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Chapter XI: The Cultural Sciences and Their Methods

Because value is conferred on objects by interests because institutions are complexes of interests, and because the “cultural sciences,” in an acceptable sense of that expression, are the branches of knowledge which deal with the major institutions, an examination of the cultural sciences will serve to distinguish “realms of value.”

A classification of the sciences will never fit their subject matter, because the several sciences were pursued before they were classified Nature and society themselves are not neat and tidy. There is no mode of scientific classification that will tuck in all the wisps and shirttails, and leave no remnants; or which will not dismember some recognized unity. The better acquainted we become with the world we live in, the less probable it appears that it was produced from a blueprint and that it can be faithfully represented by a chart. Nevertheless the attempt to chart it not only is useful as an economy of thought, but brings to light certain distinctions, which would not be remarked if they were not marked.

The first maps of human knowledge represented the more gross regional and topical divisions of subject matter. There were recognized sciences of the stars, the sea, the earth, the plants, and the animals. As knowledge of these areas became more refined they were seen to have common elements — such as atoms and motions. There remained the broad division between the physical world and the world of mind. But here again the subject matter proved to be intermingled — in perception, will, and emotion. Human nature was not purely physical or mental, and the sciences of man, such as psychology, anthropology, and sociology, could not limit themselves to either set of terms. The persistent but unsuccessful attempts of religion to divide a free and imperishable soul from the accidents of the body only made it more evident that observable and describable man was inextricably entangled with the physical world.

Although the confused duality of mental and physical is still used as a principle of division among the sciences, it has recently shown signs of giving way to the duality between the world which man takes as he finds it and the world which he has made for himself. The structure of the atom, for example, would belong to the first, and the structure of the state would belong to the second. For this difference it is customary to employ the terms ‘nature’ and ‘culture,’ and the sciences so classified would then be grouped as natural sciences and cultural sciences.

The notion of what is man-made requires further elucidation. Culture does not embrace all of the effects of man's presence on earth, but only those which are the expressions and embodiments of his mind, that is to say, of his interests. Casual deposits of waste matter are not culture, nor are mere traces or footprints, trampled on the ground by a human herd; but a sewage system or a road is culture because it has been made to serve an interest. Even when a “gift of nature,” such as a river or a mountain, is taken as it is found, its being possessed or put to use is sufficient to bring it within the domain of culture.

The distinction between the cultural and natural sciences clarifies the sciences of man, such as biology, anthropology, and psychology which are otherwise left in an ambiguous position. Insofar as his reproduction is due to will man himself is man-made; hence such phenomena as control of population and the organization of the family belong to the cultural sciences. The place of heredity will depend on whether acquired characteristics are or are not inherited. Insofar as inherited traits are purposively regulated, as in eugenics, they fall within the cultural sciences; otherwise within the natural science of biology. Physical anthropology and ethnology will be natural sciences as distinguished from cultural anthropology.

The products of human interest imply human capacities to produce them. Insofar as these capacities are themselves the products of antecedent interest they belong to cultural science; as when men employ previously invented tools, skills developed by education, or habits resulting from past performance. The equipment given him to use, his so-called “original capacities” or “faculties,” belong to the subject matter of psychology conceived as a natural science. Sociology is similarly mixed, since it partakes of all the human sciences — biology, anthropology, ethnology — in both their natural and their cultural parts.

The “social sciences,” in the ordinary acceptance of the term, taken as dealing with certain social organizations which men have created among themselves, or which they have adopted and rationalized in obedience to their interests, are clearly cultural sciences. But cultural sciences embrace not only the social sciences in the conventional sense, but also the sciences of art, education, and religion, and the science of science. For science itself is a branch of culture. This fact creates confusion but no insuperable difficulty. The role of nuclear physics in war and industry is a topic of cultural science, with which thoughtful mankind is at present greatly concerned. This topic does not belong to physics, because the physicist is concerned with entities which are not of man's making; war and industry are not his affair. When he discusses the latter he changes his role. Thus the expression ‘science of physics’ is ambiguous; it may mean that cognitive inquiry whose subject matter is the corporeal world; or it may mean that cognitive inquiry whose subject matter is the above inquiry.

