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SOC231H5 Chapter Notes -Montesquieu

Course Code
Zaheer Baber

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SOC231 – Sept 9
Lecture 1:
- Capitalist Modernity: New emerging form of life
A “radical” perspective – the root of the issue
Key Concepts:
- The Enlightenment
- The Social Contract
- Class, Gender: “Society” not an organic unity
- Positivism
- Dialectics/Dialectical Perspective
- “Idealism” and “Materialism
- Alienation
- “Social Structure”
- “Structure” and “Agency”
- “Ideology”
- Natural Evolution vs. Social Change
- The question of “agency” – intentions, goals, unintended consequences – social change
- The social and intellectual context
- 17th-18th C. Europe and the world, a series of outgoing “crises”
- “The world turned upside down”
- “The scientific revolution 1600s”
- Industrial Revolution/Capitalism: 1750s: form bureaucracies and other institutions
put in place. World changed completely
- 1776: The American Revolution: Democracy and people have a say
- 1789: The French Revolution:
- Colonialism: The Anti-Slave Revolution in Haiti 1791-1804
a) the discovery of “Society” distinct from “nature”
b) the individual-society relationship
c) the discovery of “social change” vs. “natural” change – time-lapse photography
flowers blooming
Social institutions are neither “natural” nor divine, but humanly created entities; can be
transformed through social action
II. The Enlightenment:
- 18th C. Intellectual and social movement
- To “shed light” of “REASON” on “Society”
- Newtonian scientific method to understand society: application of REASON
- Every sphere of society, including RELIGION was subjected to RATIONAL
scientific scrutiny

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- Existing social conditions and institutions not changeable facts of nature
- The “is” and the “ought” – “perfectibility of humans thru reason – what “ought”
to be
III. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
- Coined the term “Society”: How is society possible? What is it?
- The Concept of the “Social Contract”
- Thomas Hobbes vs. Rousseau
- Hobbes: The natural state, “war of each against all”
- Society: possible due to a “social contract” for an absolutist authority, the
Leviathan, that prevents all out conflict.
- Rousseau’s rebuttal
- “state of nature” : humans are isolated, indifferent to each other
- no “society,” “language,” or “culture”
- population growth and division of labour etc: social inequality
- emergence of classes, hierarchy, private property
- struggle, war occurs after the emergence of society – with internal divisions of
class, status
Bratton and Denham Chapt. 1-3, 14 (Wollstonecrafter)
Chapter 1
Why Classical Social Theory?
- the modern period: Western Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
– during this time there was a lot of philosophical engagement by male and
female public intellectuals.
- 18th century writters: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Bonald, Maistre, Saint-Simon,
Comte, Martineau, Wollstonecraft
- 18th Century Scottish moral philosophers: David Hume, Adam Smith, Adam
Ferguson, John Millar
- 18th century thinkers were optimistic and happy about the change and progression
- 19th century philosophers and thinkers: Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber
- 19th century thinkers generally pessimistic
A theory: implies a set of concepts and ideas that, taken together, purport to explain a
given phenomenon or set of phenomena.
Social theory: concerned with the development of concepts with which to comprehend
modern society
- seeks to identify patterns in social relationships
- attempts to explain individual or collective human action
- tries to see what relates individuals within a society and how different types of
social institutions connect to each other
- attempts to figure out whether features of modernity are inevitable or can be
transformed into another form of society.
- “By classical social theory, we mean a collection of published works that
embodies a canon, a privileged set of texts that defines the discipline.” (3)
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