chapter  4
9 Pages

Four The Individualist and ‘Compositive’ Method of the Social Sciences

At this point it becomes necessary briefl y to interrupt the main argument in order to safeguard ourselves against a misconception which might arise from what has just been said. The stress which we have laid on the fact that in the social sciences our data or ‘facts’ are themselves ideas or concepts must, of course, not be understood to mean that all the concepts with which we have to deal in the social sciences are of this character. There would be no room for any scientifi c work if this were so; and the social sciences no less than the natural sciences aim at revising the popular concepts which men have formed about the objects of their study, and at replacing them by more appropriate ones. The special diffi culties of the social sciences, and much confusion about their character, derive precisely from the fact that in them ideas appear in two capacities, as it were, as part of their object and as ideas about that object. While in the natural sciences the contrast between the object of our study and our explanation of it coincides with the distinction between ideas and objective facts, in the social sciences it is necessary to draw a distinction between those ideas which are constitutive of the phenomena we want to explain and the ideas which either we ourselves or the very people whose actions we have to explain may have formed about these phenomena and which are not the cause of, but theories about, the social structures.