Subjective Method

Subjective Method

 

in sociology, an idealist treatment of historical knowledge based on the assumption that such knowledge is determined by the moral ideals of the historian. The founders of the subjective method were the Narodniki (Populists) P. L. Lavrov and N. K. Mikhailovskii; later, sociological subjectivism was developed by N. I. Kareev, S. N. Krivenko, and V. Chernov.

According to the exponents of the subjective method, social science can have no pretensions to objective truth; rather, it results from the thinker’s subjective grouping of facts that are significant to him from the standpoint of a specific moral ideal. The subjective method is linked to the assertion that science can provide no objective basis for the researcher’s value judgments. Therefore, according to the method’s proponents, the reliability of social knowledge depends on whether it does or does not correspond to the level of “contemporary science and contemporary moral ideas,” in Mikhailovskii’s words.

The main theoretical task of the subjective method has been the development of a specific model of historical cognition distinct from the methods of the natural sciences. What has been emphasized, however, is unconditioned choice and individual free will as the chief determinants in the historical process— essentially, a transition to the tenets of subjective idealism and voluntarism. As V. I. Lenin noted, “Applied to sociology, these ideas could provide nothing but a utopia or a vapid morality” (Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 1, p. 440).

Proceeding from a recognition of objective laws that are independent of the researcher’s will and moral principles, Marxism counterposes to the subjective method the principles of true historical investigation, whereby social phenomena are examined from the standpoint of a specific class: in other words, sociohis-torical knowledge must be based on the principles of historicism and partiinost’, or party-mindedness.

REFERENCES

Lenin, V I. Chto takoe ‘druz’ia naroda’ i kak oni voiuiut protiv sotsial-demokratov? Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 1.
Lenin, V. I. “Ekonomicheskoe soderzhanie narodnichestva i kritika ego v knige g. Struve.” Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 1.
Plekhanov, G. V. K voprosu o razvitii monisticheskogo vzgliada na istoriiu. Izbrannye filosofskie proizvedeniia, vol. 1. Moscow, 1956.
Kazakov, A. P. Teoriia progressa v russkoi sotsiologii kontsa XIX veka (P. L. Lavrov, N. K. Mikhailovskii, M. M. Kovalevskii). Leningrad, 1969.
Pantin, I. K. Sotsialisticheskaia mysl’ v Rossii: perekhod ot utopii k nouke. Moscow, 1973.
Malinin, V. A. Filosofiia revoliutsionnogo narodnichestva. Moscow, 1972.

I. K. PANTIN

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