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Chapter 2

Exploring Sociology Chapter 2 Notes covers all of chapter 2 for in the textbook

Course Code
SOC 101
Sara Cumming

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Classical Social Theories
Theory: a statement that tries to explain how certain facts or events are related used by social
scientists to direct research and inspire discussion and debate about how world works
“Seeing” the World Theoretically
It is important to see world through different theorist and find the strengths and weaknesses of
both. No theorist is right but it is useful to consider why something can or cannot be explained.
Philosophical Roots of Classical Sociological Theory
Roots of sociology begins with Thomas Hobbes (circa 1600) Enlightenment (circa 1700-1750)
and set the foundation of sociological theory.
Thomas Hobbes (1588 1679)
One of first theorists to suggest people are responsible for creating the social world and
held responsible/accountable for the society they created, not God
Analysis of how humans existed before formal social structures (government) in a
condition of natural state
Humans were curious about their social and physical environment and inspired to learn
motivated by self-interest and pursuit of power “war of all against all” : state of fear
However, also state people are naturally rational beings, in order to gain peace and
protection, they willing to enter collective agreement in giving up some individual
freedom and autonomy to an absolute authority (Leviathan)
Important transition in forgoing independence and autonomy in return for collective
benefit and security to gain personal power and influence within the confines of law
If corrupt government, it is justified by collective to overthrow (French and American
Humans are “active, assertive and dynamic beings” and government needs to provide
security for people to fulfil self-interests
John Locke (1632 - 1704)
Argued that God was responsible for emergence of society and government
People are born tabula rasa (blank slate) no knowledge before experience
God granted people right to self-preservation and private property
Believed government is about preserving individual‟s rights and maintaining property
rather than protecting individuals from warring against each other they only have
obligations and no rights; agreed with Hobbes about overthrowing incapable government
God alone will judge mistakes deemed lawful by state
Advocacy of individual freedom and autonomy led to democracy and U.S. constitution

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Charles De Montesquieu (1689 1755)
Early theorists‟ philosophical answers were generally given in two parts: 1) original
natural state that was either warlike (Hobbes) or peaceful (Locke) and 2) people created
society by agreeing to social contract that subjugated them to government
Montesquieu suggested that people never existed outside or without society and were
actually created by society
Wrote The Persian Letters that demonstrated the first use of sociological perspective in
writing from a view of a different culture
Employed ideal types: classic or pure forms of a given social phenomenon (e.g. to some,
the US is an ideal type of capitalism)
Categorized 3 types of government: Republic (democracy and aristocracy), Monarchy
and Despotism and each form of government demonstrated different underlying social
Republic virtue, Monarchy honour, Despotism fear
Believed forms of government did not happen by chance and true nature or spirit of
society is not what it is (how it exists) but instead what it wants to become
Great contribution in appreciation for cultural diversity
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 1778)
Insights into state of nature and social contract continue to inspire reflection and debate
Rousseau agreed with Montesquieu that human did exist within a state of nature a state
where people were presocial “natural man is simply man divested of what he has
acquired in society”
Did believe a natural state (primitive state before laws or morality) but did not think it
was awful experience where people were fierce, instead it was relationship based on
When we are inconsistent with our natural rules, we suffer social problems (high crime
and suicide rates) Rousseau supported our natural state of society
Rousseau suggested humans were only animals that were perfectible and more population
collective arrangements for scarce materials needs inequality of skill
government protecting those with private property
Social contract was free and equal, it was submission of personal autonomy to the
collective but also gave social benefits
Social contract was a equality much like nature but in a new form and on a higher level
(Zeitlin 2004)
Recognized government can be corrupt and must be accountable and representative of
collective will

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Most seem for contribution of analysis of social contract and belief in autonomy of
individual Enlightenment thinking
The Enlightenment
o Period of intellectual movement beginning in 1650 and ended with French Revolution
o Changed 400 years of Christian scholarship devoted to God and the Church
o Main group of Enlightenment intellectuals were French known as
Philosophes: French philosophers in Enlightenment who advocated critical thinking
and practical knowledge (fought for free thinking and expression)
Build on natural sciences, Sir Isaac Newton confirmed universe was orderly and can
be understood by science and human reason
o Continuation of Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu and Rousseau which caused turmoil for
Church and reorder of role for society
o Continued The Prince principles which challenged all beliefs grounded in tradition
(inherited titles, wealth, lack of skill etc.)
o Saw the ability of masses can take control of their lives and challenge oppressors which
led to American and French revolutions
o Revolutions led to death which is ironic to the idea of Enlightenment as it was promoting
rational and practical inquiry but lasting influence of societies reorganized according to
secular ideals of social equality and liberty
Conservative Reaction to Enlightenment Thinking: Birth of Sociology
Conservatives challenged every basis of Enlightenment thinking (autonomy, liberty, rationality,
and reason) and promoted a return to earlier stable society. They suggested Enlightenment led to
revolutions which were bad. Conservatives believed society is not a product of individuals but an
entity in itself, independent and separate from individuals. Ten propositions of conservative
reaction thinking:
1) Society exists on its own with its own laws and is independent of individuals
2) Society, not the individual, is the most important unit of social analysis, and it produces
the individual, not the other way around
3) Individuals are not the basic unit of social interest; society consists of components such
as roles, relationships, strictures, and institutions, and individuals are simply those who
fill these positions
4) The smallest unit of social analysis is the family
5) The parts of society are interrelated and interdependent
6) Change is a threat to both individuals and society as a wholes
7) Social institutions (education system, legal system) are beneficial to both individuals and
society as a whole
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