Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963


Krzywicki was the Nestor of Polish sociology, but its founder as an academic discipline and its undisputed chief exponent was Florian Znaniecki (1882-1958). Znaniecki’s school as much dominated the sociological thinking in Poland in the inter-war period as the Warsaw School did in philosophy. Before Znaniecki began to teach, some studies in social philosophy and much sociological journalism were published in Poland but sociology as such did not really exist[150]. Znaniecki provided a definition of the subject matter of sociology, gave it its method and research techniques, organised its teaching, set up the Polish Sociological Institute (1927) and the first Polish sociological periodical Przegląd Socjologiczny (1930). The inter-war period witnessed a lightning growth of the interest in sociology, a considerable expansion of sociological studies and research activities (in particular in the ecology of towns, in rural sociology, in social stratification and mobility), an increasing output of sociological publications, a steady rise in the status of sociology as an academic discipline. Before the war Poland enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most highly organised and productive centres of sociology in Europe[151].

The various achievements of Polish sociology in the inter-war period have been described in Polish as well as in English[152]. What is intended here, is to explain the epistemological and methodological assumptions of Znaniecki’s sociology in view of the role which they have played in post-war developments.

Znaniecki came to sociology from philosophy where his main interest was philosophy of value, the relations between action and knowledge, the individual and the community, personality and culture. What he published (1910-1912) was at once recognised in Poland to be of considerable importance for the study of society [153]. He went to the U.S.A. and he was exposed there to a quite different influence of considering the same problems from the empirical instead of the philosophical viewpoint. This influence was in some respects decisive. ‘If William I. Thomas had not asked me to collaborate with him on the Polish Peasant’, wrote Znaniecki in his last work, ‘I would probably have remained all my life a philosopher, and never have turned to sociology as an inductive science’ [154]. The above-mentioned celebrated work – The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, came out in 1918-1920 and was described by H. E. Bames and H. Becker as a major event in the history of American sociology. It was based on what now is called ‘personal documents’ – verbatim statements, life histories and letters of the peasants, which were published together with their analysis and interpretation.

Znaniecki was led by his philosophical studies to the conviction that sociology is not a natural science, a part of biology or psychology, but a humanistic discipline, one of what he called the ‘cultural sciences’. Cultural reality exists objectively, as much as the natural does, from which it differs by the fact that its elements have been produced and are maintained in existence by conscious human agents. His studies in the U.S.A. inspired him with the belief that this humanistic discipline might be made empirical. These two convictions, as Znaniecki himself indicated, constitute the main pillars of his sociology whose first outline was expounded in Polish in The Introduction to Sociology, summarised in English in The Object-Matter of Sociology and re-stated in The Method of Sociology.

In the past century two philosophies concerning the relation between the individual and society were struggling with each other – social realism and social nominalism (atomism). The first of these assumed the existence of society, or of any part of it, as an objective reality, irreducible to a collection of individuals. Sometimes it also assumed that the individual has no existence apart from his social existence or that of society. Social nominalism or atomism asserted that only the individual exits as an empirical entity, and society is a construction and a shorthand expression to designate various combinations of interacting individuals. Sometimes it also claimed that the individual is only a biological entity and suggested that any sociological statement (i.e. a statement that refers to interacting individuals) is reducible to a physiological one, in the same manner as the latter is in principle reducible to a statement of chemical and physical relations. Durkheim showed, and Znaniecki follows him in this respect, that these two philosophies are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The claim that social phenomena have an objective reality and are irreducible to those in which only separate individuals are involved does not imply that society as a whole is objectively real. On the other hand, the assertion that social phenomena are ultimately founded in interacting individuals and can only be studied in that manner does not commit us to the claim that the facts of interaction are not objective; they are independent in some sense from the plurality of interacting individuals. ‘Objectively real’ means in this context ‘to appear within a frame of relationships’. In this sense both a falling snowflake and David Copperfield are objectively real; intersubjectively valid statements can be made both of the falling snowflake and of David Copperfield [155].

Objectively real social entities differ, however, from those a physicist or a biologist has to deal with. A social investigator is not concerned with the individuals and their groups as biological or physical entities, or as a collection of such entities, to be studied like natural objects – forests, an animal organism or an animal herd. A social individual is a person, and a ‘person’ means a ‘social image of an individual as directly experienced by other individuals and reflectively by himself’. He cannot be conceived without considering the expectations of other individuals concerning his actions and without his own expectations with respect to the actions of others. A person conforms to patterns, exercises certain varying functions, assumes a status, considers other individuals as persons and is considered by them as a person. An individual socially performs a number of different roles – the term, introduced by G. H. Mead, is new but the idea is old – and is a different person each time, every role being defined in a structurally closed social system, which is functionally or causally connected with other systems. A social investigator must apply what Znaniecki termed ‘the humanistic coefficient’ and others called simply ‘the social factor’; he does not approach the social individual and social groups as ‘directly given’ objects of his experience, but in the same fashion as he considers languages, religions, works of art, philosophic and scientific theories, as things that have meanings and values, different meanings and values in different circumstances. In other words, a social investigator must consider social individuals and their groups as related to somebody else’s experience and discover by controlled observation and other empirical means ‘how they appear and what they mean’ in the experience and thought of experiencing persons within the frame of definite social relationships (social systems) [156].

