The Methodological Implications of the Schutz-Parsons Debate


The aim of this paper is an analysis of the different standpoints of Parsons and Schutz concerning Weber’s suggestion that sociological explanations have to include the subjective point of view of the actors, the Cartesian Dilemma that the actor’s consciousness is not accessible to the researcher, and the Kantian Problem that theories are necessary in order to interpret sensory data, but that there is no guarantee that these theories are true. The comparison of Schutz’s and Parsons’s positions shows that Parsons’s methodology is na?ve and unsuitable for a sociological analysis. But although Schutz’s methodological standpoint is much more reasonable, it is also problematic, because it excludes highly abstract social “facts” such as social systems from the research agenda. Parsons can deal with such highly abstract facts, despite the drawback that with his methodology the truth content of theories cannot be judged.

Share and Cite:

Etzrodt, C. (2013) The Methodological Implications of the Schutz-Parsons Debate. Open Journal of Philosophy, 3, 29-38. doi: 10.4236/ojpp.2013.31006.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Barber, M. D. (2004). The participating citizen: A biography of Alfred Schutz. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
[2] Beckert, J. (2006). Interpenetration versus embeddedness: The premature dismissal of Talcott Parsons in the new economic sociology. In L. S. Moss, & A. Savchenko (Eds.), Talcott Parsons: Economic sociologist of the 20th century (pp. 161-188). Malden: Blackwell.
[3] Bernstein, R. J. (1976). The restructuring of social and political theory. Oxford: Blackwell.
[4] Buxton, W. J. (1994). Academic dispute or clash of commitments? The Schutz-Parsons exchange. Human Studies, 17, 267-275. doi:10.1007/BF01323605
[5] Camic, C. (1991). Introduction. In T. Parsons (Ed.), The early essays (pp. ix-lxix). Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press.
[6] Cavalli, A. (1994). Max weber und Georg Simmel: Sind die divergenzen wirklich so gro? (Max weber and Georg Simmel: Are the divergences really that big). In G. Wagner, & H. Zipprian (Eds.), Max webers wissenschaftslehre (Max weber’s philosophy of science, pp. 224-238). Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
[7] Chew, M. M. (2009). The theoretical quandry of subjectivity: An intellectual historical note on the action theories of Talcott Parsons and Alfred Schutz. Review of European Studies, 1, 23-34.
[8] Cohen, J., Hazelrigg, L. E., & Pope, W. (1975). De-Parsonizing weber: A critique of Parsons’ interpretation of weber’s sociology. American Sociological Review, 40, 229-241. doi:10.2307/2094347
[9] Coser, L. A. (1979). A dialogue of the deaf. Contemporary Sociology, 8, 680-682. doi:10.2307/2065416
[10] Eberle, T. S. (1984). Constitution of meaning in everyday life and science: The contribution of phenomenology to the methodology of the social sciences. Bern/Stuttgart: Haupt.
[11] Etzrodt, C. (2001). Human behaviour: A synthesis of microeconomic and microsociological theories. Konstanz: Universit?tsverlag Konstanz.
[12] Etzrodt, C. (2004). Why actors don’t choose. A comparison of Talcott Parsons’s and Alfred Schutz’s action theories in relation to economics. The Annual Review of Sociology and Social Theory, 3, 98-115.
[13] Etzrodt, C. (2007). How can Alfred Schutz’s phenomenology increase the fruitfulness of Popper’s methodological individualism? Ritsumeikan Social Science Review, 43, 59-75. http://www.ritsu
[14] Etzrodt, C. (2008). The foundation of an interpretative sociology: A critical review of the attempts of George H. Mead and Alfred Schutz. Human Studies, 31, 157-177. doi:10.1007/s10746-008-9082-0
[15] Ferguson, H. (2006). Phenomenological sociology: Experience & insight in modern society. London: Sage.
[16] Fusfeld, D. R. (1987). Methodenstreit. In J. Eatwell, M. Milgate, & P. Newman (Eds.), The new Palgrave: A dictionary of economics (pp. 454-455). London/Basingstoke: Macmillan.
[17] Giddens, A. (1976). New rules of sociological method. London: Hutchinson.
