Herbert Spencer: The Scope of Sociology


The following selection is from Volume I of The Principles of Sociology.

The Principles of Sociology

THE SCOPE OF SOCIOLOGY

Through the minds of some who are critical respecting logical order, there has doubtless passed the thought that, along with the Data of Sociology, the foregoing chapters have included much which forms a part of Sociology itself. Admitting an apparent justification for this objection, the reply is that in no case can the data of a science be stated before some knowledge of the science has been reached; and that the analysis which disclose the data cannot be made without reference to the aggregate of phenomena analyzed. For example, in Biology the interpretation of functions implies knowledge of the various physical and chemical actions going on throughout the organism. Yet these physical and chemical actions become comprehensible only as fast as the relations of structures and reciprocities of functions become known; and, further, these physical and chemical actions cannot be described without reference to the vital actions interpreted by them. Similarly in Sociology, it is impossible to explain the origin and development of those ideas and sentiments which are leading factors in social evolution, without referring directly or by implication to the phases of that evolution.

The need for this preliminary statement of data, and the especial need for the latter part of it, will be seen when the results are gathered up, generalized, and formulated.

After recognizing the truth that the phenomena of social evolution are determined partly by the external actions to which the social aggregate is exposed, and partly by the natures of its unit and after observing that these two sets of factors are themselves progressively changed as the society evolves; we glanced at these two sets of factors in their original forms.

A sketch was given of the conditions, inorganic and organic, on various parts of the earth's surface; showing the effects of cold and heat, of humidity and dryness, of surface, contour, soil, minerals, of floras and faunas. After seeing how social evolution in its earlier stages depends entirely on a favorable combination of circumstances; and after seeing that though, along with advancing development, there goes increasing independence of circumstances, these ever remain important factors; it was pointed out that while dealing with principles of evolution which are common to all societies, we might neglect those special external factors which determine some of their special characters.

Our attention was then directed to the internal factors as primitive societies display them. An account was given of "The Primitive Man--Physical" showing that by stature, structure, strength, as well as by callousness and lack of energy, he was ill fitted for overcoming the difficulties in the way of advance. Examination of "The Primitive Man--Emotional" led us to see that his improvidence and his explosiveness, restrained but little by sociality and by the altruistic sentiments, rendered him unfit for cooperation. And then, in the chapter on "The Primitive Man--Intellectual," we saw that while adapted by its active and acute perceptions to primitive needs, his type of mind is deficient in the faculties required for progress in knowledge.

After recognizing these as the general traits of the primitive social unit, we found that there remained to be noted certain more special traits, implied by his ideas and their accompanying sentiments. This led us to trace the genesis of those beliefs concerning his own nature and the nature of surrounding things, which were summed up in the last chapter. And now observe the general conclusion reached. It is that while the conduct of the primitive man is in part determined by the feelings with which he regards men around him, it is in part determined by the feelings with which he regards men who have passed away. From these two sets of feelings, result two all-important sets of social factors. While the fear of the living becomes the root of the political control, the fear of the dead becomes the root of the religious control. On remembering how large a share the resulting ancestor-worship had in regulating life among the people who, in be Nile valley, first reached a high civilization--on remembering that the ancient Peruvians were subject to a rigid social system rooted in an ancestor worship so elaborate that the living might truly be called slaves of the dead--on remembering that in China too, there has been, and still continues, a kindred worship generating kindred restraints; we shall perceive, in the fear of the dead a social factor which is, at first, not less important, if indeed is not more important, than the fear of the living.

And thus is made manifest the need for the foregoing account of the origin and development of this trait in the social units by which coordination of their actions is rendered possible.

Setting out with social units as thus conditioned, as thus constituted physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and as thus possessed of certain early-acquired ideas and correlative feelings, the Science of Sociology has to give an account of all the phenomena that result from their combined actions.

