Residues and Derivations

Pareto's attempt to unmask nonscientific theories and belief systems ledhim to make a distinction between changing elements accounting for thesetheories, 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 thebasic sentiments discussed earlier. Pareto himself brought forth this misunder-standing by occasionally referring to residues as instincts. It seems neverthelessthat 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 directlyand 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, sincewe can only discover those instincts that give rise to rationalization in theorieswhile others must remain hidden.

The element a [i.e., the residues] corresponds . . . to certain instincts ofman . . . and it is probably because of its correspondence to instincts thatit 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 ismuch more variable, as reflecting the imagination. But if the element a cor-responds to certain instincts, it is far from reflecting them all. . . . Weanalyzed specimens of thinking on the look-out for constant elements. Wemay therefore have found only the instincts that underlay those reasonings.There was no chance of our meeting along that road instincts which werenot 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 ofresidues in Pareto's scheme. If, however, a man constructs a theory accordingto which Chinese cooking is superior to American cooking, then Pareto wouldbe moved to investigate the residues underlying the elaboration of such theoreti-cal justification.

Pareto arrives at his distinctions between residues and derivations by thefollowing procedure: He investigates doctrines that are associated with action,for example, Christian religious doctrine or liberal political theory. From thesetheories he separates those elements that correspond to the standards of logico-experimental science. Next, he separates the remaining nonscientific elementsinto constants (residues) and variables (derivations). Derivations only arisewhen there is reasoning, argument, and ideological justification. When theseare 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 strictand permissive theories about proper sexual conduct. Ascetic doctrines condemnwhat hedonistic doctrines extol. But throughout all these manifold deriva-tions runs a common sexual residue, which remains remarkably stable at alltimes. Styles, modes, fashions, and ethical theories about the sexual sphere varyimmensely, but a uniform sexual nucleus always crops up in a variety of newdoctrinal disguises.

A long quotation from the Treatise will convey the characteristic flavor ofPareto's analytical procedure, and show at the same time how his politicalpassions 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 areno better and no worse than the derivations of other religions. But some ofthese contain residues beneficial to individuals and society, whereas thehumanitarian 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 inresidues correlated with social welfare? . . . The principles from which thehumanitarian doctrine is logically derived in no way correspond with thefacts. They merely express in objective form a subjective sentiment of as-ceticism. The intent of sincere humanitarians is to do good to society, justas the intent of the child who kills a bird by too much fondling is to dogood to the bird. We are not . . . forgetting that humanitarianism has hadsome socially desirable effects. . . . But . . . humanitarianism is worthlessfrom the logico-experimental point of view. . . . And so for the democraticreligion in general. The many varieties of Socialism, Syndicalism, Radicalism,Tolstoyism, pacifism, humanitarianism, Solidarism, and so on, form a sumthat may be said to belong to the democratic religion, much as there was asum of numberless sects in the early days of the Christian religion. We arenow witnessing the rise and dominance of the democratic religion just as themen of the first centuries of our era witnessed the rise of the Christian religionand the beginnings of its dominion. The two phenomena present manysignificant analogies. To get at their substance we have to brush derivationsaside and reach down to residues. The social value of both those two religionslies not in the least in their respective theologies, but in the sentiments thatthey express. As regards determining the social value of Marxism, to knowwhether Marx's theory of "surplus value" is false or true is about as importantas knowing whether and how baptism eradicates sin in trying to determinethe social value of Christianity--and that is of no importance at all.''

The message that Pareto hammers home on many a page of the Treatiseis this: Never take ideas at their face value; do not look at people's mouthsbut try to probe deeper to the real springs of their actions.

A politician is inspired to champion the theory of "solidarity" by anambition to obtain money, power, distinctions. . . . If the politician were tosay, "Believe in solidarity because if you do it means money for me," theywould get many laughs and few votes. He therefore has to take his stand onprinciples that are acceptable to his prospective constituents. . . . Oftentimesthe person who would persuade others begins by persuading himself; and evenif he is moved in the beginning by thoughts of personal advantage, he comeseventually to believe that his real interest is the welfare of others.

Although men have used an infinite number and variety of derivations inorder to justify or logicalize their actions, Pareto argues that six classes ofresidues have remained almost constant throughout the long span of Westernhistory. For this reason he surmises that the major classes of residues correspondclosely to certain basic human "instincts" or propensities. The six classes ofresidues 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 greatvariety of belief systems or derivations, and that men deceive themselves whenthey believe that they take a given course of action on the basis of a particulartheory in which they happen to believe. For example, "A Chinese, a Moslem,a Calvinist, a Catholic, a Kantian, a Hegelian, a Materialist, all refrain fromstealing; but each gives a different explanation for his conduct.'' In view ofsuch variable explanations of a constant characteristic, Pareto concluded that thereal 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 ofdifferent schools of thought have in common the need to maintain the integrityof their personality and to preserve their self-regard. Therefore, Class V residuesexplain their conduct.

Everywhere, and at all times, men believe in the objective reality of godsor spirits, of "progress," "freedom," or "justice." The names and embodimentsof these entities change, as do the religious, philosophical, and moral theoriesthat 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, inthis case residue II, the "conservative" tendency to group persistence, to socialintegration.

Pareto argued repeatedly that it is useless, even a waste of time, to discussthe truth of a doctrine with an adherent to it. Christianity has not been de-stroyed by arguments disputing the historical reality of Jesus, and Catholicpatriotism 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 beliefsystems and doctrines to their common source in basic residues can advancescience and lead to a measure of enlightenment.

Whether Pareto's explanations amount to more than pseudo-explanationsis an open question. I would agree with Raymond Aron who believes thatthey have much in common with the reasoning of Moliere's quack physicianwho explains the effects of opium by its dormitive powers. As Aron says withcharacteristic wit, "One does not dare to say [Pareto's] results are false, butperhaps 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 onlyas a way of explaining theories and belief systems, but also as a means ofexplaining social movements, social change, and the dynamics of history. Be-fore we turn to this matter, two other Paretian notions, the distinction betweentypes of nonlogical theories, and the distinction between subjective intentionsand objective consequences of action need to be examined.

From Coser, 1977:390-393.


Forward to "Two Types of Nonlogical Theories"
Back to "Logical and Nonlogical Action"
Back to the Index