In this manner there disappears the essential unrelatedness of the individual and the community which no naturalistic social theory can ever bridge and which the orthodox social realism and social atomism either ignored or decreed out of existence. The person and the group constitute two aspects of what Znaniecki called a ‘social system’. The subject-matter of sociology as one of the cultural sciences is social systems in which persons and groups are involved, their recurrent characteristics, their relations and changes, their structural and other laws. Four social systems, functionally related to each other, were singled out by Znaniecki – social actions, social relations, social roles, and social groups; they constitute the four main domains of sociological studies. Being a general theory of what is sometimes called ‘human relations’, sometimes ‘social relations’ and more recently ‘social actions’, sociology assumes the same basic role among cultural sciences as is performed by physics for natural sciences. Cultural order in general has been defined by Znaniecki as an order of relationships among all kinds of human actions in a similar manner as natural order is the totality of relationships among all kinds of natural objects[157].

The method of investigating social systems is to be empirical and inductive. Since, however, social systems are never directly given, but are constituted in the social consciousness of the individuals participating in those systems, and the content of social consciousness cannot be either observed or experimented with, the method of personal documents has acquired a particular importance. Statistical methods had for Znaniecki only a subsidiary usefulness. Controlled observation, diaries, autobiographies, and later also questionnaire responses provided him with his basic research material. In its analysis, interpretative technique was preferable to the quantitative. Znaniecki applied in it a conceptual framework which was rich and varied, though somewhat vague, more intuitive than analytic [158].

Znaniecki expounded the assumptions of his sociology and applied them to particular sociological problems in a number of books, about a half of which were published in English and the other half in Polish. Perhaps the most important are those in which he expanded his theory of cultural sciences – Social Actions and Cultural Sciences; applied it to the sociology of education, in what was the first attempt (1928-1930) at a complete sociological theory of education, published in a two-volume work in Polish Sociology of Education; and used it to enlarge the scope of social inquiry by initiating the sociology of science in two remarkable studies The Men of the Present and the Civilisation of the Future (in Polish) and The Social Role of the Man of Knowledge. They are all works concerned with the problems of sociological theory; they provide a theoretical framework rather than an empirical inquiry on investigated problems. Znaniecki’s sociology had a liberating effect in Poland. It enforced a final and general retreat from the extensive speculative systems of the last century, which being an all-inclusive repository of knowledge taken over from various social sciences, were to transcend and illuminate all of them. This task was to be achieved by providing a truly universal synthesis of social and historical knowledge and by laying bare the deep underlying causes of anything that happens in history and society. Znaniecki’s sociology was a decisive influence in Poland in rejecting this conception of sociology which generated systems perhaps suggestive in their message but of little cognitive value.

Owing to Znaniecki there began the period of monographic studies on specific issues, in particular in the field of rural and urban sociology, sociology of occupational groups, and of education. Various research institutes (Sociological Institute, Institute of Social Economy, Institute of Rural Sociology, Institute of Social Relations, Institute of Rural Culture) vied with each other in assembling and publishing collections of autobiographies and other personal documents, which brought up striking factual revelations about the industrial workers, the unemployed, the emigrants, and the peasants. The task of making sociology an empirical science was undertaken on a broad front. Abstract and inconclusive disputes ceased, and specific issues concerning facts and empirical generalisations were discussed. The personal documents method was further elaborated by Józef Cha?asi?ski (born 1904). He was Znaniecki’s most prominent pupil and author of many studies, above all of a notable work in rural sociology The Young Generation of Peasants[159]. The method raised many methodological problems and enhanced the importance of the conceptual framework in determining factfinding techniques as well as of analytical procedures in the examination of the results of inquiry.

Two questions were thus brought to the surface – the problem of the validity of the explanations concerning the facts revealed by personal documents and that of the research worker’s personal or social equation. It was methodologically naive to assume that the consistency of the findings with the data guaranteed by itself the validity of the former. Findings could have been enlightening, significant and plausible, but the question of their validity required more refined techniques of research and analysis than was at first realised. The questions involved in the choice of a particular conceptual framework by a social research worker were even more complicated; they raised serious and difficult problems which partly passed unnoticed [160]. The important fact was, however, that the personal documents method, despite its shortcomings so obvious today, was not entirely unsuccessful; that it did provide some knowledge and insight, based on experience, into particular classes of social phenomena; and that considerable progress and expansion of sociological knowledge in general could not be denied. From this viewpoint it was probably immaterial that some empirical acquaintance with and understanding of social phenomena was achieved by unrigorous methods. At that time they were the best available.

Znaniecki’s sociology reveals a striking paradox which seems to pervade the whole of contemporary sociology. In principle, it is based on the realist conception of social reality; without reifying it, it claims its objectivity, its independence from individual human agents, and its irreducibility to a collection of individuals. On the other hand, the personal documents method is based on the modified nominalist conception of society. This conception is modified because it assumes not only the plurality, but also the interaction of the human individuals. In present-day sociology this paradox has been enhanced by the appearance of statistical and sociometrical methods which are practically useless unless they are supplemented by the method of case study. This paradox makes it clear that the ontological status of social phenomena, as defined by Znaniecki, conceals unresolved problems and fails to give a satisfactory answer to the question, what are the social phenomena which a sociologist refers to and a social research worker claims to investigate.

This paradox is far from being solved and it offers a challenge to the theoretical and empirical sociologist. While it might prompt the claim that methods based on the nominalist conception should be abandoned, it is clear that to follow this claim is not possible at the present moment. The ‘nominalist’ methods are the only available techniques of empirical investigations and they have proved their usefulness, despite being unrigorous, in providing us with much reliable knowledge about social groups and types of social behaviour. On the other hand, the rejection of the realistic conception of social reality would probably imply the acceptance of a naturalistic philosophy of society, with little gain and guidance for research, which the hypothesis of the humanistic coefficient (the social factor) did provide. This hypothesis with its programme of investigating the manifestations of the social factor turned out to be heuristically fruitful.