Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/September 1896/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


Prof. Giddings's Principles of Sociology[1] is a very opportune book. A disposition has been manifesting itself for several years to call almost everything sociology. Most of the popular journals now have a department of sociology, into which they put everything going on in society that does not clearly belong to party politics. All the "advanced" social questions are being discussed under the head of sociology. Especially are so classed the zealous utterances of a large group of well-meaning persons who believe something ought to be done for the less favored members of society. In this class are great numbers of warm-hearted clergymen who think they see in the teachings of the Master a warrant for preaching wholesale social reforms, and this they call "Christian sociology." Add to this the thousand problems of charity, philanthropy, and general social betterment of the condition of the poor, and we have already in the infancy even of the word sociology a burden of unscientific and half charlatanic applications of it that threaten to sink it as deeply into obloquy and contempt as a similar procedure sunk that etymologically far better word, phrenology, half a century ago.

Of course, Mr. Herbert Spencer's great work, now happily completed, on the Principles of Sociology, not to speak of his Descriptive Sociology, and his other works on that subject, would have sufficed to save it from such a fate, but as it is in America that the tendencies above pointed out are most pronounced, so there was needed in America a standard work that should teach, so far as known, what sociology is, and serve in some degree to stem the tide of degeneration. Prof. Giddings's book to a considerable extent supplies this need. Those who, in the main justly, complain that it ignores all questions of social progress, that it treats wholly of what is, and not at all of what ought to be, should not forget the peculiar conditions under which it was written, as briefly described above. Whether Prof. Giddings believes in the possibility of a dynamic science of society or not, he was fully justified, in view of the circumstances, in confining himself strictly, as he has done, to the statical and historical aspects of sociology. Moreover, there was the less need of departing from this line, as there is in this country a school of dynamic sociologists, no more sanguine than he of immediate reforms, but working along the lines of social mechanics, to whom that aspect of the question may properly be left.

In view of this very youth of the science, and especially of the confusion of ideas as to what sociology means, it will be profitable at the outset to examine Prof. Giddings's definitions. The first is given on pages 5 and 6, where he says: "It is not too much to claim that we have now, at length, a sociology, which may be defined as the systematic description and explanation of society viewed as a whole. It is the general science of social phenomena." He recognizes, however, that social phenomena are chiefly disting-uished from all other classes by the psychic element that enters into them, and on page 25 he rather sententiously remarks that "psychology is the science of the association of ideas. Sociology is the science of the association of minds." This he qualifies on the next page in the following form: "Psychology thus is the science of the elements and of the genesis of mental phenomena, as determined by physical and organic relations. Sociology is the science of mental phenomena in their higher complications and reactions, and of the constructive evolution of a social medium, through which the adaptations of life and its environment become reciprocal."

One of the most difficult questions has been to distinguish sociology as a science from what have been called the "special social sciences"—i. e., the several groups of phenomena obviously social, which, whatever sociology may be, must stand in some intimate relation to it. On this Prof. Giddings, pages 30, 31, makes the following observations:

"Clear thinking and a discriminating use of terms will create order from the confusion and will establish sociology in its rightful place, where it can no longer encroach on the territory of other sciences or be crowded out of the field by them. Sociology is a general social science, but a general science is not necessarily a group of sciences. No doubt the word will continue to be used as a short term for the social sciences taken collectively. . . . By methods of sound logic, and with guidance from the history of other sciences, sociology can be definitely marked off from the special social sciences." And on page 33 he adds: "Therefore, while sociology in the broadest sense of the word is the comprehensive science of society, coextensive with the entire field of the special social sciences, in a narrower sense and for purposes of university study and of general exposition it may be defined as the science of social elements and first principles."

Finally, on page 419, he gives the following definition:

"Sociology is an interpretation of social phenomena in terms of psychical, organic adjustment, natural selection, and the conservation of energy. . . . It is strictly an explanatory science, fortifying induction by deduction, and referring effects to veritable causes."

