Humanism and Teleology in Sociological Theory

  • Barry Hindess


This paper examines the conceptual structure of theoretical humanism and related theoretical positions and of teleology; it attempts to formulate both a rigorous general concept and a rigorous critique of both types of position. This objective takes us beyond the formal limits of a seminar on sociological theories of the economy. The scope of this paper is therefore more general than that of the other papers in this seminar. The presentation of a paper of this level of generality is justified on the ground that both theoretical humanism and related positions on the one hand and teleological conceptions on the other play a crucial role in sociological attempts to conceptualise the economy and social and economic change. Thus, whilst specific issues concerning these positions may be raised in several of the papers in the seminar, for example with respect to the work of Parsons or Weber, there is also a place for a more general discussion that is not restricted to a consideration of one particular school or author. The pragmatic justification of an examination of teleology is in any case clear given the pertinence of the economy as one of the principal locations of teleological conceptions in social theory, for example in theories of industrialisation, economic growth and development, and given the importance that is often attached in sociological theory to problems concerning the origins and development of capitalism. The case of theoretical humanism and related conceptions of action is a more general one, but its significance for this seminar can be argued on the grounds of its fundamental importance for the theoretical work of Parsons and Weber and for at least some aspects of the substantivist conception of the economy. I shall illustrate my arguments by reference to the work of Parsons and Weber, but it should be clear that my conclusions have a general significance for social theory.


Sociological Theory Ultimate Reality Marxist Theory Personality System Rationalist Conception 


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© Barry Hindess 1977

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  • Barry Hindess

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