Defining a Discipline: Sociology and its Philosophical Problems, from its Classics to 1945

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Digital Object Identifier (DOI)



The beginning of the 20th century coincides with the establishment of the modern disciplines of the social sciences, chiefly in the United States but on a smaller scale in Western Europe as well. These disciplinary structures, which varied from country to country, provide the organizing principle of this handbook.The immediate context of the disciplinarization of sociology was the transformation of two fields, statistics and history, which shed large chunks of content as they took their current shape. The principal body of thought that is excluded from the discipline of history, for example, was philosophy of history. Émile Durkheim provided the earliest and most coherent reconciliation of this fundamental tension, and it is striking how similar the lists of intellectual sources and problems actually were between these principal solutions to the common problem of constructing a “science” out of the materials and topics in question. Durkheim's analytic strategy in this chapter relies on the preexisting methodological tradition about cause and statistics that was established in Mill's System of Logic ([1843]1974), but rejected Mill's own understanding of the role of probability in favor of the method of concomitant variation, which Mill had thought was inapplicable in social science.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

Defining a Discipline: Sociology and its Philosophical Problems, from its Classics to 1945, in S. P. Turner & M. W. Risjord (Eds.), Philosophy of Anthropology and Sociology, Elsevier, p. 3-69