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Science Of Society Notes

History Notes > Intellect and Culture in Victorian Britain Notes

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Science of
Society

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Science of Society Tutorial
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Mill and the 'Social Science' Class
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John Stuart Mill -- J. Harris
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Herbert Spencer -- J. Harris
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Contents

The Victorian Period: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature,
1830--1890 -- R. Gilmour

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A Peculiarity of the English? The Social Science Association and the Absence of
Sociology in Nineteenth Century Britain -- L. Goldman

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The Origins of British 'Social Science': Political Economy, Natural Science and
Statistics, 1830--1835 -- L. Goldman

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A Short History of Sociological Thought -- A. Swingewood
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John Stuart Mill -- W. Stafford
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Victorian Social Science: From Singular to Plural -- L. Goldman
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Mill and Comte on the Methods of Social Science -- D. Lewisohn
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The Social and Political Thought of Herbert Spencer -- D. Wiltshire
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J. S. Mill -- A. Ryan
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'On the Definition of Political Economy and on the Method of Investigation
proper to it' -- J. S. Mill

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'Progress: Its Law and Cause' -- H. Spencer
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The Study of Sociology -- H. Spencer
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The Logic of the Moral Sciences -- J. S. Mill
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Prolegomena to Ethics: The Idea of a Natural Science of Morals -- T. H. Green
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Lectures on the principles of political obligation: On the different senses of
'freedom' as applied to will and to the moral progress of man -- T. H. Green

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Science of Society Tutorial

! Mill does not see himself as a practitioner of social science -- wants to lay out a blueprint
of how it might be conducted

~ Experimental piece of thinking
! Spencer is rather dogmatic about his approach

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! Social science had a radical connotation

~ First used by the Owenites
~ Phrenologists are also frequently radical in their politics
! Idea that it is the same as socialism -- Eleanor Marx

~ Marxism is the science of society

~ Reform is merely collaboration with the establishment
! Cobden -- radical liberal

~ Saw lower classes to be missing opportunities

~ 1840s campaign to repeal the Corn Laws


~ Saw it as the beginning of a bourgeois revolution -- did not occur

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! Spencer and Mill in different ways are radical liberals
! 1865--8 Mill is MP for Westminster

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! The social structure in the 18th and 19th centuries is more open than other European
societies
! Politics is shaped by the meeting of groups -- landed wealth and new urban and industrial
wealth
! Wealth is therefore an incentive

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! Some reject the possibility of a social science
! Others reject it as applied common sense
! Idea of institutional failure

~ Universities do not develop social science -- may be because of the successful
earlier development of political economy --> this is their social science
! Statistics -- the British were very interested in this
! An intellectualised social science is far less popular

~ Yet there is a genuine interest in making social science more useful and reliable --

last disciplinary challenge

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! Mill -- science of social tendencies or trends --> cannot experiment

~ Our results may vary
Need a large enough group to study -- cannot just use individuals
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! Richard Cobb -- file on 400 suicides in the 1793--4 French Revolution in the Paris National
Archives

~ Eschewed any overall theory of suicide
! Durkheim -- larger data sets

~ Very interested in comparing Protestant and Catholic countries -- more in
Protestant countries

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! Mill's theory is dependent on large scale data collection
! Question of whether social science can be a science of individual as opposed to societal
behaviour -- more general method
! Issue of the unit of analysis

~ Political economy is criticised for its assumption that there is an economic man

who will behave in a rational and accepted way -- individuals may vary and have

irrational behaviour


~ Whole societies may not behave in this way
! A number of clergymen are paternalist Tories who are against laissez--faire economics --
do not see it as Christian

~ e.g. Ruskin is non--conformist and against laissez--faire political economy

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! Spencer wants Darwinism to explain progress and is predisposed to finding support for

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laissez--faire liberalism
~ Wants it to be rational
Darwinism is essentially describing random development -- Spencer uses adaptation
rather than mutations
Darwin says that evolution cannot be pre--determined and is not subject to moral
influences
Needs natural selection to show how nature moves from one stage to the next
~ Misinterprets Darwin
Darwin is very careful to not associate natural selection with moral progress -- this is
what Spencer does in support of laissez--faire economics
Great believer in material progress
~ Most sophisticates societies are modern, bureaucratic, democratic societies
Universal law of natural selection was what he gained from Darwin he he diverted from
it
Spencer became increasingly isolated in trying to subject Darwinism to liberal politics
when the trend of the age is towards social reform

! Social science societies -- many are reformists and intellectual radicals

~ Germany -- actually frustrated by the lack of access to politicians
Elsewhere is much more university based -- great distinctions between intellectuals and
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politicians
! Germany and the US would like a British approach

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! Constructing a social science is the last great part of disciplinary development
! Talcott--Parsons -- Spencer had not lasted

~ 'Who now reads Herbert Spencer?'

