A Dream of Reason IV. Part 2 Introduction to the Problem/Solution Orientation…

Introduction to the Problem/Solution Orientation as a Foundational Sociological-Psychological Schema (1965)

1.Introduction (2006)

       Our first sociological-psychological schema, initiated in 1962, explores generically human determinate processing potentialities and species realms through the problem/solution connection.

Internal problems[1] include:

  1. Theoretical integration of timeless “if then” connection and “historical becoming”,
  2. Theoretical integration of generically human, type specific, and “unique individual” dynamics,
  3. “Articulation” of diverse personal-interpersonal “areas” in one theoretical “language”,
  4. Exploration of discipline reconstruction,
  5. Exploration of the clarification/evaluation of meaning constellations,
  6. Development of a sociology-psychology of “disciplinary positions” (e.g., art, science, religion, sociology-psychology) that recognizes both their emersion in our life together and apart and their autonomy,
  7. Incorporation of the theoretical exploration of art, creativity and intimacy in the central design of sociology-psychology.
  1. 1.Methodological Notes (2006)


A required beginning should communicate autonomously within common language. The problem/solution connection does not require another type of schema (i.e., one not based on the problem/solution relationship) for its comprehension.

Inquiry into generically human determinate problem/solution /solution dynamics suggests that discipline reconstruction requires an appropriate “problematic” Yet it cannot specify that problematic. Open dialogue is required.

Problem/solution inquiry is naturally problematic to itself.


Explorer’s maps should note dead ends and traps.


Foundational exploration does not require final answers. The struggle is to open…. Foundational

exploration points beyond itself.

3.Influences (2001)

3.1 Authors

The main influence was the philosopher/historian R.G. Collingwood. Collingwood helped move problem/solution theory beyond a common sense vision of localized problems in a “taken for granted world” to a sense of our life together and apart as inherently problematic.[2]

Influenced by Taoism I envision problem/solution nexi as opening lines of cumulative inquiry at “the natural jointures” of our life together and apart.

  • Interests (2006)


             Concern with “functionalism” and with creativity in visual art encouraged exploration of the problem/solution connection.


            In the 50s and early 60s most professional sociologists supported “functionalism” as a theoretical orientation.

My analysis of functionalism was, in brief, as follows:

  1. The functional, as the causal, is analytic to theories. It is an “explanatory form”.
  2. As functionalism is not “substantive” it cannot explain personal-interpersonal patterns…. Neither functionalism nor causalism can work as theoretical orientations.
  3. The misconception that functionalism is a theoretical orientation is rooted in “unrecognized” reference to problem/solution nexi.


            Exploring artistic creativity, I asked:

  1. What personal-interpersonal patterns favor creativity in the art of painting?

Most studies of creativity focus on science. Thus:

  1. How can research on creativity in one “area” be applied to creativity in another?

Which leads to

  1. How can diverse personal-interpersonal areas be rendered dynamically comparable?

Which leads to

  1. Can diverse personal- interpersonal areas be “articulated” in the same theoretical “language”?

The problem/solution connection is relevant to both art and science.

Because the problem/solution connection is omnipresent and usually taken for granted it is hard to abstract and articulate. We struggle towards a relevant “language”.

4.Some Basic Concepts

4.1. Alteration and Reconstruction



The bourgeois cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production and with them, the whole relations of society. (10)

Marx hypothesized that continued change is a precondition for a society maintaining its existent bourgeois organization. Yet a bourgeois can be replaced by a proletarian order of life. We will refer to change within a pattern as “alteration” and to change of pattern as “reconstruction.” A reconstruction is “a qualitative change.”

The disciplinary foundations of sociology-psychology should not favor stasis and/or alteration over reconstruction.


Some processes of reconstruction are historically specific. Others apply to

transformation of units of one type “A” into units of another type “B” (e.g., with the mechanisms through which, to use Sorokin’s categories, idealistic are transformed into sensate configurations). There are also mechanisms applicable to all reconstructions…. In this foundational inquiry we focus on the later, most general, type.


We term the articulation of a qualitatively distinct disciplinary perspective “orientational reconstruction” and its acceptance “institutional reconstruction.” (Our direct explicit project in this manuscript is orientational.)

