Logical and Nonlogical Action

Pareto defines logical actions as those "that use means appropriate to endsand which logically link means with ends." This logical conjunction of meanswith ends must hold not only for the subject performing them, "but [also]from the standpoint of other persons who have a more extensive knowledge."Logical actions are those actions that are both subjectively and objectively logi-cal. Nonlogical action is simply taken to mean all action not falling withinPareto's explicit definition of the logical; it is a residual category.

Pareto follows what he sees as an inductive procedure in developing hisconceptual framework for the analysis of the nonlogical element in humanaction. After considering a wide array of cases in both past and contemporaryhistory, and taking as his evidence many types of ideologies--beliefs and doc-trines that have allegedly moved men to action--Pareto concluded that thesenonscientific belief systems and theories were only rarely determinants of actionbut instead were most frequently the expression of deep-seated sentiments.Pareto argued that although men most often fail to engage in logical action,they have a strong tendency to "logicalize" their behavior, that is, to make itappear as the logical result of a set of ideas. In fact, what accounts for mostaction is not the set of beliefs that is used to rationalize or "logicalize" it, butrather a pre-existing state of mind, a basic human sentiment. For example, aman has a horror of murder. Therefore, he will not commit murder. He tellshimself, however, that "the Gods punish murderers" and imagines that this iswhy he refrains from murder. If we designate human sentiments, the basicSources of nonlogical action, as A, the theories relating to action as B, andaction itself as C, we realize that, although A, B, and C are mutually inter-related, A independently influences B and C far more than B influences C.To think otherwise, Pareto argues, is to fall into the rationalistic fallacy thathas been the bane of most previous social theory.

Whereas B and C, nonlogical theories and overt acts respectively, aredirectly observable, human sentiments or states of mind can only be inferred.Pareto was not prepared to analyze these basic sentiments, but left this taskto psychologists. "Nonlogical actions originate chiefly in definite psychic states,sentiments, subconscious feelings, and the like. It is the province of psychologyto investigate such psychic states. Here we start with them as data of fact,without going beyond that.''

Pareto concentrated his attention on conduct that reflects these psychicstates, and, more particularly, the theories and belief systems that serve tojustify and rationalize nonlogical action. One of his central concerns is withan exhaustive critique of nonscientific theories associated with action. He sub-mits metaphysical, religious, and moral systems to a destructive analysis andshows to his own satisfaction that all of them, despite their pretensions to thecontrary, have nothing at all in common with scientific theories. Notions suchas "liberty," "equality," "progress," or "the General Will" are as vacuous as themyths and magical incantations with which savages rationalize their actions.None is verifiable, all are fictions that serve mainly to clothe and make re-spectable the actions of men. Even though Pareto does not deny that suchmyths may upon occasion influence conduct, he mainly highlights those in-stances in which they serve merely as masks. He sees unmasking as one of themain tasks of the social analyst. "We have to see to what extent reality isdisfigured in the theories and descriptions of it that one finds in the literatureof thought. We have an image in a curved mirror; our problem is to discoverthe form of the object so altered by refraction.'' As will become clear later,such unmasking served Pareto's ideological purposes and not only his scientificaims.

From Coser, 1977:388-390.


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