Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München  

  Dead Sociologists Society


Florian Znaniecki (1918-1920)













The Humanistic Approach of Florian Znaniecki

Elsbieta Halas

The Humanistic Approach of Florian Znaniecki I. Introduction. The Noble Intellectual Florian Znaniecki (1882-1958) enjoys the dubious privilege of remaining an exclusive author. He is known by relatively few connoisseurs of the theory and the history of sociology. The majority would associate his name with the collaborator of W. I. Thomas on The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (Znaniecki, 1918-1920).

The modest surrounding Znaniecki's output, so incommensurate with the achievements of the thinker, was possible only due to the idealistic enthusiasm with which he assumed his calling of an investigator of culture. Under the influence of the Polish romanticism and the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and Henri Bergson, Znaniecki was convinced of his higher vocation as a creator of spiritual values (Znaniecki, 1920:189). This conviction rendered possible a dignified distance from circumstances and hindered world-wide success.

There is nothing of a safe academic career in Znaniecki's adventurous biography. It is marked by the experiences of a- rebel, an exile, a pioneer of science in the reborn Poland of 1918, a repeated exile in 1939 and an brilliant since 1945. Three times he faced despotic powers: when the Tsar's regime prevented a brilliant philosopher from taking an academic post' when Nazis put Znaniecki's name on the 'black list" of intellectuals sentenced to extermination, and in the end, when he was doomed to defamation and intellectual oblivion by Stalinism in communised Poland. The aristocracy of the intellect that he described in his masterpiece The Social Role of the Man of Knowledge could be said to be characteristic of Znaniecki himself as he put it:

“Cannot the scientist-explorer make the still prouder claim of being one of those who by their Co-operative efforts create a superhuman world of relative truths, infinite in potential wealth, admirable in its trend to perfection - and who thus lead mankind to undreamed of highs of intellectual achievements? And perhaps at no period of history was a vindication of the inner dignity of man more needed than in these days” (Znaniecki, 1986: 199).

Znaniecki fulfilled his social role of the man of knowledge in narrow elite circles at the University of Chicago (1915-1919), at Posen University (1920-1939), at Columbia University (1932, 1939) and then at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1940-1958). In these circles, to which belonged, among Qthers W. I. Thomas, P. Sorokin, R. Maclver, R. Bierstedt and T. Abel, Znaniecki was considered as one of the most eminent sociologists of the twentieth century. Yet his books, Cultural Reality (1919), Social Actions (1936), The Method of Sociology (1934), Cultural Sciences (1952) never entered a wide circulation nor received public reception as classics in the discipline. Undoubtedly since 1938 the decline of the influence of the Chicago School Znaniecki was close to, and the emerging dornination of the structural-functionalism as well as the monopolizing of research by quantitative methods contributed to the marginalization of Znaniecki's heritage. In 1950 Herbert Blumer pertinently wrote about him:

“I see him as an able, valient and dignified fighter for fundamental qualities of scholarship and research that are today ignored, belittled or shunted aside in our field. Where others are preoccupied with picayune research, Professor Znaniecki stands for embracing scholarship; where others limit critical analysis to questions of research technique, Professor Znaniecki brings a keen and probing mind to bear on the fundamental premises of research; where others import and apply doctrinaire theories, Professor Znaniecki develops original conceptions out of intimate familiarity with the objects of analysis; where others view human beings from afar and study them through formal and artificial instruments, Professor Znaniecki sees them in intimate perspective and studies them through the medium of judicious sensitivity. These qualities distinguish Professor Znaniecki, not merely in the sense of setting him apart, but in the more fundamental sense of establishing his eminence. As canons of judgement come to surmount present provindal standards of research and theory, Professor Znaniecki will be measured increasingly in true dimension - as an erudite scholar, a penetrating critic, a realistic thinker and a profound student of human experience” (Blumer, 1950).

The name of Florian Znaniecki should be associated with that of a philosopher who became a sociologist later on, an author of his own theoretical system. If he was only a forerunner (see: Halas, 1983) of ideas developed more fully afterwards, then at most he would be worth the interest of historians of sociology. I will attempt to present Znaniecki as a persistently attractive thinker, who possessed an integrated vision of humanistic sociology. The strong points of his approach are: - the systematic foundation on a profound ontology of society, - the analytic concept of the object-matter of sociology, - the focus not only on the problem of the social meaning that is usually in the centre of various interpretive theories, but moreover an emphasis on the axiological dimension of society.

In Znaniecki one meets a disciplined student of theoretical problerns for as he wrote:

“The discoverer of problems is not a rebel against scientific rationalism as manifested in theoretic construction: what he rejects is scientific dogmatism (...)” (Znaniecki, 1986:179).

