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Are Social Facts Real? Author(s): John Hund Source: The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 33, No.

2 (Jun., 1982), pp. 270-278 Published by: Wiley on behalf of The London School of Economics and Political Science Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/589936 . Accessed: 08/10/2013 15:39
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John Hund

Aresocialfactsreal?*
AB STRACT

This Note is a clarificationand defense of the Durkheimian view that social facts are 'real,'that they can and often do 'constrain' individuals,that they exist independentlyof and 'externalto' individuals,and that they cannot 'withoutremainder' be reducedto psychologicalfacts or to statements that individuals may or will habituallyor as a ruledo certainthings.This questionof the reality of social facts is relatedto the work of Hartand Searleandto the debateaboutthe connectionbetweenfactualand moraljudgments, and in this way the controversybetween the so-calledmethodological holists and individualists is located within a largerphilosophicalframework. In a recent articleby the Oxfordmoralphilosopher Philippa R. Foot the authornotes that: when arlthropologists or sociologistslook at contemporary moral philosophy they must be struckby a fact about it which is indeed remarkable:that morality is not treated as essentially a social phenomenon.Wherethey themselveswould think of moralsfirst of all in connectionwith . . . the regulationof behaviour in andby society, philosopherscommonly take a different startingpoint. What the philosopherdoes is to ask himself what it is to make a moral judglnent, or to take up a moral attitude, and he tries to give the analysisin terms of elements such as feeling, action and thought,which are found in a singleindividual. Sociologists,as this learnedphilosopher notes, do not usuallytake the individualas the startingpoint of analysis,but ratherthe group of whichthe individual is a partconstitutesthe fundamental unit of analysis, and the elements of analysisare social facts. But becauseof the startingpoint takenby manyphilosophers the notion of 'socialfacts' hasbeenthoughtto be suspectby many.Nowhereis thissuspicion more
The British Journal of Sociology Volume 33 Number 2 June 1982

g3RKP. 1982 0007 1315/82/3302-0268 $1.50

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Are socialfacts real?

methodological betweenthe so-called thanin the controversy apparent have been and holists. In the main, the individualists individualists philosopherscast in the traditionalempiricistmold. They havebeen inclined, that is, to the view that what is 'real'is that which can be or sensibleis not real. seenor sensed,and that which is not observable can, they reason, but individuals Since socialfactscannotbe observed the latter are real and the formerare not, and all statementsabout the behaviourof groups, and all use of group concepts to describe can ultimatelybe reducedto statements of individuals, the behaviour for what about the feelings, beliefs and dispositionsof individuals, have been perfectly readyto accept else is there?Most philosophers the notion of 'brute' facts, but they have preferredto ignore the facts. notion of 'social,''societal,'or 'institutional' who has One exception to this has been MauriceMandelbaum arguedfor the existenceand autonomyof societalfacts which are,he facts,' and 'cannotbe reduced maintains,'asultimateaspsychological without remainderto concepts which refer to the thoughts and is The view held by Mandelbaum actions of specific individuals.'2 who writesthat 'the ultimate antitheticalto the position of Watkins, constituentsof the socialworldarepeople.'3 In this note I am not going to rehashthe assortmentof side and controversy. ancillary issues raised by the Mandelbaum-Watkins holism or InsteadI am going to presenta defenseof methodological and in an earlierperiodby Durkthe view espousedby Mandelbaum, heim, that socialfacts are 'real,'that they canandoften do 'constrain' individuals,that they exist independentlyof an 'externalto' individuals, and that they cannot 'without remainder'be reduced to may or will habitupsychologicalfacts or statementsthat individuals I present ally or as a rule do certainthings.A few of the arguments but in the mainI am simplygoingto restate may be modestlyoriginal, and to some extent modestly revisesome of the powerfularguments (by that or any other name) against methodologicalindividualism which have been devisedby John R. Searleand H. L. A. Hart.Both or brute of these philosophershave departedfrom the individualistic fact starting point adopted by the others. Both have arguedthat traditional empiricist modes of explainingsocial behaviourcannot Since the conexplain nor account for the existenceof 'obligations.' andholistshas so individualists troversybetween the methodological far not been construedbroadlyenough to includethe work of these and since theirviewsmayhelpto locate this controversy philosophers, to examine context,it maybe worthwhile philosophical within a larger them here. derivationof an One of the reasonsthat Searle'smuch-celebrated 'ought' from an 'iS'4 has had and still has so many philosophers their heads is that he was audaciousenough to introduce scratching discourseand to the notion of 'institutionalfacts' into philosophical

