Oppenheimer, H. (1925), The logic of sociological concept formation, from the series "Heidelberg treatises on philosophy and its history" edited by Ernst Hoffmann and Heinrich Rickert, Tübingen: Verlag von J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).
Oppenheimer discusses the nature and goal of sociology as a science. He divides human experience into two categories:
1. the perceptible, which includes sensory experiences like forms and colors, and
2. the understandable meanings that come from these experiences, such as the beauty or ugliness of something.
Oppenheimer believes that sociology, as a science, should focus on understanding and evaluating the meaning of specific social behavior, and developing a basic understanding of the laws of meaning in human action and value systems. He also distinguishes between two sets of tasks in sociology: pure, formal, and general sociology, and material, historical-philosophical, special sociology. Oppenheimer suggests that sociology should be guided by the work of Max Weber and view society as a concept of culture.
First Chapter - Sociology as a generalizing cultural science
Oppenheimer examines the methodological aspects of sociological conceptualization. He begins by discussing Heinrich Rickert's distinction between individualizing and generalizing methods in science and the differences in the material that these methods work with. Oppenheimer then considers the possibility of a generalizing cultural study, arguing that such a study would involve generalizing the components of meaning attached to cultural reality. He goes on to discuss the use of general concepts in history to identify causes and connections between individual elements, and the distinction between causal connections and contexts of meaning. Oppenheimer argues that historical concepts, such as the connection between puritanism and capitalism, are based on the intelligibility of the connection and the observation that the two concepts have been realized in the same people or groups. He asserts that recognizing individual cultural contexts requires the use of general concepts of meaning contexts, which form the basis for all sociological concept formation. Oppenheimer concludes that the goal of science determines whether we are dealing with sociological or historical-philosophical concept formation, and that the choice between these two approaches depends on the object of investigation.
Second chapter - Max Weber's concept of the ideal type
Oppenheimer discusses Max Weber's approach to sociology as an empirical cultural science that seeks to understand reality in its cultural meaning. He focuses on Weber's use of the ideal type, a concept of historical structures of meaning that serves as a benchmark for reality, but is also deliberately removed from empirical reality in order to provide greater clarity and conceptual purity. Oppenheimer notes that the ideal type has several functions in sociology, including serving as a means of empirical cultural knowledge, providing a basis for comparison with reality, and bringing order to the diversity of cultural reality. He also points out that sociology, as a generalizing science, differs from history in its focus on forming concepts of type and seeking general rules of events, rather than on the causal analysis and attribution of individual culturally significant actions, structures, and personalities. Oppenheimer argues that the ideal type is valuable for understanding cultural realities and their connections, and for recognizing the significance of cultural phenomena in terms of their value and meaning. He also notes that the ideal type is valuable for understanding the contexts of meaning that shape social action and shape it into meaningful behavior. Finally, Oppenheimer discusses the use of causality in sociology, noting that it is used both in the realm of the intelligible and in the realm of the observable, and that it involves the subordination of more individual elements under more general ones.
Third Chapter - Sociology as a Philosophy of Value (Philosophy of the Social)
Oppenheimer discusses the development of sociology as a science of the value area of the social. He begins by discussing the influence of biological analogies and psychological theories on the early development of sociology. He notes that sociology initially attempted to imitate biology in order to understand the constant nature of society and the origins and development of culture and progress. However, the incorporation of psychology into sociology led to the separation of social psychology and mass psychology from sociology, as society was understood to be a cultural being rather than a collection of individual psychological acts.
Oppenheimer also discusses the role of values in the development of sociology, noting that the philosophy of values is a key element of the humanistic successor to the natural sciences of psychology and sociology. He mentions the work of Tönnies, Marx, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Spranger in shaping the field of social value and the concept of community and society.
Oppenheimer discusses the concept of social value and its role in the development of sociology as a theory of holistic values. He argues that in order to understand the contextual meaning of the entire social value area, sociology must utilize a logic of transpersonal social value that is able to scientifically and logically understand the irrational content of this area.
Oppenheimer suggests that the social whole is composed of meaningful realities that are connected by a unified, multifaceted, transpersonal meaning, and that this sense of totality arises from the actions of multiple individuals. He also asserts that the transpersonal value and meaning of society can never be fully realized by the isolated individual; the sense of wholeness is often not noticed by individuals. Oppenheimer goes on to discuss the concept of the social organism and the organic growth of culture, and the role of the social value sphere in shaping social behavior.
Fourth Chapter - Sociology as a generalizing cultural science
Oppenheimer discusses the relationship between sociology and the concept of meaning. He notes that the connection between puritanical ethics and modern capitalism, as demonstrated by Max Weber, is an example of a matter of meaning (inner-worldliness, asceticism, rationalism) present in two forms of meaning (religion and economy). Oppenheimer also discusses the concepts of epoch, stage, folk spirit, and cultural soul, and asserts that they are eminently sociological concepts that are used to interpret cultural events, but that they have been presented as natural laws and historical realities by some sociologists.
Oppenheimer writes that sociological connections, or the relationships between people and groups in society, don't follow the rules of time in the same way that other things do. There is also uncertainty about the relationship between certain patterns and events in social contexts. Additionally, the meaning of things in society can change based on the context.
Oppenheimer suggests considering opposing viewpoints and conflicting ideas in understanding society, and to understand the logic behind sociological concepts in order to apply them correctly.
Finally, Oppenheimer calls for a return to the logical foundations of the formation of sociological concepts in order to enhance the scientific credibility of sociology as a discipline.