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The Sociological Imagination

C. Wright Mills

Top 10 Best Quotes

“Let every man be his own methodologist, let every man be his own theorist”

“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.”

“Those in the grip of the methodological inhibition often refuse to say anything about modern society unless it has been through the fine little mill of The Statistical Ritual. It is usual to say that what they produce is true even if unimportant. I do not agree with this; more and more I wonder how true it is. I wonder how much exactitude, or even pseudo-precision, is here confused with 'truth'; and how much abstracted empiricism is taken as the only 'empirical' manner of work.”

“One great lesson that we can learn from its systematic absence in the work of the grand theorists is that every self-conscious thinker must at all times be aware of — and hence be able to control — the levels of abstraction on which he is working. The capacity to shuttle between levels of abstraction, with ease and with clarity, is a signal mark of the imaginative and systematic thinker.”

“In so far as he [sic] is concerned with liberal, that is to say liberating, education, his public role has two goals: What he ought to do for the individual is to turn personal troubles and concerns into social issues and problems open to reason – his aim is to help the individual become a self-educating man, who only then would be reasonable and free. What he ought to do for the society is to combat all those forces which are destroying genuine publics ... his aim is to help build and to strengthen self-cultivating publics.”

“Much that has passed for ‘science’ is now felt to be dubious philosophy; much that is held to be ‘real science’ is often felt to provide only confused fragments of the realities among which men live. Men of science, it is widely felt, no longer try to picture reality as a whole or to present a true outline of human destiny. Moreover, ‘science’ seems to many less a creative ethos and a manner of orientation than a set of Science Machines, operated by technicians and controlled by economic and military men who neither embody nor understand science as ethos and orientation. In the meantime, philosophers who speak in the name of science often transform it into ‘scientism,’ making out its experience to be identical with human experience, and claiming that only by its method can the problems of life be solved. With all this, many cultural workmen have come to feel that ‘science’ is a false and pretentious Messiah, or at the very least a highly ambiguous element in modern civilization.”

“If we accept the Greek’s definition of the idiot as an altogether private man, then we must conclude that many citizens of many societies are indeed idiots.”

“Yet men do not usually define the roubles they endure in terms of historical change and institutional contradiction. The well-being they enjoy, they do not usually impute to the big ups and downs of the societies in which they live. Seldom aware of the intricate connection between the patterns of their own lives and the course of world history, ordinary men do not usually know what this connection means for the kinds of men they are becoming and for the kinds of history-making in which they take part. - pg 4”

“When we consider what a word stands for, we are dealing with its semantic aspects; when we consider it in relation to other words, we are dealing with its syntactic features.5 I introduce these shorthand terms because they provide an economical and precise way to make this point: Grand theory is drunk on syntax, blind to semantics. Its practitioners do not truly understand that when we define a word we are merely inviting others to use it as we would like it to be used; that the purpose of definition is to focus argument upon fact, and that the proper result of good definition is to transform argument over terms into disagreements about fact, and thus open arguments to further inquiry.”

“When a society is industrialized, a peasant becomes a worker, a feudal lord is liquidated or becomes a businessman. When classes rise or fall a man is employed or unemployed; when the rate of investment goes up or down, a man takes new heart of goes broke. When wars happen, an insurance salesman becomes a rocket launcher; a store clerk, a radar ma; a wife lives alone; a child grows up without a father. Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding other. - pg 3”

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Book Keywords:

science, life, inaction, meaning, politics, idiocy, social-science, intellectual-style, society, sociology

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