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Philosophy of the Social Sciences

40(3) 539­–551
Making Sense © The Author(s) 2010
Reprints and permission: http://www.
of Durkheim’s sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: 10.1177/0048393109352832
Methodological http://pos.sagepub.com

Prescriptions

Renan Springer de Freitas1

Abstract
In his struggle to constitute sociology as a natural science, Durkheim fought
against finalism, Gabriel Tarde’s general project, efforts at theoretical synthesis
unconnected to specific empirical problems, and ideological analysis. The article
dwells on these four “epistemological battles,” especially on Durkheim’s (unfor-
tunately failed) effort toward purging the social sciences from ideological analysis.

Keywords
ideological analysis, finalism, epistemological battles,Durkheim's methodology,
Weber's methodology, theoretical synthesis, methodological naturalism

Alexandre Braga Massella


O naturalismo metodológico de Émile Durkheim. São Paulo, Brazil: Associação Editorial
Humanitas and Editora Universidade Federal de Goiás, 2006. 264 pp.

The theme of this book, namely, the Durkheimian project of considering the
social sciences as a natural science,1 imposes by itself a previous general
remark: if one is concerned with considering something as a particular
instance of something else, then one must have in advance some knowledge

1
The author proposes to “analyze the assumptions underlying this project, the arguments presented
in its defense and the difficulties it faces.” A. Massella, O naturalismo metodológico de Émile
Durkheim, 14 (free translation from the Portuguese).

Received 28 February 2009


1
Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil

Corresponding Author:
Renan Springer de Freitas, Rua Martinho Campos 30/301, 30310-140 Belo Horizonte MG, Brasil
Email: springer@netuno.lcc.ufmg.br

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540 Philosophy of the Social Sciences 40(3)

about the characteristics that are peculiar to this supposedly already existing
“something else.” If this “something else” happens to be what is known as
“natural science,” then one must have in advance some knowledge about
the characteristics peculiar to it. Can Durkheim be said to have had such
knowledge? Can he, in more general terms, be said to have had some ten-
able conjecture about the nature of scientific knowledge? Unfortunately, the
book does not face these questions directly. Suppose the answer turns out to be
no. If this were the case, why should one care about the general Durkheimian
project of considering sociology a natural science in the first place? Why, in
other words, should one care about his “methodological naturalism”2—or,
in more general terms, about his methodological prescriptions at all? Fortu-
nately, the book can help us find a way to answer these questions, and I think
that its merit lies exactly there.
If one is interested in Durkheim’s view about science, whether natural or
social, then one can do no better than read the second chapter of The Rules
of Sociological Method, especially the passage in which, after criticizing the
(ideological) method according to which “the most fundamental of all eco-
nomic theory, that of value” was constructed, he states,

If value had been studied as any fact of reality ought to be studied, the
economist would [1] indicate, first of all, by what characteristics one
might recognize the thing so designated, then [2] classify its varieties,
[3] investigate by methodical induction what the causes of its varia-
tions are, and [4] formally compare these various results in order to
abstract a general formula.3

2
The expression “methodological naturalism” is usually associated with the view that epistemology
should consider itself an empirical science or at least be informed by the latter’s results. See, for
example, Alvin Goldman, “Naturalistic Epistemology and Reliabilism,” Midwest Studies in Philodo-
phy 19 (1994): 301-20. It is not in this sense that Massella uses the expression “methodological
naturalism” when he titles his book “Émile Durkheim’s Methodological Naturalism.” He uses it to
express the view that social phenomena should be treated as natural things. This involves above all
purging the social sciences of the “conviction that only the purposes or finalities attributed to the
things and to the events can really explain them. This obstacle has been gradually removed from
the physical sciences and now it is also necessary to remove it from sciences which concern man”
(pp. 19-20, free translation).
3
E. Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method, 8th ed. (New York: Free Press, 1966), 25. The
numbers in brackets were inserted by myself to distinguish the four different methodological steps
to be followed.

