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Theory in Talcott Parsons' sociological writings : an exposition and critique of theory in his metatheoretical writings and his substantive sociological theory in the light of the critieria of hypotheticodeductive theory. Grenda, Edward Ronald


Talcott Parsons, generally acclaimed to be one of the paramount sociological theorists at present, frequently asserts that he is seeking to develop an abstract scientific theory of social phenomena. There is, however, a corpus of notions, principles, and stratagems regarding scientific theory called the hypothetico-deductive approach. It is generally recognized as perhaps the most logically tenable and empirically revealing approach as regards the formulation of significant statements about the world. The problem, therefore, in this study centers on the question: How do Talcott Parsons' conception of the Mature and functions of scientific theory (his metatheory) and the basic structure of his substantive theory stand if they are compared with the various aspects of a hypothetico-deductive approach. To accomplish this, several lines of attack are initially pursued. Parsons' early intellectual influences and contacts are roughly traced out in an attempt to illumine the connections between Parsons and certain theorists who imparted a definite direction to Parsons' theoretical thinking. It is discovered that, the influences on Parsons were wide, diverse and, on the whole of a European speculative approach toward social theory. A discussion of the nature and functions of scientific theory and explanation in terms of a hypothetico-deductive approach is, then, carried out. Following this, an extensive elaboration and criticism of Parsons' conception of scientific theory, as revealed in a number of published essays and volumes, particularly The Structure of Social Action, is undertaken. It is found that many of Parsons' views, in this respect, are vague and logically untenable, with an extraordinary emphasis on concept development rather than the formulation of general statements (or laws) which form the heart of all scientific theory. An examination of the basic structure of Parsons' substantive theory reveals that it is structurally modelled in the light of what he conceives scientific theory to be and, consequently, is found to be decidedly lacking in a logical sense, thereby impairing its empirical applicability. It is concluded that Parsons' conception of scientific theory is inadequate and that his substantive theory is not theory if viewed from a hypothetico-deductive perspective. It is suggested, moreover, that Parsons has provided orientations in his substantive work rather than theory.

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