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FUNCTIONALISM AND EXPLANATION IN SOCIAL SCIENCEM. H.

Lessnofj

n this essay I shall look again at a familiar but still puzzling question: namely, can functionalism provide satisfactory explanations of sodal phenomena? My hope is that, by attending to the differences between various kinds of functionalist statement, some light can be shed on the problem. By a functionalist statement, I mean, in this context, a statement that imputes a sodal function to some phenomenon, such as an institution. I shall not be concerned to assess the truth of such statementson the contrary, I shall usually assume, for the purposes of argument, that they are true. My concern will be to discover whether a true functionalist statement can, by pointing out the sodal function of a phenomenon, explain why that phenomenon exists, or why it developed, or why it has persisted. We must begin by clarifying the concept of 'social function', which is by no means a simple one. It is convenient here to look at two definitions given by one of the founders of funaionalism, RadcliffeBrown. The first (which is a slight modification of an earlier definition by Durkheim) is as follows: ^ the function of a social institution is the correspondence between it and tbe necessary conditions of existence of the sodal organism. Thus an institution can be said to be functional if it fulfils, or helps to fulfil, one or more of the necessary conditions of existence of 'the sodal orgatiism'. In the same essay, Radcliffe-Brown also defines^ the function of 'any recurrent activity' as the contribution it makes to maintaitiing the continuity of the sodal structure to which it belongs. On this view, a sodal activity is functional if it helps to maintain the structure of its sodety. Are these two defitiitions of Radcliffe-Brown equivalent to one another? This depends, I believe, on how one is to interpret a key phrase in the first definition, which refers to the 'necessary conditions of existence of the social organism'. If for any social organism (let us
* My thanks for helpful criticism in the preparation of this paper are due to colleagues in the Departments of Politics and Sodology, and of Logic, in the University of Glasgow. 323

M. H. Lessnoff say, in more modern language, for any society) any necessary condition of its existence ceases to obtain, it must cease to exist. Now, the idea of a society ceasing to exist is one whose vagueness has worried critics of functionalism. Do we ever observe such an event? If so, what are the criteria by which we recognize it? I suggest that this concept can be given a reasonably precise meaning in at least two quite different ways. We may either take 'a society' to mean a particular social structure made up of a particular set (or system) of institutions (for example, present-day British society with its parliamentary system of government, its mixed economy, etc.), which ceases to exist if it undergoes major structural change (present-day British society would cease to exist if tliere were a commutiist revolution here); or else we may take 'a society' to mean any social order (structure) whatever existing in a given population over successive generations. On this latter view, a society does not cease to exist when it undergoes major structural change (as in a revolution) but only when social order as such disappearsa rare event which presumably would entail the disappearance of the population in question either as cause or as effect.^ If 'a society' means 'a particular social structure', Radcliffe-Brown's two definitions of function come to much the same thing. If an institution fulfils or helps to fulfil one or more of the necessary conditions of existence of a particular social structure such as present-day British society, then by that token it helps to maintain that struaure; in other words the first definition is equivalent to the second. Not so, however, if 'a society' means 'any social order whatever', for an institution that fulfils or helps to fulfil one or more of the necessary conditions of existence of any social order whatever need not help to maintain any particular structure. There are, then, these two different meanings of the expression 'the social function of an institution (or activity)': either, its role in helping to make possible social order as such; or, its role in helping to maintain a particular social structure. In the former case, we should naturally say that the institution or activity is functional for society; in the latter, that it is functional for its society. It should be stressed, by the way, that the ambiguity in the notion of 'a society' and the corresponding ambiguity of 'social function' are by no means confined to Raddiffe-Brown, but pervade the writings of many functionalists up to the present day. This distinction between the two meanings of 'social function' may 324

