Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Issues in Qualitative Sociology: Subjective and Objective Idealism as Sociological Perspectives, Interpretive Social Causation and its Relevance to Social Problems, and the Question of a Value-Free Sociology

Prof. Leon Warshay.

The emergence of qualitative (idealist) sociology to near equal status with the, heretofore, dominant quantitative (empiricist, positivist) sociology indicates a reemphasis on sociology’s humanistic subject matter implying a more diverse sociological methodology. Three examples of this trend are presented: (1) An emphasis on subjective idealism and objective idealism as legitimate sociological perspectives; (2) A broadening of causation beyond its mechanical sense to include an interpretive sense, particularly applicable to social problems, and; (3) An argument that a value-free sociology is not confined to neo-positivism but also fits an idealist context.
Both subjective and objective idealists have accentuated the humanistic side of sociology, emphasizing both consciousness (intentions and values) of individuals and the phenomenal worlds and value systems of large social units such as societies.
An idealist view of causation goes beyond mechanical causation to include interpretive dimensions (intentions and evaluations). Interpretive causation implies choices for individuals and social units and praise or blame for their actions. This has consequences for the conception of social problems: To the degree that people have real choices, they can be held responsible for their actions. The alternative, always holding society responsible for one’s plight, is a mechanical (one-way) causation that denies human choice and responsibility.
Moreover, interpretive social causation has implications for ethical neutrality in that a value-free sociology does not necessarily require a neo-positivist (e.g., George Lundberg) perspective but can also be lodged in a (Weberian) humanist context.


Prof. Leon Warshay  (United States)
Department of Sociology
Wayne State University

MA, University of Chicago; PhD, University of Minnesota.

  • Subjective Idealism
  • Qualitative Sociology
  • Interpretive Social Causation
  • Value-free Sociology
  • Social Causation
  • Social Problems
  • Sociological Perspectives
  • Mechanical Causation

(Virtual Presentation, English)