Social Theory Of Industrial Society - Sociology Essay Example

This extract attempts to explain the rise of the Enlightenment beginning from the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century - Social Theory Of Industrial Society introduction. It shows how the beliefs and writings of this time gave rise to a new science the ‘science of man’ and that ‘sociological’ concerns are identified in this time (Hall and Gieben 1992, p. 36). The Enlightenment can be described as, ‘an eighteenth century philosophical movement based on notions of progress through the application of reason and rationality.

Enlightenment philosophers foresaw a world free from religious dogma, under human control and leading ultimately to emancipation fro all human kind’ (Bilton et al. 2002, p. 25). The extract brings definition and examples to this meaning using positivistic and rationalist approaches, which we see in the social sciences today. The key words in this extract are printed in italics, highlighting their importance within the text. These are, ‘philosophes’, ‘Ecrasez l`infame’, ‘progress’, ‘positivist methods’, ‘naturalism’, ‘control of prejudice’, ‘scientific methods’, and ‘cultural relativism’.

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The ‘philosophes’ is the collective term for the thinkers of the Enlightenment (Hadden, 1997, p. 15). Hall and Gieben (1992, p. 36) stress that the four main areas which distinguish the thought of the philosophes from other approaches of their period are; ‘anti clericalism’, ‘a belief in the pre-eminence of empirical, materialistic knowledge’, ‘an enthusiasm for technological and medical progress’ and ‘a desire for legal and constitutional reform’. They argue that these are the roots of our modern understanding of sociology.

They wanted to move away from the power and tradition of the Church and focus on the individual and ‘reason’. They argued that people did not need the dictations of the church; there own knowledge and reason was invaluable and attainable by all. Voltaire’s phrase ‘Ecrasez l’infame’ (‘crush the infamous thing’) is used to stress the views the philosophes had of the authority of the Catholic Church (Hall and Gieben 1992, p. 36). Hadden (1999, p. 19) states the slogan of the Enlightenment was, ‘think for yourself’, but stresses how hard this was when traditionally you lived by the favour of the church and its beliefs.

Although the philosphes wanted to move away from the control of the Church, their morals and values stuck with society and still have influence today, but people have lost their ‘certainty in the authority of their religious beliefs’ (Bilton et al 2002, p. 419). Hall and Gieben (1992) also emphasize the concept of ‘progress’ in Enlightenment thinking explaining, ‘that through the application of reasoned and empirically based knowledge, social institutions could be created that would make men happier and free them from cruelty, injustice and despotism. ‘ (ibid, p. 37).

The philosophes believed that society could ‘progress and change through the application of reason and knowledge’ (ibid, p. 39). Knowledge became more widely available, communicated through journals and access to such through libraries. However access to this was greatly restricted through cost and the necessary level of education needed to understand the new concepts (ibid, p. 41). This highlights the selectivity of the Enlightenment thought.

Feminists today would argue that these traditional beliefs are centred around ‘white middle class men’ (Bilton et al 2002, p. 28). The extract then goes on to describe the link between the Enlightenment and the development of social science. The terms ‘positivist methods’, ‘naturalism’ and ‘control of prejudice’ highlight the conditions used in order to develop logical areas of study. They must be scientific and empirical, natural in the sense that the explanations are no longer based on the spiritual or metaphysical world, and it is free from prejudice and value judgements (Hall and Gieben 1992, p. 43).

This can be seen in social research today and the pursuit of objectivity whereby the researcher is ‘detached’ from the topic of the investigation not allowing their values or prejudices interfere (May 2002, p. 10). Not all schools of thought hold this view, for example we see perspectives of ‘Realism’, ‘Subjectivity’ and ‘Idealism’ influencing theories and research (ibid, p. 8). Hall and Gieben (1992, p. 44) also bring to light the Enlightenments emphasis on change and how they believe we should go about this.

They make use of Voltaire’s example of, ‘bad models, bad education, bad laws’ to highlight the need for reform believing that knowledge itself was an agent of social change (ibid, p. 44). ‘Cultural relativism’ was appointed, the recognition that there was no single most important culture and certainly there was no judgement of ‘different’ cultures without an understanding of that culture. Hall and Gieben believe that it is the, ‘philosophes’ passionate interest in other cultures {that) was crucially important to the development of a basic component of social science: cross-cultural comparison’ (ibid, p. 5). The extract has shown how the Enlightenment pushed for a dramatic shift in social attitudes.

It has identified the increase in the availability of knowledge but showed how this was only available to who could afford it and understand it. It pushed for a move away from the authority of the church identifying that people had the capability to think for themselves and could apply their own reason to their daily lives. The extract also recognizes the impact the Enlightenment had on the development of a ‘social science’ and the ideas are still considered today.

What is not made clear in the article is the struggle the philosophes had in instigating change in such a traditionally bound society. Hadden (1999) underlines a movement against the Enlightenment called the ‘conservative reaction’ that maintained, ‘the significance of tradition, authority, community and the sacred in human, collective life’ (ibid, p. 23). Hadden also argues that it is both sides of the debate, which ‘contributed substantially to the foundation of sociological thought’ (ibid).

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