The cultural scientist ordinarily plays both roles. The economist, for example, examines the economic effect of an economic theory such as the classical economies; and the political scientist examines the part played in political life by the political doctrine of popular sovereignty. But all of these inquiries into the cultural effects of the knowledge of nature or of culture may be segregated, and assigned to a specialist in the science of science who is better equipped for the task through his broader acquaintance with several sciences.

The fact that science is a part of culture has a bearing on the question of freedom. The laws of social or cultural science differ from those of natural science in that they can be changed by the human will. Since natural science deals, by definition, with those events which are not man-made, their laws will be beyond human control. When their laws are described as “unalterable” this is what is meant. If they change, as they may, it will not be owing to the intervention of the human will. The cultural sciences, on the other hand, participate in the making of their own subject matter, and hence of their own laws.1 This does not contradict the fundamental principle of knowledge, namely, that it discovers things as they are independently of itself. He who uses his knowledge to make things different does not make them different merely by knowing them. It is not the knowledge which accomplishes the change, but the act which the knowledge mediates.


It is now possible to clarify the relation between cultural sciences and the cultural institutions. Each institution is a man-made organization for the promoting of a purpose. With each institution there is a corresponding procedure, more or less methodical, by which the purpose is promoted. There is no institution without some “know-how” — some degree of knowing how to obtain the desired result. As every interest has its mediating cognition, so the purpose which distinguishes each institution has from the beginning its own characteristic mediating cognitions. Like all mediating cognitions, these will vary in the degree to which they are generalized and systematized; and insofar as generalized and systematized they will merit the name of ‘science,’ and will constitute that particular cultural science which is named for the corresponding institution: conscience-ethics, polity-political science, law-jurisprudence, economy-economics, science-science of science, art-aesthetics, education-educational theory, religion-philosophy and science of religion.

These considerations throw light on the question of the relative priority of the institutions and the social arts and the social sciences. It is evident that men were institutionally organized before the cultural sciences, in the accepted sense, were recognized, and entrusted to their several theoretical experts. But such organizations were not possible without some appropriate knowledge in the minds of their members. If the sciences are taken to embrace such knowledge, that is, the knowledge which mediates social action, then it is meaningless to speak of priority: no institution, no science; no science, no institution. If, on the other hand, the name of science is reserved for a highly articulate form of this knowledge, and its extension far beyond the requirements of immediate practice, then the institution comes first and the science second: the science is a development and perfecting of knowledge which already exists. The relation between the cultural science and the pre-scientific knowledge from which it developed is precisely similar to that between the natural sciences and man's pre-scientific knowledge of his physical surroundings — that knowledge of sky, earth, sea, weather, and human nature, which men already possess as the condition of their adaption to their environment. Minerva does not in any of the forms which she as-sumes spring fully armed from the head of Zeus, but develops from the embryonic wisdom of everyday life.

Ethics, or the science of conscience, springs from the pre-scientific knowledge implicit in conscience itself — some understanding of the effects of attitudes of approbation and disapprobation, some recognized code, and some belief that the observance of it is beneficent to the total intrests of the group. Men have always lived under some form of polity and have accepted some set of laws. If so, they have always in some degree understood, and taken measures to escape, the evils of disunion and anarchy. They have learned something of the procedures that will induce collective obedience and order. However incomplete or erroneous this knowledge, it constitutes the germ of political science and jurisprudence, and differs from these only in degree.

All economic life involves some modicum of knowledge of how to meet human needs, some justifiable suspicion that if you give a man something he needs he will, if he can spare it, give you something in return, some acquaintance with the fact that today's labor and saving will provide for tomorrow, and with the fact that men can produce more by combining their efforts. There is, in short, an economic common sense, so directly based on the most primitive experience of life, that its absence is unimaginable. The science of economics differs from this economic common sense only in its being more complete, more precise, and more alert to possibilities; and in its providing the vocation of a certain class of scholars and expert advisers known as ‘economists.’