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use the existenceof these to explainhow evaluative conclusionscould be derivedfrom factual or descriptive premises.Even though it has provokeda spateof reply andrejoinder and rebuttalsto rejoinders to replies and so on, Searle'sderivationof an 'ought' from an 'is' is simpleenough.He argues thisway: from the fact thatJones promised to pay Smith five dollarsno one would disagree that he,Jones, ought to pay Smith five dollars,all thingsbeingequal.Some haveattacked the ceterasparibus rider,others have denouncedthe deductionas a fraud,and still othershavesimplydeniedthatJones ought to do anything at all, if he is not so inclined.WhatSearlesays abouthis deduction it is that it is possibleonly becauseof the institutionof promising. If the institution did not exist, then Jones' utterance 'I hereby promise. . . ' would haveno effect uponJones'moralsituationor upon what he ought to do. But underlyingthe institutionof promising, accordingto Searle,are certain'constitutiverules' to the effect that utterancesof the kind 'I herebypromise. . . etc.' count as promising, and 'promising involvesthe undertaking of an obligation.'S Searle gives as a formulafor constitutiverules 'X counts as Y in context C,' where X is a brute descriptionof certainthings in the world, and where Y is an institutionalstate of affairs.Withoutconstitutive rules the description'they playedfootball'or 'Jonesmadea promise' cannot be given, accordingto Searle. It is possible that twenty-two men might line up and go through the same physical movementsas are gone throughby two tfbams at a football game,but if there were no rules of football, that is, no antecedentlyexisting game of football, there is no senseaccording to Searlein which their behaviourcould be describedas playingfootball. Constitutiverules give sense to the activitiesof individuals. They createand definenew formsof behaviour according to Searle. What are constitutiverules?Moreto the point in the context of the present discussion,what are rules, how are they possible, and what does it mean to say that they 'exist'?Thoughmany empiricistmindedphilosophers havegrowntiredof askingsuchquestions because they see no point in it, satisfactoryanswersto them may help to resolve the controversybetween those who believe that social facts are real, and those who deny theirexistence.Indeed,the questionof the existence and reality of socialfacts is identicalwith the question of the existence and realityof socialrules,for what aresocialrulesif not socialfacts? Social rules have two dimensionsas it were, which are explicated by Hartin termsof whathe callstheir 'internal' and sexternal' aspects. A social ruleis definedby Hartashaving an 'internal aspect'in addition to an 'externalaspect' which it shareswith a mere social habit and which consists in simple, regularbehaviourwhich an observercould record. This internalaspect of rules is accordingto Hart sometimes misrepresented as 'a mere matter of psychologicalfeelings,'but such

