Social Science and Public Policy

  • Brian William Head
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire Des Idees/International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 112)


I have argued elsewhere that the idéologues’ conception of a science of society is deeply indebted to the physiocratic conception of a “social art”, by which legislation and education would lead men to a prosperous society conforming to the “laws of nature”.1 This argument concerning the intellectual background to Tracy’s writings on social science will not be repeated here; I will focus rather on Tracy’s particular conception of social science as the scientific basis for public policies aiming to increase the happiness of the citizens.


Social Science Political Science Human Science Moral Science General Truth 
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  1. 1.
    B.W. Head, “The Origins of ‘la science sociale’ in France, 1770–1800”, Australian Journal of French Studies, vol. 19 (1982), pp. 115–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cf. R. Hubert, Les Sciences sociales dans I’Encyclopedie (Lille, 1923); P. Gay, The Enlightenment (London, 1973 ), vol. II: “The Science of Freedom”, chapter 7; H. Gouhier, La jeunesse d’Auguste Comte (Paris, 1933–41 ), vol. II.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cf. G. Bryson, Man and Society (Princeton, 1945); D. Kettler, The Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson (Columbus, Ohio, 1965); D. Reisman, Adam Smith’s Sociological Economics (London, 1976); R. Meek, Social Science and the Ignoble Savage (Cambridge, 1976), chapters 4–6; A. Swingewood, “Origins of Sociology: the case of the Scottish Enlightenment”, British Journal of Sociology, vol. 21 (1970), pp. 164–180. On the physiocrats, see G. Weulersse, Le mouvement physiocratique en France de 1756 a 1770, 2 vols. (Paris, 1910); H. Higgs, The Physiocrats (London, 1897); R. Meek, The Economics of Physiocracy (London, 1962); E. Fox-Genovese, The Origins of Physiocracy (New York, 1976). On Montesquieu, see W. Stark, Montesquieu: pioneer of the sociology of knowledge (London, 1960); R. Shackleton, Montesquieu: a critical biography (Oxford, 1961 ).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    K.M. Baker, “The early history of the term ‘social science’”, Annals of Science, vol. 20 (1964), pp. 211–226; Head, “The origins of ‘la science sociale’” (1982).Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    Saint-Beuve, “Sieyes”, Causeries du lundi (Paris, 1874), vol. 5, p. 196. E. Dumont, the collaborator of Mirabeau and of Bentham, reported Sieyes’ claim to have perfected the science of politics: Recollections of Mirabeau… (London, 1832 ), p. 53n.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    Cited in W.M. Simon (ed.), French Liberalism 1789–1848 (London, 1972 ), pp. 61–63.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    J. Lakanal, 23 October 1794, in Hippeau (ed.), L’instruction publique (1881), p. 416.Google Scholar
  8. 36.
    Daunou, 19 October 1795, in Hippeau (ed.), L’instruction publique (1881), p. 479: “freedom of domestic education, freedom of private establishments of instruction freedom of teaching methods”.Google Scholar
  9. 68.
    H. Taine, Les origines de la France contemporaine, vol. I (“l’Ancien Regime”) (Paris, 1876), p. 264. For similar remarks, cf. Georges Sorel, The Illusions of Progress (1908), (Berkeley, 1972), p. 96; Mignet, “Notice historique sur… M. Destutt de Tracy”, p. 277; Guillois, Le salon de Mme Helvetius, p. 104; G. Elton, The Revolutionary Idea in France (London, 1923 ), pp. 28–30.Google Scholar
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    J. Rey, Traite des principes generaux du droit et de la legislation (Paris, 1828); Theorie et pratique de la science sociale (Paris, 1842).Google Scholar
  11. 82.
    Ibid., pp. 37–8. The works of Condorcet to which Tracy refers are the Essai sur rapplication de Vanalyse a la probability des decisions rendues a la pluralite des voix (1785), and the posthumous volume Elements du calcul des probabilites et son application aux jeux de hasard, a la loterie et aux jugements des hommes (1805). For discussion of Condorcet’s views on “social arithmetic”, cf. K.M. Baker, Condorcet, pp. 167ff, 330ff; G.-G. Granger, La mathematique sociale du marquis de Condorcet (Paris, 1956); C.C. Gillispie, “Probability and Politics”, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 116 (1972), pp. 1–20.Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1985

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  • Brian William Head

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