The simplest of such combined actions are those by which the successive generations of units are produced, reared, and brought into fitness for cooperation. The development of the family thus stands first in order. The respective ways in which the fostering offspring is influenced by promiscuity, by polyandry, by polgyny, and by monogamy, have to be traced; as have also the results of exogamous marriage and endogamous marriage. These considered first as affecting the maintenance of the race in number and quality, have also to be considered as affecting the domestic lives of adults. Moreover, beyond observing how the several forms of the sexual relations modify family life, they have to be treated in connexion with public life; on which they act and which reacts on them. And then, after the sexual relations, have to be similarly dealt with the parental and filial relations.

Sociology has next to describe and explain the rise and development of that political organization which in several ways regulates affairs--which combines the actions of individuals for purposes of tribal or national offense and defence; which restrain them in certain of their dealings with one another; and which also restrains them in certain of their dealings with themselves. It has to trace the relations of this coordinating and controlling apparatus to the area occupied, to the amount and distribution of population, to the means of communication. It has to show to differences of form which this agency presents in the different social types, nomadic and settled, military and industrial. It has to describe the changing relations between this regulative structure which is unproductive, and those structures which carry on production and make national life possible. It has also to set forth the connexions between, and reciprocal influences of, the institutions carrying on civil government, and the other governmental institutions simultaneously developing--the ecclesiastical and the ceremonial. And then it has to take account of those modifications which persistent political restraints are ever working in the characters of the social units, as well as the modifications worked by the reactions of the changed characters of the units on the political organization.

There has to be similarly described the evolution of the ecclesiastical structures and functions. Commencing with these as united to, and often scarcely distinguishable from, the political structures and functions, their divergent developments must be traced. How the share of ecclesiastical agencies in political actions becomes gradually less; how, reciprocally, political agencies play a decreasing part in ecclesiastical actions; are phenomena to be set forth. How the internal organization of the priesthood, differentiating and integrating as the society grows, stands related in type to the coexisting organizations, political and other; and how changes of structure in it are connected with changes of structure in them; are also subjects to be dealt with. Further, there has to be shown the progressive divergence between the set of rules gradually framed into civil law, and the set of rules which the ecclesiastical organization enforces; and in this second set of rules there has to be traced the divergence between those which become a code of religious ceremonial and those which become a code of ethical precepts. Once more, the science has to note how the ecclesiastical agency in its structure, functions, laws, creed, and morals, stands related to the mental nature of the citizens; and how the actions and reactions of the two mutually modify them.

The simultaneously evolving system of restraints whereby the minor actions of citizens are regulated in daily life, has next to be dealt with. Ancillary to the political and ecclesiastical controls, and at first inseparable from them, is the control embodied in ceremonial observances; which, beginning with rules of class subordination, grow into rules of intercourse between man and man. The mutilations which mark conquest and become badges of servitude; the obeisances which are originally signs of submission made by the conquered; the titles which are words directly or metaphorically attributing mastery over those who utter them; the salutations which are also the flattering professions of subjection and implied inferiority--these, and some others, have to be traced in their genesis and development as a supplementary regulative agency. The growth of the structure which maintains observances; the accumulation, complication, and increasing definition of observances; and the resulting code of bylaws of conduct which comes to be added to the civil and religious codes; have to be severally delineated. These regulative arrangements, too, must be considered in their relations to coexisting regulative arrangements; with which they all along maintain a certain congruity in respect of coerciveness. And the reciprocal influences exercised by these restraints on men's natures, and by men's natures on them, need setting forth.

Coordinating structures and functions having been dealt with, there have to be dealt with the structures and functions coordinated. The regulative and the operative are the two most generally contrasted divisions of every society; and the inquiries of highest importance in social science concern the relations between them. The stages through which the industrial part passes, from its original union with the governmental part to its ultimate separateness, have to be studied. An allied subject of study is the growth of those regulative structures which the industrial part develops within itself. For purposes of production the actions of its units have to be directed; and the various forms of the directive apparatus have to be dealt with--the kinds of government under which separate groups of workers act; the kinds of government under which workers in the same business and of the same class are combined (eventually differentiating into guilds and into unions); and the kind of government which keeps in balance the activities of the various industrial structures. The relations between the forms of these industrial governments and the forms of the coexisting political and ecclesiastical governments, have to be considered at each successive stage; as have also the relations between each of these successive forms and the natures of the citizens: there being here, too, a reciprocity of influences. After the regulative part of the industrial organization comes the operative part; also presenting its successive stages of differentiation and integration. The separation of the distributive system from the productive system having been first traced, there has to be traced the growing division of labor within each--the rise of grades and kinds of distributors as well as grades and kinds of producers. And then there have to be added the effects which the developing and differentiating industries produce on one another--the advances of the industrial arts themselves; caused by the help received from one another's improvements.