Functionalism and Explanation in Social Science at first sight seem similar to one which has quite commonly been drawn by sodologists/ between a kind (or aspect) of functionalism concerned to relate parts of society (such as institutions) to society as a whole, and a kind (or aspect) concerned with the relation of institutions and other parts of society to each other. But this is not necessarily a distinction of great importance, nor does it necessarily coincide with the one I have drawn. Consider, for example, George Homans' analysis of funaionalism. Homans^ points out two different ways in which the word 'functional' has been used in social science: first, to express the idea of the interdependence of the institutions in a particular society (such an interdependence being described as a functional relation between the institutions in question); second, to refer to the contribution of an institution to the maintenance of the society to which it belongs 'as a going concern' (such an institution being described as functional for its society). But the precise import of Homans' distinction depends, as does that of Raddiffe-Brown's first definition of function, on what is meant by 'society'whether a particular social struaure, or any social order whatever. Only if 'society' means 'any social order whatever' is Homans' second use of the term 'functional' essentially different from his first. If 'institution X contributes to the maintenance of the society to which it belongs' means 'institution X contributes to the maintenance of the particular social structure (i.e. system of institutions) to which it belongs', then it is a statement asserting a relationship of interdependence between institution X and other institutions of its society (we can safely assume that it does not assert merely the analytic truth that X is necessarily a part of the system of institutions to which it belongs)in which case, Homans' two uses of 'funaional' come to more or less the same thing. If, on the other hand, 'institution X contributes to the maintenance of the society to which it belongs' means 'institution X contributes to the maintenance of a functioning social order among the population in question', then clearly in Homans' second use of 'function' nothing is being said about relations between particular institutions. In that case but only in that caseHomans' distinction becomes equivalent to my own. It is with the two kinds of functional statements that I have pointed out (and variants of them) that the rest of this essay will be concerned. As a convenient shorthand, I shall refer to the kind which posits a relation of mutual dependence between particular institutions as 'institutional relation functionalism'; and to that which asserts the 325

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favourable effect of an institution on the chances of maintaining a functioning social order as 'societal survival functionalism'. It is possible to construct what might be called a perfectly functional model of society, in which both kinds of functionalism are combined. The basic assumption of such a model is that it is possible to specify a list of necessary conditions for the existence of any social order whatever in any population. Functionalist sociologists who have developed this idea, such as Parsons,' taking for granted the obvious biological and environmental prerequisites of human life, have claimed that there are certain imperatives which must be fulfilled by social institutions themselves if the social structure is to be viable (Parsons calls them functional prerequisites of society). In the perfectly functional model of society, all institutions (or at least all major institutions) of all societies either fulfil or help to fulfil one or more of the functional prereqtiisites of social order; and all (major) institutions of all societies help to maintain the particular structure of their own particular society. (This latter notion corresponds more or less to Radcliffe-Brown's postulate of the funaional unity of societies.)' To say that all (major) institutions of any particular society help to maintain its particulai- structure is equivalent to saying that all (major) institutions of any given society help to maintain each other. On the basis of this model it would be possible to classify societies, as in Radcliffe-Brown's theory of structural types,* classing together societies which fulfil the functional prerequisites of social order through similar institutions (similar economic institutions, political institutions, educational institutions, and so on). The assumption is that societies with similar economic institutions also have similar political institutions, educational institutions, etc., since a given type of economic system sets up forces in favour of a particular type of political system, educational system, etc. in coexistence with which it functions particularly harmoniously, and vice-versaand so on for relations between all the institutions characteristic of a society of a given structural type. Of course no-one believes that the perfectly functional model of society is an accurate representation of reality. At best it is a theoretical limiting case which can be used, like a Weberian ideal type, as the starting point for an analysis of actual societies, which depart from the model in greater or lesser degree. In the first place, not all institutions help to fulfil the functional prerequisites of social order, and some may actually hinder their fulfilment; furthermore, not all the institutions coexisting in a given society tend reciprocally to main326

Functionalism and Explanation in Social Science tain each otherbetween the members of some pairs of institutions the tendency to maintenance may be unidirectional rather than reciprocal; between the members of other pairs there may be no such tendency at all; and in some cases there may even be a unidirectional, or reciprocal, tendency for one institution to bring about major changes in another. One can allow for some of these possibilities while maintaitiing a functionalist perspective through the concept of 'dysfunction'. Corresponding to our two kinds of functional statement there are two uses of the term 'dysfunction'. An institution is dysfunctional for society if (like, for example, war) it hinders the fulfilment of one or more of the functional prerequisites of sodal order as such (presumably without, in the case of an actually existing institution, actually preventing the fulfilment of any); it is dysfunctional for its society if (like a modern education system in a traditional society) its tendency is to alter the latter's struaural type (i.e. to change other institutions with which it coexists, and with which it may be said to have a dysfunctional relationship). The latter use of 'dysfunction' permits the funaionalist approach to handle sodal change, conceptualised as the transition of a sodety from one structural type to anotherthe dynamic of change is a dysfunctional relation between institutions in a sodety, which is by definition a temporary situation tending always to the restoration of institutional compatibility. It is important for any analysis of the explanatory power of funaionalism that the dif[erence between societal survival functionalism and institutional relation functionalism should be appredated. While the full-scale functionalist model combines them, they are distinct and separable. Some functionalists, however, do not seem to have been aware of this. Radcliffe-Brown for example in his treatment of religion," quotes the covariation of forms of religion with those of other sodal institutions as evidence in support of his hypothesis that religions have sodally valuable effects, namely, the strengthening of sodal solidarity. Yet the hypothesis is dearly an example of societal survival functionalism; the proffered evidence an example of institutional relation funaionalism. A similar confusion may be at the root of a common and much criticized tendency among functionalists to identify change with disorder. Disorder, I suggest, is a consequence of some dysfunctional aspect of social structure, in the sense of sodetal survival functionalism; whereas change is a consequence (as well as sometimes, no doubt, a cause) of a dysfunctional relation between institutions. (The latter confusion is also encouraged by the fact 327

