Durkheim, language, and history: A pragmatist perspective

Sociological Theory 11 (2):152-170 (1993)

How do we go about understanding the "classic texts" of sociological theory? This paper begins by reviewing the historicist position of Jones, with its foundations in the work of Quentin Skinner and other historians of political theory. This position then is criticized from the standpoint of the neo-Deweyan pragmatism of Richard Rorty. Specifically, Rorty's pragmatism encourages us to revise Skinner's and Jones's historicism on three specific points: the acceptance of treatments of classical texts that are undeniably anachronistic but nonetheless unobjectionable; the restriction of Skinner's notion of an agent's "privileged access" to his or her intentions; and the adoption of a view of the history of sociological theory as a succession of vocabularies-a view that encourages a new kind of dialogue between historians of sociological theory and theorists themselves. The last point is articulated in a concrete example of the interpretation of one of Durkheim's most characteristic arguments. The conclusion again stresses the benefits to be derived from viewing sociological theory-both past and present-from this pragmatist perspective
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DOI 10.2307/202140
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