4.2. Problem/Solution Nexi and Constellations


Problem and solution interpenetrate.

We select chess as a relatively simple illustration. A move in a chess game is a response to problems emerging from previous moves that are solutions to previous problems. The new move as solution will change the “problem situation” for both players. One may look at the structure of a game now as a constellation of problems to be solved, now as a constellation of solutions through which problems emerge.

4.22. (1990)

            In problem/solution constellations, abstractions mediate between particular situations, and between situations and action…. In chess,[3] for example, problems posed in a particular game are normally interpreted through relevant traditional abstracted problem/solution formulations [e.g., effective development, superior mobility, occupation of the center, avoidance of weak squares (Euwe 40-43), securing open files and passed pawns (Nimzovich 21-36, 50-84)]. This tradition develops in and through particular games (tournament games are transcribed and routinely consulted).[4]

4.3. Games (2002)


Games usefully exhibit basic problem/solution properties and dynamics. However it would bias inquiry to view all problem/solution constellations as games.

Games are defined by rules. One can make choices, develop a distinct style of play, etc.   However one must remain within the rules to play the game.

“Positions” (e.g., art, science, sociology-psychology) remain themselves although rules change. Thus positional boundary issues require direct problem/solution and dialogical exploration.

Individual games, game events and outcomes are all relatively “free standing” (i.e., a game is a high-bounded world onto itself). In chess a homeless person and a millionaire are equal opponents. They are not equal competitors for medical care or their children’s education.

In chess in the natural course of events the best moves win. In nongame life, force, money, status etc. can overwhelm even the most profound, brilliant and effective action. King Joseph of the Nez Perce and his people did all that their situation permitted: far more than one would have thought possible. Nonetheless they were defeated…. On second thought, Nez Perce warriors could have successfully escaped to Canada had they abandoned their families. Perhaps, after all, they won…. Outside the tight high-bounded world of games it is often unclear what victory would be.

In this essay the term “game” is limited to constellations that arose, are identified and played primarily as autonomous games (e.g., even if the economy is somewhat “game like” we will not assume that it is entirely or even primarily a game).


If we destroy our order of life, and perhaps with it all life on earth, this outcome will be influenced by our tendency to conceive human existence in game terms.

This pattern represses sensitivity to the ambiguities of historical existence…. Human existence is conceived as a series of closed situations with prespecified favored outcomes. A “crisis” is over if one “wins.” To win is to attain the preset outcome (e.g., eliminate regime x or secure a government contract for product y).

The long-term effects of “winning” decisions are outside the game and thus irrelevant…. Threads of responsibility and accountability are cut. Those who produced the unintended destructive consequences of the last “victory” remain as experts, often with unblemished reputations, to manage the new crises they helped create…. Often the more the situation worsens the more desperately these experts are followed. – If the sequence is terminal they will probably be the last survivors, carefully preserved in underground shelters as our final hope.

4.4. Constructive Implication: On Problem/Solution as a Required Connection (1975)


            We suggest that problem/solution nexi generate a type of natural connection we designate “constructive implication.”

A painter develops stroke by stroke a pattern inherent in the work. Skilled chess players activate potentialities unimagined by those less advanced (who, once the moves are made, recognize their brilliance). Perhaps the painting is by Monet and reveals previously unimagined potentialities inherent in impressionism. Perhaps the chess game is between Nimzovich and Tarrash and discloses fresh possibilities in the opening and line they play (or even initiate a new “sound” line previously “dormant” in the opening). Our painters and chess players follow the constructive implications of the patterns they address.


            Constructive implication includes yet transcends the concept (central to Gestalt psychology and Kurt Lewin) of directional vectors structuring “face-to-face” interaction. Constructive implication links “the face-to-face” to more inclusive (e.g. institutional) contexts. It links the present to the past and the imagined future.

4.43. (1976)


          The actualization of lines of constructive implication “in the world” can be blocked by opposed forces. There are no “iron laws of history.”


            Even logical connections can be blocked from completion. Two plus two necessarily equals four. Yet if a person who begins to add two plus two is killed before reaching the sum then the necessary connection, while remaining necessary, will not in that instance be attained. – If humanity eliminates itself then, at least on earth, no logical connections will be made.