Similarly, there is a knowledge of how to know by those who are curious, a know-how acquired by artists, a wisdom of those who teach, and a grasp of the meaning of religion by the pious, which antedate that division of intellectual labor which creates specialists in the methodology and sociology of science, aesthetics, pedagogy, and the science of religion.


The exposition of morality, the definition and enumeration of institutions, and examination of their relations to science, pave the way to a brief summary and classification. If the cultural sciences are to be distinguished by the cultural character of their subject matter, their classification will reflect the divisions of human culture, with emphasis on the differences which illustrate the general theme of the present study. Its theme comprises the role of morality in human life, the norms of the major institutions, and those eminent values which in their aggregate constitute what is called ‘civilization.’ The lines of demarcation will be drawn accordingly.

First, then, there are those cultural sciences which correspond, one to one, with the moral institutions. These will differ among themselves in that each deals with a special function or instrumentality by which their common moral purpose is served. To this group belong, as we have seen, ethics, political science, jurisprudence, and economics.

Second, there are those cultural sciences whose subject matter is not in itself moral, but which, having its moral effects and relations can be examined and judged accordingly. When these subject matters are studied, account must be taken of the distinction between their non-moral meanings and their moral implications, and of the relation between the two. To this class of cultural sciences belong the science of science, and aesthetics or the science of art.

Third, there are certain cultural sciences whose subject matter while in part moral, at the same time transcends morality. So much of then content as is moral must be examined in the same manner as that of the strictly moral sciences. Their moral parts are not accidental — they belong to it; but they do not exhaust it. It is a peculiar task of these sciences to deal with the manner in which their moral and non-moral parts interact and blend. To this class belong the sciences of education and religion.

Over and above the special cultural sciences, there are certain branches of knowledge which concern the subject matter of culture, but which are unclassifiable among the cultural sciences because of their peculiar range. Cultural, as well as natural, phenomena have their quantitative aspects, as is proved by the cultural scientists’ use of the statistical method and the theory of probability. Mathematics intersects all sciences, and differs from them only in the degree of its abstractness. In this it resembles logic, which deals with even more abstract relationships, such as contradiction and implication. Thus sociology and history deal with all of culture. Their task is to depict the plenum of particularity.2

Neither sociology nor history is allowed to isolate the parts of human culture — which is the privilege and the advantage of every special cultural science. What these special sciences remove for concentrated study, sociology and history must restore to the context in which they are in fact embedded and enmeshed. Thus these more general cultural sciences act as a perpetual corrective of the partiality of the special social sciences. At the same time each serves in its own way as an omnium gatherum, to which residua are allotted. They provide the last refuge neglected items. There are certain sciences which deal with both nature and culture. Mathematics, because it is so closely related to physics, is sometimes placed among the natural sciences. But this unduly restricts its scope. It does not provide for “pure mathematics.”

Philosophy is an amorphous and sprawling subject. It is man's perpetual and always premature attempt to imitate the Creator on the Seventh Day. It attempts to put all things together when there is still an infinitude of things that are not yet known, and an infinitude of things which have not yet come to pass. Philosophy is a provisional last word. It is a perennial, inevitable, legitimate, and impossible enterprise in which human faculties are strained to their utmost and at the same time are brought to a realization of their insuperable limitations. There is no last word for mankind at large, but for each man there is his last word, and for each age its last word, by which to come to terms with the universe.3

Since the present book has been written by a philosophical addict it is to be hoped that it will illustrate philosophy's humble audacity, by which a small part endeavors to surround the whole: endeavors to take into one account not only the cultural sciences, but the natural sciences as well; not only the several realms of value and their combined realm, but also the relation of value to non-value and of man to not-man; not only the world to be known but the knowing of it, and not only knowledge but faith. It ranges from the extreme limit of abstractness in its logic, to the extreme limit of concreteness in its depicting of the cosmic panorama.