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that both disorder and change can be described as instability though in quite different senses of the word.) That the two kinds of functionalist statement are indeed different and separable is proved by the faa that one may be true where the other is falsefor example, Myrdal's well-known thesis'" about the mutually reinforcing relation between White racialism and low Negro standards of living and morals in the U.S.A. plausibly asserts a functional relation between institutions that are demonstrably not functional in the sodetal survival sense, but rather dysfunaional. The difference between the two kinds of functionalism should not be overlooked beciuse of the undoubted fact that they can be combined. Indeed, there are several ways in which this can be done. It could, for example, be maintained that a functional relation between institutions is itself functional in the societal survival sensethough the example from Myrdal quoted above suffices to cast doubt on the general validity of such an idea. If it were true, it would presumably always be a mistake to alter any institution well adjusted to any other institution without simultaneously altering the latter also. This is implausible, for it would often seem sensible to change one dysfunctional institution (in the societal survival sense) by reforming another on which it dependsfor example, to improve Negro standards by attacking White radsm. Another way in which the two functionalisms can appear together arises if one of two institutions between which a functional relation exists, is itself functional in the sodetal survival sense. In that case, any other institution that tends to maintain it is also, indirealy, futictional in the societal survival sense. Sometimes, also, it is easy to mistake one kind of functionalism for the other. For example, consider the fatniliar analysis'' of institutionalized joking and avoidance relations in tribal societies, according to which these have the function of forestalling confiicts dangerous of social order, namely, the absence of cotifiict dangerous to social specified categories of persons. At first blush it might appear that such an analysis exhibits avoidance relations as functional in the sodetal survival sense, since they help to fulfil one of the necessary conditions of social order, namely, the absence of conflia dangerous to social order. But, on closer inspection, it turns out that this kind of analysis is essentially an example of institutional relation functionalism. For avoidance and joldng relations between given categories of persons have the aforementioned effect only in a particular kind of sodal system, not in societies in general. They have the effect in question 328

Functionalism and Explanation in Social Science only in sodeties whose structure is such as to produce a high risk of confiict between persons in the given categories, and in which mutual tolerance between persons in these categories is so important that its absence threatens sodal order. An example is Tallensi society, in which, according to Goldschmidt,"' the lineage system is such as to create potential tension between fathers and sons, which is forestalled by avoidance relations between them. Thus the avoidance relations between fathers and sons in Tallensi sodety neutralize potentially dysfunctional consequences (in the sodetal survival sense) of the Tallensi lineage system; that is, they serve to increase the viability of the system of institutions making up Tallensi sodety, including its lineage system. This is to say that Tallensi avoidance relations help to maintain in existence the other institutions of Tallensi sodety, and in particular its lineage system. In other words, the avoidance relations are not necessary to, nor do they promote, the survival of sodal order as such; rather, they promote (and may even be necessary to) the viability of particular social structures such as are found among the Tallensi. Thus we have here a relation of dependence between institutions: in our example, the Tallensi lineage system (and perhaps other Tallensi institutions) depend for their viability on father-son avoidance. This kind of functionalist analysisshowing how a particular institution helps to maintain another by offsetting the potentially dangerous consequences of the latteris far from rare. Another example is Merton's well-known analysis''' of the function of the old-style political machine in American sodetyit offset the fragmentation of authority due to the decentralization of offidal American political institutions and provided services for the underprivileged which offidal agendes could not provide because of their laissez-faire ideology; and by so doing it increased the capadty of official American institutions and values to survive in the form they then had. Yet another example is the 'functional irrationality' which it seems, from Gellner's account,'* is displayed by the Berbers' beliefs about the agurram, a notable who mediates between feuding tribes and who the tribesmen say is appointed by God, though they in fact choose him themselves. This idea enables the tribesmen to accept the agurram's dedsion and thus helps to preserve peace, whereas Berber values would preclude as weakness their acceptance of dedsions of an arbitrator acknowledged to be humanly appointed. Thus the Berbers' 'error' makes their value-system more viable than it would otherwise 329

