Talcott Parsons (December 13, 1902 – May 8, 1979) was an American sociologist who served on the faculty of Harvard University from 1927 to 1973.
Parsons developed a general theory for the study of society called action theory, based on the methodological principle of voluntarism and the epistemological principle of analytical realism. The theory attempted to establish a balance between two major methodological traditions: the utilitarian-positivist and hermeneutic-idealistic traditions. For Parsons, voluntarism established a third alternative between these two. More than a theory of society, Parsons presented a theory of social evolution and a concrete interpretation of the "drives" and directions of world history.
Parsons analyzed the work of Émile Durkheim and Vilfredo Pareto and evaluated their contributions through the paradigm of voluntaristic action. Parsons was also largely responsible for introducing and interpreting Max Weber's work to American audiences. Although he was generally considered a major structuralist functionalist scholar, in an article late in life, Parsons explicitly wrote that the term "functional" or "structural functionalist" were inappropriate ways to describe the character of his theory. For Parsons, "structural functionalism" was a particular stage in the methodological development of the social science, and "functionalism" was a universal method; neither term was a name for any specific school. In the same way, the concept "grand theory" is a derogatory term, which Parsons himself never used.
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“Science is intimately integrated with the whole social structure and cultural tradition. They mutually support one otheronly in certain types of society can science flourish, and conversely without a continuous and healthy development and application of science such a society cannot function properly.”
—Talcott Parsons (19021979)