The author describes an empirical approach in moral sociology which attempts to grasp abstract moral problems at the level of practical difficulties or sensitive questions, whose moral nature may not be immediately evident to actors. But such an approach reveals the limits of theoretical conceptions of the actor that do not take into consideration their bodily condition, the complexity of their social positions, and their capacity to reflect on the moral meaning of their actions. It also presupposes an improved theoretical capacity to deal with modes of conduct and reasoning which may at first appear to be “irrational”, a problem frequently devolved to psychology. This article explores attempts to deal with these issues by some early twentieth century sociologists, as well as by one of their contemporaries, Sigmund Freud. At stake in this approach to moral sociology is the possibility of opening moral debate to the social sciences, and in particular to contingent questions which affect the manner in which an abstract moral question becomes a current issue.
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