II. Presuppositions or culturalism

Florian Znaniecki is the author of an original program of philosophy called "culturalism" by him. When in around 1922 he relinquished the pursuit of philosophy for sociology, basic concepts of culturalism were comprised in the language of his sociological theory. Among them the concept of value plays a fundamental role. The sociological System of Znaniecki is thus exceptionally solidly grounded in the ontological and epistemological reflection upon culture.

Generally speaking, Znaniecki's culturalism is a kind of relativistic humanism. Znaniecki was of the opinion that modernity is distinguished precisely by a wider humanistic or culturalistic current of an antidogmatic and antiformalistic character comparable with the Renaissance (Znaniecki, 1925: VII.). His own standpoint was aimed at articulating more clearly and developing ideas of culturalism. Znaniecki maintained that they were already more or less explicit in the philosophy of pragmatism and voluntaristic philosophies. Thus he reverted to Nietzsche's voluntarism interpreted in a personalistic way, to the creative evolutionism of Bergson, to Dilthey's philosophy of life, to American pragmatists: James and Dewey and to the then famous “humanism” of Ferdinand C. Schiller (see: Schiller, 1903). According to Znaniecki these thinkers prepared culturalistic thinking in a relativistic way that rep-resents the reality as a historical world constructed by human beings.

Following Bergson and James, but also an eminent early Polish phenomenologist, Kazimien Twardowski, Znaniecki undertook the analysis of the actual experience of "here" and "now" (Znaniecki, 1983: 27). He distanced himself, however, from the philosophy of Husserl, whom he overtly criticised for his transcendental idealism and the notion of the “pure self” (Znaniecki, 1912: 139). He considered as more fertile orientations those opposing intellectualism, like voluntaristic and pragmatist philosophies. The concept of the will and of action were for Znaniecki more general and original than purely cognitive thought. Later on in his theory of action he employed the concept of the "active tendency" that manifests itself in the course of action. It referred to the will as a basic part of experience, which according to Znaniecki, the thought is the outcome and the instrument of action broadly conceived. At the same time he rejected one-sided criticism of rationalism by pragmatists and by Bergson. He considered the thought as the conscious activity and employed the Neo-Kantian idea of the cognitive construction of reality although he rejected the concept of aprioric forms.

“Construction being the only way of bringing systematic organization into experience, construcfive activity, more or less creative, is the only possible source of all empirical rationality. (...) If we want therefore to understand the rational organization of reality, we must study the way in which rationality is created by the activity which constructs systems of objects” (Znaniecki, 1983: 154).

His approach was free from the irrationalism and intuitionism of Dilthey and Bergson. Znaniecki maintained the advantage of rational, systematic knowledge. Culturalism is an interesting early attempt to synthesize threads of the phenomenological and the pragmatic orientations.

Culturalism, as the very name suggests, is the bold antithesis to the intellectual dogmas of naturalism. The thesis of culturalism is based on the following assumptions:

- the dualism subject-object, must be overcome and thought should be united with reality; - reality is not an absolute order but changes in a creative evolution; - all images of the world are relative; - it is false to oppose nature and culture or to subordinate culture to nature; - value is the most general category of the description of reality.

1. Thought and Reality

Znaniecki is against the dogmas of naturalism which, according to him are a radical form of realism that extended the theory of natural evolution to an reality and thus completely absorbed culture into nature. Generally, he considered realism as a onesided objective metaphysics. Culturalism also constitutes a challenge against the one-sidedness of idealism and its subjective metaphysics. Culturalism aims at surmounting the dualism: subject-object by uniting and identifying thought with reality. It overcomes the division between the world of pure ideas, independent of the individual's experience and a world of pure reality, independent of reflection. It unites experience and reflection.

Znaniecki postulates the conquering of the dualism of thought and reality by means of the suspension of commonsensical and theoretical world-views. This enables a return to the experience of the concrete empirical world neglected by both naturalistic and idealistic abstractions.

Znaniecki proves that actual experience contains both a process of subjectification and a process of objectification. On the one hand, the individual receptively assimilates pre-existing objects and thoughts into his personal experiences. On the other, the individual actively constructs, or at least reconstructs, reality as objects, depersonalizing his personal experiences. Znaniecki, like Dflthey, claims that in order to understand the cultural world:

“(...) we must take into account this objectivating creative activity by which the individual raises his data to the level of realities and his associations to the level of logical thoughts, whereas the subjectivating receptive process by which realities become personal data, and thoughts personal aoociations, acquires an importance only for the study of certain special domains of culture where the receptive personality is acted upon or studied as a specific complex reality” (Znaniecki, 1983: 52).