M. H. LessnofJ be. Yet another example is provided by the Marxist theory of the state. The state is said to be needed in order to control the conflict engendered by the class-system, and thus helps to preserve the class-system. Let us now ask whether the different kinds of functional statements that are found in sociology can explain the phenomena to which they impute a sodal function. (I should perhaps stress at this point that by 'explain the phenomena' I mean, explain why they are as they are not, for example, explain their significance for social life, or any other meaning that might be attributed to the expression.) Obviously, we must consider the two kinds of functionalism in turn. Our first question then is tide following: if one points out the sodetal survival function of an institution, has one explained why it is as it is? There is no doubt that functionalists have usually believed that they can and do explain social phenomena in this way. Yet, as has often enough been pointed out, such an explanation presents an air of paradox. There are two standard methods of explaining phenomena which, while the precise logic involved may be controversial, undoubtedly furnish explanations in the relevant sense: human actions can be explained in terms of the purposes, desires, etc. which gave the agent a motive or reason for acting; and a phenomenon where human action is not involved cm be explained by exhibiting it as the effect of a cause in the Humean sense, that is, as one of a class of phenomena regularly produced by phenomena of the class to which the cause belongs. If the word 'cause' is taken to mean a condition antecedent to the explicandum and which brought it about, then both these forms of explanation can be called causal explanation. But to point out that a social phenomenon is such as to help fulfil the necessary conditions of sodal order is clearly not to point out any condition antecedent to that phenomenon.^" A sodal phenomenon is, of course, a pattern of human actions; and it is conceivable that the reason why the people in question developed such a pattern, or persist in it, is their knowledge of its social function in the societal survival sense. However, such a possibility in no way assimilates this kind of functional explanation to explanation in terms of an agent's reasons for his action. It could do so only :if the following assumptions are true: (i) members of society (or at least their most powerful or influential members) know, as a rule, what the necessary conditions of sodal order are, and know what kinds of institutions etc. help to fulfil them; (2) in establishing, developing, or partidpating in sodal institutions, members of society (or their most powerful or influential members) are, as a rule, 330

Functiondism and Explanation in Social Science predominantly motivated by a desire to fulfil the necessary conditions of social order. If and only if these assumptions hold good can a reference to the societal survival function of an institution be taken as implidtly a reference to the reasons why the relevant agents established or partidpate in it. But neither assumption is at all plausible." It follows that, even in a particular case where the assumptions hold, a reference to societal survival funaion will not work as an explanation because there is no licence to proceed automatically from the function to an intention to realize the function. If such an intention is the explanation, it is necessary to say soand, in fact, such may well be the explanation even of an institution which has no sodetal survival function, for all that is required is that the relevant agents believe it to have one. However, a sodetal survival function is typically invoked in explanation of social phenomena, such as the rituals of primitive tribes, of whose alleged function the participants are expressly said to be unaware. Sometimes, of course, a functional statement can serve as an explanation because it is an elliptical allusion to a series of events explicable in the Humean fashion. This is the case in regard to the attribution of a survival function ('survival value') to an anatomical structure or physiological process or behavioural trait of a biological organism. The theory of natural selection leads us to expect that, by and large, only struaures, processes and traits which have survival value for the organism in its environment will themselves survive. Thus a reference to the survival function of such a structure, process, or trait explains its survival, assuming the relevant series of events that constitutes its selection (an assumption licensed by the theory of natural selection). But there is no theory of natural selection to license the assumption that only functional sodal institutions can be expeaed to survive; so there is no parallel here between biology and sodology." Of course, biological explanation through funaion explains only the survival of the struaure etc., and not its origin, which roughly speaking is to be explained in terms of the laws of recombination of genetic material or of genetic mutation. Some writers^* wish to draw a parallel distinction between explaining the origin and explaining the persistence (survival) of a sodal institution; but the parallel is a false one, and for precisely the reason why reference to 'survival value' in the sociological case lacks the explanatory power it has in the biological namely, that we have no reason to think that only functional institutions survive. Given the existence of a sodal institution, then
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M, H. Lessnoff (unless we have some spedal reason that would lead us to expect its demise or transfoimation) its continued existence requires no further explanation. To explain its origin is, therefore, normally, to explain why it exists. By contrast, we expect a biological structure, etc., to be eliminated unless it has survival value, because of the Darwinian struggle for existence. Hence to explain its origin is not to explain why it still exists (has survived)the latter is explained by its survival value. Percy Cohen in a recent book expounds (though he does not seem wholly to accept) what can be looked on as a defence of sodetal survival functionalism as a method of explanation.'" According to this view, this kind of functionalism explains the phenomenon to which a function is imputed through a drcular chain of causal connections. Thus, for example, if one points out that religion has the function of maintaining moral order, and moral order in turn makes political institutions possible, and these in turn coordinate activities, and this helps to preserve a society of which religion is a partto point to such a drcular causal chain is to help to explain religion as an effect though it also features in the chain as a cause. But this is a confusion. For, firstly, to say that 'the sodal function of religion is to maintain moral order' is by no means to allude to any such circular causal chain as that traced above: it is to say that religion produces (or helps to produce) moral order, and moral order is a necessary condition of sodal orderand nothing more than that. Doubtless, if moral order is a necessary condition of social order, moral order must also be a necessary condition of political institutions; but, even if we were to grant that moral order is a sufficient condition of social order, it would not follow that moral order favours the existence of political institutions, unless political institutions are necessarily a part of any social order, that is, a necessary condition of sodal order. Furthermore, even if we grant (what the functionalist explanation does not state) that political institutions are not only a necessary, but also a suffident condition of sodal order, there is no reason to think that religion must be a part of that sodal order, utiless religion is a necessary condition of social orderand that, once again, is not asserted by the statement that 'the social function of religion is to maintain moral order.' Actually, the circular explanatoi-y chain can be both simplified and strengthened by being put into the following more general form: 'religion has consequences for society which in turn tend to preserve religion.' But to say even this is to say something over and above what is said by the state332

