Ch 1. Theory, Enlightenment, Revolutions and Core Theorists 1
September 19, 2013
Theory is vital in making sense of social life – observations and facts
Facts make sense bc we make associations to preexisting categories/assumptions (theories)
o Facts are still based on implicit assumptions and unacknowledged presuppositions.
Def. ‘Theory is a system of generalized statements of propositions about phenomena. –
Scientific theories: …explain and predict phenomena in question, and
… produce testable…falsifiable hypotheses’
Certain theories share the same characteristics with other scientific theories like natural science.
o Still some significant differences….
IE. Social science vs. Natural science
Sociological theories are more critical and evaluative.
Rooted in moral assumptions rather than scientific objectivity.
The nature of each respective science.
Societies are on an on-going process of change – internal conflicts, wars,
scientific/technological advances, economic markets, and more.
Makes it difficult to form a universal law that explains social dynamics.
As humans, our behaviour is motived by psychological and social forces
(self-interest, loyalty, passion, tradition, or habit)
Order (Collective vs. Individual)
What is it that fosters the pattern, and predictability in our behaviour that makes social life a
routine? How is social life not random, chaotic, or disconnected? Is it an ordered social
o Patterns of social life, a product of structural arrangements, or historical conditions
Individual vs. Collective
o Individual – ‘patterns of social life seen as emerging from ongoing interaction.’
o Collective – ‘patterns of social life seen as the product of existing structural
Action (Rational vs. Non rational) Ch 1. Theory, Enlightenment, Revolutions and Core Theorists 2
September 19, 2013
What factors motivate individuals or groups to act? How do these factors steer us in a particular
Non-rational vs. Rational
o Non-rational – ‘Action motivated by ideals, values, morals, tradition, habits, or
emotional states.’ (unconscious)
o Rational – ‘Action motivated by a strategic or calculated attempt to maximize rewards
or benefits while minimizing costs.’ (conscious)
The Enlightenment – the seeds that later became sociology
o Intellectual development in Europe from 17-18 centuries
o Development of civil society – the conception of economic, political and cultural
conditions that shapes society (no institutionalized discipline in pre-enlightenment era)
o Birth of critical thinkers, the growth of literacy, the rise of science
Intellectuals of the enlightenment advocated for rational rules, impersonal law, and the end to
arbitrary, despotic government.
o Questioned king’s authority – ‘by divine right’
The Enlightenment – the new method of thought and attitude
o An emphasis on reason
o Questioning and reexamining received ideas and values.
o Ideas about the world emerged from methodical observations and empirical research
(moving away from religious beliefs)
o Rebelled and dismissed existing knowledge as prejudice and tradition
The birth of sociology occurred