An examination of the method of the social sciences4 raises the question whether, judged by the standards of certain of the natural sciences, a social science is a “science” at all. The more man knows the more he knows how to know. The advance of knowledge is double accelerated. As its circumference increases and the front of its advance into surrounding ignorance grows more extended, the scientists who occupy the front grow not only more numerous, but more skillful. The history of modern science properly stresses the perpetual refinement of its technique.

This emphasis suggests that science should be defined by its technique, and that on this ground cultural science should be excluded. But this is to put the cart before the horse. For technique is justified by its product: by its contribution, namely, to knowledge. The underlying motive in the improvement of technique is increased fidelity to the purpose of knowing. This is the only proper meaning of the term ‘rigorous’ as applied to modern science. It means only that science has become more careful and more accurate, and has freed itself to an increasing extent from prejudice and superstition. Thus rigor does not imply the use of mathematics except insofar as mathematics does, in fact, represent things as they are. The same is true of mechanics. There is no exclusive validity in the concepts of motion, force, and energy; their virtue for science consists wholly in their fitness to the physical subject matter which physical science seeks to know. And it is because of this fitness, and not because of its specific concepts, that physical science is to be accepted as a model for scientific procedure elsewhere. As things stand today the social sciences are more in need of emancipating themselves from the bigotry of natural science than of adopting its method.

Science is simply knowledge; or, in a more restricted sense, knowledge when this has reached a certain pitch of perfection. Since knowledge consists in well-grounded expectations, it submits itself to what is called “the facts”; which is simply a name for an existing state of affairs when taken in relation to the hypotheses which men entertain about it. When the state of affairs to be known is culture its method must be adapted to its cultural subject matter, and not to the fashionable methodology of the day. A science is hand in glove with its facts; the method of cultural science is the glove, and culture is the hand.

The method of the cultural sciences, like that of all sciences, is descriptive. If knowledge consists of well-grounded expectations, then there is one over-all method of knowing, which is to form expectations and then look to see whether things are or are not as expected. Descriptive science formulates theories in general terms, and accepts them when verified by given particularities or data. It consists of representations, or systems of representations, checked by presentations. The application of the descriptive method to the subject matter of culture encounters certain difficulties and raises certain objections. The difficulties are to be admitted, and the objections have to be met.

A major difficulty is complexity. Any part of culture contains many factors, and any statement of it will contain many variables. Culture cannot be studied experimentally in the usual sense of the word, not only because it is too vast in its range to be isolated and reproduced in a laboratory, but because its agents are human beings who cannot be treated as guinea pigs. A political, legal, or economic hypothesis can be tested by its adoption as public policy, but this involves human commitments of a wholly different order from those which occur when physical or chemical research is artificially insulated. Men can learn from social experience but they cannot create social experience merely in order to learn from it — the consequences are too grave. There is more at stake in living than merely learning about life. The greater part of culture is qualitative and non-measurable. This fact, together with the difficulties enumerated above, results in a total difficulty, the difficulty, namely, of arriving at laws in terms of which the cultural future can be predicted. But these limiting considerations, while they are relevant, and do affect the procedures of the cultural sciences, do not raise any fundamental question of principle. That which is hard to describe, or which cannot be described as precisely as one would like, is not on that account to be considered as indescribable. In fact, since these difficulties arise from the subject matter, the recognition of them is part of its description.

Over and above these difficulties, there are two main objections of principle to the use of the descriptive method in the cultural sciences. First, it is argued that they deal with wills and attitudes, which cannot be observed, but only “appreciated.” It is quite true that the cultural sciences deal with interests, and that the immediacy of feeling, and a sympathetic “entering into” the center of another's life, play an important role in the knowledge of interests. It is well that this should be emphasized. But feeling and sympathy are forms of observation as good as any others, and which, like other data, can play the role of verifying hypotheses. Every time the physician, the lover, or the orator forms a judgment of another's attitude, every time a social reformer frames a theory of human happiness, he relies on such data.