There are necessary connections but no necessary historical outcomes.

4.5. Synthesis

            Synthesis is the species capacity to construct from apparently incompatible positions A and B a new distinct position C in which the constructive implications of A and B are retained and at least partially actualized.

4.6. Interflow

4.61 Opening (2002)

            Meaning is “the substance” of our life together and apart, not an area within it.

We propose that, “The clarification/evaluation of meaning constellations requires mediation between their full existential-historical resonance and relevant contextual requirements” (p.28). Here we interpret “existential- historical resonance” “mediation” “relevance” and “contextual requirements” in problem/solution “terms”.

4.62. Coding/Relevance (1965-2001)


           “Coding/relevance”[5] refers to the relationship between problem/solution nexi (with their lines of

constructive implication) and the flow of on-going human existence.

Constellations of coding/relevance organize the circulation of actions, experiences, terms, etc., through problem/solution nexi, and of problem/solution nexi through one another.

Coding/relevance is omnipresent in human existence. On every level, from relationships between orders of life to interactions within families, it connects and distances, differentiates and binds¼. In a department store, “toys” and “lingerie” are normally quite different areas for a small boy and for his mother. Such patterns are so clearly marked that variations can reveal (are often intended to reveal) uniqueness and individuation. Yet many alternative usages (e.g., long hair for males) standardize in a new conformity. Others are dream-like in layered conformity and deviance (e.g., the young Quentin Crisp and his mother in a department store).

What to a “native” is a place to socialize ­to wander through, to say “hello,” to greet one’s friends may be for a stranger a place to hurry through and be afraid¼ The language of the street, the street as language (Whyte).

Is the beloved’s kiss a sign of love returned? Or of lust only? Or not even lust (perhaps a sign of pity?) – Are they laughing at me or with me? – Is psychoanalysis a science, an art, or (as Frederick Crews and others suggest) a con game? – Are mass produced toy plastic submarines art when they are hung from the ceiling of the Whitney Museum?

A biological analogy to coding/relevance is the nervous system.

4.622. Hypercentrality and Atomization as Pathologies of Coding/Relevance (1995)

           “Hypercentrality” is a pathology of coding/relevance in which all events move directly to the center (dynamically there is all center no periphery).

  1. A. Hoebel remarks that in the Ashanti archaic kingdom all indebtedness brought to the attention of the central authority was coded as an absolute attack on human and cosmic order:

The creditor could “flee to the chief” with a petition for intervention. The chief, for a fee and as a public service, sent his treasurer as a collector. Refusal to pay over to the royal treasurer brought from his lips the dread oath on the forbidden name of a tribal god that the debtor “hated the king.” To the Ashanti this was a declaration that it was the intention of the debtor to assassinate the king. The charge was one of treason and the penalty death. To prove his innocence of the dread charge, the recalcitrant debtor paid up immediately – or lost his head. The slightest case of indebtedness in Ashanti could thus become a capital crime. Indeed a minor tort – any minor tort – could instantaneously be converted into a heinous criminal offense. (231)

Hugh Dalziel Duncan remarks that in Nazi rhetoric

The Jew and the communist must become the embodiment of Germany’s ills¼heroes and villains¼locked in battles which, like the battles of the gods, decide the fate of the world. (247)

It is a strategy of tyranny to induce hypercentrality of coding/relevance.

In “atomization” all points are isolated: dynamically there is all periphery no center.

4.63 Resonance (1995)

            We designate the constructive implications of a personal-interpersonal individual its “resonance”[6]…. A great work of art sends ripples out into the world forever, always new and yet always itself. The most common objects have a complex secret life of subterranean influences and interconnections.… Everything is resonant.

We posit that resonance is influenced by past and present coding/relevance…. We hypothesize that recency, duration and centrality are relevant variables: the more recently, the longer and the more centrally personal-interpersonal individual x has been coded into problem/solution nexus y, the greater, everything else being equal, the influence of y on x.

Explorations of resonance and relevance naturally interpenetrate.