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feelings,he argues,'areneither necessarynor sufficientfor the existence of bindingrules.'6\hat is necessaryin Hart'sview is that there should exist a 'criticalreflectiveattitudeto certainpatternsof behaviour which are taken as a common standard.'7Rules accordingto Hart necessarilyinvolvereferenceto somethingwhich is 'outside'of is a certain'patternof behaviour' the individual,and this 'something' standard.' which is 'takenas' a commonor a 'shared Now, in his article in defense of methodologicalholism Ernest Gellner had made the point that individualsthinkin holistic (or 'institutional')concepts. \hat this amountsto, in Gellner'sview, is that the individualsare capable of isolatingand reactingto certain 'patterns'in their environment.The patternabstracted,however,is accordingto Gellner 'not merely abstracted,'but is 'reallythere.'8 This is the same position taken as Hart's,and raisesthe issue of the that there arethree 'exteriority'of social facts. It will be remembered crucial elements in Hart's analysis of rules: there is (1) a 'critical which reflectiveattitude' towardcertain (2) 'patternsof behaviour,' These common or are taken as a (3) sharedor 'commonstandard.' or what can also be thoughtof as 'sharedmeanings,' sharedstandards Collective to call 'collectiverepresentations.' Durkheimwas prepared accordingto Durkheim,presupposedthe existence representations, of certain 'sensibleindices' or 'visiblepatterns,' and the extent to which such indices or patterns (the 'external'aspect of rules) are 'sensible'or 'visible'variesin animalsfrom those, like dogs and apes, that have little ability to recognizethem to those, like humans,who what Aristotlecalled possess the cognitivecapacity of accomplishing ' Whatis involvedin pattern in the particular. what is universal 'grasping The and abstractness. recognitionthen is the duality of concreteness extent to which abstractstandards(such as rules) are 'public'is the or 'group'properties.9 same as the extent to which they are 'shared' Viewed strictly from the external or 'physical' point of view, a coin or spoken languageis no more than brutephonetic utterances; a dollarbill is no more than a piece of metal or a piece of cloth paper with grey and green ink on it. We have 'holistic'concepts whichwe use to describe these social facts (and artifacts), and if we try to concepts which have as theirreferents reduce these to individualistic mere brute phonetic utterances(in the case of a language)or pieces of metal or paper (in the case of money), what is lost is an entire dimensionof the social life that is being described.If humanbeings like lower animalswere able to think only in termsof individualistic concepts referringto physical objects in the world, they would be unable to recognizemuch less build theirlives aroundandparticipate referredto WhatWeber in institutionalor social forms of behaviour. as 'social action' would not be possible. A rudimentarysystem of kinship would not even be possible, for without constitutive rules and 'wife' the institution creatingand definingthe roles of 'husband'

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of marriage would not exist. Without holisticconceptsandthe 'things' they createanddefinehumans couldperhaps'runin packs,'but group life as we know it could not exist. Constitutive rulesmakegrouplife and society possible. They create the very possibility of forming social relationships, obligationsand social structures,and until their importanceis graspedwe shall be unable to understandthe whole distinctivestyle of humanthought,speechandactionwhichis involved in the existenceof rulesandwhich constitutesthe normative structure of society. Why, then, do so many still cling to the idea that socialconcepts such as 'husband,''wife,' 'marriage,' 'state,' 'debt,' 'money,' 'uncle' and so on, can be reducedwithout remainder or loss of meaningto concepts which refer only to brute facts? One possible answeris given by Searlein his book SpeechActs.10After drawing his distinction between bruteandinstitutional factshe describes a certainpicture of what constitutes the world, and consequentlywhat constitutes knowledgeabout the world. It is a pictureof the worldas consisting of brute facts. Part of what is meant by this is that thereare certain 'paradigms' of knowledgeand that these paradigms aretaken to form the model of all knowledge.Theseparadigms varyenormously.They range from 'this stone is next to that stone,' to 'I have a pain.' But they sharecommon features,according to Searle,and one of them is that the concepts which make up the knowledgerefer to physical objects. The model for systematic knowledge of this kind is the naturalsciences,and the basisfor all knowledgeof this kind is generally supposed to be simple empiricalobservationsrecordingsense
experience.

It is obvious however that large areas of apparentlyfact-stating languagedo not consist of concepts which are a part of this picture. Searlegives the followingas examplesof this: 'SmithmarriedJones,' 'the Dodgersbeat the Giants,'and 'Greenwas convictedof larceny.' Now, what is at issue (at bottom) in the controversybetween the methodologicalindividualists and holists, according to Gellner,is the 'ontological' status of the entities referredto by holistic concepts such as those appearing in the examplescited above.Whilethe notion of 'ontological status' is never as clear as it could be, one thing is clear and this is that the things referred to by holistic conceptsexist in and by virtue of rules.These rules consist of a criticalreflective attitude toward certain patterns of behaviourwhich are taken as a common standard,it will be remembered,and these 'patternsof behaviour'are 'out there,' which is to say that they are externalto and exist independently of the individuals who take them as common standardssharedby the group.They aregroup properties, in other words, and they cannot without remainder be reducedto properties, or conceptsused to describethe properties,of individuals. When we look at a work of impressionistic art, for example,we