Although these various definitions are somewhat bewildering if not inconsistent, they do nevertheless afford some idea of what sociology is, and it is clear that they give no countenance to the practice of making it a general receptacle for all sorts of reform programmes and theories of social regeneration. In fact, with Prof. Giddings, as with Spencer, sociology is the study of society as it is and as it has been; also, perhaps, so far as a knowledge of its laws render prediction possible, as it is likely to be in the future; but not at all a study of what it ought to be, much less an attempt to lay down rules for its improvement.

Although Prof. Giddings has followed Spencer very closely in his general ideas of sociology, still he thinks he has discovered one very fundamental principle that is entirely new, and upon which he attempts to build the entire science. This principle he calls the "consciousness of kind"—i. e., the fact that men recognize their like, and that this natural affinity makes it possible for them to crystallize into social groups. Of course, he finds the principle running down through the entire animal series, and he commits the fallacy of regarding this as the highest proof of its sociological importance. In fact, he has seized upon a well-known and important biological principle, and, as may be done with so many others, he has successfully applied it in various departments of social life. It has doubtless helped him in dealing with the difficult question of the origin of human association, to which he has given special attention.

The work is divided into four books, the first of which deals with the theory, the second with the structure, the third with the evolution, and the fourth with the causes of society. Space will only permit a brief reference to Book III, on the Historical Evolution of Society, which is not only the most important department of the work, but is the most ably treated. The general subdivision was briefly outlined in an earlier paper on the Theory of Sociology. It is into zoögenic, anthropogenic, ethnogenic, and demogenic association, to each of which a chapter is devoted. The treatment of zoögenic association is too brief, but if properly expanded it would form an important introduction. To the two chapters on anthropogenic and ethnogenic association too great praise can not be bestowed. Although somewhat trite subjects after all that has been written by Tylor, Spencer, Morgan, McLennan, and the rest, Prof. Giddings has succeeded in so organizing, methodizing, and condensing this immense mass of data as to render it not merely interesting and instructive, but even fascinating, and to enable the reader to acquire in small compass practically all of importance that is contained in so many large volumes.

The chapter on Demogenic Association, which in a work on sociology should have been the pièce de résistance, is less ably written and should have been expanded and improved. But the reader will see for himself what its defects are, and will be able to a great extent to supply them. This department of the work, however, taken as a whole, possesses exceptional merit.

It will be charitable to the author to refrain from discussing Book IV, on Social Process, Law, and Cause. Much of it is an attempt to apply Spencer's First Principles to social phenomena, in which the author is generally unsuccessful. There are, however, some very good suggestions under the head of Social Choices, which we can commend to the reader.

Mr. Schoenhof's latest contribution to the Questions of the Day Series deals with the economic subject that is uppermost in this country at present—namely, how far prices can be raised by an abundance of cheap currency.[2] There are few important effects that do not flow from mixed causes, and Mr. Schoenhof makes it plain that the fixing of prices for commodities is no exception. Besides the condition of the currency he names wages, profit rates, expense of distribution, taxation, science and invention interest, transportation, and monopolies as affecting prices. His views, as expressed in former writings, having been criticised severely, he has been led to examine for this volume the prices of the period anterior to the discovery of the American silver mines and to carry the comparison down to the present time. He is thereby confirmed in the opinion that the quantity of money in circulation has little influence on prices, but that its quality is more important. Further, "that price increase brought about by the issue of depreciated currency or other inflating causes has always acted detrimentally to the interests of the working classes." In the early chapters he gives statistics of the output of gold and silver from the mines of the world from 1492 to 1894, and the value ratios of gold to silver at various times, showing that the latter were not affected by the relative quantities of the two metals in existence. He maintains that silver has become cheapened because it has been left behind as a money metal by advancing civilization. The main part of the volume consists of a history of prices in England, France, and Germany from the middle ages to the present time, combined with which there is considerable history of European currency. Following this are four chapters in which the influence of what the author regards as the true price-making factors is set forth in some detail. Mr. Schoenhof is an expert in economic research, and his positions are all supported by statistics and historical facts.

  1. The Principles of Sociology. By Franklin Henry Giddings, M. A., Professor of Sociology in Columbia University. Pp. xvi + 476, 8vo. New York and London: Macmillan & Co. Price, $3.
  2. A History of Money and Prices. By J. Schoenhof. Pp. 352, 12mo. New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons. Price, $1.50.