Znaniecki presumes, that in this process of construction or reconstruction people confer rational organization to systems of objects. The commonsensical, everyday reality is the first of such constructed systems.

2. The Creative Evolution of Reality

Znaniecki was preoccupied with the idea of evolution. Interpreting culture as a byproduct of natural evolution and the instrument of adaptation to the natural world was inadmissible for him. But he was impressed by the view of nature as a dynamic and changing process, and not as a changeless system of substances. Likewise he thought that a dynamic view of the world of culture is necessary. Thus, Znaniecki's culturalism turns against Platonic, Kantian or any other idealism that treats evolution as a phenomenal matter and seeks immovable bases of ideas. Culturalism rejects the absolute order of super-wordly values and ideas. It rejects also the Hegelian thesis about the order of culture becoming a gradual manifestation of these ideas. Znaniecki adopts Bergson's term “the creative evolution” (Bergson, 1913) and applies it to dynamic changes of culture in the form of a continual appearance of new variations of pre-existing objects. He comprehends creative evolution as a continuity of growth by the agency of creative thought - as, for example the intentional production of a poem or the evolution of a new word or of a new myth.

We find in the cultural world two distinct types of this becoming of historical objects. One is the intentional production of new objects on the ground of the rational organization of pre-existing materials and instruments. (...) The other, more primary, is the unorganized evolution of new objects by a gradual differentiation of pre-existing objects (Znaniecki, 1983: 119).

3. Historical Relativity of World-views

Znaniecki rejects the existence of unchangeable ideas, values and more complex cognitive images of the world. According to the principle of creative evolution, he understands them as being constructed by people. Thus, similar to Dilthey (Dilthey, 1987: 126), he holds a conviction about the relative character of world-views.

“The image of the world, which we construct, is a historical value, relative like all others, and a different one witl take its place in the future, even as it has itself taken the place of another image” (Znaniecki, 1983: 15).

4. The Elimination of the Dualism Nature – Culture

Undertaking the criticism of naturalism that saw culture as a product of nature, Znaniecki was not satisfied with the Neo-Kantian division of reality fixed by Rickert, to the realm of nature and the realm of culture. Znaniecki was of the opinion that man is unable to act upon nature otherwise than in culturally determined ways. He professed a kind of culturalistic monism alleging that all reality is permeated with culture. At the very beginning man finds himself in a cultural world.

Hundreds of thousands of years of cultural life have agglomerated such an enormous mass of habits and traditions that man is absolutely unable to perceive or to conceive any other nature than the one he sees through the prisma of culture (Znaniecki, 1983: 16).

5. Data of Culture as Values

Adopting values as a basis of his philosophy of culturalism, Znaniecki undoubtedly refers to the conceptions of Dilthey, Windelband and Rickert who used this notion to deal with general philosophical issues (Znaniecki, 1910: 7). When Znaniecki talks about values he means objects of thinking and experiental data. Following Schopenhauer and Nietzsche he uses value as the most general category for the description of the world different from things. He gives it, however, a more precise meaning. First, according to the assumption of the constructed character of the human world, values are not characteristics that we discover in objects, but characteristics that we give to objects. Second, the positive or the negative evaluation of an object is being done with regard to action and the use of this object for a certain active purpose, even if this “use” is only tentative or “mental”. Therefore, for Znaniecki, a study of values as positive or negative cannot be made except on the grounds of a theory of creative, constructing activity (Znaniecki, 1983: 349). In order to clarify the process of creating values, one must come back to the thesis about the constructed character of reality. In Znaniecki's opinion the world of changeable and thus historical objects has at least two levels. The first level of 'primary historical objects' is the world of the concrete object whose content is constituted by that which is given directly to the individual. Like Dilthey, Znaniecki sees the concrete totality of this world, a synthesis of all individual experiences and reflections as an enormous, wild and rushing chaos (Znaniecki, 1983: 349).

The second level that of secondary historical objects, is rationally organized by practical and theoretical constructions like institutions or systems of knowledge. As a component of some practical or theoretical collective organization an object gains a certain relatively stable nucleus of meaning. It cannot be changed until the system to which it belongs is reconstructed. Thus, the constructed order of the cultural reality imposes conditions beyond the reach of our influence. This nucleus of the meaning of an object contributes or hinders realization of actions and provides a basis for its evaluation and the originating of value.