4.64 Pattern Sensitivity

“Pattern sensitivity” is the generically human processing potentiality to isolate, grasp and follow problem/solution constellations (thus lines of constructive implication) within the tangled fertile complexities of the realm of open ambiguity.

Pattern sensitivity enables coherent movement and effective action outside institutionalized contexts of interpretation. It opens potentialities for improvisation and category creativity.

5.On Species Realms

5.1. Opening

            We attempt to render diverse areas of our life together and apart comparable in problem/solution terms as species realms.

5.2. The Realm of Open Ambiguity (1979)

            Within the personal-interpersonal field immediate lived existence appears as “the realm of open ambiguity.”

The realm of open ambiguity arises at the intersection of all problem/solution nexi. It is an open ambiguous constellation of coherent patterns (as though a radio received infinite programs at the same time on the same station).

The realm of open ambiguity influences life directly, and indirectly through positions.

5.3. The Realm of the Mundane (1979)

The realm of “the mundane” is a rigid, simplistic, institutionalized context of interpretation that arises at the intersection of all problem/solution nexi when the natural-immanent capacity for openness is repressed.

5.4. Position

5.41. Opening

A “position” is a problem/solution constellation that abstracts relatively coherent lines of constructive implication from the realm of open ambiguity.

A problem is “generative” for a position if that position can reasonably be understood as an attempt to solve it. A problem is “required” for a position if all positional action must address it.

5.42. On Disciplinary Positions

5.421. Opening

A discipline (e.g., art, science, sociology-psychology) is not whatever people with a license (i.e., recognized professionals) do in situations that the going social consensus of their time and place define as professionally relevant. It is the “constructive implications” of a “generative co-constitutively human problematic.”

Max Weber holds that “We are placed into various life spheres each of which is governed by different laws” (Weber, a 125). He refers to the “internal and lawful autonomy of these different spheres” (b.328), and notes that changes in religion are usually influenced primarily by “religious needs” (c.270).

He asserts that the progressive rationalization of life spheres lets them “drift into those tensions which remain hidden to the original naive relations to the external world” (b.328).

We translate Weber’s concept of “life sphere” into problem/solution terms as “disciplinary position.”[7] Disciplinary positions undercut the differences between orders of life. All orders of life must, for example, struggle for self-knowledge, predict and control “external nature,” distribute scarce resources, orient human existence through an articulated vision of totality, coordinate productive labor, mediate intergenerational identities, communicate inwardness in the moment and through relatively permanent artifacts, etc. They must engage the requirements associated with these endeavors.

5.422. Unity/Diversity, Continuity/Discontinuity (1965-2003)


            No disciplinary position is completely unitary and entirely historically continuous.           There are distinct “provincial positions” (e.g., in art: literature, music, painting, sculpture, dance, etc. – in science: physics, chemistry, biology, etc.).[8]


            Problem/solution frameworks along the lines of a provincial position cannot be regarded as a continuous unmodified development of that position. There are emergent areas and styles.

In painting, for example, “historical painting,” landscape, still life and portraiture are traditionally recognized relatively autonomous areas.[9] [10]

Eugene Delacroix is classified as a romantic. He is contrasted to Jacques Louis David who was a neoclassicist. Thus their historical paintings are classified as belonging, respectively, to romantic and

neoclassical stylistic positions.

X cannot be correctly coded as a work of art unless one or both of the following conditions apply:

  1. X is a personal statement along established lines [e.g., in the late 19th and early 20th centuries diverse American artists including John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri worked in a direct painterly (“bravura”) tradition developed by Diego Velasquez and Frans Hals, and revitalized by impressionism].
  2. X (e.g., James Joyce’s Ulysses and Pablo Picassos Les Demoiselles D’Avignon) falls outside established lines but initiates a new constellation of constructive implication such that art through its most daring representatives recognizes new potentialities in itself.

To code a work x into art always invites discontinuity. In principle, and sometimes in practice, it calls the discipline as well as the artifact and the producer into question. – Art is a unity in diversity.

Sigmund Koch explores the interpenetration of “present”[11] diversity and historical discontinuity in science.

