IF some one denounces a butcher or grocer for giving short weight, the denunciation implies the existence of a system of weights and measures. If some one condemns the conduct of a neighbor, the condemnation implies the acceptance of an ethical standard which the neighbor is alleged to have violated. And if it is asserted that something is wrong with marriage, there is equally implied a standard of judgment, a criterium of what, with marriage, would be right.

What then is the standard whereby marriage is to be measured? Keyserling writes as if it were character development; Hamilton plans his research as if it were primarily “sexual-reactive value”; the sociologists turn out their textbooks in the seeming conviction that marriage is to be measured by its contribution to social welfare. Is there then no standard of excellence intrinsic to marriage itself? The present essay purposes to explore the ground in search of such a standard.

Since the book has such a purpose, there are a number of things it cannot be. It cannot be a sex book, like some recent productions, with hymns to contraception and a sexological interpretation of history, for marriage involves more than sex. Neither can it range, like other discussions of contemporary morals, through all fields of ethical interest; it must be confined to the problem of marriage. It cannot be a survey of marriage in America, [p.viii] such as resulted from Judge Lindsey’s long observation of the behavior of the youth of Denver, or from Dr. G. V. Hamilton’s scientific study of the lives of two hundred New Yorkers, or from the interesting study of “Middletown” made by the Lynds. The marriage phenomenon is more widely distributed in space than Denver, New York, or Middletown, and in time than the twentieth century. Just as the descriptive study of marriage and family life concerns itself with particular times and places, so the normative study searches for truths that will be universally applicable, irrespective of time and place. The descriptive method presents particular facts; the normative method sets up universal standards.

Science is itself both descriptive and normative. Its product is organized knowledge. The organization of knowledge requires not only the collection of facts but also the setting up of classifications and categories. The facts are in the realm of the actual, the classifications in the realm of the ideal. Facts are tested by observation, classifications by logic. If marriage is to be treated as an object of science, these two kinds of exploration must go forward hand in hand. A science of marriage and family life can be expected to develop, as economics, political science, and sociology have already developed, in the interplay of theoretical speculation and statistical research. Research such as Dr. Hamilton’s study of what is wrong with marriage in contemporary America calls, therefore, for a complementary analysis of what is right with marriage in all times and places.

Is it not strange that among all the multitude of sciences and academic disciplines which have set themselves up in independent state, there is none which constitutes a [p.ix] science or theory of the family? It has happened, quite by accident, that the study of family relations has been regarded as a province of sociology. Books on the family are classified as sociology, and the sociological point of view has dominated the academic discussion of family life. Our best organized thought upon domestic relations proceeds from purely sociological postulates and imputes to marriage and home primarily sociological standards of excellence – to perpetuate the race, to transmit the social heritage. But the point of view and the method of sociology may after all, be ill adapted to the investigation of the essentials of family life. Doubtless if family studies had happened to grow up as appendages to economics or political theory, the methods and presuppositions of these disciplines would have been equally inadequate. May it not then be useful to experiment with sketching the outlines of a theory of the family which shall build itself up immediately from the facts and purposes that appear in marriage and home, without making use of the preconception that there are “social institutions”? Such efforts as this may lead ultimately to the creation of a new academic discipline which shall furnish more adequate cadres for the organization of thought upon this most pressing and intimate problem of human life.

Acknowledgments are due to many friends whose thought has been lavishly lent to this work. Among them are to be mentioned Mervyn Crobaugh, Frederic Anderson, Malcolm McComb, Cecil Pearson and Joan Wilson Pearson, Kenneth Robertson and Sidney Hawkins Robertson, Conrad P. Wright, Dr. Esther Caukin, and Professor John Morris of New York University. Miss [p.x] Katherine Beswick and Edwin R. Clapp have been especially patient in reading and criticizing the manuscript. The underlying thought out of which the book grew we owe to the stimulating intellectual companionship of Professor Robert T. Crane of the University of Michigan.

R. C. B.
F. W. B.