III. The Humanistic Coefficient of Sociological Order

Znaniecki later summarized the assumptions of culturalism in the formula “wspolczynnik humanistyany” (the humanistic coefficient). The humanistic coefficient is an original term introduced by Znaniecki. Both, the Polish etymology of the word “wspolczynnik” stemming from “wespol” and “czynic” which means “together” and “do” – as well as the Latin etymology of the “coefficient” composed of “co-“ and “efficio” which means together create, build or achieve, which clearly points out that this term refers to the notion of the human collective's constructing and reconstructing of reality. This notion remains at the core of Znaniecki's culturalism. “The humanistic coefficient” characterizes the whole domain of culture but Znaniecki, a sociologist, applied in particular to social reality this concept. We must first analyze briefly the general formula of the humanistic coefficient before we look at its consequences for Znaniecki's program of sociology.

1. The Conception of the Humanistic Coefficient

The term “wspolczynnik humanistyczny” was first used by Znaniecki in his Wstep do socjologii (Introduction to Sociology), in 1922, in English as “the humanistic coefficient" five years later in an article The Object-Matter of Sociology (1927). Since that times the humanistic coefficient became a key-term in the language of his theory. This theory belongs to a larger family of theories called in general verstehende or “interpretive” theories.

The humanistic coefficient exhibits the distinctive features of that particular approach. As I have already demonstrated, it joins both pragmatical and phenomenological aspects and its originality arises from the focus on axiological issues that were neglected both by Mead and Schütz. The problem of values was, however, in the centre of Dilthey's philosophy of life, which Znaniecki considered not rational enough. The basic feature of objects of culture for the humanistic coefficient is that they are always “somebody's” and not “nobody's” as represented in naturalism. Znaniecki maintains that the existence of cultural objects depends both on their conscious experience as investigated by phenomenology and on actions toward these objects as they are studied by pragmatism. They exist in the experience and in the action of certain people and they possess properties which these acting and experiencing people give to them by their actions and experiences.

The humanistic coefficient says that the data of culture belong to the active experiences of people and are such as these active experiences make them (Znaniecki, 1934: 37). The very notion of the active experience of a fact of culture, for example the active experience of language that occurs when we listen to an utterance distinctly shows that Znaniecki attempted to avoid remaining exclusively in the domain of consciousness or of praxis. The humanistic coefficient concerns the composition and the structure of cultural systems when they are created and recreated in the active experience of peoples as values. Value is the counterpart concept to the humanistic coefficient, for the latter refers to the active experience of values and actions toward values, that is, toward objects of culture bestowed with meaning and axiological significance. Znaniecki presents his notion of meaning:

“A value differs from a thing in that it possesses both a given content, which distinguishes it as an empirical object form other objects, and a meaning, by which it suggests other objects – those with which it has been actively associated in the past (...)” (Znaniecki, 1934: 41).

He also defines axiological signifiance:

“When a value is taken with reference to a particular system, it may appear as 'desiralbe' or 'undesirable', 'useful' or 'harniful', etc., in connection with the other values involved in it and from the point of view of its realization. We call this character of a value its positive or negative axiological significance” (Znaniecki, 1934: 42).

The originality of Znaniecki's approach lies in the concept of the active experience of meaning and axiological significance of objects. Znaniecki did not limit the concept of cultural reality to the sphere of meanings as we can see in the theories of Schütz, Mead and Blumer. The conception of the humanistic coefficient embraces not only the semiotical dimension of culture, but also the axiological one.

2. The Sociological Order

Inexhaustible, concrete historical reality is organized and rationalized first by practical activity and next by theoretical thought, which is founded on this first commonsensical schematization of experience.

“(...) in our commonsense reflection we usually find ourselves in the midst of some practical activity and thus our present experience mostly converges toward some definite situation; that the section of our past experience which we now remember appears in memory as centralized around some scheme (...)” (Znaniecki, 1983: 229).

He defines the scheme as a set of practical rules determining essential elements of a situation of action of a certain type. Thus the notion of the scheme has much in common with the concept of typification (Schütz, 1971: 428) later introduced by Schütz. Yet, Znaniecki links the schematization of reality with the standardization of action more openly than Schütz. Znaniecki pointed at four orders of reality that are further rationalized by science: physical, psychical, social and ideal. According to Znaniecki theoretical, sociological study would be based on social reality already practically singled out. Social reality is constituted by particular schemes - social rules - formulated or not, giving uniform and permanent definitions to personal situations in terms of social values. It has a symbolic interactional grounding. Practically constructed social order requires communication and conscious social influence. Since the communication and interaction is limited to certain social groups, social reality is composed of multiple social worlds.

“Social reality is thus divided into sections, each section formed by the social rules and values common to a certain intercommunicated social group” (Znaniecki, 1983: 292).

