Talcott Parsons

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Parsons produced a general theoretical system for the analysis of society, which he called 'theory of action' based on the methodological and epistemological principle of "analytical realism" and on the ontological assumption of "voluntaristic action."[153] Parsons concept of analytical realism can be regarded as a kind of compromise between nominalist and realist views on the nature of reality and human knowledge.[154] Parsons assesses that we (as scientists and humans) relate to objective reality but only through a particular encounter of such reality, and that our general intellectual understanding is only feasible through conceptual schemes and theories. Our interaction with objective reality on an intellectual level should always be understood as an approach. Parsons often explicated the meaning of analytical realism by quoting a statement by L.J. Henderson: "A fact is a statement about experience in terms of a conceptual scheme."[155]

Generally, Parsons maintained that his inspiration regarding analytical realism had been Lawrence Joseph Henderson and A.N. Whitehead[156] although it is possible the idea originated much earlier. It is important in this regard that Parsons' "analytical realism" insist on the reference to an objective reality since Parsons at several occasions highlighted that his concept of "analytical realism" was importantly different from the "fictionalism" of Hans Vaihiger (Hans Vaihinger).[157] As Parsons specify this: "We must start with the assertion that all knowledge which purports to be valid in anything like the scientific sense presumes both the reality of object known and of a knower. I think we can go beyond that and say that there must be a community of knowers who are able to communicate with each other. Without such a presupposition it would seem difficult to avoid the pitfall of solipsism. The so-called natural sciences do not, however, impute the "status of knowing subjects" to the objects with which they deal."[158]

The Structure of Social Action

The Structure of Social Action, (SSA) Parsons most famous work took form piece by piece. Its central figure was Weber and the other key figures in the discussion was added little by little as the central idea took form. One work, which became important for shaping Parsons idea of the central argument in SSA was when he unexpected around 1932 came over Élie Halévy, La Formation du Radicalisme Philosophique, (1901–1904) a 3 volume work, which he read in French. About Halévy work Parsons explained, "Well, Halévy was just a different world ... and helped me to really get in to many clarifications of the assumptions distinctive to the main line of British utilitarian thought; assumptions about the 'natural identity of interest', and so on. I still think it is one of the true masterpieces in intellectual history."[17] Parsons first achieved significant recognition with the publication of The Structure of Social Action (1937), his first grand synthesis, combining the ideas of Durkheim, Max Weber, and Pareto, among others.

Parsons' action theory

Parsons' action theory can be characterized as an attempt to maintain the scientific rigour of positivism, while acknowledging the necessity of the "subjective dimension" of human action incorporated in hermeneutic types of sociological theories. It is cardinal in Parsons' general theoretical and methodological view that human action must be understood in conjunction with the motivational component of the human act. In this way social science must consider the question of ends, purpose and ideals in its analysis of human action. Parsons' strong reaction to behavioristic theory as well as to sheer materialistic approaches derives from the attempt of these theoretical positions to eliminate ends, purpose and ideals as factors of analysis. Parsons already in his college student term-papers at Amherst criticized attempts to reduce human life to psychological, biological or materialist forces. What was essential in human life, Parsons maintained, was how the factor of culture was codified. Culture, however, was to Parsons an independent variable in that it could not be "deducted" from any other factor of the social system. This methodological intention is given the most elaborate presentation in The Structure of Social Action, which was Parsons' first basic discussion of the methodological foundation of the social sciences. Some of the themes reaching a high point in The Structure of Social Action were presented in a compelling essay published two years earlier with the title: "The Place of Ultimate Values in Sociological Theory."[159]

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