A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY.
(Lowell Institute Lectures, 1896.)
HAS the intricate racial composition of the population of Europe,, which we have been at so much pains to analyze, any significance for the student of social problems? Is there any reason why those who would rightly interpret sociological phenomena should first thoroughly acquaint themselves with the nature of the human stuff of which populations are compounded? Or have our conclusions, thus far, value merely as branches of investigation in pure science, a matter of academic interest alone? Such are the questions awaiting resolution at our hands in this paper of our series.
Let us begin by distinguishing between two equally competent and yet radically opposite explanations for any human phenomenon. One ascribes its origin to heredity, an internal factor; the other makes it a product of outward conditions — that is to say, of environment, social it may be, or physical. Thus the tall stature or blondness of an individual, a social class, or a people, may conceivably be due either to an inherited tendency from preceding generations, or else to the modifying influence of outer circumstances operative during a single lifetime. Considering a single individual alone, a third factor — viz., chance variation — must needs be taken into account; but viewing men by wholesale, in large masses, this matter takes care of itself. Thus an odd drunkard, social reject, or criminal here and there in a community may be nothing more than an aberrant type; but if we discover a goodly proportion of such bad men, we are led to suspect a more fundamental cause. Chance does not work thus by wholesale, steadily in any given direction. Quetelet discovered this fact years ago. Confronted by any such phenomenon existing in appreciable proportions in any society, as revealed by statistical examination, we are therefore at once called upon to decide between our two original explanations. One runs it to earth, on the environmental theory; the other trees it in genealogical hypothesis. In plain English, it becomes a question of outward circumstances or else of inherited proclivities. On the first
- In the Political Science Quarterly, New York, x, 1895, pp. 642 et seq., we have discussed this more fully.