The Study of Man: Can There Be a General Science of Man?
There are some subjects that call for the statement of simple and obvious truths, if only because they have been so much discussed, so smothered by sophistication that the plainest, most elementary facts have been lost sight of and are no longer admitted as worthy of mention. One of the more elementary facts about sociology is that the literature of this science is very dull. This might not have been expected, and calls for an explanation. The literature of social anthropology is far from dull. On the contrary, it is full of surprising and suggestive facts about human life; and these are facts that probably could not have been discovered by any methods other than those actually used by anthropologists. One therefore opens a recommended book by an anthropologist with a pleasant expectation of learning something new and of finding methods related to results. By now, after all these years of methodological argument, one opens a work on sociology with a sigh and certainly with no pleasant expectation of coming across surprising and suggestive facts about human life. I cannot think of a single sociological generalization that is really new and important: important, that is, in the sense that it changes, or ought to change, our general way of thinking about political and social policies, as, for instance, Freud’s generalizations have changed our general way of thinking. Nothing, I think, has passed from sociology into the general currency of thought and of argument, except possibly the statistics of Dr. Kinsey, which might indeed be regarded as surprising—“Astonish me” is the second demand that we make of a scientist, the first being only that he should make no statement that is less than exact, as far as it can be checked by observation and experiment. These two demands are of course related; for the example of the physical sciences has taught us to expect that the demand for exactness of statement will by itself lead to amazing results. It seemed evident that heavier bodies must fall to the ground more quickly than lighter ones; it was having the idea, and finding the means, of measuring very exactly that brought this question into the domain of science and made it interesting.
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