[18] Goode, W. J. (1960). Norm commitment and conformity to role-status obligations. American Journal of Sociology, 66, 246-258. doi:10.1086/222876
[19] Grathoff, R. H. (1978a). Alfred Schütz. In D. K?sler (Ed.), Classics of sociological thought (pp. 388-416). München: Beck.
[20] Grathoff, R. H. (1978b). Introduction. In A. Schutz, & T. Parsons (Ed.), The theory of social action (pp. xvii-xxvi). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
[21] Hama, H. (1999). Ethnomethodology and the Rashomon problem. Human Studies, 22, 183-192. doi:10.1023/A:1005436400730
[22] Ho, W.-C. (2008). Understanding the subjective point of view: Methodological implications of the Schutz-Parsons debate. Human Studies, 31, 383-397. doi:10.1007/s10746-008-9100-2
[23] Jung, H. Y. (1999). Reading Natanson reading Schutz. In L. Embree (Ed.), Schutzian social science (pp. 87-113). Dordrecht: Kluwer. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-2944-4_5
[24] Kageyama, Y. (2003). Openness to the unknown: The role of falsifiability in search of better knowledge. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 33, 100-121. doi:10.1177/0048393102250307
[25] Khairy, M. (1986). The search for a phenomenologically grounded theory of action: A critique of Schutz. Arab Journal of the Social Sciences, 1, 130-136.
[26] Kim, K.-K. (2003). Order and agency in modernity: Talcott Parsons, Erving Goffman, and Harold Garfinkel. Albany: SUNY Press.
[27] Kim, K.-K., & Berard, T. (2009). Typification in society and social science: The continuing relevance of Schutz’s social phenomenology. Human Studies, 32, 263-289. doi:10.1007/s10746-009-9120-6
[28] McLain, R. (1981). The postulate of adequacy: Phenomenological sociology and the paradox of science and sociality. Human Studies, 4, 105-130. doi:10.1007/BF02127452
[29] Mikl-Horke, G. (2001). Sociology. München: Oldenbourg.
[30] Münch, R. (1981). Talcott Parsons and the theory of action: The structure of the Kantian core. American Journal of Sociology, 86, 709-739. doi:10.1086/227314
[31] Nasu, H. (1999). Alfred Schutz’s conception of multiple realities sociologically interpreted. In L. Embree (Ed.), Schutzian social science (pp. 69-85). Dordrecht: Kluwer. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-2944-4_4
[32] Natanson, M. (1962). Introduction. In A. Schutz (Ed.), Collected papers (pp. xxv-xlvii). Den Haag: Nijhoff.
[33] Natanson, M. (1978). Forword. In A. Schutz, & T. Parsons (Eds.), The theory of social action (pp. ix-xvi). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
[34] Nenon, T. (1999). The phenomenological foundation of the social sciences. In L. Embree (Ed.), Schutzian social science (pp. 173-186). Dordrecht: Kluwer. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-2944-4_9
[35] Parsons, T. (1937). The structure of social action. New York: McGrawHill.
[36] Parsons, T. (1938). The role of theory in social research. American Sociological Review, 3, 13-20. doi:10.2307/2083507
[37] Parsons, T. (1941a). Letter to Alfred Schutz from January 16, 1941. In A. Schutz, & T. Parsons (Eds.), The theory of social action (pp. 63-70). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
[38] Parsons, T. (1941b). Letter to Alfred Schutz from February 2, 1941. In A. Schutz, & T. Parsons (Eds.), The theory of social action (pp. 7993). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
[39] Parsons, T. (1948). The position of sociological theory. American Sociological Review, 13, 156-164. doi:10.2307/2087030
[40] Parsons, T. (1950). The prospects of sociological theory. American Sociological Review, 15, 3-16. doi:10.2307/2086393
[41] Parsons, T. (1951). The social system. Glencoe: Free Press.
[42] Parsons, T. (1978). A 1974 retrospective perspective. In A. Schutz, & T. Parsons (Eds.), The theory of social action (pp. 115-124). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
[43] Parsons, T. (1996). The theory of human behavior in its individual and social aspects. American Sociologist, 27, 13-23. doi:10.1007/BF02692048
[44] Popper, K. R. (1935). The logic of scientific discovery. Wien: Springer.