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de Freitas 541

I fear that the gist of Durkheim’s view about the nature of scientific knowl-
edge resides in this short excerpt. According to him, what makes any study
into something worthy of being called “science,” whether “natural” or
“social,” is nothing but the strict observance of the four prescriptions listed
above. Thus, he claimed that his own sociology, unlike that of his predeces-
sors, was truly scientific precisely because it had been constructed according
to these prescriptions. He also claimed that when a given scientific discipline
is constructed in this manner, the “general formulae” that it eventually gener-
ates amounts to real “laws of reality.” When, on the other hand, a “general
formula” comes out of what he called “ideological analysis,” as occurred in
the case of John Stuart Mill’s political economy, Spencer’s sociology, Comte’s
philosophical view of progress, and Tarde’s psychology, it amounts merely
to a “veil drawn between the things and ourselves, concealing them from us
the more successfully as we think them more transparent.”4 Thus, when
Durkheim “abstracted” (to take his own term) his well-known “general for-
mula” that organic solidarity is supposed to increasingly predominate over
mechanical solidarity, or, for that matter, his equally well-known formula
that the social rate of suicide is supposed to increase whenever there is some
imbalance between social currents of egoism, altruism, and anomie, he did
not suppose that he was proposing some hypotheses to be submitted to
empirical tests but, rather, that since he complied with the proper method-
ological rules, he had really managed to “arrive at the discovery of [some of]
the laws of reality.”5
Every one of these claims by Durkheim have already become part of the
history of sociology. His general methodological view belongs to the past.
Nowadays, it may capture the interest of a philosopher or a historian of
social sciences, but hardly the interest of a practicing social researcher. Con-
sider, for example, Durkheim’s “first and most fundamental rule,” namely,
“consider social facts as things,”6 which, by the way, comprises the afore-
mentioned four methodological prescriptions. Who can mention a single
practicing sociologist who could be said to have ever complied with this
“most fundamental rule”?
Once taken for granted that there is a general disregard for Durkheim’s
methodological writings, it remains an open question whether it implies
some regrettable loss to the social sciences as a whole. I would answer that it
does, with the proviso that there are indisputable reasons to think otherwise.
The main reason lies in a fact overlooked by Massella, viz., that Durkheim
4
See Durkheim, op. cit., 15. I shall opportunely return to Durkheim’s idea of “ideological analysis.”
5
Ibid.
6
Ibid., 14.

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542 Philosophy of the Social Sciences 40(3)

mistakenly attributed to the natural sciences a concern with “objective con-


cepts.”7 Let us then recapitulate his view that the economists of his day were
wrong insofar as they used such a term as “value” without showing before-
hand how to recognize the thing designated by it. One can conclude from this
criticism that according to Durkheim it is inherent to a natural science (or to
any corpus of knowledge that can be properly called science) to postpone the
use of a term until one is sure about the things it designates. Keeping this in
mind, let us consider the case of the biology of the 20th century, since its
character of “natural science” Durkheim would surely not call into question.
As is well known, hardly any concept has been so widely used in this disci-
pline as that of species. If one follows Durkheim’s reasoning, therefore, one
will be led to the conclusion that 20th-century biology was successful in
defining species “objectively,” that is, in indicating what are the “external
characteristics” by means of which one can unequivocally recognize what-
ever is designated by the term “species.” It happens, however, that such a
conclusion would be a notorious mistake, since it is entirely at odds with
what has really occurred as far as the biological concept of species is con-
cerned. As Ernst Mayr, one of the most distinguished biologists of the 20th
century, explains in his monumental The Growth of Biological Thought,

One should have thought that the animated debate of the post-Darwinian
period would have produced clarity and unanimity, or, at least, that the
new systematics of the 1930s and 40s would have brought final clarity,
but this was not the case. Even today several papers on the species
problem are published each year and they reveal almost as much differ-
ence of opinion as existed one hundred years ago.8

If Durkheim had read an excerpt like this, he would have had to revise either
his opinion about the methodological importance of “objective concepts”
or his high regard for biology. In other words, it seems to be clear that
Durkheim had a highly idealized picture of natural science in his mind when
he strove to turn sociology into an instance of it, and insofar as he persisted

7
Towards the end of his book, Massella states, “The methodological naturalism that we tried to char-
acterize defines itself by the construction of objective concepts that make the objective verification
possible and by the search for causal relations between social facts” (p. 256). We can conclude from
this quotation that Massella has no serious objection to Durkheim’s concern with “the construction of
objective concepts.” I disagree with him in this regard, as it will become clear.
8
E. Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1982), 251.

