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International Society for Intellectual History Paper: Adolphe Quetelet’s Social Mechanics in Turn of the Century American Sociology May 3, 2016

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of the Human Sciences.
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*Digression Begins Here*

One of the most wonderful happenings of research is finding one’s subject in unexpected places.  The idea of “social mechanics” is to be found in the philosophy of law of Rudolf von Jhering (22 August 1818 – 17 September 1892).  In the United States, Jhering most famous work was in its English translation.  Published in 1914, Law as a Means to an End (published in translation in 1914) had the following central arguments.  The first was that there was no “natural contract.” This was contrary to the jurisprudence of William Blackstone, which posited (like many others) the existence of an original contract as one of the conditions of modern society. Jhering was reacting against a very established natural law tradition.  Conversely, Jhering underscored that law was simply the most convenient organization found by man.  Morality and personhood were outside of law. It was not that law was amoral.  It was that morality was outside of law.  Law had no justification outside that it was convenient and that it provided a social function for society.

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