[45] Psathas, G. (1999). On the study of human action: Schutz and Garfinkel on social science. In L. Embree (Ed.), Schutzian social science (pp. 47-68). Dordrecht: Kluwer. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-2944-4_3
[46] Prendergast, C. (1986). Alfred Schutz and the Austrian school of economics. American Journal of Sociology, 92, 1-26. doi:10.1086/228461
[47] Rehorick, D. A. (1980). Schutz and Parsns: Debate or dialogue? Human Studies, 3, 347-355. doi:10.1007/BF02331820
[48] Savage, S. P. (1981). The theories of Talcott Parsons: The social relations of action. London/Basingstoke: Macmillan.
[49] Schmid, M. (1989). Social theory and social system. München: Forschungsberichte der Universit?t der Bundeswehr.
[50] Schmid, M. (1994). Analytical theory and the method of the cultural sciences: Talcott Parsons’s interpretation of Max weber’s philosophy of science. In G. Wagner, & H. Zipprian (Eds.), Max Weber’s philosophy of science (pp. 278-309). Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
[51] Schutz, A. (1932). The phenomenology of the social world. Wien: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-7091-3108-4
[52] Schutz, A. (1940). Parsons’ theory of social action: A critical review. In A. Schutz, & T. Parsons (Eds.), The theory of social action (pp. 8-60). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
[53] Schutz, A. (1943). The problem of rationality in the social world. Economica, 10, 130-149. doi:10.2307/2549460
[54] Schutz, A. (1953). Common-sense and scientific interpretation of human action. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 14, 1-37. doi:10.2307/2104013
[55] Schutz, A. (1954). Concept and theory formation in the social sciences. Journal of Philosophy, 51, 257-273. doi:10.2307/2021812
[56] Schutz, A. (1955). Letter to Adolph Lowe from 7 december 1955. Baden-Württemberg: Universit?t Konstanz.
[57] Schutz, A. (1962). Some leading concepts of phenomenology. In A. Schutz (Ed.), Collected papers I: The problem of social reality (pp. 99-117). The Hague: Nijhoff. doi:10.1007/978-94-010-2851-6_4
[58] Schutz, A., & Gurwitsch, A. (1985). Briefwechsel 1939-1959 (Philosophers in exile: The correspondence of Alfred Schutz and Aron Gurwitsch). München: Wilhelm Fink.
[59] Schutz, A., & Luckmann, T. (1979). Structures of the life-world. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
[60] Skidmore, W. (1975). Theoretical thinking in sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[61] Srubar, I. (2008). The pragmatic life-world theory. In Jürgen Raab, et al. (Eds.), Phenomenology and sociology (pp. 41-51). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschasften.
[62] Tibbetts, P. (1980). The issue of human subjectivity in sociological explanation: The Schutz-Parsons controversy. Human Studies, 3, 357- 366. doi:10.1007/BF02331821
[63] Turner, B. S. (1994). Life philosophy and action theory: How the relationship between Talcott Parsons and Max Weber contributed to the development of sociology. In G. Wagner, & H. Zipprian (Eds.), Max Weber’s philosophy of science (pp. 310-331). Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
[64] Valone, J. J. (1980). Parsons’ contributions to sociological theory: Reflections on the Schutz-Parsons correspondence. Human Studies, 3, 375-386. doi:10.1007/BF02331823
[65] Wagner, H. R. (1980). Reflections on Parsons’ “1974 retrospective perspective” on Alfred Schutz. Human Studies, 3, 387-402. doi:10.1007/BF02331824
[66] Wilson, T. P. (2005). The problem of subjectivity in Schutz and Parsons. In M. Endress, G. Psathas, & H. Nasu (Eds.), Explorations of the life-world (pp. 19-49). Dordrecht: Springer. doi:10.1007/1-4020-3220-X_2
[67] Yu, C.-C. (1999). Schutz on lifeworld and cultural difference. In L. Embree (Ed.), Schutzian social science (pp. 159-172). Dordrecht: Kluwer. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-2944-4_8
[68] Zafirovski, M. (2006). Parsonian economic sociology: Bridges to contemporary economics. In L. S. Moss, & A. Savchenko (Eds.), Talcott Parsons: Economic sociologist of the 20th century (pp. 75-107). Malden: Blackwell.
[69] Zeitlin, I. M. (1973). Rethinking sociology. New York: Meredith.

Copyright © 2024 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.