Sociologists often ask why particular groups of people have the moral views that they do. I argue that sociology's empirical research on morality relies, implicitly or explicitly, on unsophisticated and even obsolete ethical theories, and thus is based on inadequate conceptions of the ontology, epistemology, and semantics of morality. In this article I address the two main problems in the sociology of morality: (1) the problem of moral truth, and (2) the problem of value freedom. I identify two ideal-typical approaches. While the Weberian paradigm rejects the concept of moral truth, the Durkheimian paradigm accepts it. By contrast, I argue that sociology should be metaphysically agnostic, yet in practice it should proceed as though there were no moral truths. The Weberians claim that the sociology of morality can and should be value free; the Durkheimians claim that it cannot and it should not. My argument is that, while it is true that factual statements presuppose value judgments, it does not follow that sociologists are moral philosophers in disguise. Finally, I contend that in order for sociology to improve its understanding of morality, better conceptual, epistemological, and methodological foundations are needed.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science