the moral dimension: toward a new amitai etzioni

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  • The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics. by Amitai EtzioniReview by: Lewis A. CoserSocial Forces, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Sep., 1991), pp. 246-247Published by: Oxford University PressStable URL: .Accessed: 15/06/2014 13:58

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  • 246 / Social Forces 70:1, September 1991

    boroughs, Flap on political patronage, and Friedman on labor unions - the relevance of rational choice elements is too often obscured by thickets of descriptive material and static formulations. The reader must be persistent to extract theoretical implications for rigorous future tests from, for example, Wippler's counterintuitive claim that the less privileged participate more in high culture events, or Flap's contention that social capital can grow in the absence of resource mobilization via network ties that develop "without their own intervention and conscious know- ledge."

    To read this volume at one sitting is to come away hugely impressed by the vigor and intellectual excitement with which rational choicers are resuscitating stale sociological themes. Although still haunted by the specter of the invisible hand, sociologically informed interpreters are clearly intent on developing a unique vocabulary and substantive focus. Practitioners lack consensus (what specialty has it?) on key concepts, core problems, and basic aims of a rational choice sociology. But, propelled by the programmatic efforts shown in this volume, increasing numbers of our peers will be choosing this paradigm as paying off in the highest benefits per invested cost.

    The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics. By Amitai Etzioni. Free Press, 1988. 314 pp. $24.95.

    Reviewer: LEWIS A. COSER, Boston College

    This book can be seen as an engine of warfare against the standard neoclassical approach in both economics and the social sciences that have borrowed from economics. The author shows in instructive detail that the neoclassical rationalistic approach cannot account for the normative and affective factors "that shape to a significant extent the information that is gathered, the way it is processed, the inferences that are drawn, the options that are being considered, and the options that are finally chosen" when a course of action, in economics or elsewhere, has been decided upon.

    Etzioni presents the reader with an impressive panoramic view of pro and con arguments in this matter, which have accumulated roughly since the end of World War II. His 41-page bibliography is a fine storehouse of information for anyone who wishes to be kept abreast of the state of arguments that have surrounded the neoclassical stance in economics and adjacent fields of inquiry.

    There are difficulties with Etzioni's approach. Whereas stress on affect, moral community, and normative constraint is indeed considered heresy by the leading doctrine in economics, this is by no means the case in sociology. In fact, such an approach has been among the main preoccupations of the fathers of sociology. Etzioni's discourse is, however, resolutely presentist, so that he fails to benefit from contributions of the fathers of sociological thought. He has taken Alfred North Whitehead's tongue-in-cheek advice that social scientists should forget their ancestors a bit too literally. A few examples are in order.

    Martin Buber, the great Jewish social philosopher, was a teacher of Etzioni and clearly has influenced his basic orientation toward communitarian thinking and what he calls the I-We approach. Yet Etzioni has chosen not to quote Buber or to list any of his writings. What is also perturbing is that he neglects to include in either his text or his bibliography any reference to the anticlassical and anti-free enterprise

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  • Book Reviews / 247

    tradition in economics. There is no mention of Sismondi, Veblen, Keynes, or of the late writings of Pareto. As a result, one unfortunately gets the impression that Etzioni's work is more original than it is. Much of what he has to say has been a mainstay of the assumptions of his neglected unorthodox predecessors. In fact, he hardly mentions that long before Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, Smith wrote a work entitled 7he 77Teory of Moral Sentiments in which he advanced ideas on the moral dimensions of economic activity, which Etzioni serves up as instances of the mature wisdom of modem critics of neoclassical economics. "That people have several wants including their commitment to live up to moral values" was as familiar a view among the Scottish moralists as it is among modem sociologists. To quote Maurice Halbwachs, in The Collective Memory, "We are never alone." This insight stands in the center of attention of the sociological tradition.

    Etzioni has often insisted that he wishes to be considered a sociologue engage who tries not only to understand the social world but to change it. If he conceives tis book mainly as an instrument to propagate a sociological vision to laypeople and the powerful, he has succeeded admirably. For these purposes there is indeed no need to mention the contributions of our forebears. But when he shifts from epistles to the gentiles to argumentation with contemporary social scientists, his criteria also need to shift.

    Etzioni contributes to the argument when he writes that 'market models typically assume that all participants have the same easy access to information. However, information asymmetries are common." Here he alludes to a genuine problem in social science methodology. And when he tells us that there is "a curvilinear relationship between the level of affect and that of rationality," he adds to our knowledge. When he tells social scientists that "values direct one's choice of relevant fact,' one must ask, What else is new?

    Social Forms/ Human Capacities: Essays in Authority and Difference. By Philip Corrigan. London: Routledge, 1990. 290 pp. $45.00.

    Reviewer: JONATHAN B. IMBER, Wellesley College

    Philip Corrigan was bom in 1942 and is editor and coauthor of such works as Socialist Construction and Marxist Theory: Bolshevism and Its Critique (1978); For Mao: Essays in Historical Materialism (1979); Capitalism, State Formation and Marxist Theory (1980); and The Great Arch: English State Formation as Cultural Revolution (1985). I cite these earlier works because this collection of essays, reviews, and meditations (written between 1975 and 1988) is difficult to read without some sense of Corrigan's sociological project. Reading Corrigan is an exercise in postmodern thinking. His quotations from Marx (e.g., "Doubt Everything") and Lenin (e.g., "No dreams, no revolution") are the emblems of his critical commitment.

    Of what this commitment consists beyond the emblematic bows to these guardian angels is less clear. Foucault, Barthes, and other French celebrities in the pantheon of modem criticism are cited as "demythologizers" of "the Obviousness that surrounds us like (and the metaphor is very material) the very air we breathe." One of the subtexts of this stance toward "the Obviousness" is that Marxism rather than ethnomethodology must provide the tools for analysis if there is any hope for achieving a critical understanding of the constraints and contradictions that make society possible but life for some impossible. Corrigan no more subscribes to

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    Article Contentsp. 246p. 247

    Issue Table of ContentsSocial Forces, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Sep., 1991), pp. 1-306Front Matter [pp. 86 - 236]A Methodology for Twenty-First Century Sociology [pp. 1 - 17]In Memoriam: Guy B. Johnson, 1901-1991 [p. 18]Evolution on a Dancing Landscape: Organizations and Networks in Dynamic Blau Space [pp. 19 - 42]Linking the Micro- and Macrolevel Dimensions of Community Social Organization [pp. 43 - 64]Gender and Small Business Success: An Inquiry into Women's Relative Disadvantage [pp. 65 - 85]The Disjunctive History of U.S. Museums, 1869-1980 [pp. 87 - 105]Levels of Information and Contributions to Public Goods [pp. 107 - 124]Reconceptualizing Cult Coercion and Withdrawal: A Comparative Analysis of Divorce and Apostasy [pp. 125 - 145]Routine Activities: A Cross-National Assessment of a Criminological Perspective [pp. 147 - 163]Social Change and Crime Rates: An Evaluation of Alternative Theoretical Approaches [pp. 165 - 185]Separation from a Parent during Childhood and Adult Socioeconomic Attainment [pp. 187 - 206]Social Integration and Divorce [pp. 207 - 224]The Effect of Population Density on Welfar


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