Sensate, Idealistic and Ideational Cultural-Historical Typology of Pitirim Sorokin

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Richard Simpson:

"Sorokin's principal tool in analyzing cultures and explaining their changes is his classification of cultures and all their manifestations into three main types: Sensate, Idealistic, and Ideational coupled with his concept of "logico-meaningful" integration of cultural elements.

Events, relationships, and objects which are logico-meaningfully integrated are those which stem from the same value premises or criteria of truth, which seem somehow to fit together into a common Weltanschauung or cluster of attitudes. Thus a Gothic cathedral, a treatise in scholastic philosophy, and the allocation of greater prestige to clergymen than to tradesmen are logico-meaningfully integrated because they all stem from the religiously oriented culture mentality which prevailed in medieval Europe. Similarly integrated are the picture of a sparsely clad woman on the jacket of a novel, a pragmatic philosophical work, and an emphasis on material wealth as a prime goal, because these reflect a mentality oriented toward earthly and sensual pleasures. Cultural items which are not consistent with any pattern-which do not seem to "belong" with other items-are called "congeries."

The three principal types of culture integrations -Ideational, Idealistic, and Sensate-never exist in pure form; they are ideal types. In recognition of this Sorokin adds a Mixed category. Actually there are only two polar types of culture mentalities, the Ideational and the Sensate. The Idealistic is a mixed type combining the virtues of the polar types without their vices.

The extreme Sensate mentality views reality as that which is perceivable by the sense organs, and no more. It is atheistic or agnostic. It does not concern itself with the absolute or immutable, believing that all things are in flux. Its underlying goal is the mastery of the observable world for the sake of physical gratification. Its epistemology is empirical.

To the Ideational mentality, reality is immaterial, everlasting Being. Its objectives are spiritual and its ways of achieving them involve man's adjustment to the existing world rather than his manipulation of the world to bring it into line with his wishes. Faith and revelation are its roads to truth.

The Idealistic mentality is a synthesis of Ideational and Sensate elements with Ideational predominating. It combines the best of the other two mentalities with the addition of reason as a way to knowledge. In the Idealistic view, reason is a sort of apex in an epistemological triangle with faith and sensory observation at the lower points. Sorokin's own outlook is Idealistic."


More information

  • Lewis Mumford's plea for a balance between the

technological mastery of the objective world, in which the twentieth century excels, and the inner and subjective as expressed in art, which he finds underemphasized in today's world, corresponds fairly closely to Sorokin's encomium for the Idealistic culture mentality. See Mumford, Art and Technics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952).

(note 6 at [1])