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de Freitas 543

in such a mistake, it is no wonder that his methodological writings (by contrast


to those by Max Weber, for example) ended up by becoming something like
a piece in a historical (or perhaps archeological) museum.
But the story does not need to end so badly. It may have a happier end,
provided that one recalls that Durkheim’s effort towards implementing his
(four-stage) methodology was, from its inception, entangled in several epis-
temological battles from which some sound methodological lessons can de
drawn. In my opinion, the main contribution of Massella’s book lies in that it
gives us a nice picture of some of these “battles.” The book distinguishes at
least four of these. Thus, in his attempt to turn sociology into a natural sci-
ence, Durkheim was obliged to fight against (1) finalism, that is, “the view
that society is a means for the goals of individuals”;9 (2) Gabriel Tarde’s
project of a General Sociology; (3) efforts at general theoretical syntheses
unconnected to specific empirical problems; and (4) “ideological analysis,”
to use Durkheim’s own term.
According to Durkheim, no science is worthy of the name if it allows
itself to explain anything in terms of conscious inner states such as intentions
or subjective evaluations. Insofar as finalism implies relying on such con-
scious inner states, it must be utterly proscribed. From this perspective, even
if a social researcher concerned with, say, the causes of suicide happened to
have in hand thousands of letters left by persons who had killed themselves,
he or she would have no use at all for these letters, since the real causes could
never be found there. These letters could reveal only the inner states of which
those who committed suicide were aware, and what would really matter are
the forces operating beyond and outside these inner states. An analogy can be
helpful here. Suppose there is a hemophilic who is not aware of the fact that
there is a genetic disease called hemophilia. Suppose now that he happened
to have a small cut, followed by copious bleeding. If he were asked to explain
what happened to him, he would reply that he had copious bleeding because
of the cut. Durkheim would say that by tolerating finalism, that is, by relying
on subjective evaluations, or on any other inner state of which one is aware,
the researcher would end up as misguided as someone who attributed his
hemorrhage to a superficial cut in his skin.
I do not need to discuss whether Durkheim is right in this regard, because
even if he is, his struggle against finalism seems to me to be of little or no
interest, since no important consequence came out of it. It is unlikely that
Massella would agree with me in this particular regard, since he devotes an
entire chapter to finalism. It seems beyond dispute, however, that despite his
Herculean effort, Durkheim failed to purge social sciences of explanations that
9
Massella, op. cit., 200-201.

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544 Philosophy of the Social Sciences 40(3)

rely on intentions or any other conscious inner state, and there are very good
reasons to doubt whether this failure of his is something to be sorry for. After
all, if Durkheim had won this epistemological battle, the social sciences would
be deprived of several of its now well-established schools of thought, such as
rational choice theory, exchange theory, and so-called “analytical Marxism,”
not to mention neoclassical economics as a whole. Unfortunately, I have failed
to find in Massella’s book any helpful clue to refute an objection of this kind.
Massella does not take issue with any of these schools. Since he pays so much
attention to this particular epistemological battle, I expected that he would take
issue with such scholars as George Homans, James Coleman, John Elster, or
other distinguished scholars who can be seen as representing “the other side,”
that is, who do not see any problem in relying on conscious inner states to
explain social phenomena.10 I am afraid that unless one shows that the tolerance
to finalism has spoiled the thought of scholars such as these in some important
sense, there is no gain in focusing on Durkheim’s struggle to abolish finalism.
Durkheim’s crusade against Gabriel Tarde seems to me to be much more
important, not only because this is the only epistemological battle that he
can unequivocally be said to have won, but also because I think that it would
have been a real epistemological catastrophe if things had happened other-
wise. An excerpt from Massella himself helps us understand why:

