From Völkerpsychologie to the Sociology of Knowledge

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This article focuses on two developments in nineteenth-century (philosophy of) social science: Moritz Lazarus’s and Heymann Steinthal’s Völkerpsychologie and Georg Simmel’s early sociology of knowledge. The article defends the following theses. First, Lazarus and Steinthal wavered between a “strong” and a “weak” program for Völkerpsychologie. Ingredients for the strong program included methodological neutrality and symmetry; causal explanation of beliefs based on causal laws; a focus on groups, interests, tradition, culture, or materiality; determinism; and a self-referential model of social institutions. Second, elements of the weak program were the blurring of explanatory and normative interests, an emphasis on freedom of the will, and antirelativism and antimaterialism. Third, later research projects keeping the label “Völkerpsychologie” followed the weak program. Fourth, in the 1880s and 1890s, Simmel tried to build on some of the elements of the strong program. Finally, and fifth, part of the explanation for why Simmel did not succeed in his attempt had to do with the social-political situation of German academia around 1900.
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Archival date: 2019-06-14
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