First published in 1937, this book is a remarkable scholarly achievement and it richly deserves the status of a classic. It is not an easy read, partly on account of its genuine depth and partly because Parsons was never content with one word where ten or twelve would do.
Parsons offers a voluntarist theory of action described as a synthesis of tendencies in the work of Alfred Marshall, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. This is actually a development of Karl Menger's approach to social and economic theory, and this work represents a parallel or simultaneous discovery with Ludwig Mises (praxeology) and Karl Popper (situational analysis).
"Similarly in the field of Verstehen. Our immediate intuitions of meaning may be real and, as such, correct. But their interpretation cannot dispense with a rationally consistent system of theoretical concepts. Only in so far as they measure up to such criticism the door is opened to any number of uncontrolled and unverifiable allegations. Weber had a very deep and strong ethical feeling on this point; to him the intuitionist position made possible the evasion of responsibility for scientific judgments.
Weber again, however, does not discard everything in the positions criticized. On the one hand, it is a fact that the social sciences have an interest in human action and its motivation from the subjective point of view and, on the other hand, that there is a specific quality of immediacy in the understanding of the subjective. It is with the elaboration of the consequences of these facts, and their relation to systematic theoretical thinking that most of the rest of Weber’s methodological work is concerned."
Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) was an American sociologist who served on the faculty of Harvard University from 1927 to 1973.
Parsons developed a general theory for the study of society called action theory, based on the methodological principle of voluntarism and the epistemological principle of analytical realism. The theory attempted to establish a balance between two major methodological traditions, that of the utilitarian-positivist tradition on the one hand and the hermeneutic-idealistic tradition on the other. For Parsons, voluntarism established a third alternative between these two. More than a theory of society, Parsons presented a theory of social evolution and a concrete interpretation of the "drives" and directions of world history.
Parsons analyzed the work of Émile Durkheim and Vilfredo Pareto and evaluated their contributions within the light of the paradigm of voluntaristic action. Parsons was also largely responsible for introducing and interpreting Max Weber's work to American audiences. In an article late in life, Parsons explicitly wrote that the term "functional" or "structural functionalist" were inappropriate ways to describe the character of his theory. For Parsons "structural functionalism" was the term of a particular stage in the methodological development of the social science; it was never a name for any specific school or specific direction. "Functionalism" itself was a universal method and again not a name for any specific school. In the same way, the concept "grand theory" is a derogative term, which Parsons