Functionalism and Explanation in Social Science ment that religion has a sodal funaion, whatever it may be. It is therefore quite illusory to think that the latter kind of statement has the same explanatory power as the former. A well-known account of the relation of funaional statements to explanation, that of Carl Hempel,^" is relevant to our present consideration of societal survival functionalism. Briefly, Hempel maintains that if a given system can funaion (survive) only given a certain condition, and if that condition can be satisfied only when the system has a given trait, then from the faa that the system functions (survives) we can deduce that it has the trait. Hence, to show that a given trait of a functioning system is a necessary condition of its functioning, is to explain why the system has the trait in question. As Hempel points out, functional 'explanations' typically depart from this model in that they fail to exhibit the trait in question as the only way to satisfy the alleged necessary condition of funaioning of the system. There are, as a matter of fact, three variants of societal survival functionalism to be considered in relation to this point: (i) that which alleges that a given trait (institution)such as sodal stratification is a necessary condition of the existence (or at least the survival) of any sodal order; (2) that which alleges that a given institutionsuch as religionfulfils a necessary condition of existence (or survival) such as a moral orderof any sodal order, but does not rule out the possibility of its being fulfilled by some other 'functionally equivalent' institution; (3) that which simply attributes 'survival value' to an institution from the point of view of maintaining some (not any particular) sodal orderfor example, one might say that a modern medical service, or the use of modern fertilizers in agriculture, enhances a society's chances of survival, without thereby implying that without it, or something functionally equivalent, sodety would be impossible. Only funaional statements of class (i) can, according to Hempelian arguments, provide adequate explanations. However, it is important to see in predsely what sense such a functional statement is explanatory. The first thing is to be clear as to what predsely it explainsto see of what kind of explicandum it can be the explicans. Suppose all (known) sodeties have a sodal stratification system, then a demonstration that sodal stratification is a necessary condition of the existence (or survival) of any sodal order^' would show why this is so. It would also show why any sodety at a given time has a system of sodal stratification. These kinds of explicanda can be explained by showing that sodal stratification is a 333