It is beyond doubt that Tarde was looking for the essence of society, for
that unique aspect which explains the most diverse phenomena, in the
fields of language, religion, economy, art, jurisprudence. He therefore
orients himself by the laws of imitation in a systematic way, organizing
with them the most diverse historical and social facts, always in search
of general formulae which could be applied to all societies.11

Faced with a project like this, which, had it been successful, would have had
the catastrophic implication of turning the social sciences into nothing but
the art of accumulating facts at random with the sole purpose of illustrating
the causal power of imitation, one begins to see Durkheim’s methodological
view in a more favorable way. In connection to this, Massella reminds us that
Parsons portrayed Durkheim as “a theoretical scientist in the best sense of
the expression,” precisely because of his refusal to disconnect theory from
the search for a solution to important empirical problems.12

10
See, for example, John Elster, Explaining Technical Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1983).
11
A. Massella, op. cit., 165 (free translation from Portuguese).
12
Ibid. See footnote 136, in which Massella quotes T. Parsons, The Structure of Social Action (New
York: Free Prees, 1968), 302.

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de Freitas 545

I cannot but wonder that such praise (whose merit can hardly be disputed)
comes from Parsons, whose writings, with rare exceptions, show no concern
at all with empirical problems. Parsons’s main project was, as we know, the
accomplishment of a great general theoretical synthesis, and he never man-
aged to find a way to connect this project with the search for a solution to
specific empirical problems. In this sense, he was clearly non-Durkheimian.
Durkheim, unlike Parsons, could not have conceived any general theoretical
synthesis of this kind. Unfortunately, however, he was defeated in this regard,
since in recent decades we have witnessed a proliferation of attempts at syn-
thesis in sociological thought, which have not shown any concern at all with
the solution of empirical problems. These attempts have primarily been con-
cerned with the overcoming of the meta-theoretical dilemmas that have
presumably plagued the discipline since its origins. A recent study, appropri-
ately titled “Is Sociological Theory Too Grand for Social Mechanisms?”13
dwelled on four of these attempts—by Habermas, Bourdieu, Giddens, and
Alexander—concluding that “all the profound ruminations about the ulti-
mate relation between agency and structure, action and order, micro and
macro, and so on, have merely gotten us exactly where we started.”14
That Durkheim was totally defeated in this particular regard, and that this
defeat has really been unfortunate, becomes evident when we try to answer two
questions: (1) how projects of theoretical synthesis have happened to arise in
social sciences (since it has not been as a response to specific empirical chal-
lenges, as occurred in biology, for example);15 and (2) what has counted as a
successful theoretical synthesis in social sciences. As to the first question, unfor-
tunately, an answer like “when some scholar decides to overcome meta-theoretical
dilemmas by making use, for that purpose, of the help of conceptions originating
in any area of knowledge with which he/she is somewhat familiar” would not be
too far from the truth. As to the second question, one can find an answer in the
introductory chapter of a book called The Micro-Macro Link.16 In their contribu-
tion, the sociologists Jeffrey Alexander and Bernhard Giesen found in Max

13
Axel Van Den Berg, “Is Sociological Theory Too Grand for Social Mechanisms?” in Social Mecha-
nisms: An Analytical Approach to Social Theory, edited by P. Hedström and R. Swedberg (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
14
Van den Berg, op. cit., 233.
15
See, for example, John Maynard Smith, Shaping Life, Genes, Embryos and Evolution (New Haven,
CT: Yale University Press, 1999). This book starts out exactly by mentioning an empirical challenge
(understanding how a single undifferentiated egg turns into a complex adult), which has demanded
a general theoretical synthesis.
16
I refer to J. Alexander and B. Giesen, “From Reduction to Linkage: The Long View of the Micro-
Macro Debate,” in The Micro-Macro Link, edited by J. Alexander, B. Giesen, R. Münch, and N.
Smelser (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).

