Renowned economist, professor in the University of Lausanne, wealthy Genoese marquis, esteemed and feared polemicist, Vilfredo Pareto always seems to engage in new departures. He abandons the world of industry and the beauty of Florence in order to devote himself to the field of domestic economy. He puts aside the study of purely theoretical economics and builds piece by piece a «sociology» intended to be solely experimental, in other words a science that is not dependent upon value judgments.
Disdaining the sociologies that call themselves «humanitarian» and «metaphysical», or «christian» and «marxist», rejecting propaganda and ideologies, he seeks to dispel the «fog of nonsense» that pervades the political and social struggle. Disenchanted, skeptical, piercing, remarkably learned and insatiably curious, yet at times incredibly naive, awkward and headstrong, Pareto pursues the chimera of a new science that, after essaying to give proper weight to Man’s desperate and unceasing need to justify his conduct, might proceed to shed light on the profound reasons motivating that conduct and discern the factors that promote equilibrium or mutation in society, that cause the rise and fall of the ruling classes.
From the mass of his writings there emerges an imposing tableau of customs, beliefs, problems, hopes and feverish quests for liberty. Denigrated and worshipped, now read but not quoted, now paraphrased but not read, contested by all, honored by few who however have not understood him, Pareto is surely one of the forerunners of present-day sociology: functionalism, structuralism, rational choice, action theory, ethnomethodology..., these are all his spurious offspring. The article offers a concise presentation of Pareto’s intellectual life and positions his current research in sociology.