THE COMPLEX ORGANIZATION OF SOCIAL THEORY
One way of looking at this aspect of complex systems has been suggested by Biologist Robert Rosen. As he put it, we find out what a system is and what it does by using measuring instruments, Each of which gives us a limited amount of information about the system. We cannot work with an iniinite number, thus we are forced to use a subset of all of the instruments that would he required and as a result develop "relative descriptions." This means that there are many ways we can interact with the system depending on which of the subsets of theories we choose to make use of. We apply one set of theories and assumptions to the study of social facts, another toward an understanding of social behavior, and still another to the study of social definitions.
Rosen explained that "In general merely juxtapositioning alternate modes of description does not in general lead to a more comprehensive description which embraces all of the components." The consequence is the development of two different mechanisms. The first is variability, the multjplicity of modes of description produced by different subsets of measuring instruments. The second is error, or the difference between the system as cognized by the individual under any specific mode or combination of modes, and the system as it exists in reality. By selecting those modes of description for which the errors are inconsequential for the problem at hand, we can simplify the system by creating a model with fewer degrees of freedom that faithfully models the characteristics that are important to us.
In Rosen's terms Ritzer's paradigms are different modes developed from the use of different sets of measuring instruments. The validity of each of these modes can only be determined by the errors inherent in a particular mode with respect to the specific problems the researcher is attempting to solve. For example, for Durkheim the primary determinant of social relations was society. The individual was simply a product of the social forms of his community. He was cognizant of the fact that the interactions of individuals do make up society, but to him that was less important for the problem he had at hand. This problem was to describe how diffcrent social forms determine social actions, for example the relationship between suicide and anomie. For Durkheim, social facts were the tools he used to show how social dynamics are determined by social forces.
Weber also began with the assumption that social forces determine social relations, but he was more interested in how these forces affected those relations. Social facts alone do not illustrate this process, along with them Weber needed to include the definitions people give to these facts. Ritzer had problems identifying Weber either as a factist or a definitionist because neither of these two modes alone is sufficient for the problems that Weber was trying to solve. In a similar sense, Weber and Blummer cannot be classed together just because they both are interested in individual actions. To do so one would be forced into creating a mode of interaction that would be so broad that it would result in a great deal of unnecessary error. They belong in different modes because the problems each was attempting to solve required different sets of measuring instruments (theories, research methods, and attitudes).
We can get a feel for the role that error plays in social theory by comparing the problems that interested two different categories of related theoraticians, symbolic interactionists and phenomenologists. In each case there was an attempt to study the actions of individuals in social situations, but the problems each were interested in were quite different. While to both man lives in an inner pragmatic world which is a model of an outer objective reality, to the symbolic interactionist the elements that compose that inner pragmatic world are the symbolic meanings he has given to the elements of the empirical world. They are studied through the symbolic meanings he gives to his own overt actions. To the phenomenologist, on the other hand, that inner world was developed in accordance with inviolable laws that purtain to the-inner processes of the mind. Secondly, of particular importance to the phenomenological sociologist, that inner world is the only world that matters.
The claim of the symbolic interactionists is that such an inner world cannot be studied, it can only be estimated from an examination of overt behavior. Their problem, then, was determining both social structure and social action from a study of the meaning that people give to their interactions. Phenomenologists, on the other hand, generally believe that you cannot determine such structures on the basis of the symbolic meaning that people give to their actions because these symbols themselves are determined by the cultural milleiu the individual is brought up in. However, as long as the cultural background was kept constant, the theories of the symbolic interactionists do not lead to added errors through cultural differentiation and the methods they used did provide clearly demarcated facts on which to base their theorizing.
Phenomenology led to either broad approaches such as ethnometodology, or narrow approaches like the sociology of knowledge. Each of these had its own set of advantages over interactionism when they are applied to the study of cross-cultural trends. The result is that these two schools of social dealt with different modes of looking at the complexity of social relations.
The point of all this is that Ritzer's choice of "paradigms" for inclusion into sociology results in a set of arbitrary classifications which fail to distinguish between the most important motivations of each school of thought, the problems they are attempting to solve. And what is critical here is that if he is really trying to follow Kuhn, he should return at all times to the basic Kuhnian concept that the only reason for science is to solve problems.