The Study of Man: Sociology Learns the Language of Mathematics
A troubling question for those of us committed to the widest application of intelligence in the study and solution of the problems of men is whether a general understanding of the social sciences will be possible much longer. Many significant areas of these disciplines have already been removed by the advances of the past two decades beyond the reach of anyone who does not know mathematics; and the man of letters is increasingly finding, to his dismay, that the study of mankind proper is passing from his hands to those of technicians and specialists. The aesthetic effect is admittedly bad: we have given up the belletristic “essay on man” for the barbarisms of a technical vocabulary, or at best the forbidding elegance of mathematical syntax. What have we gained in exchange?
To answer this question we must be able to get at the content of the new science. But when it is conveyed in mathematical formulas, most of us are in the position of the medieval layman confronted by clerical Latin—with this difference: mathematical language cannot be forced to give way to a vernacular. Mathematics, if it has a function at all in the sciences, has an indispensable one; and now that so much of man’s relation to man has come to be treated in mathematical terms, it is impossible to ignore or escape the new language any longer. There is no completely satisfactory way out of this dilemma. All this article can do is to grasp either horn, sometimes oversimplifying, sometimes taking the reader out of his depth; but hoping in the end to suggest to him the significance of the growing use of mathematical language in social science.
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