Wesen und Aufgabe der Sociologie

Ludwig Stein

Ludwig Stein, Wesen und Aufgabe der Sociologie – Eine Kritik der organischen Methode in der Sociologie, in: Archiv für systematische Philo­sophie, vol. 4, Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1898, 38 pp.


Early sociology is to be considered as a reaction to the social question – to phenomenon like widespread poverty, repression of the working class and working children – as well as socialism is meant to be a political reaction. The Swiss Federal State has been, from its beginnings, a social and welfare organisation, dealing with the protection of workers, care for the poor and education. Like Louis Wuarin in Geneva, Maurice Millioud in Lausanne, and Abroteles Eleutheropulos in Zurich, Ludwig Stein has been one of the forerunners of sociology at the University of Berne. With respect of the system of scientific disciplines, his conception of sociology as equal to social philosophy is of particular importance, as it also includes all practical philosophy, i.e. legal philosophy, moral philosophy and political philosophy.

Historical Situation and Systematic Context

In contrast to predominating positivism in the French speaking parts of Switzerland, the conception of sociology, as documented by Ludwig Stein in his short writing on “Wesen und Aufgabe der Sociologie” from 1898 is directed towards a philosophical understanding of human behaviour and action within a given group, or community, or society itself and against the functional or so-called organic method in sociology of that time. However, it cannot be brought into a closer connection to the so-called “verstehende Soziologie” as later inaugurated by Max Weber. Rather, it resembles the very early legal economics of Gustav Schmoller or legal sociology as projected by Ludwig Gumplowicz (“Grundriss der Sociologie“, Wien, 2nd ed. 1905; “Sozialphilosophie im Umriss“, Innsbruck 1910; see also his principal writing: “Die sociologische Staatsidee”, Innsbruck, 2nd ed. 1902).

Content, Abstracts

The sociological approach to human behaviour stands for the prerogative of practice over theory. The process of genetic development of sociology shows as a process in progress and sociology is far from of being established as a scientific discipline. Thus, the various conceptions of social science. According to Ludwig Stein, sociology shares his subject with history, cultural history, philosophy of history, ethnography, anthropology, economics and statistics. Within this context, sociology has to emancipate as the leading discipline that has to include and integrate all other scientific treatments of human behaviour, and by doing so it resembles philosophy with its overall approach. “So hat die Sociologie die Wechselwirkung menschlicher Individuen, das heisst alle Formen menschlichen Zusammenlebens und Zusammenwirkens des gesellschaftlichen Geschehens eine soziale Weltanschauung herauszupräparieren, gleichwie die grossen Denksysteme der Vorzeit uns eine universelle Weltanschauung zurechtkonstruiert haben”. Therefore, sociology is, in essence, social philosophy, philosophy of society and community. Sociological theory has in consequence to investigate all kind of interaction of human behaviour including and covering the practical parts of philosophy, as legal philosophy, philosophy of religion and political philosophy.

The ideal of this kind of sociology, or better social philosophy, is dynamics, the model for its methodology is the explanation of modalities and relations of social classification. Hereby, Ludwig Stein marks a difference to philosophers, dealing with social questions, as for instance Wilhelm Windelband, Georg Simmel, and Heinrich Rickert, whose ideal is still some kind of metaphysics, according to their idealistic inclination. This inter-position characterises the conception of sociology by Stein as singularity. Nevertheless, this approach is very interesting in terms of the history of thought, as it is closely related to the historical-genetical method as practised by Hegelian philosophers, even if this insight goes in some way back to Giovanni Battista Vico. Highly significant is also the individualistic turn in sociology compared to collective conceptions. “Hier hat nun die Sociologie einzusetzen, um die Kluft zwischen bleibender Eigenschaft und einzelner Handlung des Menschen, zwischen Gesetz und Ereignis, zwischen Collectivhandlungen und Einzelhandlungen, zwischen Gattung und Exemplar, zwischen Milieu und Individuum wissenschaftlich zu überbrücken”. Both concurring methods have their own right, according to Stein, the organic method as heuristic principle and the historically comparing method as normative principle. This conviction brings sociology as concepted by Stein in close proximity to legal philosophy, indeed.

Conclusions, Insights, Evidence

Ludwig Stein has shown in practice in his writing “Die sociale Frage im Lichte der Philosophie” (Stuttgart: Enke, 1897), how the application of his method could work and what results can be obtained. The social phenomenon is to be considered in its dynamics, in its individual implications, with its collective consequences. The social question should be analysed scientifically and philosophically in order to provide the necessary cognitions for political action. The encouragement to confront with the social demands of his time can probably be explained by the Jewish background of Stein who had been educated as a Rabbi in Berlin.

Further Information About the Author

Ludwig Stein, born on 12 November 1859 in Erdö-Benye (Hungary), died on 13 July 1930 in Salzburg, went to Berlin and Halle an der Saale in order to study philosophy with Eduard Zeller and Wilhelm Dilthey. As an eminent representative of the Jewish community, he also became a rabbi. In 1886, he was called a lecturer at the “Eidgenössisches Polytechnikum” and at the same time at the University of Zurich. Between 1891 and 1910, he was a professor of philosophy at the University of Berne with a strong inclination to sociology. In 1893, he obtained Swiss citizenship in his new hometown of Zurich. Walter Rathenau, Leo Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg were among his students. In 1909, he organised the 7th congress of sociology in Berne, in the name of the Institut International de Sociologie. Back in Berlin he was the chief editor of the “Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie” as well as of the “Archiv für systematische Philosophie und Soziologie”.

Although a pacifist and a member of the Committee of the international Bureau for Peace, Ludwig Stein was thoroughly bourgeois in his mind. He, therefore, criticised not only socialist ideas but also conservative politics. He, for example, argued against the theories of Friedrich Nietzsche. Greater influence, however, may have had his activities as a publicist writing in numerous journals and papers.

Selected Works of the Same Author

Ludwig Stein: Die sociale Frage im Lichte der Philosophie – Vorlesungen über Socialphilosophie und ihre Geschichte, Stuttgart: Ferdinand Enke, 1897; Idem: Wesen und Aufgabe der Sociologie – Eine Kritik der organischen Methode in der Sociologie, in: Archiv für systematische Philosophie, vol. 4, Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1898, 38 pp.; Idem: An der Wende des Jahrhun­derts – Versuch einer Kultur­philosophie, Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr 1899; Idem: Der soziale Optimismus, Jena: Hermann Costenoble, 1905; Idem: Die Anfänge der menschlichen Kultur – Eine Ein­führung in die Soziologie, Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1906; Idem: Philoso­phische Strömungen der Gegen­wart, Stutt­gart: Ferdinand Enke, 1908; Idem: Dualis­mus oder Monis­mus? – Eine Unter­suchung über die doppelte Wahrheit, Berlin: Reichl, 1909; Idem: Die Juden in der neueren Philo­sophie, Berlin, M. Poppelauer: 1919; Idem: Ein­führung in die Sozio­logie, München: Rösl, 1921; Idem (Ed.): Archiv für die Geschichte der Philo­sophie; Idem (Ed.): Archiv für systematische Philo­sophie und Sozio­logie.

For Further Reading

Markus Zürcher: Unterbrochene Tradition – Die Anfänge der Soziologie in der
Schweiz, Zürich: Chronos-Verlag, 1995.


You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here: Stein Sociologie