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Four Concepts of Morality

Differing Epistemic Strategies in the Classical Tradition
  • Christopher Powell
Chapter
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)

Abstract

This chapter maps out four influential positions in the sociology of morality taken by Weber, Simmel, Durkheim, and Marx. These authors’ differing substantive claims about morality are understood in terms of their differing epistemic strategies, fundamental conceptual assumptions that frame sociological inquiry. Epistemic strategies, most often divided simply into holism and methodological individualism, are here classified according to Kontopoulos’s five-part scheme based on the extent to which the theory in question invokes emergent phenomena, features of social life irreducible to individual action. Weber’s methodological individualism frames a subjectivist account of personal values. Simmel’s compositionist epistemology, which proposes institutions and relations irreducible to individual action, grants morality a limited objectivity that develops historically through the growth in scale of social groups. Durkheim’s holist epistemology frames a moralizing sociology in which moral questions have scientific answers, derivable from knowledge of the objective mechanisms of social integration and solidarity. The hierarchical epistemology of Marx’s thought is centered on a view of society as a strongly emergent but self-contradictory system of relations; complete moral integration is seen as impossible within a class society, so that the answers to normative questions vary by one’s location in class relations. Each of these four classical theories relativizes morality, but in different ways and with differing effects. In the fifth epistemic strategy, heterarchy or tangled-systems theory, sociology is reflexively implicated in the social relations it studies. The implications of heterarchical reflexivity for the sociology of morality are sketched briefly at the conclusion of this chapter.

Keywords

Classical Tradition Moral Fact Moral Question Emergent Phenomenon Methodological Individualism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada

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