M. H. Lessnoff necessary condition of the existence (or survival) of any sodal order, because to show this is to show that (the persistence of) a society without a stratification system is an impossibility. But to show this is not to explain why social stratification systems, or any given sodal stratification system, exist or exists; for, although it follows from the fact that an unstratified society is an impossibility, that every society must have a stratification system, it does not follow therefrom that social stratification systems, or any sodal stratification system, must exist. Given that every society must have a stratification system, there are two alternative possibilities: either, there are societies, all of which have stratification systems; or, there are no stratification systems, and hence no sodeties (and presumably no men either). An explanation of the existence of stratification systems must show why the former, rather than the latter, possibility was realized; but the necessity of stratification for any sodal order does not show this (unless, once again, one is illidtly, and highly implausibly, assuming that awareness of the faa brought about the development of stratification systems). I suggest that an answer to such questions as 'why are there sodal stratification systems?' and 'why ajre there so many sodal stratification systems?' would require an account of the facts of human psychology and behaviour that lead to sodal stratification (for example, that men are selfinterested and have unequal abilities and hence inevitably have unequal amounts of wealth and power). A further important point is that if (as seems likely) the facts of human psychology and behaviour on which we rely to explain why sodal stratification exists are universal or near-universal traits of human nature, tlien these universal psycho-behavioural facts also explain both why all (known) sodeties have sodal stratification systems, and why any particular sodety has a sodal stratification system. Thus there are two possible kinds of explanation of facts of these classes: one (psycho-behavioural) which refers to universal traits of human nature which bring about certain consequences in all sodeties; and one (functional) which refers to the necessity of a given kind of institution if any sodal order is to exist. Perhaps I can make some of these points clearer by the following recapitulation. Suppose that the following facts are true: F i : human nature is such that when men interaa with one another there results inevitably a system of social stratification (let us assume that the reason for this inevitable outcome is that men have unequal abilities, are inherently selfish, and hence some inevitably obtain more 334

Functionalism and Explanation in Social Science power and wealth than others). F2: human nature is such that no unstratified society could survive (it might be argued here that a sodety necessarily implies a differentiated role struaure, that the most important roles are also the most onerous, and that therefore, in order that these responsible roles be discharged, they must carry exceptional rewards, for otherwise not enough people would wish to assume the responsibilities and burdens involved). Fact Fi will explain (i) why all (known) societies have stratification systems; (2) why any particular society has a stratification system; (3) why stratification systems exist. F a a F2 will explain (i) and (2) above, but not (3); for if F2 were true, but Fi were not, it would be possible that human beings interacting with one another would fail to develop a sodal stratification system (and so be unable to maintain a viable society). In this illustration, of course, F2 is an example of a functional explanation, and Fi is an example of what I have called a psychobehavioural explanation. Notice, by the way, that neither Fi nor F2 can explain why a particular society has a particular system of sodal stratification (e.g. a caste system). The discovery that both a functional and a psycho-behavioural explanation can be given for what is apparently the same explicandum (i.e. the faa that all (known) sodeties have a particular trait) raises the question of the relation between these two forms of explanation. One thing at least seems clear, that for an explicandum of this type there must be a psycho-behavioural explanation, but there need not be a functional one, for not every trait that is found in all known sodeties is necessary to the survival of sodety. Thus, for example, an explanation of why all known societies have crime (if they do) would have to be given in psycho-behavioural and not in functional terms. Where a universal trait of societies can also be shown to be a functional necessity for the survival of any society whatever, the relation between psycho-behavioural and funaional explanation can be expressed as follows: both can explain the explicandum, but only the psychobehavioural can give the cause of the explicandum. To the question 'Why are all (known) sodeties stratified?' one may answer either 'Because no sodety could survive if it were not stratified' or 'Because human nature is such as to bring about stratification'. But to the question 'What causes all (known) societies to be stratified?' the only answer possible is 'Human nature and behaviour' (specified, of course, in the appropriate amount of detail). To ask for the aiuse of a pheno335

