearly be seen that the possession of these ideas protects him in two directions — against the dangers of nature and Fate, and against the injuries that threaten him from human society itself. [Ibid., p. l8]

Freud was as eloquent about the psychological origins of, and need for, religion as Durkheim had been about its social sources and functions:

These, which are given out as teachings, are not precipitates of experience or end results of thinking: they are illusions, fulfilments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind. The secret of their strength lies in the strength of those wishes. As we already know, the terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood aroused the need for protection — for protection through love — which was provided by the father; and the recognition that this helplessness lasts throughout life made it necessary to cling to the existence of a father, but this time a more powerful one. Thus the benevolent rule of a divine Providence allays our fear of the dangers of life; the establishment of a moral world-order ensures the fulfilment of the demands of justice, which have so often remained unfulfilled in human civilization; and the prolongation of earthly existence in a future life provides the local and temporal framework in which these wish-fulfilments shall take place. Answers to the riddles that tempt the curiosity of man, such as how the universe began or what the relation is between body and mind, are developed in conformity with the underlying assumptions of this system. It is an enormous relief to the individual psyche if the conflicts of its childhood arising from the father-complex — conflicts which it has never wholly overcome — are removed from it and brought to a solution which is universally accepted. [Ibid., p. 30]

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SAQ 16

How does this interpretation of religion relate to the naturalization of value systems in the human sciences ?

Freud is offering a psychological explanation of the security offered by religious belief in the face of the forces of nature and society as mediated through the individual's own helplessness in infancy in the family. His language in these passages is blissfully free from biological reductionism, but notice the evolutionary link in the above passage ending, 'not only an infantile prototype but a phylogenetic one' (phylogeny is the evolutionary history of a species). Although not much evidence has been given here, it is true that Freud rooted his explanations in physiological and biological assumptions and used the resulting theories to argue that, for example, socialism was a very unlikely prospect for humankind (Freud, Standard Edition, Vol. 22, pp. 67, 151, 180). Even so, of the theorists discussed in this unit, Freud was the least inclined to use biomedical analogies to justify the status quo in society.

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Within the history of the psychoanalytic movement and related psychotherapies there have been three main tendencies. The orthodox one following on from and developing Freud's approach has interpreted civilization as the product of instinctual renunciation (roughly, 'self-control' and discipline) and treats this as the price of progress. A second tendency has gone to the other extreme and argues for the removal of repression as the key to a better world. This approach has led to a tremendous proliferation of therapies in recent years, loosely referred to as the 'Growth Movement'. What characterizes them for present purposes is that they have taken on the attributes of a secular, psychologistic religion and have been described as 'a positive, American form of Eastern religion' (Kovel, 1978, p. 171). Many ex-radicals from the political movements of the 1960s have made a way of life out of these therapies, seeking in them the fulfilment which in former times would be sought in political or religious commitment. For example, Jerry Rubin, a prominent American protester of the 1960s, says, 'In five years from 1971 to 1975, I directly experienced est, Gestalt therapy, bio-energetics, rolfing, massage, jogging, health foods, tai chi, Esalen, hypnotism, modern dance, meditation, Silva Mind Control, Africa, acupuncture, sex therapy, Reichian therapy, and More House — a smorgasbord course in New Consciousness' (quoted in Lasch, 1979, p. 14). Never mind the specifics; notice the length and breadth of the list.

The third tendency has been the progressive accommodation of psychoanalysis to the functionalist social sciences discussed in other sections of this unit. Under the heading of 'ego psychology' or 'the adaptive point of view', psychoanalysts (mostly in America in the 1940s and 1950s) have taken the edge off Freud's pessimism, and the fundamental sense of conflict out of his view of human nature. They have converted his insights into tools for adjustment, a domestication which has earned them the ire of critics who see in psychoanalysis real promise of contributing to the revival of a critical debate on conflicting values without mystifying them as laws of nature (see Marcuse, 1969, especially the Epilogue: 'Critique of Neo-Freudian Revisionism'; Jacoby, 1977; Schneider, 1975; Rosen, 1978).  

10 Conclusion

I have sketched the process of secularization and naturalization of value systems in the human sciences in three main spheres: (i) grand theory in psychology, anthropology and sociology and in an even more sketchy, truncated way, (ii) the applied sphere of industrial psychology and management, and (iii) psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. In all of these, metaphysical belief, in its religious sense, has been replaced by a set of scientistic concepts, analogies and reductions which, in turn, are employed to explain religious belief itself. The sources of transcendent values have become objects of scrutiny for the sociology of religion, the anthropology of belief systems and the psychology of faith. In most cases the more personally challenging aspect of the demands made by ethical beliefs has been replaced by the efforts of the apologists for a socio-economic order to palliate conflict and head off rebellion and the possibility of revolutionary change. Religious belief is treated in terms of instinctual and infantile needs, family dynamics and social cohesion and control.

The conclusion I want to draw complements recent work which challenges the 'conflict thesis' about religion and science (as in AMST 283 Science and Belief: from Copernicus to Darwin, Unit 1). In the developments I have been discussing, it could be argued that as science advanced, religion receded. This is true but, as has been argued in a number of recent writings, only at a superficial level (Young, 1970a; 1973b; Moore, 1979). There is a deeper continuity. The process of secularization, the development of a biologistic justification for the status quo, replacing theodicy and altering its imagery when required for adaptation to a new phase, supports the values of conformity, adjustment and acceptance in a more fundamental way. The structures and roles of the existing order of society become embedded in the laws of life, mind and society, and provide an explanation of belief itself. Not all societies have succeeded in convincing their populace that the existing regime is synonymous with order, progress and science. Some of the most turbulent and repressive regimes have failed to achieve congruence between the official line and the consciousness of the people. For example, the positivist slogan Ordem e Progresso is the legend on the flag of Brazil (emblazoned on a banner stretching around the globe); the ruling party in Mexico in the era of Zapata's peasant rebellion called themselves scientificos; there was a parallel movement in China, inspired by Spencer and other Western advocates of an optimistic 'science' of social progress. Yet none of those countries leaps to mind as a model of tranquil progress.

On the whole, however, the social and psychological theories which have become predominant in the major Western societies have been very successful in propagating the naturalization of the value system of a rather less rapacious version of the capitalist mode of production — the phase of the socio-economic order of Europe and North America which replaced social Darwinism in the twentieth century. The change from 'nature red in tooth and claw', to social Darwinism, and on to the domestication of contradictions into conflicts, and conflicts into maladjustments has not been much contested in the human sciences.

In the teeth of all this — at least in North America, Britain, France, Germany and Italy — there have recently emerged a number of attempts to break out of the biomedical and 'systems' frameworks. Some of these involve a return to an older and more basic, evangelical religion within a modified framework of pre-Darwinian natural theology; some turn to mystical and occult practices; others, as I have indicated, make a religion of expressive therapies. All are signs of serious resistance to the prevailing palliative nature of the human sciences. The same is true of the revival of political critiques of, and resistance to, the hegemony of current values and the existing socio-economic order. It is a problem for the future to grant the place which legitimately belongs to biological and other scientific explanations of human evolution and of individual and social development, while at the same time retaining the integrity of moral and political discourse, the basis for transcendent values and hopes, and the husbanding of human decency.  

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This essay first appeared as an Open University Course Unit for the course ‘Science and Belief: from Darwin to Einstein’, Block VI: Problems in the Biological and Human Sciences. Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1981, pp. 63-110.

Address for correspondence: 26 Freegrove Road, London N7 9RQ
robert@rmy1.demon.co.uk


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