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546 Philosophy of the Social Sciences 40(3)

Weber’s writings the “first synthetic formulation” in sociology.17 In this sense,


they attribute to him some supposedly spectacular achievements such as manag-
ing to conceptualize the collective order in such a way that it would not imply the
insignificance of individual agents,18 or showing “that individual autonomy is
neither ontologically given nor the product of material sanctions and rewards but,
rather, dependent upon the socially given perceptions of self and on socially
structured motivations.”19 Admitting that these achievements, and some others of
this kind, have been correctly attributed to Weber, I doubt whether they add any-
thing important to his legendary name. If it is a matter of showing that any scholar
formulated a synthesis from which sociological thought has truly benefited, then
the exercise to be performed is not to show in what exemplary manner he or she
managed to move in a field supposedly undermined by meta-theoretical dilem-
mas but, rather, the specific empirical challenges that would have demanded the
formulation of a synthesis, as well as how, once it was formulated, it changed the
situation that demanded its emergence. That in sociology one can allow oneself
to talk about a presumed theoretical synthesis that occurred almost a century ago
without mentioning a single empirical problem whose solution demanded its for-
mulation, nor a single legacy worthy of note that this synthesis may have left us,
is regrettable evidence that Durkheim was totally defeated in his struggle against
the production at random of general theoretical syntheses.
But no defeat seems to me to be as unfortunate as Durkheim’s failure to
purge social sciences from what he himself called “ideological analysis,”
that is, the act of deducing actual courses of action, or even actual patterns
of behavior, from concepts. Maybe the best way to understand what “ideo-
logical analysis” amounts to and how pernicious to sociology it tends to be
is to offer some examples of what Durkheim would (rightly) not hesitate to
dismiss as such. Let me begin by considering the excerpt below, taken from
Max Weber’s Ancient Judaism:

Sociologically speaking the Jews were a pariah people, which means,


as we know from India, that they were a guest people who were ritually
separated, formally or de facto, from their social surroundings. All the
essential traits of Jewry’s attitude toward the environment can be
deduced from this pariah existence—especially its voluntary ghetto,
long anteceding compulsory internment, and the dualistic nature of its
in-group and out-group morality.20

17
J. Alexander and B. Giesen, op. cit., 15.
18
Ibid., 16.
19
Ibid., 17.
20
M. Weber, Ancient Judaism, Max Weber, Ancient Judaism, 1952, The Free Press. Glencoe,
Illinois, translated and edited by Hans H. Gerth and Don Martindale.

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de Freitas 547

In this excerpt, Weber proposes to deduce “all the essential traits of Jewry’s
attitude toward the environment” from a single concept, that of being a
“pariah-people.” His reasoning runs as follows: an “essential trait” of every
“pariah-people” is the “dualistic nature of its in-group and out-group moral-
ity”; the Jews are a pariah-people; therefore, a dual morality is an “essential
trait” of their behavior. A line of reasoning of this kind constitutes a paradig-
matic example of what Durkheim called “ideological analysis.” In cases like
this, “logical consistency is raised to a criterion of truth,” as Massella has
correctly pointed out.21 It is true that Weber did not restrict himself to logical
consistency. He took pains to supply some empirical evidence in support of
his thesis—to be precise, the Deuteronomy verse that says, “To a foreigner
you may charge interest, but to your brother you may not charge interest”
(Deut. 23:20)—at the same time, it must be said, that he ignored or was
unaware of an entire set of evidence that contradicted his conclusion.22 But
ideological analysis does not rule out a concern with empirical evidence. “To
be sure,” Durkheim says, “this analysis does not necessarily exclude all obser-
vation. One may appeal to the facts in order to confirm one’s hypothesis or the
final conclusion to which they lead. But in this case, facts intervene only
secondarily as examples or confirmatory proofs; they are not the central sub-
ject of science.”23 Insofar as Weber provided facts “only secondarily as
examples or confirmatory proofs” for his “pariah-people” thesis, it is no won-
der that his overall view had become vulnerable to the following criticism:

the “pariah-people” concept became in Weber’s writing an all-


encompassing proposition, a static scheme, inadequate to cope with the
historical wealth of the various systems and sub-systems of Jewish

