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Mill versus Durkheim on the Methods of the Social Sciences

Journal: Athens Journal of Social Sciences (Vol.4, No. 2)

Publication Date:

Authors : ;

Page : 123-136

Keywords : Comte; Durkheim; "Ethology"; J.S; Mill; Methods; Psychology; Sociology;

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The first part deals with J.S. Mill's account of the "moral sciences" in his famous treatise on Logic. He lays down the "canons" of all scientific studies and considers the extent to which these are applicable in this sphere. Beginning with psychology, he presents his associationist approach which holds that all mental processes are based on sensations, distinguishing between "laws" and empirical generalizations. All this refers to individual functioning and is viewed by him as universal. When dealing with differences, he proposes a new science of "ethology" (not to be confused with our current usage of the term) and suggests possible ways of studying it. Mill then goes on to discuss the methods of the social sciences, where he contends that all the laws in this domain have to be founded on more fundamental psychological ones. Generally he is doubtful whether his "canons" are relevant for psychology as well as the other social sciences, owing to their greater complexity. His style is highly abstract, and when it comes to concrete examples he falls back on the doctrines of Comte. In the second part Durkheim's critiques of Mill are outlined. As against Mill's conception of psychology, he regards "collective representations" as the source of social phenomena. Furthermore Durkheim strongly objects to Mill's notion of a multiplicity of causes, which he alleges would make scientific inquiry impossible. The concluding section evaluates these divergent contributions, pointing out that while there have been significant advances, many of the problems raised are even now far from fully resolved.

Last modified: 2016-11-24 21:26:49