After these structures and functions which make up the organization and life of each society, have to be treated certain associated developments which aid, and are aided by, social evolution--the developments of language, knowledge, morals, aesthetics. Linguistic progress has to be considered first as displayed in language itself, while passing from a relatively incoherent, indefinite, homogeneous state, to states that are successively more coherent, definite, and heterogeneous. We have to note how increasing social complexity conduces to increasing complexity of language; and how, as a society becomes settled, it becomes possible for its language to acquire permanence. The connexion between the developments of words and sentences and the correlative developments of thought which they aid, and which are aided by them, has to be observed: the reciprocity being traced in the increasing multiplicity, variety, exactness, which each helps the other to gain. Progress in intelligence, thus associated with progress in language, has also to be treated as an accompaniment of social progress; which, while furthering it, is furthered by it. From experiences which accumulate and are recorded, come comparisons leading to generalizations of simple kinds. Gradually the ideas of uniformity, order, cause, becoming nascent, gain clearness with each fresh truth established. And while there have to be noted the connexion between each phase of science and the concomitant phase of social life, there have also to be noted the stages through which, within the body of science itself, there is an advance from a few, simple, incoherent truths, to a number of specialized sciences forming a body of truths that are multitudinous, varied, exact, coherent. The emotional modifications which, as indicated above, accompany social modifications, both as causes and as consequences, also demand separate attention. Besides observing the interactions of the social state and the moral state, we have to observe the associated modifications of those moral codes in which moral feelings get their intellectual expression. The kind of behavior which each kind of regime necessitates, finds for itself a justification which acquires an ethical character; and hence ethics must be dealt with in their social dependences. Then come the groups of phenomena we call aesthetic; which, as exhibited in art products and in the correlative sentiments, have to be studied in their respective evolutions internally considered, and in the relations of those evolutions to accompanying social phenomena. Diverging as they do from a common root, architecture, sculpture, painting, together with dancing, music, and poetry, have to be severally treated as connected with the political and ecclesiastical stages, with the coexisting phases of moral sentiment, and with the degrees of intellectual advance.

Finally we have to consider the inter-dependence of structures, and functions, and products, taken in their totality. Not only do all the above enumerated organizations, domestic, political, ecclesiastical, ceremonial, industrial, influence one another through their respective activities; and not only are they all daily influenced by the states of language, knowledge, morals, arts; but the last are severally influenced by them, and are severally influenced by one another. Among these many groups of phenomena there is a consensus; and the highest achievement in Sociology is so to grasp the vast heterogeneous aggregate, as to see how each group is at each stage determined partly by its own antecedents and partly by the past and present actions of the rest upon it.

But now before trying to explain these most involved phenomena, we must learn by inspecting them the actual relations of coexistence and sequence in which they stand to one another. By comparing societies of different kinds, and societies in different stages, we must ascertain what traits of size, structure, function, etc., are habitually associated. In other words, before deductive interpretation of the general truths, there must come inductive establishment of them.

Here, then, ending preliminaries, let us examine the facts of Sociology, for the purpose of seeing into what empirical generalizations they may be arranged.

WHAT IS A SOCIETY?

This question has to be asked and answered at the outset. Until we have decided whether or not to regard a society as an entity; and until we have decided whether, if regarded as an entity, a society is to be classed as absolutely unlike all other entities or as like some others; our conception of the subject matter before us remains vague.

It may be said that a society is but a collective name for a number of individuals. Carrying the controversy between nominalism and realism into another sphere, a nominalist might affirm that just as there exist only the members of a species, while the species considered apart from them has no existence; so the units of a society alone exist, while the existence of the society is but verbal. Instancing a lecturer's audience as an aggregate which by disappearing at the close of the lecture, proves itself to be not a thing but only a certain arrangement of persons, he night argue that the like holds of the citizens forming a nation.

