Influence of Sociological Thought

Influence of Sociological Thought and "Positivism"

France and Belgium Economic History


Although the Historical School has had relatively little following in France, and that appears to be diminishing, an effect somewhat similar to Historicism has been exerted by sociological thought. (French thinkers have been much given to formulating "systems" of social science.) There has been much analysis of the relations existing among individuals and groups, and of interrelated human motives. Thus the influence of Auguste Comte has appeared, not only in a tendency to treat economics as a "positive" science, but also to make it part of a broader sociology, and to favor considerable state intervention. Emile Durkheim is a sociologist whose thought showed these tendencies, combined with some of Spencer's ideas, and influenced F. Simiand. Simiand (d. 1935) sought to free economics from normative presumptions, and develop laws of cause and effect on an objective inductive basis, thus extending "positivism." He proposed that economics rely upon the experimental method, and put facts somewhat ahead of theories. Such ideas appear to influence R. Maunier, A. Bochard, and the sociologist, R. Worms.


The thought of Gabriel Tarde also seems to have had some effect. Tarde attempted to apply his ambitious system of philosophy and sociology to economics in his Psychologie econo-mique (1902). He bases economic life on an inherent "inter-psychological" bond among all men, which works through processes of adaptation and repetition. Men make adaptations to their environment, resulting in invention. Then imitation gives rise to repetition. A third element is opposition, which finds expression in all sorts of social conflict; but Tarde is highly optimistic, and sees higher harmony as the result.