It is objected, in the second place, that the interests with which the cultural sciences deal have norms and ideal objects which, being non-existent, are therefore indescribable. But this objection not only is untenable, but is contradicted on almost every page of the literature of cultural science, however scientific it professes to be. The customs of primitive societies and the ideologies of advanced societies are describable both in their breach as in their observance. It is of their nature that they should be problematic objects — it is this which makes them ideals and norms; but since one ideal or custom differs from another, it must have peculiar characteristics; and when these characteristics are set down, the ideal or norm is described. Furthermore, though ideals and norms do not in themselves exist, the pursuit of them and the use of them as standards of comparison do exist, and the ideals and norms are a part of their description.

The recognition of these difficulties and the removal of these objections support the general conclusion that all cultural science is descriptive, including those parts of social science which are commonly excluded as “normative.”


When an object of interest is taken as a standard with which to compare an achievement, or by which to compare two achievements with one another, it becomes a “norm”; the judgments which make such comparisons are “normative judgments.” Since the norm and the achievement are both describable the comparison is a description of the achievement. In other words a comparative success or failure as judged by an end or ideal — differences of level between the two, and its being “up to,” or “falling short of” — are matters of fact; since culture is made up of interests and complexes of interests having ends or ideals, these matters of fact fall within its description. When science so describes it employs the normative method.

When, on the other hand, the object of interest is taken as something-to-be-realized, and it is stated that a certain achievement would realize it, or make for its realization, the method employed is the technological method. The normative method characterizes an achievement by a norm; the technological method characterizes a norm by an achievement.

The normative and technological methods do not exhaust cultural science; in fact they omit that very method which the cultural sciences most frequently employ, and which they pride themselves on employing. It will not do to designate this third method as the “descriptive” method, since the normative and technological methods are also descriptive. In the present context the old, and still persistent, controversy as to whether social science is descriptive or normative and technological, no longer has any meaning. Description can no longer be identified with the non-normative and non-technological. The least misleading designation for the third branch of the descriptive method is ‘explanatory.’ This method takes the total fact of interested endeavor together with its object, and makes statements concerning its origins, constituents, conditions, and causal relations.

The judgment that the creation of the United Nations is a step toward the realization of universal peace, is a normative judgment; the judgment that the elimination of the veto would promote the peaceful purpose of the United Nations, is a technological judgment; the judgment that the longing for universal peace reflects the state of insecurity resulting from the Second World War is an explanatory judgment. The basic judgment says, “Salvation is desirable”; the normative judgment says, “Your soul is damned”; the technological judgment says, “Faith is what you need in order to be saved”; the explanatory judgment says, “The quest for salvation arose in the Hellenistic Age as a result of the breakdown of the Greek city-state.”

This methodology of the cultural sciences has the merit of distinguishing different methods while at the same time showing that they are prescribed by the subject matter and intimately connected. An institution is a complex of interests having some common object of agreement or cooperation. The institution has somehow come to pass and somehow occurs within the field of existence. But being what it is, it is equipped with a norm, with which its own achievements (as well as those of other interests) can be compared. And when such critical or appraising judgments are made, the transition to technology is easy and continuous; for if one knows that the norm is served well or ill by this and that, this knowledge already begins to be a knowledge of how, given the norm, it can be served better.

Thus it is not surprising, but, on the contrary, inevitable, that in the study of the cultural sciences the explanatory, normative, and technological methods should be mingled. Any sharp line of demarcation would be artificial; that is, alien to the subject matter. To examine in fuller detail the meanings and implications of these three methods is the next task.