But without disputing the other steps of his argument, the last step may be denied. The arrangement, temporary in the one case, is lasting in the other; and it is the permanence of the relations among component parts which constitutes the individuality of a whole as distinguished from the individualities of its parts. A coherent mass broken into fragments ceases to be a thing; while, conversely, the stones, bricks, and wood, previously separate, become the thing called a house if connected in fixed ways. Thus we consistently regard a society as an entity, because, though formed of discrete units, a certain concreteness in the aggregate of them is implied by the maintenance, for generations and centuries, of a general likeness of arrangement throughout the area occupied. And it is this trait which yields our idea of a society. For, withholding the name from an ever-changing cluster such as primitive men form, we apply it only where some constancy in the distribution of parts has resulted from settled life.

But now, regarding a society as a thing, what kind of thing must we call it? It seems totally unlike every object with which our senses acquaint us. Any likeness it may possibly have to other objects, cannot be manifest to perception, but can be discerned only by reason. If the constant relations among its parts make it an entity; the question arises whether these constant relations among its parts are akin to the constant relations among the parts of other entities. Between a society and anything else, the only conceivable resemblance must be one due to parallelism of principle in the arrangement of components.

There are two great classes of aggregates with which the social aggregate may be compared--the inorganic and the organic. Are the attributes of a society, considered apart from its living units, in any way like those of a not-living body? or are they in any way like those of a living body? or are they entirely unlike those of both?

The first of these questions needs only to be asked to be answered in the negative. A whole of which the parts are alive, cannot, in its general characters, be like lifeless wholes. The second question, not to be thus promptly answered, is to be answered in the affirmative. The reasons for asserting that the permanent relations among the parts of a society, are analogous to the permanent relations among the parts of a living body, we have now to consider.

A SOCIETY IS AN ORGANISM

When we say that growth is common to social aggregates ad organic aggregates, we do not thus entirely exclude community with inorganic aggregates: some of these, as crystals, grow in a visible manner; and all of them, on the hypothesis of evolution are concluded to have arisen by integration at some time or other. Nevertheless, compared with things we call inanimate, living bodies and societies so conspicuously exhibit augmentation of mass, that we may fairly regard this as characteristic of tem both. Many organisms grow throughout their lives; and the rest grow throughout considerable parts of their lives. Social growth usually continues either up to times when the societies divide, or up to times when they are overwhelmed.

Here, then, is the first trait by which societies ally themselves with the organic world and substantially distinguish themselves from the inorganic world.

It is also a character of social bodies, as of living bodies, that while they increase in size they increase in structure. A low animal, or the embryo of a high one, has few distinguishable parts; but along with its acquirement of greater mass, its parts multiply and simultaneously differentiate. It is thus with a society. At first the unlikenesses among its groups of units are inconspicuous in number and degree; but as it becomes more populous, divisions and subdivisions become more numerous and more decided. Further, in the social organism as in the individual organism, differentiations cease only with that completion of the type which marks maturity and precedes decay.

Though in inorganic aggregates also, as in the entire solar system and in each of its members, structural differentiations accompany the integrations; yet these are so relatively slow, and so relatively simple, that they may be disregarded. The multiplication of contrasted parts in bodies politics and in living bodies, is so great that it substantially constitutes another common character which marks them off from inorganic bodies.

This community will be more fully appreciated on observing that progressive differentiation of structures is accompanied by progressive differentiation of functions.

The multiplying divisions, primary, secondary, and tertiary, which arise in a developing animal, do not assume their major and minor unlikenesses to no purpose. Along with diversities in their shapes and compositions there go diversities in the actions they perform: they grow into unlike organs having unlike duties. Assuming the entire function of absorbing nutriment at the same time that it takes on its structural characters, the alimentary system becomes gradually marked off into contrasted portions; each of which has a special function forming part of the general function. A limb, instrumental to locomotion or prehension, acquires divisions and subdivisions which perform their leading and their subsidiary shares in this office. So is it with the parts into which a society divides. A dominant class arising does not simply become unlike the rest, but assumes control over the rest; and when this class separates into the more and the less dominant,

 

these, again, begin to discharge distinct parts of the entire control. With the classes whose actions are controlled it is the same. The various groups into which they fall have various occupations each of such groups also, within itself, acquiring minor contrasts of parts along with minor contrasts of duties.