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find that if we standtoo nearit we cannotmake out its object. Then as we stand back at just the right distance, a 'pattern'comes into view. We undergoa similarcognitiveexperienceas we are socialized into a group, or as we learna language. Patternsbecomevisibleto us as we become membersof the group or speech community.As we become familiarwith the ways of the groupmembers,we begin to recognizecertainpatternsof behaviour which aretakenby the group as shared or common standards of behaviour.It could of course be supposedthat in the case of a work of impressionistic art the pattern is being 'imposed'on the canvasby the mind of the individual viewer -that it is not 'reallythere.' But if a patternis an intelligible configurationof elementsit must also to some extent exist 'out there'or in the world. This is the kind of claim, I take it, that is beingmade for the ontologicalstatus or the reality of social facts. True,it takes certaintraining, skill and capacity(sometimescalled 'competence'by learningtheoristsor linguists)to be able to recognizethe patternsof behaviourwhich constitute humanspeech and action. But the claim seems to be that these patternsreally are there to be discovered,or learned,and that they are group (which is to say 'social')properties which cannot be reduced to nor explained in terms of physical or psychologicalpropertiesof individuals. This, at any rate, was Durkheim's claim.He arguedthroughouthis Rules of Sociological Method that social facts could not be reducedto psychologicalfacts, that the formeraresuigeneris and exist on a different'level'from psychological facts. Empiricist-minded philosophers may havetroubleaccepting these premises,but just as Watkinshas pointed out that 'Weber was no Platonist,'let us herenote that Durkheimwas. A second index of the ontologicalstatusof the entities referred to by holistic concepts that was noted by Durkheimwas 'constraint.' He felt that social facts could 'constrain'individuals.This is not necessarilyto say that socialfactscan 'cause'individuals to do certain things, though it certainly includes the claim that they can 'give cause' or providereasonsfor actions. Whileit may not be true that social facts can have an effect on behaviorin the same way that a billiardball strucksquarelycan have an effect upon anotherbilliard ball, it still does make sense to say that social facts can constrainus and that indeedthey do. Groupmembership constitutesan enormous structureof rights and duties which exerts a constant and indeed a 'crushing'influence upon individuals,and any attempt to argue,as Watkinsdoes, that 'anindividual's personality is a systemof unobservable dispositionswhich, togetherwith his factual beliefs, determine observable behaviour'llleaves an entire dimension of social life unanalyzed and unexplained. Indeed, often the explanationof an individual's behaviordemandsthe introductionof conceptsreferring to societal status. An individual's behaviormay sometimesbe made more intelligibleby viewingit as a speciesof 'role'behavior.It would

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roleto characterize difficultto reducemany of the conceptsused concepts havingto be to psychological and role-behavior relationships The reasonthis is so is that the beliefs. and motives feelings, with do duties which of such roles are the bearersof rightsand incumbents roles. such by these roles. They are 'constrained' define in the same way that Structuresof rights and obligationsexist who aresubjectto them. individuals exist, and these 'constrain' rules oblimost clearlyby examiningthe notion of social e.g., is illustrated This has an obligation, Thus, the statementthat an individual gation. to reportfor military light, red a pay Smith five dollars,to stop at to even if he believes true or to care for one's offspring,remains duty found out andhas be never will that he or unreasonably) (reasonably the generalirrelto fear from disobedience.This indicates the questionof nothing to motives and beliefs, fears of an individual's evance An individualhas an obligationif his obligation. an has he whether cannot be refalls under a rule, and rules, as groupproperties, case individuals. of beliefs or to the dispositions (withoutremainder) duced juristJohn Austin, seeing the generalirrelevanceofaperson's The he had an oblifears and motives to the questionof whether beliefs, subjective these of terms in not definedthe notion of obligation gation, indiother or officials certain but in termsof the likelihoodthat facts, that argued has Hayek And would behave in certain ways. viduals phenomena social of 'thereis no other way towardan understanding of individualactions directedtoward but through an understanding But these individualistic andguided by their expected behaviour.'l2 rulesexist, deviations where that modesof analysisobscurethe fact that hostile reprediction a for from them are not merely grounds for and a 'justification' actionswill follow, but are also a 'reason' of group-members rules suchactions. Fromthe internalpoint of view basis of claims,demands, areused as guides to social life and as the rules give them reasons Such admissions,criticismand punishment. in one way ratherthan another. for behaving includinglanguage, So, if we insist on analyzingsocial behaviour, motives, feelings, of terms in perspective from an 'individualistic' is the social or analysis the of beliefs and habits, what is left out Thus,when the noted 'symbolic'dimensionof shared,groupactivity. Conceptof Mindin 1949 OxfordphilosopherGilbertRyle wrote the left out of the picture mode of analysiscompletely his individualistic social and communicative the group or sharedpropertiesof human referencein that work no appears there behavior.This explainswhy influentialMind,Self and whose Mead H. G. at all to the writingsof began from different Society had appearedin 1934. Ryle and Mead one another points.'And the two worksareas differentfrom point for 'starting starting psychologyis from sociology. The as behavioristic closerto that of Meador analysisfound in the work of Hartis much Both Hartand Searle Durkheimthan it is to that of Humeor Ryle.l3