Beginning with the explanatory method, it is first to be noted that while the peculiar subject matter of the cultural sciences is culture, culture embraces parts of nature; that is, certain natural materials have assumed the form of culture. Hence any explanatory description of culture will overlap natural science. Human interests on every level, from raising crops to writing poetry, employ the human organism, and involve parts of its surrounding natural environment. The creations of the fine parts require pigments, musical instruments, and printer's ink. Even worship of God is commonly on bended knee, and kneeling requires a physical surface on which to kneel. Schools and churches are constructed of building materials. All interests employ the organs of the body and the native capacities of the mind. Whatever science deals with these natural parts of interest, is drawn upon for their explanatory description. There is, in short, a physics, a chemistry, a biology, and a psychology of every human institution. The explanation of an institution in terms of race, climate, soil, natural resources, disease, hereditary traits, constitutional characteristics, belongs to this branch of cultural science.

Institutions are in large part products of human nature. The instinct of fear plays an important role in conscience and religion; self-assertion and docility are peculiarly characteristic of man's political and educational life; physical needs and incompatibilities of his economic life; curiosity of his intellectual life; playfulness of his aesthetic life. For the explanation of all of these components of man's institutional life cultural science must draw heavily on the natural sciences which deal with man.

Culture is also to be explained by culture. The parts of any given institution act and react on one another. The personal conscience is causally related to the social conscience; the executive branch of government influences its legislative branch; one judicial decision serves as a precedent for another; trade has to be explained in terms of monetary exchange; the science and art of different periods are chapters of a continuous scientific and aesthetic history; one kind of educational practice determines another; religion reflects changes of dogma and worship.

But the explanation of any institution will also include its relations to other institutions. No explanatory description of polity would be complete that did not report its dependence on economy, law, or religion, and otherwise pass beyond its bounds to the broader cultural context, and each institution in turn is similarly dependent. Thus the explanatory method of the cultural sciences is not only naturalistic and intra-institutional, but also inter-institutional.

The difference between the explanation of any institution in its own terms, and the explanation which includes factors taken from other institutions, distinguishes the aim of any branch of culture to arrive at its own laws, such as “purely” economic, or “purely” political, laws, from the growing disposition to emphasize mixed laws. In the one case the law would embrace only political or only economic variables; in the second case it would involve both. In the latter case the independent variable of an economic law might be political, or the independent variable of a political law might be economic. It might be held that economy was a function of polity, as in the commonly accepted theory of Western democracy; or it might be held, as in the Marxist view, that polity was a function of economy.

This distinction between the intra-institutional or pure, and the inter-institutional or mixed, is of equal importance in the normative and technological methods, and in order that it may have a designation that can be consistently employed, it will be hereafter referred to as the distinction between the autonomous or internal, and the heteronymous or external.


Since there are divers branches of culture, each with its own norms, the normative judgments pronounced on them may be either internal or external. The internal normative judgment of any unit of culture is in terms of its own aims; that is, in terms of the function or purpose which distinguishes it from other institutions. Does it or does it not do that which it is “supposed” to do? When it is said that each institution has a purpose of its own, so that it may be judged internally, it is not meant, that all of its instruments and components owe their existence to that purpose. It is only necessary to suppose that the structures which constitute the institutional achievement are used for a purpose, that they are from time to time adapted to it, and that they are referred to it for their perpetuation and justification. There is an application of this to all institutions. The first ruler may have been the strong man, provided by the accident of biological variation; the law may have begun as an arbitrary habit; conscience may have originated as a sheer prejudice; production may have arisen as a form of enjoyable exercise. Science may have begun as sensation, art as an accidental daubing, education as imitation, and religion as dreaming. All that is necessary for internal normative judgment is that these arrangements and practices should be “valued” by their participants for a certain purpose, and referred to that purpose as a reason for retaining them, and as a guide for their improvement.

Institutions are artifacts by adoption and modification if not by origin. It might, perhaps, be said that the whole meaning of culture lies in the difference between clothes and feathers. Feathers, provided by the bounty of nature, would become clothes at the point where their possessors consciously employed them for protection, concealment or appearance, and looked to them for these uses. If birds maintained feather-dresses and beauticians, they would fall within the domain of cultural science, and their covering would be a proper subject of internal normative judgment.