Language is at best a feeble instrument, even among members of a highly trained language community having quite limited problematic interests. None of the currently institutionalized sciences form single homogeneous language communities. Physicists in one empirical area do not necessarily fully understand physicists in another; pathologists do not necessarily understand electro physiologists, etc. And within each scientific area, even when cut very finely, there may be distinguished disorderly hierarchies of language communities. In the extreme case, there may be quite definite and unique observable properties and relations, which only two men, perhaps working in the same laboratory, may be able to perceive and denote by the same linguistic expression. Moreover, it should be stressed that the stratification of language communities within a science may reflect variations in the sensitivity of observers just as much as different levels or foci of training. There was a time when Einstein was apprised of certain invariant properties of the universe, yet could communicate these “discriminations” to few men. (1964, 27)

Unless in a specific case there is evidence to the contrary we shall assume that each discipline, province, “region” and style (e.g., art, painting, landscape painting, neoclassicism) includes diverse positions.

5.423. Framework

5.4231. (1995)

In order to avoid “having to know everything before we can know anything” we would free Sorokin’s concern with reconstruction from his strategy of directly engaging universal history[12]…. We would proceed in dialogue between theoretical abstraction and immediate lived existence

We require a theoretically relevant historically open descriptive schema that sensitively registers interplay between problem/solution constellations and their relevant artifacts. We propose such an instrument and designate it “framework.” The concept of framework is abstracted from Otto Demus’ essay The Methods of the Byzantine Artist. His implicit categories include “generative problematic,” “required problematic” and solution.


            According to Demus, the iconoclastic controversy led to a change in the Byzantine conception of the image:

According to this conception the image, if painted in the “right manner,” was a magic counterpart of its Prototype, the Holy Person or Event it represented; a magic identity existed between the image and its Prototype. (103)

This conception of the image was the central idea, which with its compelling force…made possible the Fusion of the two chief component elements of mid-Byzantine art, the optical refinements of Greece and the magic realism of the orient. (115)

The generative problematic is to so construct mosaic images that the Eastern Orthodox Christian version of a supernatural world appears actually present.



The centers of iconographic interest and the centers of formal composition, which in classical Byzantine art are identical, are stressed by the strongest light. It surrounds the main figures as with a halo of sanctity. (109)

We translate into explicit problem/solution terms. A required problem is to emphasize iconographically crucial figures and relationships. The solution is to place them at the compositional center in the strongest light.

This is not an ad hoc solution to the unique concerns of a particular mosaic. The problem of emphasizing iconographically crucial patterns occurs in many periods in all media of visual art. Similar problems exist in literature and dance…in all art, and beyond¼in all communication.


            We include within framework, criteria for adequate resolution of required problems and thus for defining relevant products (e.g., poems, paintings, critical interpretations, theoretical explanations) as “well constructed artifacts.” We designate this component “criteria of solution.”


            In order to be classified as an orientational reconstruction a framework must be, and be presented as, a qualitatively distinct alternative to the relevant dominant contemporary tradition.

Whether, for example, Giotto’s opening of the picture plane to represent three dimensional figures within a space deep enough to contain them was a reconstruction in the art of painting depends on its relationship to the contemporaneous dominant Byzantine tradition. The relationship of Giotto’s “geometric naturalism” to classical Greco-Roman art is not relevant to this judgment.

5.43   Social Structural Positions

            There are problems that are not posed by disciplinary positions but by present and past location in a network of intergroup relationships. – One can refer both to historically specific intergroup locations [e.g., a worker in the surface operation of a specific gypsum plant in a middle sized American city in 1951 (Gouldner)], and to abstracted social structural positions (e.g., industrial worker).

We do not posit that all structural positions are generically human.

6.Shifting Connections



The concrete object¼cannot as object ever rationally be exhausted by any system. However completely the latter seems to determine it, it will always be incorporated into many other, old or new, actually reconstructed complexes, and will be thus concretely an irrational historical object¼Being composed of such objects, concrete reality cannot be fully rational, however perfectly rational and unified its systems may be. (149)

The coding/relevance of personal-interpersonal individual x at time y is not limited to its original positional location¼. A chess game can be a flirtation or an economic transaction. “Religious patterns” can be recoded and used politically (as in the Crusades and our contemporary “religious right”) and/or artistically (as in Tales of Genji and The Divine Comedy).