And here we see more clearly how the two classes of things we are comparing distinguish themselves from things of other classes; for such differences of structure as slowly arise in inorganic aggregates, are not accompanied by what we can fairly call differences of function.

Why in a body politic and in a living body, these unlike actions of unlike parts are properly regarded by us as functions, while we cannot so regard the unlike actions of unlike parts in an inorganic body, we shall perceive on turning to the next and more distinctive common trait.

Evolution establishes in them both, not differences simply, but definitely connected differences--differences such that each makes the others possible. The parts of an inorganic aggregate are so related that one may change greatly without appreciably affecting the rest. It is otherwise with the parts of an organic aggregate or of a social aggregate. In either of these the changes in the parts are mutually determined, and the changed actions of the parts are mutually dependent. In both, too, this mutuality increases as the evolution advances. The lowest type animal is all stomach, all respiratory surface, all limb. Development of a type having appendages by which to move about or lay hold of food, can take place only if these appendages, losing power to absorb nutriment directly from surrounding bodies are supplied with nutriment by parts which retain the power absorption. A respiratory surface to which the circulating fluids are brought to be aerated, can be formed only on condition that the concomitant loss of ability to supply itself with material for repair and growth, is made good by the development of structure bringing these materials. So is it in a society. What we call with perfect propriety its organization, has a necessary implication of the same kind. While rudimentary, it is all warrior, all hunter, all hut builder, all tool maker: every part fufils for itself all needs. Progress to a stage characterized by a permanent army, can go on only as there arise arrangements for supplying that army with food, clothes, and munitions of war by the rest. If here the population occupies itself solely with agriculture and there with mining--if these manufacture goods while those distribute them; it must be on condition that in exchange for a special kind of service rendered by each part to other parts, these other parts severally give due proportions of their services.

This division of labor, first dwelt on by political economists as a social phenomenon, and thereupon recognized by biologists as a phenomenon of living bodies, which they called the "physiological division of labor," is that which in the society, as in the animal, makes it a living whole. Scarcely can I emphasize sufficiently the truth that in respect of this fundamental trait, a social organism and an individual organism are entirely alike. When we see that in a mammal, arresting the lungs quickly brings the heart to a stand; that if the stomach fails absolutely in its office all other parts by-and-by cease to act; that paralysis of its limbs entails on the body at large death from want of food or inability to escape; that loss of even such small organs as the eyes, deprives the rest of a service essential to their preservation; we cannot but admit that mutual dependence of parts is an essential characteristic. And when, in a society, we see that the workers in iron stop if the miners do not supply materials; that makers of clothes cannot carry on their business in the absence of those who spin and weave textile fabrics; that the manufacturing community will cease to act unless the food-producing and food-distributing agencies are acting; that the controlling powers, governments, bureaus, judicial officers, police, must fail to keep order when the necessaries of life are not supplied to them by the parts kept in order; we are obliged to say that this mutual dependence of parts is similarly rigorous. Unlike as the two kinds of aggregates are in sundry respects, they are alike in respect of this fundamental character, and the characters implied by it.

How the combined actions of mutually dependent parts constitute life of the whole, and how there hence results a parallelism between national life and individual life, we see still more clearly on learning that the life of every visible organism is constituted by the lives of units too minute to be seen by the unaided eye.

An undeniable illustration is furnished us by the strange order Myxomycetes. The spores or germs produced by one of these forms, become ciliated monads which, after a time of active locomotion, change into shapes like those of amoebae, move about, take in nutriment, grow, multiply by fission. Then these amoeba-form individuals swarm together, begin to coalesce into groups, and these groups to coalesce with one another: making a mass sometimes barely visible, sometimes as big as the hand. This plasmodium, irregular, mostly reticulated, and in substance gelatinous, itself exhibits movements of its parts like those of a gigantic rhizopod; creeping slowly over surfaces of decaying matters and even up the stems of plants. Here, then, union of many minute living individuals to form a relatively vast aggregate in which their individualities are apparently lost, but the life of which results from combination of their lives, is demonstrable.