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and of knowledge paradigm fromthe empiricist-indivldualistic deviate epistemology. empiricist andby classical byHume setdown analysis is an outgrowth individualism Wecansee thenthatmethodological is that doctrine methodological The converse of Britishempiricism. andone andteleological, areintentional socialor groupphenomena of of the salientthemesof modernsociologyis that description the situunderstanding mustinvolve socialphenomena distinctively is to be by the agentwhosebehaviour ation as it is apprehended to the makereference It musttherefore and understood. explained used of the agent,andwhileholisticconcepts framework conceptual (if all we caredaboutwerethe might be eliminable by an observer or psychologists by behavioristic produced kinds of explanations it is clearthatwhenusedby particinaturalsciencedemographers) and they are not. Theseholisticconcepts pantsor groupmembers whichis yet in theirconsequences,' theyreferto are'real the 'things' incliviway of sayingthat they can andoften do 'constrain' another to' individuals, of and 'external duals,that they exist independently to psychological bereduced remainder' andthattheycannot'without or as a rule mayorwillhabitually thatindividuals factsor statements things. do certain
John Hund Departmentof Sociology of California University SanDiego
NOTES

4. 'How to derivean ought from an is,' PhilosophicalReview, 1964,73, pp. 43-58. Reprinted in Philippa R. Foot (ed.), Theories of Ethics, Oxford UniversityPress, 1969. 5. J. R. Searle, Speech Acts, Cambridge University Press, 1969, pp. 33 -4. 6. Concept of Law, Oxford University Press, 1961, p.56. 7. Ibid. 8. 'Explanations in History,' Proceeding of the Aristotelian Society, 1956. All citations are to the anthologized version of the article, retitled 'Holism and Individualismin History Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 1952. This citation is to the antholo- and Sociology,' andreprintedin Patrick gized version reprinted in Patrick Gardiner (ed.), Theories of History, Oxford UniversityPress, 1959, p.498. Gardiner (ed.), Theories of History, 9. Is this a Platonic doctrine?Plato Oxford UniversityPress, 1959, p. 505. *I would like to thank Professor A. G. N. Flew for some helpful comments on an earlierversionof this note. 1. 'Approval and disapproval,' in P. M. S. Hacker and J. Raz (eds), Law, Morality and Society, Oxford University Press, 19 77, p. 229. 2. sSocietal Facts,' British Journal of Sociology, 1955, 6. All citations are to the anthologized version of the article, reprinted in Patric Gardiner (ed.), Theories of History, Oxford UniversityPress, 1959, p. 479. 3. J. W. N. Watkins, 'Ideal types and historical explanation,' British

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Hund John
278 in the arguedthat we sparticipate' heaven the constitute that universals groupmembers, offorms. Whenwe, as are we not group the in sparticipate' abstractstandards alsoparticipatingin Aren't these group? 'shared'by the group?Was the propertiesof standards doctrine? sociological a Platoadvancing cit. Op. 10. the versionof 11. This citation is to in Alan Watkins's article reprinted of Social Philosophy Ryan (ed.), The Oxford UniversityPress, Explanstion, 1973,p. 104. and 12. F. A. Hayek, Individualism London of Order,University Economic 1949, p. 6. Press, references to 13. Oddly enough, in Hart's appear Ryle both Hume and referencesthat book, yet there are no Mead or either to I could locate Durkheim.

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