7.Some Area Interconnections (1975)

            Disciplinary and social structural positions arise from the realm of open ambiguity through abstraction of relatively coherent problem/solution constellations. The realm of open ambiguity remains in dialogue with – flows through, enriches and is enriched by – the positions it generates. Mundanity arises from yet resists dialogue with the realm of open ambiguity.

8. An order of Life as a Continuity in Discontinuity (1995)

            An organism can either maintain its “species structure” [including routine sustaining alterations (e.g., digestion) and “preprogrammed” restructuring (e.g., processes of maturation)] or die. Orders of life can change species and survive (e.g., France, England and Japan remained “themselves” as they industrially transformed).

9.A Conclusion in Process (2001)


       The problem/solution sociological-psychological orientation is open to surprises. We do not know in advance all of a group or an individual’s problems, or the abstracted constellations in which particular problems participate.

In problem/solution inquiry uniqueness and discontinuity do not register as silence. They are “coded” as alteration or reconstruction.


         Exploration of generically human and emergent problem/solution dynamics naturally inspire and support one another.

Problem/solution inquiry exposes personal-interpersonal and micro-macro interplay…. It links “the face-to-face” to more inclusive (e.g. institutional) contexts. It links the present to the past and the imagined future.


           Problem/solution inquiry “in its own terms,” freed from neopositivist limitations, is not restricted to prediction and control. It is open to persuasion and compassionate dialogue (even in “common language” one speaks of “sharing problems”).

Exert from A Dream of Reason by Avron Soyer, Continue Reading A Dream of Reason IV.  Part 3 

John Constable’s Orientational Reconstruction in the Art of Landscape Painting:
A Working Paper in the Sociology-Psychology of Disciplinary Positions




[1] In this manuscript the term “problem” does not designate a single homogeneous isolated unit. Problems are relational. The terms “problematic”, “problem constellation” and “problem configuration” emphasizes interconnection.

[2] (1996) Until the 1980s I was unaware of the pioneering explorations of the problem/solution connection in philosophy by   Hans Gaedemer and Karl Popper (although I was acquainted with other aspects of Popper’s work) and in the theory of literature by Hans Robert Jauss. By then my sociological-psychological path was opened and I decided to continue following it. I still agree with this decision. This is not a secondary commentary. It is a report on a foundational discipline reconstruction in process. (Popper, Gaedemer and Jauss do not to the best of my knowledge write extensive commentaries on one another, or on Collingwood.) – In early exploration of transdisciplinary approaches it is useful to preserve and develop a variety of relevant openings.

[3] Chess is unusual in the extent to which its problem/solution structure has been autonomously disclosed and articulated.

[4] The cultural tradition of chess includes but is not limited to:

  1. General strategies (e.g., for effective development of pieces in the opening, and for working through “open,” “closed” and “intermediate” middle game constellations).
  2. Prespecified problem/solution relevant move sequences: different “openings” (e.g., Giuco Piano, Roy Lopez, Sicilian Defense) and within these patterns, “variations” and “lines” (e.g., the Rubenstein Variation of “The Four Knights Game,” and the Rossolimo Variation of “The Sicilian”).

[5] This discussion of coding/relevance is influenced by the work of Znanieki, Sorokin, Parsons and Roberts. Relevance is central to the sociology of Alfred Schutz.

[6] Sources include Freud, Jung and the tribal concept of mana.

[7] “Disciplinary position” here includes the transdisciplinary (e.g. reason).

[8] We focus on art for its own sake and in order to illuminate the disciplinary qua disciplinary.

[9] In its direct art relevance the term “historical” commonly refers to visual interpretations of mythological themes, literary works (e.g., Eugene Delacroix on The Divine Comedy) as well as actual historical events (e.g., Jacques Louis David on “ The Death of Socrates”).

[10] These provinces are traditionally designated “genres.” Yet we would reserve “genre” for a species of “high-bounded” hierarchical structuring of disciplinary provinces…Modernity involved a rebellion against the genre organization of art. John Constable’s insistence that landscapes be considered on the same level as historical paintings was an important early challenge.