The purpose of any unit of culture may also be applied as a norm beyond that unit of culture, that is, externally. There are, in other words, inter-institutional normative judgments. There is no restriction of such judgments except that the achievement and the norm shall be in fact comparable. An actual government may be compared with its own proper political norm, that is, by the ideal end of government; but since the government embraces within itself persons who have rights and property, it may also be judged by legal and economic standards. Similarly, a theory may be judged not only by its own proper standard of truth, but also by the standard of beauty. A work of fine art may be judged internally, that is to say, aesthetically, but it may also be judged externally, by the norms of morality or commerce. Religion may be judged to be “good for business.”

Both internal and external normative judgments are legitimate, and yield conclusions that are true or false. There are two procedures, however, which are notoriously illegitimate and inconclusive. The first of these is the concealment of the norm, so that the critical judgment has an aspect of absoluteness; as though one were judging by no norm. This concealment of the stand is especially common when the judge is so accustomed to it, employing it constantly and living among people who constantly employ it, that it has become an unconscious assumption.

Equally illegitimate and inconclusive is the procedure in which an external standard is confused with an internal standard. This is the so-called “pathetic fallacy.” The judge imputes his own purpose to the achievement judged, and judges it as though it were intended to be what he praises it for being, or condemns it for failing to be. In the extreme case a judgment may be taken to be internal when there is no purpose at all; as when the sun is applauded for benevolently providing man with warmth and light. More common is the case in which an external norm is substituted for the internal norm. Thus another's artistic production may be judged by the standard of piety, that being the standard by which the critic is judging his own affairs; whereupon the object of the judgment may properly object that fine art is not religion, but has another and quite different purpose. These forms of illegitimate criticism would be avoided if every normative judgment specified the norm to which the comparison is made.


There is a second distinction within the normative method which arises from the fact that each institution has not only its proper end, but its peculiar agencies; and each of these is subject to criticism, whether internal or external. In the chapters that follow this distinction will be designated by the terms ‘final’ and ‘instrumental’ or ‘functional.’

This distinction has special importance in its application to the critique of moral institutions. The moral institutions are so classified because they all have the same final moral end, by which they may be judged. President Roosevelt was appealing to this common end when in the last speech before his death, he referred to “the science of human relationships” as “the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together in the same world at peace … if civilization is to survive.”5 Thus a conscience, polity, law, or economy may be judged according as it does or does not promote harmonious happiness. The radical criticism characteristic of revolution tends to assume this form. Widespread discontent among the relatively unprivileged groups, or the thwarted ambition of rising men, or the shock and demoralization resulting from external war, leads men to ask themselves what, ultimately, their institutions are for, and to demand this of them. Whatever be the institution first attacked, whether it be the conscience of the times, or the existing political, legal, or economic system, men go back to its fundamental moral purpose and apply it as a norm.

But each of these moral institutions has its peculiar function, mechanism, or instrumentality, by which it promotes the moral end, conscience by approbation, polity by centralized direction and control, law by regulation, economy by production, distribution, and countless other devices. Each such institution can therefore be judged finally, by the common moral purpose, or instrumentally, by the efficiency of its special mechanisms. It is to be noted that the distinction between internal and external is applicable to both forms of normative judgment.

The internal critique of an institution takes two forms. It may be judged by its rationality, that is, by its fidelity to its purpose and enlightenment in its pursuit. When the purpose is the moral purpose, its faithful and enlightened pursuit — its rationality — will involve the moral principles of liberality and universality. These are the canons ordinarily invoked by social reformers — who complain that the institution is “harsh,” or restrictive of freedom to a degree not required for order and justice; or too narrow and exclusive in its jurisdiction.

The distinction between instrumental and final normative judgments also applies to non-moral and super-moral institutions. The final end of science is truth, but the pursuit of truth requires its own instruments; and there is a tendency to neglect one through preoccupation with the other. The final end of fine art is aesthetic enjoyment, and it may be criticized as failing to realize this end. But art, and each particular art, has its specialized skills, and these may be emphasized at the expense of the end, or neglected by those who think only in terms of the end. There is a perpetual dispute between the craftsmen and the experts, the technicians, the virtuosos, the academicians, who insist that the scientist or artist must be schooled in the tools of his trade, and those devotees of truth and beauty, who would fly more directly and freely to the mark.

