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Science sets herself two tasks : one, to discover new truth ; the other, to render more definite and exact the knowledge that we have already in the rough. The second task is but a minor form of the first, since it is through further discoveries in matters of detail that we correct errors once unobserved, and arrive at finer appreciations of the infinitely varied manifestations of cosmic cause and law. The systematic study of science in the university is rewarded now and then by discoveries of great moment, but these are the grand prizes that fall to the few, Not less useful for the purposes of daily life is the patient rectification of empirical knowledge, which must be always the chief function of university work in science.
The systematic study of sociology -- which, after many years of effort, is now securely established in the leading universities of Europe and America — will be justified, I have no doubt, in fresh discoveries of laws that govern the course of human progress. Its immediate work, however, is to examine critically the conceptions, the classifications, and the rough generalizations that have been made in empirical social science in the course of practical efforts by philanthropists, reformers, and legislators to understand and to ameliorate the conditions of social existence. It is my purpose in the present paper to present certain results of such a criticism, applied to conceptions and classifications that are in constant use in the
studies and discussions of this National Conference of Charities and Correction.
The term “social classes” is not only a commonplace of every-day speech, in which it expresses sometimes a notion of social superiority or inferiority, sometimes differences in wealth and industrial position: it is also in constant use in statistical researches and in theoretical interpretations of the phenomena of progress, social unrest, degeneration, pauperism, and crime.
What, then, is a social class ? Is there any reality corresponding to the phrase ? or is it merely one of those expressions that abound in this age of superficial thinking, which slip easily from the tongue, and which sound intelligible, but upon examination turn out to be meaningless?
As a first step toward answering this question, we may look at some of the ways in which the term has been and is employed.
No expression is more familiar to the members of this Conference than the phrase “the defective, dependent, and delinquent classes”; yet I venture to say that you would search in vain through the superb collection of inane generalities and meaningless mysticisms in the five hundred and sixty pages of Max Nordau's “Degeneration” for a phrase more difficult to translate into coherent thought. I do not suppose that in saying this I am telling you anything new. The trouble is, as you are well aware, that defect and pauperism or defect and criminality are terms not of one classification, but of a cross-classification. When you find a blind man or a deaf man, you do not by that mark know that he is not a pauper or that he is not a criminal, as you know, when you find a six-toed cat, that it is not a lobster or a sea-urchin. In a word, it is perfectly evident that, if paupers are a social class or if criminals are a social class, the defective people, as such, are not a social class, and that it is an unscientific and relatively useless statistical inquiry which gives us merely the numbers of the defectives in a class co-ordinate with paupers and criminals, instead of going on to distribute those numbers in a cross-classification with the other groups.
Again, to take another illustration, it is evident that the wagesclass, so called, is not co-ordinate with the defective, the pauper, or the criminal class, and that the gradations of poverty recognized by Charles Booth, in his studies of the “ Labor and Life of the People," are not co-ordinate with industrial classes, with political
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classes, or 'with pauper or criminal classes. Once more, if groupings by occupation and profession are true social classes, then all the other so-called classes that have been named must be described by some other adjective. If "doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief," are social classes, we certainly have no scientific warrant for applying the same description to the further catagories, "rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.” Nevertheless, the merest glance at any modern statistical compilation or at any learned treatise on progress and poverty, or at the invaluable reports of the National Conferences of Charities and Correction, will be quite sufficient to convince you that our sociological classifications have been taken directly from the nursery jingle without any waste of time and gray matter in criticism.
If, then, we are to reduce to scientific order the vast mass of observation and statistical material which is now at our command and which is yearly accumulating, if we are to derive from it true sociological generalizations and make it available for the verification of sociological law, we must begin to ask ourselves the question, Which, if any, of these strangely confused statistical groups are true social classes ? By this I mean, which, if any, of these groups correspond to actual social differentiations of the population? The conception of evolution has given to the natural sciences a true principle of classification. If we expect to make real progress in sociology, we must adopt the same principle in our own investigations. That is a true class in which objects or individuals are grouped with reference to some characteristic that has been produced by evolutionary differentiation. Unless this genetic test is applied, we constantly mistake temporary, adventitious, or non-essential relations of phenomena for permanent and essential ones, as did the botanists and zoologists before Darwin.
Nor is this all. If we consistently follow this principle, it enables us to distinguish between primary and secondary characteristics, and so to mark off the fundamental or general from the special, and therefore to separate that which enters properly into primary from that which enters into secondary, or cross, classification,
And this clearly is what we most need to accomplish in social science at the present time. From some point of view each of the population classes that has been named has its justification. The problem is to bring it into subordination to a more fundamental
class, if such there is, and into co-ordination with other classes of equal grade.
To achieve the solution of this problem, we must go back of the material that we find in the statistical collections of to-day, and examine it in the light of our knowledge of social evolution. Which of the classes that the population of a modern comm
nmunity seems to be distributed into correspond to primary differentiations in social phenomena, which to later, secondary, and therefore less fundamental, less important differentiations? To answer these questions is, I think, one of the services that the theoretical sociologist of the university can render to the practical worker in philanthropy.
Accordingly, re-examining our classifications with reference to the evolutionary principle, it is obvious that classifications by wealth and poverty are not fundamental distinctions. These are among the latest and most special phenomena of economic progress. They give us categories to be used in cross-classifications, not in fundamental classification. Somewhat more general, but by no fundamental, are classifications by employer and employed, or by wage-earners, landlords, and capitalists. This is a grouping which in modern society has superseded the differentiation found in early communities into chief men, nobles, or aristocracy, on the one hand, and tenants, serfs, or slaves on the other hand. The old organization was levelled to a comparative equality. From that level sprang a new inequality. In the social process which thus perpetually generates inequality from equality, the heterogeneous from the homogeneous, we find the thread that has only to be followed back to bring us to the discovery of primary social differentiations, and to a recognition of true social classes as something different from and precedent to political, industrial, and economic classes.
Life in aggregation, and the interchange of thought and feeling which are the generic phenomena of association, act upon and modify the natures of the associated individuals quite as powerfully as does the external physical environment of land and sea, of heat and cold, and rain. Association determines first of all what elements of heredity shall be combined in the bodily structure, the mind, and character of each individual, and what opportunities shall fall to his lot. By no combination of chances could it happen that the per
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TWENTY-SECOND NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF CHARITIES
mutations and combinations of heredity and opportunity could result
Given, now, facts of aggregation, association, and personal in-
The process of their genesis is this : Association continues to act upon the natures of the unequally endowed personal elements in the population. Some men it moulds into a perfect adaptation to social life; others it modifies in a less degree; while those inheriting imperfect natures, that is to say, those defectives whose defects have assumed the form of degeneration, are likely to be negatively modified by social pressure and discrimination until they become unfit for social life, or even antagonistic to it. Accordingly, we have here a differentiation of the population with reference not to personality as such merely, not to political or industrial position, not to wealth or poverty, but to society itself, to social life as distinguished from non-social or unsocial life. Are not these, therefore, the real social classes which we have endeavored to find ?
You will have perceived, of course, that two of these classes are the paupers and criminals of current classifications; and this is a