The Functions of Formalisation in Sociology

  • Raymond Boudon


The importance of formalisation in sociology is frequently challenged. The most forthright indictment comes from Sorokin,2 whose criticisms are well enough known not to require repetition in detail. To summarise them briefly, formalisation is either simply a shorthand, or unnecessary or absurd. The first charge, though sometimes justified, overlooks the importance which parsimony of explanation and the identifiability of the variables can have in the development of a theory or hypothesis; thus there are certain studies which, despite their incapacity for deductive reasoning beyond the form of syllogism, are sufficiently clear and coherent for a more powerful language to be applied to them eventually. The second charge — that formalisation is unnecessary — is hardly worth dwelling on: once a logical system has been constructed, one can find out whether it is useful or necessary but one cannot determine whether it is useless or unnecessary; a paradox which is not uncommon in the history of science. As for the third charge of absurdity, it derives from the questionable proposition that things are by nature necessarily either qualitative or quantitative.


Sociological Theory Ecological Analysis Negative Decision Sociological Concept Formal Translation 


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raymond Boudon

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