Practically singled out and partially ordered social reality is submitted to the idealizing abstraction of sociology that presents the rational theoretic order of social reality. Znaniecki's theoretical order is based upon a conception of interactional social systems. He follows Simmel in this respect accepting the analytical conception of “Vergesellschaftung”. He assumes that social action is the primary dynamic social system. Social actions are those which bear upon men as their objects and intend to provoke definite reactions on their part. Out of that system emerge others: social systems of relationships, roles, groups and societies conceptualized analytically as a complex of groups institutionalized by one dominant political, ecclesiastical or national group (Znaniecki, 1965: 19f).

Znaniecki's conception of social systems has a crucial aspect; it implies social values. Social systems as understood by the humanistic coefficient are dynamic systems of social values that are selected and organized by social actions. Znaniecki claims that social values compose a distinct class of values apart from hedonistic, technical, religious, aesthetic, cognitive and other values. Human beings, as objects of social, actions are primary social values, but all kinds of values become secondary social values if they are included in the system of social action (Znaniecki, 1936: 71-110). Thus the social instrument, the social method of acting and the result of the action, i.e. the social reaction of a person or a group, constitute secondary social values. They are bestowed with meanings and with axiological significance. Though Znaniecki acknowledges the existence of axionormative, ideological models which are culturally prescribed ways of experiencing meanings and values, he still sees the ultimate source of meaning and values in the sphere of action. The definition of meanings and values is the work of the agent. The analysis of the “active experience" of the agent proves that the social object, the individual or the group is a value in consideration of his active participation in values and its consequences for the agent. Thus the social object as a value is characterized by his possessions, that is by the values under his control and disposition, which means the ways of dealing with these values. Social instruments of action are also values. They are under the control of the agent and they may be used to modify possessions and dispositions of the partner. Thus the primary social instruments are values to which linguistic and other symbols refer. Znaniecki is far from overemphasizing the symbolic aspect of social actions. Language is only a secondary social instrument. Symbolic suggestion influencing people is a condition of most social actions. However, not signs and symbols, but values to which they refer are the ontological basis of social phenomena. Likewise the method of action being a version of the positive persuasion or negative coercion and the social reaction of the partner are experienced as values.

The social system of action owing to the humanistic coefficient, is enfranchised from having a formal character. It is a dynamic system of values comprising meanings and axiological significance.

IV. Cognitive Ideals

The conception of the humanistic coefficient does not only concern the ontology of culture. The humanistic coefficient also contains the epistemological aspect, describing the specific cognitive situation of the investigator of culture, in which objects of his study are already given in somebodys else's experience or are somebody's actions. Thus the humanistic coefficient is at the same time the most general principle for telling how conceptions of cultural sciences and of sociology in particular should be constructed with regard to this specific cognitive situation. Like Schütz later on, Znaniecki similarly maintained, that the practical schematization of the world provides the grounds for theoretical conceptions (Znaniecki, 1912: 133, 177).

1. “Intensional” Criterion

Contrary to Bergson, Znaniecki recognized the positive and the creative role of scientific cognition. Like Weber, he proclaimed the necessity of the idealization of phenomena that would order the chaos of concrete historical reality (Weber, 1973: 186-262). The conceptual idealization, however, cannot be arbitrarily done by the investigator. The theoretical, idealized schema of the cultural phenomenon must be based on a practical one, constructed by the active experience of people. Znaniecki formulated an important criterion for a conceptual schema. He called it an “intensional” criterion or the criterion of the content, from the Latin 'intensio' – content (Znaniecki, 1912: 201). The quality, and internal richness of experience preserved by the schema is the primary criterion of its evaluation. This criterion is consistent with the humanistic coefficient. It implies that the schema must perserve semiotical and axiological features the phenomena was bestowed with by people is active experience of it. This criterion of the content, that is the principle of preserving the maximum of the meaningful

ness of the phenomena, does not lead to Znaniecki's approach becoming lost in empirical details. It is true that the humanistic coefficient necessitates the intensive study of particular cases. Thoroughness in analyzing particular data is indispenseable. At this point however, Znaniecki makes an important reservation. Thoroughness cannot be exaggerated because if it goes too far it makes generalization impossible.

“(...) there is a certain minimum of thoroughness short of which analysis cannot stop without becoming too superficial to be of any value as material for abstraction; but there is also a certain maximum of thoroughness beyond which it should not reach, if it does not want its laborious findings to be wasted for lack of possible means for their theoretical realization” (Znaniecki, 1934: 256).

The humanistic coefficient, as I have attempted to show, refers to the construction of reality in active experience. Theoretical conceptions should be a continuation of practical rationalizing construction. Znaniecki answers the urgent question of what should be the passage from the order of practical schemas to the theoretical level by formulating the idea of analytic induction.