21
Massella, op. cit., 183.
22
See, for example, the criticism by the historian Toni Oelsner in her “The Place of the Jews in
Economic History as Viewed by German Scholars,” in Leo Baeck Institute, Year Book VII (London:
Leo Baeck Institute, 1962), 183-212. See especially pages 195 to 197, in which she rebuts Weber’s
specific thesis of the dual ethics of the Jews. On page 196 one reads, “Both in his Ancient Judaism
and more pointedly in his Economic History he focused on Maimonides’ exceptional interpretation of
Deut. 23:20 as a positive commandment which appeared to him as the very essence of the dualism of
in-group out-group ethics. In fact there were repeated tendencies to forbid moneylending to Gentiles
as well as to Jews. In Talmudic times the professional moneylender to both groups was disqualified
as a witness in court.” On the other hand, she tells us, “Two successive pacis Bavaricae of 1244 and
1256 contained clauses prohibiting Christians to lend at interest . . . except to Jews. . . . This was
exactly according to the formula of in-group out-group ethics which Weber judged to be characteris-
tic exclusively of the Jewish pariah attitude” (p. 198).
23
Durkheim, Rules of Sociological Method, 14-15.

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548 Philosophy of the Social Sciences 40(3)

culture. Thus, a general notion, commanding the wealth of the particu-


lars of more than 2500 years from the times of the Babylonian exile
until our generation, was imposed as an “ideal type category.” This
monolithic concept applies to the realities of perhaps only one short
period—the beginning of the emancipation period in Europe—but by
fallacious misplaced abstraction it is extended to a vast variety of
historical realities. . . . As a monolithic conceptualization of the vari-
ous relationships between Jews and their environment, it is adequate
in a very limited way, even in the countries of full emancipation.
As an analysis of the entire history of the Jewish people it is totally
inadequate.24

This excerpt could have been written by Durkheim himself, had he read
Weber’s Ancient Judaism. It is beyond doubt that the methodological criti-
cism put forward by it is entirely consistent with Durkheim’s strong aver-
sion to ideological analysis. In short, the excerpt expresses this aversion in
an exemplary fashion. Having said this, let us consider another excerpt by
Weber, which also betrays a methodological position that Durkheim would
strongly reject:

Although in Upper Rhine documents the bishop insists that he called in


the Jews “for the greater glory of the city,” and though in Cologne
shrine documents the Jews appear as landowners mingling with Chris-
tians, ritualistic exclusion of connubialism by the Jews in a manner
foreign to the Occident as well as the exclusion of table community
between Jew and non-Jews and the absence of the Lord’s Supper,
blocked fraternization. The city church, city saint, participation of the
burghers in the Lord’s Supper and official church celebrations by the
city were all typical of the Occidental cities. Within them Christianity
deprived the clan of its last ritualistic importance, for by its very nature
the Christian community was a confessional association of believing
individuals rather than a ritualistic association of clans. From the
beginning, thus, the Jews remained outside the burgher association.25

24
Efraim Shmueli, “The ‘Pariah-People’ and Its ‘Charismatic Leadership.’ A Revaluation of Weber’s
Ancient Judaism,” Proceedings of the American Academy of Jewish Research 36 (1968): 167-247,
at 169 (italics added).
25
M. Weber, The City (New York: Collier Books, 1962), 109.

