FALL 2015


This course examines the development of classical social theory in the 19th- and early 20th-century. In the first part, we will stress the philosophical and intellectual foundations of classical theory in the works of Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant, and Hegel. We will examine how social theory integrated classical political science (law), modern philosophy, and historical political economy in the formation of a new discipline. Distinguishing itself from the other social sciences of the time, classical sociology, for the most part, rejected the Enlightenment view of positivism and natural science as the foundation for social science as it turned instead to German idealism, existentialism, and romanticism for guidance. It also rejected the Enlightenment view of liberal individualism and utilitarian economics, and in the process united the ancient ideals of ethics, politics, and social justice (Aristotle) with the modern (neo-Kantian) concern for empirical and historical research. The second part of the course will examine the classical analysis of the historical origins of Western society in the structures and culture of alienation (Marx), rationalization (Weber), and anomie and division of labor (Durkheim). Of special interest will be the analysis of the early humanistic works of Marx, his ethical and political writings and their relation to Greek philosophy, and his later critique of political economy; Weber's historical sociology, modern economic history, and his theories of Western religion and science and their relation to the development of capitalism; and, finally, the foundations of French Kantian social science in Durkheim's early works on suicide and law, and his later idealist sociology in his theory of primitive classifications, religion, and sociology of knowledge. At the methodological level, we will study the three different views of critical and ethical science in sociology: dialectical science and the method of immanent critique of Marx, interpretive science and the method of historical understanding and value relevance of Weber, and moral science and the method of functionalist and ethical analyses of Durkheim.

In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, classical sociology in Europe was an empirical and historical science that investigated the structures, functions, culture, and ideals of modern industrial society for the purpose of implementing the principles of ancient natural law. During this early period of development, sociology was viewed by Marx, Weber, and Durkheim as a practical or ethical science of social justice. Classical social theory rejected the Enlightenment view of realism and positivist science, materialism and market economics, and individualism and utilitarian morality -- that is, it rejected the Enlightenment view of rationality, science, economics, politics, and psychology. Instead, it returned to the classical world of ancient Greece (Griechensehnsucht) with its view of practical science, moral economy, political discourse, and social justice and to the modern Kantian view of human dignity, individual freedom, constructed objectivity, and interpretive science transformed by German idealism (Hegel and Schelling), existentialism (Schopenhauer and Nietzsche), and neo-Kantianism (Dilthey, Windelband, and Rickert). In this way early sociology was able to integrate social science, social critique, and social justice.

In the nineteenth-century there was a renaissance of Greek philosophy in Germany, and Aristotle's Ethics, Politics, and Economics became so important to the key theorists of this period that they transformed his thought into their own -- they made Aristotle into a German intellectual. He became so embedded in the theoretical horizons and philosophical landscape of the German university that his name could now be legitimately spelled with an umlaut -- Aristötle. Into this world was born sociology as it became an ethical science blending together the classical horizons of the ethics and practical reason of Aristötle with the epistemology and critique of pure reason of Kant. The end result was the creation of a new critical science that represented an imaginative synthesis of the Ancients and the Moderns -- Athens and Berlin. The sociology of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim may thus be expressed in the following form: Critical Science = Classical Ethics + German Critique & Dialectic + History + Political Economy.


J. Locke, Second Treatise of Government
D. Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
I. Kant, The Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals
K. Marx, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. by Robert Tucker
M. Weber, Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
M. Weber, Religion of China
M. Weber, General Economic History
M. Weber, "On Objectivity in Social Science" (On reserve in Treleaven House)
R. Brubaker, The Limits of Rationality: An Essay on the Social
and Moral Thought of Max Weber

E. Durkheim, Suicide and The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life
(Selections on reserve in Olin Library)


A. Giddens, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory
I. Zeitlin, Ideology and the Development of Sociological Theory
G. E. McCarthy, Classical Horizons: The Origins of Sociology in Ancient Greece


There will be a mid-term and a final take-home examination. Questions will be given out about 2 weeks in advance. Class attendance is required, as is class participation. The goal of the course is to encourage students to become more involved in their own education and enlightenment. The final grade for the course will be the product of 1/3 mid-term, 1/3 final examination, and 1/3 class participation.

My office hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8:15 to 9:45 AM in Treleaven House, Room 202, 105 Brooklyn St. Appointments to see me at other times may be made during the day, or immediately before or after class. My email address is ""



1. Introduction Overview of Required Readings and Direction of Course: The Classical and Critical in Classical Social Theory
2. John Locke The Second Treatise of Government, chapters 1-5, pp. 3-30
3. David Hume Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, sections 1-5 and 12
4. Immanuel Kant The Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, second section, pp. 24-62
                                              ---- or ----
Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, sections 14-38, pp. 42-69
5. Karl Marx "Alienated Labor," "Private Property and Communism," and The Meaning of Human Requirements" (The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844), in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. by Robert Tucker, pp. 70-101
6. Karl Marx "On the Jewish Question," in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. by Robert Tucker, pp. 26-46
7. Karl Marx "Theses on Feuerbach" and "Communist Manifesto," in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. by Robert Tucker, pp. 143-145 and 469-500
8. Karl Marx "Critique of the Gotha Program" and "Civil War in France," in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. by Robert Tucker,
pp. 525-541 and 618-652
9. Max Weber The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
Focus of class discussion will be on last two chapters: "The Religious Foundations of Worldly Asceticism" and
"Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism"
10. Max Weber The Religion of China, chapters 5, 6, and 8, pp. 107-170 and 226-249
11. Max Weber "'Objectivity' in Social Science and Social Policy," in The Methodology of the Social Sciences, pp. 49-112
or the essay on 'Objectivity' on the Kenyon public drive, examine closely pages 26-57
12. Max Weber "Science as a Vocation," in Readings in Introductory Sociology ed. by Dennis Wrong and Harry Gracey, pp. 187-192
and Rogers Brubaker, The Limits of Rationality, pp. 1-44
13. Max Weber General Economic History, chapters 22-29, pp.275-351
(Recommended: The Religion of China, chapters 1-4, pp. 3-104)
14. Emile Durkheim Suicide, (chapter 5), pp. 241-258 and
The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, pp. 13-33 and 169-182
(Recommended: The Rules of Sociological Method, pp. 1-13)


Classical Social Theory: Marx, Weber, and Durkheim