2. Analytic Induction

We will concentrate here on the aspect of the concept of the analytic induction that is connected with the humanistic coefficient. The problem of the definition of terms is crucial here. Znaniecki was of the opinion that defining terms in advance is harmful to knowledge being made, although it remains a valuable rule for the communication of knowledge already achieved. He emphasizes the comprehension and not the logical extension, the descriptive rather than the indicative sense of a word. For example he would rather first ask what “marriage” is and not if a given relationship belongs or not to the Class of “marriages”. Thus, like Blumer later (1969:148), Znaniecki postulates the tentative, provisional use of words as indicative of classes until a thorough study of the kind of objects or processes to which he wishes to apply it is carried out. Znaniecki postulates analytic induction as a way of creating definitions of classes or objects. No definition of the class precedes the selection of data to be studied as representation of this class in analytic induction. Certain particular objects or cases should he first studied intensively and the problem then is to define the logical classes they represent. Znaniecki counterposes the analytic induction proposed by him to the enumerative induction commonly employed in quantitative studies:

“While both forms of induction tend to reach general and abstract truths concerning particular and concrete data, enumerative induction abstracts by generalizing, whereas analytic induction generalizes by abstracting. The former looks in many cases for characters that are similar and abstracts them conceptually because of their generality, presuming that they must be essential to each particular case; the latter abstracts from the given concrete case characters that are essential to it and generalizes them, presuming that in so far as essential, they must be similar in many cases” (Znaniecki, 1934: 250f).

Znaniecki names it also the method of typical cases or “eidetic cases”. If a concrete case is being analyzed as typical or eidetic, one assumes that the traits which are essential to it, which determine what it is, are common to and distinctive of all the cases of a class.

Znaniecki is well aware of the fact that at this point he undertakes the central problem of the cultural sciences. He agrees that it is not an easy task to demonstrate essential characters belonging to a cultural or social datum given its humanistic coefficient. The experience of meaning may be different for participants of a certain social relationship or a group and changes at different moments of their participation. The investigator may be tempted to apply easier external standards of usefulness or function Znaniecki however, emphasizes intrinsic standards given in the active experience of people alleging at the same time, that it does not imply a cultural historical individualizing method. The individualizing approach is based on the claim that the essential in cultural phenomena is the unique, the original and the unrepeatable. Znaniecki takes a different position. In accordance with his assumptions of culturalism, he claims that the active experience of people displays the axionormative order of values and transforming them into actions. The active experience reveals the nucleus of intersubjective meanings and values, and in actions an objective structure is manifested. It does not mean that applying the “intensional” criterion and the analytic induction is a simple task. These epistemological standards were formulated by Znaniecki as cognitive ideals aiming at a reconciliation of the exact analysis of an inexhaustible variety of materials and the rational systematization of it.

V. The Basic Methodological Code

Methodological principles in which the humanistic approach to social data is formulated were presented by Znaniecki in The Method of Sociology. He does not focus either on the verification nor on the systematization of knowledge, but on searching and on the discovery. The methodological directives of Znaniecki do not include formal rules or procedures, but only pertinent indications for the researcher. The indications concerning specific sources of sociological data are of basic importance. The specificity of these sources is a consequence of the humanistic coefficient. The researcher must turn to such sources that give access to the active experience of the participants of the social life as creators and recreators of its objective order. The specific character of the social world expressed in the conception of the humanistic coefficient opens to sociologists sources unknown to natural scientists. For the world of the active experiences of people is the universe of discourse, in which meanings and axiological significances are rendered accessible by symbolic expressions. Znaniecki, at this point, adopts Dilthey's view that in signs and symbols the experience of meanings and values is objectified. However, the first level of objectification is that of action which assumes a certain pattern and function that is a certain contribution to a wider system constructed by people. Comprehensible and communicable activities are, their forms and functions repeated and shared by people constructing them (Znaniecki, 1934: 54).

Culturalistic assumptions of Znaniecki concerning mind and reality lead him to the rejection of the narrowness of the naturalistic view about reliable sources of sociological data. He points at four major sources of sociological data: personal experience of the sociologist, observations of the sociologist, personal experiences of other people and observations of other people. One of the most challenging principles introduced by Znaniecki is the claim that the personal original experience of the sociologist is the primary source of information. He does not mean introspection or "self analysis" but the experience of social actions. Facts of this humanistic experience of the sociologist are the values which were given to him and his treatment of these values.

“The only way to actually experience a social system at first-hand is to be active in its construction, for only thus are we directly aware of the tendencies involved in its structure and the actual significance of the values included in its composition” (Znaniecki, 1934: 157).

Znaniecki improves upon an important direction, that the description of an original experience of a sociologist must be in such terms as to be verifiable by other original experiences.