There is the same interplay between the instrumental and the final in education and in religion. There are the professional educators who emphasize the arts of pedagogy, curriculum, and administration, and those who with an eye to the terminal value, stress all the more informal and spontaneous ways in which the minds of men can be molded. In religion the ecclesiastics and systematic theologians may be opposed to the pietists and mystics.


Wherever normative judgments are applicable there is also a technology. There is, in short, a constructive and not merely critical aspect of normative situations.

The test of technology is its effectiveness for the purpose for which it is invoked. It does not follow, as is claimed by “operationalism” in its extreme form, that all knowledge is technology. Because true knowledge is effective, effectiveness serves as a good criterion of truth, but not as its final proof. Technology selects from knowledge what promises to prove useful in practice. But in knowledge, including the knowledge of practice, it is theory which speaks the last word. There is an independent, and not merely a dependent, cognitive interest.

The mediation of interest provides the entering wedge of knowledge, and there is no kind of knowledge that may not enter. Thus technology may be drawn from natural knowledge, as when the judments of chemistry mediate the interests of industry. The term ‘technology’ is sometimes used in a restricted sense to refer only to such naturalistic technology. But this restriction is arbitrary and serves only to obscure the essential principle. That institutions which discover and inculcate naturalistic technologies should have come to be considered as institutes of technology par excellence, was a historical accident. In the fields of management and labor relations, for example, economy makes use not only of psychology and other natural sciences of man, but of the cultural knowledge of the acquired beliefs and interests of employers and employees. “Ideologies,” so-called, are systems of normative judgments. The end of racial purity pursued by the Nazis, was used by them as a norm by which to approve or condemn; and knowledge of it formed part of the technology of any nation hoping to have successful dealings with them. The judgment borrowed was, in this case, a final normative judgment; but the American advocate of white supremacy could with equal reason borrow the instrumental judgments by which the Nazis justified their genocide or spurious anthropology.

While it is true that technology lends itself to base uses, it is not confined to such uses. There is a technology of money-grabbing and a technology of military conquest; but there are also technologies of truth, beauty, enlightenment, and piety. These higher pursuits can profit by technology derived from the lower. And conversely the ethical, scientific, artistic, educational, and religious technologies may be put to uses of every level, including the uses of material gain and selfish aggrandizement. It would be unduly laborious to recite all of the schematic possibilities. Suffice it to say that there is no knowledge of any kind whatsoever, and borrowed from whatever source, that may not play the role of technology for cultural institutions.

These distinctions of method in the cultural sciences will presently be applied to particular institutions. It is hoped that their meaning will become clearer and more significant. But they are not to be taken too rigidly. Nor are they to be taken as of equal importance. Since the purpose of the present lectures is to set forth certain standards by which civilization and its several parts are justified and appraised, the normative method will be emphasized and the explanatory and technological methods will be subordinated. The moral institutions come first in order of treatment, beginning with conscience, which is closest to morality itself.

  • 1.

    For a development of this thesis, cf. R. H. Tawney, Equality, 1929, pp. 44 ff.

  • 2.

    It is here assumed that the history of a special human institution, as distinguishied from general history, belongs to the special science which deals with the institution.

  • 3.

    If this classification appears to omit the study of “literature,” if is because this from of cultures is divisible, Insofar as it consists of “belles-letters,” it belongs with aesthetics; otherwise it covers all covers all forms of cultures insofar as they are expressed in language.

  • 4.

    A view of the method of social science broadly similar to that here presented, but set forth in greater detail by one who is himself a social scientist, will be found in J. Mayer's Social Science Principles in the Light of Scientific Method, 1941, Part I, and passim.

  • 5.

    The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1950, Vol. XIII, p. 615.

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