Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Hill, Michael R. 1989. “Empiricism and Reason in Harriet Martineau’s Sociology.” Pp. xv-lx in How to Observe Morals and Manners, by Harriet Martineau. Sesquicentennial edition of the first social science methods text, with new appendices, index, and an introductory essay by Michael R. Hill. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.


Copyright 1989 Michael R. Hill


The architecture and evolution of Harriet Martineau's sociological epistemology epitomize an essential tension between abstract theory and concrete empiricism. The body of Martineau's intellectual work demonstrates a major conceptual shift, from early religious convictions to subsequent rejection of all metaphysical systems. How to Observe Morals and Manners lies midway in this journey. The epistemological and biographical route to Martineau's adamant repudiation of metaphysics was long, personally tumultuous, and grounded fundamentally in empirical studies of social conditions. I focus here on the give-and-take between metaphysics, empiricism, and rationality in Harriet Martineau's sociological work. Part one of this essay highlights the major epistemological points advanced by Martineau in How to Observe Morals and Manners. The second, longer part outlines Martineau's epistemological development as a social theorist and locates How to Observe Morals and Manners within her intellectual biography as a whole.