M. H. Lessnoj} menon is, I have suggested,^^ to ask for the specification of antecedent conditions that bring or brought it about; to ask for the cause of a phenomenon found universally in a given class of objeas (such as, by assumption, the stratification of societies) is to ask for the specification of antecedent conditions common to each instance. Human nature and behaviour are in this sense causally antecedent to all sodal stratification systems (if Fi is true); but the fact that (if F2 is true) no unstratified sodety could survive is not causally antecedent to any social stratification system. Thus, psycho-behavioural explanation of the fact that all societies have a given trait is causal explanation; functional explanation of such a faa is not causal explanation, but some other kind. I have been considering the adequacy of explanations which rely on an assertion that a sodal institution is a necessary condition of any social order. I now wish to turn briefiy to those explanations which assert that a sodal institution (such as religion) fulfils a necessary condition of social order. If such an institution is universal in (known) human societies an assertion of this kind cannot explain the faa, since it does not show that human society without the institution in question is impossible; but it can perhaps be counted as the beginnings of an explanation, for it does show that all human societies must have either the institution or else some functionally equivalent alternative. Another possibility that arises where an institution fulfils a necessary condition of sodal order is that many sodeties, some societies, or only a few societies have it. The faa that the institution fulfils this necessary condition is the beginnings of an explanation of why some sodeties have it (they must have either it, or some functionally equivalent alternative); but this faa does not explain why many sodeties (rather than only a few) have the institution in question or why only a few sodeties (rather than many) have it. On the other hand, it is the beginning of an explanation of why a particular sodety has the institution in question, since without the institution or some funaionally equivalent alternative the sodety could not exist. What about the explanatory power of the mere sodetal survival value of an institution such as a modern health service? One might perhaps argue as follows. Other things being equal, sodeties which possess an institution which has sodetal survival value are more likely to survive than those that do not possess the institution. Therefore, institutions possessing sodetal survival value have a relatively high probability of survival. Hence the faa that an institution has sodetal 336

Functionalism and Explanation in Social Science survival value goes some way to explain why it has itself survived, and therefore why it exists. A parallel argument could be used to support the thesis that the sodetal survival value of an institution goes some way to explain why many sociedes have the institution (if that is the case), or even why they all do (if that, perhaps improbably, is the case)though not, I think, to explain why some or a few have it, nor why a particular sodety has it. But this whole argument is far-fetched. I have already pointed^" out that the failure of a sodety to survive, in the sense of failing to maintain any sodal order whatever, is an extremely rare event, and therefore one which has played an insigtiificant part in the disappearance of particular institutions. Thus, the mere tendency of a particular institution to promote sodetal survival can scarcely be invoked as an explanadon of its own survival. In any case, the functional mode of explanation seems completely odose where a psycho-behavioural explanation in terms of human motives, knowledge, etc., is available. For example, we can explain the existence of modern health services, as well as why particular sodedes have them, historically; this being so, we would never dream of explaining them by their sodetal survival value (unless knowledge of that were thought to have been a motive operadve in their historical development). So much for the explanatory power of the several variants of sodetal survival funcdonalism. Let us turn now to insdtudonal reladon functionalism, which can be dealt with more briefly. This occurs in two forms, which we may call unidirectional and reciprocal. In the unidirectional form it is asserted that an institution is 'functional for' some other institudon or insdtudons, i.e. tends to favour its/their development or persistence. In the redprocal form the same is true, and furthermore the other institution or institudons also tends/tend to favour the development or persistence of the first insdtudon (there is a 'functional reladonship' between the insdtutions). The utiidirecdonal form seems to have no general capadty to explain why the 'functional' institution exists, much less to explain its existence by its funcdon; for its function is to favour the development or persistence of another insdtution or insdtudons (as, for example, a Marxist might say that the function of the state is to preserve class divisions)." Of course, if the state is a necessary condidon for the preservation of class divisions, this would explain why the state is always present where class divisions are present; but it would not explain why exisdng states exist (for there might be no state and no class divisions, as indeed Marxists aver is possiblethe presence or absence of these insdtu337

M. H. Lessnofj tions in given societies they explain of course in terms of the stage of evolution reached by the forces of production). Or at least, the state's function of preserving class divisions cannot explain the existence of existing states, unless it is assumed that there are powerful people in society who ensure that the state exists and functions, in order to preserve class distinctions (from which, presumably, they benefit). But in that case, once again, the explanation of the existence of existing states is really the power and motives of such people, rather than the state's function as such; such power and motives would be quite sufi&cient to explain the existence of existing states, even if states failed to fulfil the function attributed to them (as is the case, according to Marxism, in revolutionary periods). When we turn to consider the reciprocal kind of institutional relation functionalism, we find that it certainly does have some kind of explanatory power. Consider the relation postulated by Parsons" between the nuclear family and industrialism, which is roughly that a nuclear family system, unlike other family systems, is compatible with the individual social mobility that industrialism requires. Thus in the U.S.A., for example, where both are found, the existence of an advanced industrial economy is partly to be explained by the nuclear family system; and, conversely, the advanced industrial economy, insofar as it brings about individual mobility which is incompatible with family systems other than the nuclear family system, is at least part of the explanation of the existence of that system. In other words, where a reciproail functional relationship is demonstrated between two institutions, botli are at least partially explained. Furthermore, an analysis of this kind can correctly be said to explain an institutionfcyits junction. For a function of the nuclear family, according to Parsons, is to promote industrialism; and industrialism in turn promotes the nuclear familyso one could say that the nuclear family's function helps to preserve its own existence. And in this sort of case there is no dichotomy of funaional and psycho-behavioural explanations; rather, the functional explanation is also psycho-behavioural. If the nuclear family promotes industrialism, it promotes behaviour that results in industrialism; if industrialism promotes the nuclear family, it promotes familial behaviour incompatible with other family systems. Here we have indeed something like the circular chain of causation expounded by Cohen" as a defence of functional explanation; but the defence is good in regard only to reciprocal institutional relation functionalism, not to societal survival functionalism. 338

