Among the brilliant pleiad of figures of science that the nineteenth century provided the world with, the name Jacques Quetelet is undoubtedly one of the most famous. The development of empirical social research cannot be imagined without the emergence and formalization of such a science as social statistics. All the primary documentary material on which the problem under study and the research itself is based is primarily statistical. In this connection, it is unattainable to overestimate the role of social data in the emergence and development of empirical sociology. Its foundations were laid by the Franco-Belgian scientist, who discovered several prominent laws of life. Researchers call him a mathematician, a statistician, a psychologist, a sociologist, and even an astronomer. He was one of the first to use the achievements of mathematics and its methods, especially the theory of probability, which he applied to the analysis of social phenomena and contributed significantly to the development of science.
Jacques Quetelet’s Achievements
Quetelet was the first to express the idea that the same immutable laws govern the moral world as the physical one. This famous thinker drew attention to several phenomena of individual and social life, which before him had gone entirely unnoticed, and the discovery of which gave a powerful impetus to the further development of human knowledge. For example, he was the foremost to show that the number of marriages, crimes, and suicides almost does not vary from year to year and is subject to negligible fluctuations (Kolb, 2019). Thus, Quetelet found that certain mass social phenomena (fertility, mortality, crime) were subject to certain regularities and applied mathematical methods to their study.
He emphasized the role of the fact that any deviation has prehistory and inevitable identical consequences, and this discovery was the occasion for a change in the study of the psychology of criminals. By examining the steady numerical correlations between types of crime and the socio-demographic characteristics of criminals, Quetelet concluded that criminality is inherent in society as much as the laws of nature are (Bloniasz, 2021). Some of the statistical distributions he established in this area have survived today. It applies in particular to the use of various implements of crime. As in the middle of the nineteenth century, in the commission of criminal acts stabbing and cutting objects are used in 40-50% of the total number of crimes (Bloniasz, 2021). Thus, the scientist established clear patterns between behavior and statistics, thereby laying down a new approach to psychology.
His work helped psychologists move from the speculative derivation of unverifiable laws of behavioral history to inductively derived and statistically computable social rules. In fact, from his work, one can begin to count sociology and psychology as rigorous, empirically grounded sciences (Lisowska-Kierepka, 2022). Quetelet laid the foundations of science, and he indicated the path that researchers must follow to reach the ultimate goal of that science: the discovery of the laws governing social phenomena.
Therefore, the scientist’s efforts were directed to the proper and broadest possible formulation of statistical affairs. His chief attention was referred to the creation of conditions under which comparative international statistics could be brought to life to provide the material necessary for establishing the laws of social life. Quetelet’s work in science gave him worldwide fame and immortalized his name. His views and conclusions will always retain a profound historical interest, and his writings will not lose their significance for psychology, sociology, and numerous additional fields.
Bloniasz, P. F. (2021). On Educational Assessment Theory: A High-Level Discussion of Adolphe Quetelet, Platonism, and Ergodicity. Philosophies, 6(2), 46.
Lisowska-Kierepka, A. (2022). How to analyse spatial distribution of crime? Crime risk indicator in an attempt to design an original method of spatial crime analysis. Cities, 120, 103403.
Kolb, M. (2019). In Search of Lost Causes: Walter Scott and Adolphe Quetelet’s Revolutions. Configurations, 27(1), 59-85. doi:10.1353/con.2019.0002