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de Freitas 549

Whether or not the Jews (or whoever) remained outside (or inside) the
burgher association (or whatever) is clearly a matter of empirical research.
But Weber took it to be a matter of logic, up to the point of mentioning two
existing pieces of documentary evidence that contradict his own general
thesis, only to dismiss them as entirely irrelevant! He did not need any
documentary evidence at all, since he supposed he could deduce the real
condition of the Jew in medieval cities directly from a given conceptual
dichotomy, namely, the one that opposes “confessional association of believ-
ing individuals,” on the one hand, to “ritualistic association of clans,” on
the other. In Occidental cities, he says, Christianity “deprived the clan of its
last ritualistic importance.” The Christian community, he goes on to argue, is
“by its own nature” a “confessional association of believing individuals,” in
contrast to the Jewish community, which is, by its own nature, a “ritualistic
association of clans.” Once these three premises are taken as matters of fact,
the marginal condition of the Jews in the Occidental cities becomes a matter
of course.
We have seen that Durkheim rejected ideological analysis because, among
other reasons, it turns empirical facts into a mere accessory to confirmation.
In the case above, however, Weber deprived the facts of even this accessory
role. His neat line of reasoning managed to make them entirely dispensable.
The only problem is that it deceived him, since, contrary to what it led him to
expect, the Jews were often very well integrated into the social life of the
medieval Christian cities. The two aforementioned facts provided by him as
mere exceptions are not as exceptional as he was inclined to think.26
I must stress that these excerpts by Weber are by no means atypical. It
would not be difficult to multiply examples of methodological mistakes that
he was led to make on account of not being duly alert to the ideological (in
Durkheim’s sense) character of his sociological approach. At the same time,
however, one must say that the plague is not only on Weber’s house. If I focused
on him, it was only because of his unparalleled stature. My only purpose was
to show what kind of methodological mistake one is likely to commit when
ideological analysis prevails, thereby complementing Massella’s view on this
subject (I must add that Massella has dedicated an entire chapter to it). By
turning ideological analysis into a specific topic of discussion, he has ended

26
As Shmueli has pointed out, “Through the Middle Ages, at least down to the Black Death, Jews
in Germany were allowed landed property. Imperial charters granted them the right to possess land.
In 1236, for example, the Emperor Frederich II renewed this privilege. . . . Jews were also owners
of homes and homesteads in cities. Up to the fourteenth century they were not excluded from the
guilds of merchants and craftsmen. . . . In many cities of Germany, the Jews were burghers. They kept
Christian servants.” Shmueli, op. cit., 191.

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550 Philosophy of the Social Sciences 40(3)

up by helping us find a very sound negative prescription in Durkheim’s meth-


odological writings (even though the book fails to show that this prescription
remains enmeshed with several deservedly forgotten positive ones), which
unfortunately has been widely disregarded. It could be stated as follows: “get
rid of ideological analysis as much as you can, since it may disconnect you
from the world.”
It is true that Durkheim himself did not always manage to comply with
this prescription, as Massella rightly points out. He reminded us that
Durkheim’s sociology succumbed to ideological analysis when, in The Divi-
sion of Labor in Society, he “considered to be a self evident truth that the
division of labor generates a solidarity based on differences.”27 The same
can be said about Durkheim’s previously described four-stage methodology,
since it clearly betrays an idealized view of the characteristic traits of the
natural sciences. That one fails sometimes to avoid ideological analysis
seems to be inevitable since, as Durkheim himself pointed out, “because
[our] ideas are nearer to us and more within our mental reach than the reali-
ties to which they correspond we tend naturally to substitute them for the
latter and to make them the very subject of our speculations.”28 If this is true,
then it is just another good reason for being aware of the damaging method-
ological implications of ideological analysis. Fortunately Massella has not
overlooked this crucial point. “The problem of Durkheim,” he says, “has
become that of imposing limits to our liberty of conceptual formation so that
the requirement of independent proofs that guarantee the objectivity of sci-
ence can be met.”29 As a matter of fact, this problem does not concern only
Durkheim, but sociology itself. In addition, I fear that it consists, since
Durkheim’s own time, of the main methodological challenge to the overall
sociological enterprise.

Declaration of Conflicting Interest


The author declared no conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship and/or pub-
lication of this article.

Funding
The author received no financial support for the research and/or authorship of this
article.

27
Massella, op. cit., 119 (free translation).
28
Durkheim, op. cit., 14.
29
Massella, op. cit., 113.

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de Freitas 551

Bio
Renan Springer de Freitas is an associate professor of sociology at the Federal
University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. His latest publications in Philosophy of the Social
Sciences are “What Happened to the Historiography of Science?” and “Back to Darwin
and Popper: Criticism, Migration of Piecemeal Conceptual Schemes, and the Growth
of Knowledge.”

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