CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON THE SOCIAL SCIENCES / Vol. 38, No. 4 (Winter 1971)
Arien Mack, Editor
Theoretical thinking and action as typical modes of human behavior are irremediably separated by way of their logical structure. Since politics is in its essence action, there exists with the same necessity as unbridgeable chasm, an eternal tension between politics and theoretical science of politics.
Almost ten years ago the question why there should be any more philosophy was answered by Adorno, as follows: “The only philosophy we might responsibly engage in, after all that has happened, would no longer be free to credit itself with power over the absolute. It would indeed have to forbid itself to think the absolute, lest it betray the thought -and yet it must not allow itself to be gulled out of any of the empathetic concepts of truth. This contradiction is its element.” The question that besets us now is whether the form of the philosophical spirit has changed a second time.
To say what is happening in philosophy now is always to put oneself at risk. For it is only afterwards that we in fact know what was happening. To try to evaluate the present is in part to predict how it will look from some as yet unachieved standpoint in the future.
Discontent is endemic to the social sciences. The social scientists carries within him a debilitating inner stress--a form of stress perhaps best symbolized by the duality in Comte who, after founding the science of sociology on a strict positivistic basis, proceeded, some time later, to found what was possibly the most obsessive rule-saturated religion in all history.
Almost everyone who thinks about the matter at all seems dissatisfied with the social sciences. In a sense, of course, this is as it should be. Satisfaction with progress in a field generally reflects smugness or arrogance by practitioners and ignorance or naivete by outsiders. More good scientists have doubts about their own fields.
Perhaps the difficulty with American sociology lies, curiously, in its insulation from much in our national intellectual tradition and national life. If, our task lies in no small measure in the integration of European thought with the American sociological tradition, we shall have to develop a firmer grasp, a new evaluation, of our tradition.
Who are discontented economists? In some ways and on some days almost all economists are discontented. Every economist who advances the field -and there have been a fair number of advances in recent years- must have been dissatisfied with some aspect of the existing state of economic knowledge.
Though there may not as yet be a satisfactory explanation for the historical genesis of anthropology’s current malaise, it is probably safe to assume that there is a close relation between the discontents of anthropologists and the sociopolitical disturbances that have occurred in the past decade or so, eg, the Vietnam War, the urban crisis, the ecological issue, and so on.
This translation is one of a series now in progress, which traces the steps in the efforts of Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss to come to grips with distinctively comparative depth-historical sociological ways of understanding and explaining the structures of civilizational and inter civilizational processes of complex societies.