Vilfredo Pareto: Residues and Derivations
Pareto's attempt to unmask nonscientific theories and belief systems led him to make a distinction between changing elements accounting for these theories, which he termed derivations, and residual, relatively permanent ele- ments, which he termed residues. The notion of residues has often been mis- understood as merely a fancy term for instinct and as corresponding to the basic sentiments discussed earlier. Pareto himself brought forth this misunder- standing by occasionally referring to residues as instincts. It seems nevertheless that he conceived of residues as manifestations of sentiments or as correspond- ing to them, rather than as their equivalents.
Residues are intermediary between the sentiments we cannot know directly and the belief systems and acts that can be known and analyzed. Furthermore, residues are related to man's instincts but they do not cover all of them, since we can only discover those instincts that give rise to rationalization in theories while others must remain hidden.
The element a [i.e., the residues] corresponds . . . to certain instincts of man . . . and it is probably because of its correspondence to instincts that it is virtually constant in social phenomena. The element b [i.e., the deriva- tions] represents the work of the mind in accounting for a . That is why b is much more variable, as reflecting the imagination. But if the element a cor- responds to certain instincts, it is far from reflecting them all. . . . We analyzed specimens of thinking on the look-out for constant elements. We may therefore have found only the instincts that underlay those reasonings. There was no chance of our meeting along that road instincts which were not so logicalized. Unaccounted for still would be simple appetites, tastes, in- clinations, and in social relationships that very important class called "interests."
A man's appetite or taste for, say, pork chops, does not fall into the category of residues in Pareto's scheme. If, however, a man constructs a theory according to which Chinese cooking is superior to American cooking, then Pareto would be moved to investigate the residues underlying the elaboration of such theoreti- cal justification.
Pareto arrives at his distinctions between residues and derivations by the following procedure: He investigates doctrines that are associated with action, for example, Christian religious doctrine or liberal political theory. From these theories he separates those elements that correspond to the standards of logico- experimental science. Next, he separates the remaining nonscientific elements into constants (residues) and variables (derivations). Derivations only arise when there is reasoning, argument, and ideological justification. When these are present, Paretian analysis looks for the underlying relatively constant ele- ments (residues).
For example, we find in all ages a great variety of verbalizations and doc- trines connected with the sexual sphere. These may take the form of porno- graphic literature or of the denunciation of sexual license. There are strict and permissive theories about proper sexual conduct. Ascetic doctrines condemn what hedonistic doctrines extol. But throughout all these manifold deriva- tions runs a common sexual residue, which remains remarkably stable at all times. Styles, modes, fashions, and ethical theories about the sexual sphere vary immensely, but a uniform sexual nucleus always crops up in a variety of new doctrinal disguises.
A long quotation from the Treatise will convey the characteristic flavor of Pareto's analytical procedure, and show at the same time how his political passions override in many instances his scientific intent.
The weakness of the humanitarian religion does not lie in the logico- experimental deficiencies of its derivations. From that standpoint they are no better and no worse than the derivations of other religions. But some of these contain residues beneficial to individuals and society, whereas the humanitarian religion is sadly lacking in such residues. But how can a re- ligion that has the good of humanity solely at heart . . . be so destitute in residues correlated with social welfare? . . . The principles from which the humanitarian doctrine is logically derived in no way correspond with the facts. They merely express in objective form a subjective sentiment of as- ceticism. The intent of sincere humanitarians is to do good to society, just as the intent of the child who kills a bird by too much fondling is to do good to the bird. We are not . . . forgetting that humanitarianism has had some socially desirable effects. . . . But . . . humanitarianism is worthless from the logico-experimental point of view. . . . And so for the democratic religion in general. The many varieties of Socialism, Syndicalism, Radicalism, Tolstoyism, pacifism, humanitarianism, Solidarism, and so on, form a sum that may be said to belong to the democratic religion, much as there was a sum of numberless sects in the early days of the Christian religion. We are now witnessing the rise and dominance of the democratic religion just as the men of the first centuries of our era witnessed the rise of the Christian religion and the beginnings of its dominion. The two phenomena present many significant analogies. To get at their substance we have to brush derivations aside and reach down to residues. The social value of both those two religions lies not in the least in their respective theologies, but in the sentiments that they express. As regards determining the social value of Marxism, to know whether Marx's theory of "surplus value" is false or true is about as important as knowing whether and how baptism eradicates sin in trying to determine the social value of Christianity--and that is of no importance at all.''