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Mill and the 'Social Science' Class
Why was Mill interested in the 'general science of society'?

! Atheistic education -- lack of reference to theology
! Rejected Ricardo and Bentham
! Contemporary issue of the state of England

~ 1839 -- Carlyle's pamphlet on Chartism

~ State of England is too little discussed
! Psychological background

~ Science could be applied to social problems -- wants to find laws
! Mill is keen to point out that he is not copying Comte
! Mill's empirical laws -- can induce some general trends

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! London Statistical Society -- influenced by Jones

~ Jones wanted to derive laws from statistics

~ Beginnings of social science
! Statistical movement taken over by people who wish to deal with problems -- practical
aspect
! Utilitarianism -- GHP --> everyone should act in their own self--interest

~ Rule utilitarianism -- prioritises certain aspects

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! Lack of university background in social science -- unlike abroad
! Still interested in religion

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! Book 6 of 'A System of Logic' is a reworking of 'On the Definition of Political Economy'
! Tries to work through the argument between Macaulay and James Mill
! Macaulay's experimental, inductive method and Mill's geometric method were both
unsatisfactory
! 1832 -- wanted to unite ideas of Macaulay and James Mill

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! Concerned with the constancy of causation

~ Free will v. determinism
! Mill -- not all sciences are exact e.g. meteorology
! Not fatalism -- not an irresistible necessity
! Self formation of character is really important

~ Science of ethology -- formation of human character

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! Judge and legislator analogy


~ Judge can only follow laws -- art --> e.g. morality and education
~ Legislator is guided by maxims but has much more freedom

~ Science and ethology
Impossible to experiment --> deduction
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! Idea of the immutable laws of human nature

~ Hobbes -- fear

~ Bentham -- self--interest

! Need social science to understand the circumstances in which some men are influential
and flourish
! Character formation was important in itself and was also part of producing happiness

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! Political Economy does not tell us enough about how humans interact
! Society in general is very interested in social science

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! Inconsistent ideas of inductivism and deductivism -- Book 6 is an experimental text as to
how social science might be done --> is not infallible
! Trying to bring together a science of persons and a science of society

~ Atomistic v. societal --> problem

Background
! J.S,Mill (20th May 1806 -- 8th May 1873) was the son of the famous economist, historian
and Benthamite James Mill
! His upbringing was far from typical as his father ensures Mill is taught a completely non--
religious education.
! Mill was brought up in the society of hard utilitarians but had a self--admitted crisis of
character in 1826 in which he made an 'attempt to find his own character and become
his own man'

~ This may be a reason he was more open to the reactionary positivist influences

found in Germany and France

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State of England
! It is first useful to consider the socio--political backdrop in which Mill developed his
thoughts as the question of the state of England was one to interest philosophers,
politicians and authors alike, and cannot but have had an effect on the young Mill as it
framed much contemporary debate

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! The question of the 'State of England' is first brought up in Thomas Carlyle's 1839
pamphlet entitled 'Chartism'

~ The 19th century had however been already a period of significant unrest by a

multitude of groups -- Chartists, Luddites, Swing Rioters etc.

~ Causes of this were located by some groups in a government crippled by post war

debt which was envisaged as having to be paid back to the English aristocracy

from which it had borrowed significant sums
Protectionist economic policy, most clearly embodied in the
Corn Laws, was leading to
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widespread starvation

~ The Poor Law provision seemed to be inept, indiscriminate and ill prepared for

the increasingly complex economic situation that the country found itself in
(cyclical unemployment etc)
! There was a common fear of 'our own French Revolution' across the nation.

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European positivism
! One of the key components in Mill's interest in the sciences was continental positivism;
especially the work of Auguste Comte

~ Comte and Mill met and corresponded in the late 1820s
! Comte was a great advocate of scientific induction as the key to attaining knowledge

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