Understanding as postulated by Dilthey and then by the phenomenological school comes in second place. Znaniecki interprets this kind of understanding as the vicarious experience of a sociologist. It consists of a reconstruction of a real system of values constructed by others. It is a kind of ideational reproduction of a system. Whereas the original agent really modifies the values included in the system, the reproducing agent modifies them only in imagination. Such an ideational activity in contrast to the real activity does not use instruments. That is why Znaniecki - although accepting Verstehen - vicarious experience as a source of data - is far from the uncritical adoption of the phenomenological method and the more so from assuming its priority or exclusivity. He argues that it is a very good method, as employed by Husserl, for ideal systems of symbolically organized knowledge (Husserl, 1988: 99-105). But in sociology the difference between ideational and realistic activities has crucial significance.

“(...) to experience fully a logical reasoning we need do nothing else but reproduce it ideationally. When, however, we reproduce ideationally the activity of a husband or wife, a physician or a soldier, a group member or a group – agents who use social instruments to influence other people in real life, our reconstruction of their systems is different from their construction, and our experience obviously differs from theirs” (Znaniecki, 1934: 170).

That is why he makes an important point concerning Verstehen. A description of vicarious experience should be made in such a way as to be verifiable both by original experience and by observations. Both realistic and ideational reproduction of experience is possible only with regard to systems not too different from those in which the sociologist participates. When the sociologist is facing an unfamiliar system very different from his own, observation is the only reliable approach. The humanistic coefficient implies that the observation of cultural data is a humanistic one. In observing systems of values it is indispensible to know their meaning and significance to the people and how people deal with them. Thus the important orientation here is that individuals and groups should be viewed as social values for one another, i.e. for what they mean socially to each other. In addition to actions, there is another kind of observable social data unknown in natural sciences. These are documents connected with the use of written language as an instrument of social actions on a higher level of culture. In general Znaniecki advises, that these documents should be used inasmuch as the sociologist does not presume to draw conclusions from them about anything like attitudes, in-formation, reactions, but only the very individual or collective activity which they express.

Znaniecki is well known as the advocate of autobiographical sources in sociology. He really was of the opinion that the written autobiograhy is the best kind of secondhand source for the study of active social experiences because there is no bias imposed on a man in advance, as in the interview or the questionnaire. He gives a directive to collect series of autobiographies from members of a group as the best evidence about the actual reality construction of a group as of a social system. The autobiography as a sociological source is fully legitimated by the humanistic coefficient. When a sociologist uses this source he does not look for individual, subjective experience, but for meanings and values of dynamic social systems in which authors of autobiographies participate.

Without any methodological prejudices Znaniecki admits the use of social observations transmitted by people who were not participants of described actions. The first place is rendered by Znaniecki to literature because he considers men of letters to be professional observers of social life. Thus literature completes Znaniecki's challenging list of humanistic sources in sociology. It furnishes the researcher with the sociological imagination (Mills, 1957), helping in the discovery of data.

“(...) the literary genius often sees first the importance of facts neglected and ignored by the theorist pursuing his doctrine” (Znaniecki, 1934:197).

And also here Znaniecki gives a useful methodological directive. He advises the choice the samples of literature on the basis of the consensus of critical opinion of people – readers agreeing that the presented characteristics of the social life are typical. The above review of the basic methodological directives formulated by Znaniecki demonstrates that the principle of the humanistic coefficient is not easy to apply but that does not affect its conceptualizing power for constituting sociology as a cultural science.

VI. Conclusion: The Ethos of Sociology

To conclude this exposition of Znaniecki's humanistic approach to social reality I would like to underline the self-limiting character of his relativism, that in effect implies a culturalistic ethos of the research of society. It is true that the humanistic coefficient is in its essence a relativistic principle. It refers to the multiple systems of meanings and values constructed by actions and interactions. Sociology, by studying the construction of different systems of social values, is a carrier of the modern relativistic culturalism directed against both idealistic and naturalistic dogmas. It may fulfil this role only if in accordance with the relativistic standpoint, it were free from valuations. That means the adoption of a purely theoretical attitude stemming from the intellectual interest in social life. Consequently it requires the elimination as far as possible, of the practical interests of the student from his field of studies. The freedom from valuations must lead to realizing the difference between one's own practical point of view and that of the people studied, emphasizing facts which are important to them even though they may seem unimportant to him, taking into account such features as others ascribe to objects even if to the student they may seem illusory. As in the case of each competence, keeping the relativistic principle of the humanistic coefficient in mind, the researcher needs training to acquire the skills needed for value-free research.

