Sects: Lewis Coser Replies

Sects: Lewis Coser Replies

Geltman’s and Plastrik’s critique of my essay seems to me to be based on a misunderstanding of what a typological procedure aims to accomplish. Social scientists can use concepts which are closely geared to the empirical and historical reality at hand or they may endeavor to use “pure,” abstract concepts which are farther removed from concrete historical reality but offer great advantage if one is concerned with comparative analysis.

Constructed types set up logically consistent conceptions; they can never serve fully to explain any specific empirical case, but they may serve as a kind of measuring rod by which we can measure concrete variations from the abstract norm. Since every historical phenomenon is individually unique, a scientific conceptualization can never fully exhaust empirical reality, but without such conceptions we would be unable to move beyond the level of sheer description. All this would appear more plausible to my critics had I utilized types with which they are more familiar. Had I talked about romanesque or gothic architecture or about capitalism and feudalism they would, I am sure, not have misunderstood me to mean that certain elements of romanesque could not be found in many a gothic structure or that certain elements of feudalism were not present in most capitalist societies. They would have found it easier to agree that these types are indeed abstractions from concrete reality, and that the different elements which form the type may all be found independently.


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