[11] That is, an “arbitrarily” defined present.

[12] Sorokin attempts to understand the central dynamics of human history as an alteration of “supersystems”.


I am in the minority who consider Sorokin to be Parson’s equal and in the even smaller minority who consider Parsons as, in many important respects, a Sorokinist.

Among Sorokin’s admirers I am again in the minority. I find his distinction between “ideational,” “ideal” and “sensate” supersystems and its position at the core and center of his work “architecturally unsound.”


Sorokin remarks:

The vast supersystem is built on the major premise concerning the ultimate nature of true reality and value. Is the ultimate true reality and value sensory, or supersensory, or partly sensory and partly supersensory? Some ideological cultures answer that the true reality and true value is sensory, that beyond the reality and value perceived by our sense organs there is no other reality and no value… such ideological supersystems can be called sensate. Other highly integrated ideological cutures answer the problem by stating that the true reality and true value is the super-sensory, super- rational God (“Tao,” “World Soul,” Brahman,” etc.)…. The vastest ideological supersystem built upon this premise can be called ideational. Still other highly integrated cultures assume that the true reality and value is partly sensory, partly rational, partly supersensory and superrational infinite manifold. The ideological supersystem erected on this foundation can be called idealistic (1947,320). .

He suggests that this distinction provides a master key to the comprehension of species “socio-cultural” existence.

If you don’t look closely, Sorokin’s distinction appears valid. Both Egypt and the European Middle Ages appear in some sense “other worldly.” Yet an order of life that mummifies dead bodies, buries them with food to eat and envisions them as arising in the flesh to hunt is not self evidently nonsensate. The official culture of the Middle Ages was also entranced by the supernatural. Yet its powerful iconic images of a tortured bleeding god, of mutilated martyrs, and of bread and wine consumed as blood and flesh, shone forth in a peasant world where people lived immersed in raw nature and in one another; they lived unprotected from the smell of each other’s sweat and feces, from the sight of each others sex and death, from heat and ice and mud and rain: a jungle of sensation beyond my wildest dreams.

In the intricate abstract mathematically articulated magnificent construct of contemporary physics the relationship between concepts and sensory existence (with their tendency to merge uncontrollably into one another despite elaborate rituals of attenuation, purification and separation) is so complex as to appear almost miraculous (almost a religious mystery). Neither contemporary physics, nor our estranged, reified, alienated order of life is unambiguously sensate.

There are other difficulties. – Sorokin applies these categories directly and immediately to universal history; one can’t know any thing without knowing everything. – Moreover there may be confusion between classification and explanation. Supersystems are not processes. They are content specific interpretative contexts. If the supersystems are the most abstract and inclusive “socio-cultural” contexts, then they exist at a great remove from actual existence. Thus it does not follow…it is unlikely…that they most strongly influence our life together and apart. [Logical containment does not imply causation (e.g., the comparative size of an object is not caused by largeness and smallness).]

These weaknesses are somewhat disguised as long as exploration moves freely through human history. They are fore grounded when in The Crisis of Our Time Sorokin confronts contemporary American society in its particularity (compare, for example, Robin William Jr.’s American Society and Maurice Stein’s Eclipse of Community).

Once the attempt to directly grasp universal history as an alteration of supersystems is decentered, the rich complexity of Sorokin’s sociology is revealed. Relevant concepts include logico-meaningful integration, “socio-cultural space, time and causality” and “immanent causation.” Problems discussed in his Society, Culture and Personality include “forms of solidarity and antagonism”, “the concept of mulitibonded groups”, “classification of the forms of stratification or inequalities” ,”pluralism of “selves” in the individual as a reflection of the pluralism of groups”), “revolutionary change”, “the conditions of lasting internal and international peace” (ix), “fluctuation of freedom of the groups and their members” (469). – He was also a brilliant, profound and determined internal critic of the profession.

Even if Sorokin’s search for order in and through historical diversity is flawed, it remains inspiring: foundational exploration points beyond itself.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

20 + 12 =

Writings and Interviews by Avron Soyer

Reflections on life, paintings, theory, conversation.

Follow and share Avron’s posts

Subscribe to Avron’s blog