The message that Pareto hammers home on many a page of the Treatise is this: Never take ideas at their face value; do not look at people's mouths but try to probe deeper to the real springs of their actions.
A politician is inspired to champion the theory of "solidarity" by an ambition to obtain money, power, distinctions. . . . If the politician were to say, "Believe in solidarity because if you do it means money for me," they would get many laughs and few votes. He therefore has to take his stand on principles that are acceptable to his prospective constituents. . . . Oftentimes the person who would persuade others begins by persuading himself; and even if he is moved in the beginning by thoughts of personal advantage, he comes eventually to believe that his real interest is the welfare of others.
Although men have used an infinite number and variety of derivations in order to justify or logicalize their actions, Pareto argues that six classes of residues have remained almost constant throughout the long span of Western history. For this reason he surmises that the major classes of residues correspond closely to certain basic human "instincts" or propensities. The six classes of residues are as follows:
I. Instinct for Combinations. II. Group Persistences (Persistence of Aggregates). III. Need of Expressing Sentiments by External Acts (Activity, Self-Ex- pression) . IV. Residues Connected with Sociality. V. Integrity of the Individual and His Appurtenances. VI. The Sex Residue.
Pareto intends to show that the same residue can give rise to a great variety of belief systems or derivations, and that men deceive themselves when they believe that they take a given course of action on the basis of a particular theory in which they happen to believe. For example, "A Chinese, a Moslem, a Calvinist, a Catholic, a Kantian, a Hegelian, a Materialist, all refrain from stealing; but each gives a different explanation for his conduct.'' In view of such variable explanations of a constant characteristic, Pareto concluded that the real cause of the behavior has to be found in the constancy of a residue under- lying these different derivations. He reasoned that all these adherents of different schools of thought have in common the need to maintain the integrity of their personality and to preserve their self-regard. Therefore, Class V residues explain their conduct.
Everywhere, and at all times, men believe in the objective reality of gods or spirits, of "progress," "freedom," or "justice." The names and embodiments of these entities change, as do the religious, philosophical, and moral theories that explain these beliefs. But it will always be found that, however expressed, the common belief in such entities is rooted in a stable common element, in this case residue II, the "conservative" tendency to group persistence, to social integration.
Pareto argued repeatedly that it is useless, even a waste of time, to discuss the truth of a doctrine with an adherent to it. Christianity has not been de- stroyed by arguments disputing the historical reality of Jesus, and Catholic patriotism in France was not hurt by assertions that Joan of Arc was a hys- teric. Only a scientific strategy that allows us to trace the multiplicity of belief systems and doctrines to their common source in basic residues can advance science and lead to a measure of enlightenment.
Whether Pareto's explanations amount to more than pseudo-explanations is an open question. I would agree with Raymond Aron who believes that they have much in common with the reasoning of Moliere's quack physician who explains the effects of opium by its dormitive powers. As Aron says with characteristic wit, "One does not dare to say [Pareto's] results are false, but perhaps they are not very instructive." Yet before attempting to pass a judg- ment, one has to realize that Pareto's theory of residues served him not only as a way of explaining theories and belief systems, but also as a means of explaining social movements, social change, and the dynamics of history. Be- fore we turn to this matter, two other Paretian notions, the distinction between types of nonlogical theories, and the distinction between subjective intentions and objective consequences of action need to be examined.
From Coser, 1977:390-393.