Robert Merton, r.i.p.

Robert Merton, whose enormous reputation as a sociologist seemed to me to be itself a sociological problem when I was beginning graduate studies, has died at 92. He seems to have had a good life, in both senses: he did the things he wanted to do, and he left the world a little better off for his having visited it.

Perhaps he had some secret desires that remained unfulfilled, but I doubt that they could have been as important to him as the ones he did fulfill.

He followed his curiosity, and it�s obvious from the verve and grace of his writings that he found joy in making his discoveries. Some of these may have been illusory, their incoherence disguised by his invisible collaborator, an uncle of my own assistant Hyacinth Glib. We should remember that Merton began his career of discovery-performance as a high school magician, using the wizardly name of Robert Merlin. (I hadn�t known, or hadn�t remembered until today�s NYT obituary, that his name at birth had been Meyer R. Schkolnick.) Other discoveries � such as the causes of �anomie� � continue to provoke new questions, which is the real job of sociology (those who wander in expecting answers are in the wrong field).

It�s the best any of us can hope for, to enjoy our visit and leave things a little better or at least more interesting when we depart.

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