The relativism of Znaniecki's culturalism is, however, a self-limiting principle. It is deduced from the principle of the creativity of constructing meanings and values and in this way it recognizes the creativity on introducing new elements to culture as a basic value. Znaniecki points at the necessity of developing the secular ideals of the creative culture. These practical ideals surpass absolute relativism. Znaniecki has in mind values of positive significance for an humanity, such as: creative cooperation, peaceful unification and the development of culture (Znaniecki, 1952: 184). Thus sociologists practising culturalistic value-free sociology cannot remain absolutely sovereign relativists. They should not promote any particular values except the value of the freedom of research, but at the same time they should act in the framework of a wider culturalistic ethos. Thus they need philosophers of values to legitimize their principles (Znaniecki, 1952: 79-84). The humanistic approach of Znaniecki is based not only on a culturalistic ontology, epistemology and methodology, but also on the culturalistic ethos.


Bergson, H., 1913, Ewolucja twórcza. Translated by Florian Znaniecki. Warsaw.

Bertilsson, M., 1986, On Znaniecki's Methodology. Analytic Induction as Abductive Knowledge, in: Dulczewski Z. (ed.) A Commemorative Book in Honor of Florian Znaniecki on the Centenary of his Birth. Poznan: 37-48. Bierstedt, R. (ed.), 1969, Florian Znaniecki. On Humanistic Sociology.

Selected Papers. The Heritage of Sociology. Chicago.

Bierstedt, R., 1987, American Sociological Theory. A Critical History. New York: Academic Press: 185-241.

Blumer, H., 1950, Statement Regarding Florian Znaniecki. Josef Regenstein Library. The University of Chicago. Department of Special Collection.

Florian Znaniecki's Holdings Folder 7: Testimonial Dinner Tributes. Unpublished.

Blumer, H., 1969, Symbolic Interactionism. Perspective and Method.

Englewood Cliffs, N.Y.: Prentice Hall Inc.

Dilthey, W., 1987, 0 istocic filozofii i inne pisma, Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe. Warszawa.

Halas, E., 1983, Florian Znaniecki. Ein verkannter Vorläufer des Symbolischen Interaktionismus, Zeitschrift für Soziologie, 12 (4): 341-352.

Husserl, E., 1982, Medytacje kartezjanskie. Translated by A. Wajs, Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe. Warszawa.

Mills, C.W., 1959, The Sociological Immagination. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schiller, F.C., 1903, Humanism. Philosophical Essays. London: Macmillan.

Schutz, A., 1971, Collected Papers. II. The Problem of Social Reality. The Hague: Martin Nijhoff.

Thomas, W.I. & Znaniecki, F. (eds.), 1918-1920, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. Vol. I-V. Boston: Richard G. Badger.

Weber, M., 1973, Die 'Objektivitat' Sozialwissenschaftlicher Erkenntnis, in: J. Winckelmann (ed.), Max Weber. Soziologie. Universalgeschichtliche Analysen. Politik. Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag.

Znaniecki, F., 1910, Zagadnienie wartosci w filozofii. Wydawnictwo “Przegladu Filozoficznego". Warszawa.

Znaniecki, F., 1912, Humanizm i pomanie. Wydawictwo “Przegl¹du Filozoficznego". Warszawa.

Znaniecki, F., 1919, Cultural Reality. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Znaniecki, F., 1920, Intellectual America by a European, Atlantic Monthly, CXXV. (January-June): 188-199.

Znaniecki, F., 1922, Wstep do Socjologii. Poznan.

Znaniecki, F., 1925, The Laws of Social Psychology. Warszawa, Krakow, Poznan: Gebethner i Wolff.

Znaniecki, F., 1927, The Object-Matter of Sociology, American Journal of Sociology, 32: 529-584.

Znaniecki, F., 1934, The Method of Sociology. New York: Rinehard and Co. Inc.

Znaniecki, F., 1936, Social Actions. Poznan: The Polish Sociological Institute.

Znaniecki, F., 1940, The Social Role of the Man of Knowledge. New York: Columbia University Press.

Znaniecki, F., 1952a Cultural Sciences. Their Origin and Development. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Znaniecki, F., 1952b, Modern Nationalities. Urbana: The University of Illinois Press.

Znaniecki, F, 1952c; Should Sociologists be also Philosophers of Values?, Sociology and Social Research, Nov.-Dec: 79-84.

Znaniecki, F., 1965, Social Relations and Social Roles. San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Company.

Zoaniecki, F., 1983, Cultural Reality. Houston, Texas: Cap and Gown Press.

Znaniecki, F., 1986, The Social Role of the Man of Knowledge. New Brunswick: Transaction Books.

Znaniecki-Lopata, H., Florian Znaniecki. His Life, in: Znaniecki, F., social Relations and Social roles. San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Company: XIII-XIX.





























































































































































































































































































































































































































































Prof. Horst J. Helle