A Dream of Reason- I Opening into Opening, Personal Opening

Opening into Opening

Personal Opening (2003)


This manuscript is dialogical: it is polyphonic. Every essay and numbered theme is both autonomous and interwoven.

Any essay can be an entrance.

Readers focused on “the crisis of our time” might enter through Plague Notes (p. 146) or Modernity and the Breakdown of this Order of Life (p. 160). Neopositivists might select On the Anatomy of Personal-Interpersonal Dynamics (p. 62). Art theorists might choose The Mediators (p. 137) Entering from the Act of Writing and the Notion of Dialogue (p. 42) or Borderline Notes: A Sociological-Psychological Fiction (53). Restless graduate students might prefer Retrospective Field Notes on the Sociology of the Early Sixties (p. 122). Poets might enjoy Wild flowers (p. 50-60, 123-134).

I am most at home beginning here.




In the 50s as an undergraduate at Bard College I fell in love with reasonable theoretical inquiry into our life together and apart[1].

I was convinced that reason, and art (which I also loved), must be legitimized not through a supernatural metaphysics but through autonomous human existence.

I became a graduate student in sociology, first at Cornell then at Brandeis.


Reason is, whatever else it also is, a human project. Thus it is within sociology’s domain of inquiry.

Yet sociology cannot comprehend the full complexity of transdisciplinary concepts (e.g., reason and dialogue), or other disciplines[2] (e.g., art and science).


            All disciplinary perspectives are partial…. Awareness of partiality and of absent unity opens potentialities for cumulative disciplinary development and interdisciplinary dialogue.


There is an image.

I am watching a long line of people in motion. There are universal patterns.

There are variations.

I hear nothing, yet hypothesize that they are dancing…. I seek the music in the dance.


At Bard, with Gerard DeGre and Werner Wolff, sociology and psychology were open and humanistic. I didn’t realize this was deviant. At Cornell, sociology and psychology were “social/behavioral science.”

I experienced “social/behavioral science” as hostile to “inwardness” (e.g., to “the color and texture” of lived existence). I was shocked by its identification as the only path to a reasonable theoretical understanding of humanity. I was disturbed by its bias for manipulation (a.k.a., prediction and control) and against I-Thou understanding and compassion. I was hurt by its indifference to art, intimacy and “unique existence.”

I found these institutionalized obsessions and exclusions unreasonable. I dreaded their influence on the complex, fertile “background” of our lives.

I write of love, hurt, disturbance, and dread, advisedly. I was intimately involved with sociology.

Most of my teachers and fellow students found this intimacy inappropriate. It was closer to heresy than to mere perversion that I did not seek an individual exemption. I asserted, as principle, the relevance of inwardness, compassion, unique existence and personal style to sociology, and to reason.



In our life together and apart:

All that cannot be spoken is wounded,


Explicit statement supports the potentialities it chooses,

All that is exiled from reason is weakened.

We are endangered if our only theoretical concern with human existence is to predict and control one another anonymously en mass.

We are endangered if those who claim to speak for reason misrepresent humanity as mere raw material for fueling and embodying social systems, as in Parsons, and/or actualizing absolutes, as in Hegel and Marx. We require a theoretical reason that will not exile potentiality, inwardness and uniqueness.

Sociology should translate a full rich sense of our life together and apart into the discourse of theoretical reason.

We commit sociology in the name of reason to the struggle for a just, compassionate, and creative human existence.



I slowly recognized that a discipline (e.g., art, science, sociology) is not whatever people with a license (i.e., recognized professionals) do in situations that the consensus of their time and place define as professionally relevant…. It is an identity. It is a potentiality. It is a “position.” It is, whatever else it also is, the “constructive implications” of a “generative co-constitutively[3] human problematic.”

Disciplinary potentiality enables immanent critique of professional institutional relationships. It grounds judgments of inclusion and exclusion. It enables coherent mediation between included frameworks (e.g. theoretical paradigms, artistic styles).


A discipline is an answer to questions of identity: for example, “What am I doing when I practice sociology?” and “How do we know if we are practicing sociology?”

In sociology and other disciplines of theoretical reason the question of identity cannot be avoided, or answered through tradition and/or power. It is a Socratic question.


We proceed within a movement of internal critique and reconstruction that includes Pitirim Sorokin and Sigmund Koch…. Yet to proceed from itself is not necessarily to move in a vacuum. We proceed in intimate dialogue with art.


           We seek a better answer than “social science” to the question “What is the disciplinary identity of sociology?” (i.e. “What discipline do we practice when we do sociology?”).

Many critics of social and behavioral “science” would subordinate sociology to some other preestablished identity: Hegelian, neoHegelian (e.g. Frankfurt School), Marxist, existentialist (Heidegarian or Sartrian), phenomenological, Wittgensteinian, deconstructionist, etc.

We would expose and resist all subordination…. Authentic interdisciplinary dialogue requires autonomous disciplinary voices. It is useless to “sit at the table” as “a wholly owned subsidiary” or “an emptiness waiting to be possessed.”


In the insider/outsider dichotomy I appear as outsider. Yet there is always rootedness and distance…. To be a sociologist is to participate in tradition and to be a stranger.


These embryonic notes open this dance of problem/solution, awareness-in-the-act, and dialogue.

Continue Reading Avron Soyer’s

A Dream of Reason I. Part 2 – Opening through Direct Examination of Foundational Concepts


[1] In this essay “ our life together and apart” is a technical term. Here is a definition. The “phenomenal domain” of sociol

[2] 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.”[2] 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.

[3] In this essay “co-constitutive” is a technical term.Here is a brief discussion of this term in its relation to our life together and apart

As event, violence is a cross-cultural universal. As a processing potentiality it may be generically human. Yet I would not judge x nonhuman because x is incapable of violence, or immune to lowest common denominator simplifications.

If x is not, for example, a mortal, desirous, mindful (e.g., “inward”), unique existent with the potentiality for pragnanz, rule, style, language, synthesis, dialogue, awareness-in-the-act, improvisation, contextual creativity and reflection, then x is not human.


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