Functionalism and Explanation in Social Science In summary my thesis is that whether functionalism has explanatory power depends on which kind of funaional statement one has in mind; on the particular sorts of explicanda for which one is seeking an explanation; and on whether or not one is seeking a causal explanation of the explicandum. This is a fairly complicated answer to our initial question, but I do not see how a simpler one can be given. University of Glasgow.

A. R. Radcliffe-Brown: Structure and Function in Primitive Society, Cohen and West, 1952, p. 178. 2 Ibid, p. 180. ' Cf. E. E. Evans-Pritchard: Anthropology and History, Manchester University Press, I96r, p. 10: 'A society may change from one type to another . . . Do we then speak of a society at two different points of time or do we speak of two societies?' * See, for example, K. Davis: 'The Myth of Functional Analysis as a Special Method in Sociology and Anthropology', American Sociological Review, Vol. 24, 1959, pp. 758-9. '' G. Homans: Sentiments and Activities, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962, pp. 23-4. Homans also refers to a third sense of 'function' which does not concern us here. " See, for example, T. Parsons and N. J. Smelser: Economy and Society, Free Press Paperback Edition, 1965, pp. 16 et seq. and passim. ' Radcliffe-Brown: op.cit.,p. 181. Ibid. " Ibid, pp. 154 et seq.; pp. 161 et seq. '" G. Myrdal: Value in Social Theory, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958, p. 188. ' ' Radcliffe-Brown: op. cit., Ch. V. '^ W. Goldschmidt: Comparative Functionalism, University of California Press, 1966, pp. 72-5. '' R. Merton: Social Theory and Social Structure, revised edn.. Free Press, 1957, pp. 72-3. '* E. Gellner: 'Concepts and Society', Transactions of the Fifth World Congress of Sociology, International Sociological Association, 1962, pp. 177-9. Gellner does not himself use the expression 'functional irrationality', but I think it adequately summarises his meaning. ' ^ ' Cf. G. Homans: op. cit., pp. 27-8. ' Ibid. 339

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' There may perhaps have been some 'natural selection' of institutions but the 'struggle for survival' between societies, unlike that between organisms, is nowhere near suflSciendy intense to bring it about that (more or less) only functional, institutions survive, " For example, W. W, Isajiw: Causation and Functionalism in Sociology, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968, pp, 126-8, Curiously, H. C. Bredemeier takes the opposite view, i.e. that it is the origin of a social phenomenon, rather than its survival (persisttaice), that is to be explained functionally through 'natural selection'. See his 'Methodology of Functionalism', American Sociological Review, Vol. 20, 1955, p. 175. '" P. Cohen: Modem Social Theory, Heinemann, 1968, p, 48. Cohen attributes this defence, wrongly I think, to Gellner: op. dt. He describes it as 'powerful', but objects to it on grounds obscure to me, 2" C, G. Hempel: 'The Logic of Functional Analysis' in L. Gross (ed.): Symposium on Sociological Theory, Row, Peterson and Co., 1959, pp. 283-4, 2' How one could demonstrate the truth of such a generalization is another problem, but not one that concerns us here. 22 See above, p, 330, " See above, pp, 324 and 331. ^^ This seems to be what Gellner means when he says that functional explanations have to be 'read backwards'^i,e. they explain the explicans by the explicandum rather than vice-versa. (See Gellner: op. dt., pp, 155-6,) But whereas to Gellner this is a defence of functional explanation, to me it is an indictment of it, since it leaves the explicandum unexplained. For Gellner, a genuine function^ explanation of institution X is given by showing that other institutions A, B, C help to maintain it. But this is not explaining X by its function; it is explaining X by the functions of A, B and C, So the statement 'the function of X is Y' does nothing to explain X, ^^ T. Parsons: Essays in Sociological Theory, revised edn,, Free Press Paperback, 1964, p. 79. '- See above, p, 332,

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