In other cases, instead of units which, originally discrete, lose their individualities by aggregation, we have units which, arising by multiplication from the same germ, do not part company, but nevertheless display their separate lives very clearly. A growing sponge has its horny fibers clothed with a gelatinous substance; and the microscope shows this to consist of moving monads. We cannot deny life to the sponge as a whole; for it shows us some corporate actions. The outer amoeba-form units partially lose their individualities by fusion into a protective layer of skin; the supporting framework of fibers is produced by the joint agency of the monads; and from their joint agency also result those currents of water which are drawn in through the small orifices and expelled through the larger. But while there is thus shown a feeble aggregate life, the lives of the myriads of component units are very little subordinated: these units form, as it were, a nation having scarcely any subdivision of functions. Or, in the words of Professor Huxley, "the sponge represents a kind of subaqueous city, where the people are arranged about the streets and roads, in such a manner, that each can easily appropriate his food from the water as it passes along."

Even in the highest animals there remains traceable this relation between the aggregate life and the lives of components. Blood is a liquid in which, alone with nutritive matters, circulate innumerable living units--the blood corpuscles. These have severally their life-histories. During its first stage each of them, then known as a white corpuscle, makes independent movements like those of an amoeba; and though in its adult stage as a red, fattened disc, it is not visibly active, its individual life continues. Nor is this individual life of the units provable only where free flotation in a liquid allows its signs to be readily seen. Sundry mucous surfaces, as those of the air passages, are covered with what is called ciliated epithelium--a layer of minute cells packed side by side, and each bearing on its exposed end several cilia continually in motion. The wavings of these cilia are essentially like those of the monads which live in the passages running through a sponge; and just as the joint action of these ciliated sponge monads propels the current of water, so does the joint action of the ciliated epithelium cells move forward the mucous secretion covering them. If there needs further proof of the individual lives of these epithelium cells, we have it in the fact that when detached and placed in fluid, they "move about with considerable rapidity for some time, by the continued vibrations of the cilia with which they are furnished."

On thus seeing that an ordinary living organism may be regarded as a nation of units that live individually, and have many of them considerable degrees of independence, we shall perceive how truly a nation of human beings may be regarded as an organism.

The relation between the lives of the units and the life of the aggregate, has a further character common to the two cases. By a catastrophe the life of the aggregate may be destroyed without immediately destroying the lives of all its units; while, on the other hand, if no catastrophe abridges it, the life of the aggregate immensely exceeds in length the lives of its units.

In a cold-blooded animal, ciliated cells perform their motions with perfect regularity long after the creature they are part of has become motionless; muscular fibers retain their power of contracting under stimulation; the cells of secreting organs go on pouring out their product if blood is artificially supplied to them; and the components of an entire organ, as the heart, continue their cooperation for many hours after its detachment. Similarly, arrest of those commercial activities and governmental coordinations, etc., which constitute the corporate life of a nation, may be caused, say by an inroad of barbarians, without immediately stopping the actions of all the units. Certain classes of these, especially the widely diffused ones engaged in food production may, in the remoter districts, long survive and carry on their individual occupations.

Conversely, in both cases, if not brought to a close by violence, the life of the aggregate greatly exceeds in duration the lives of its units. The minute living elements composing a developed animal, severally evolve, play their parts, decay, and are replaced, while the animal as a whole continues. In the deep lava of the skin, cells are formed by fission which, as they enlarge are thrust outwards, and becoming flattened to form the epidermis, eventually exfoliate, while the younger ones beneath take their places. Liver cells, growing by imbibition of matters from which they separate the bile, presently die, and their vacant seats are occupied by another generation. Even bone, though so dense and seemingly inert, is permeated by blood vessels carrying materials to replace old components by new ones. And the replacement, rapid in some tissues and in others slow, goes on at such rate that during the continued existence of the entire body each portion of it has been many times over produced and destroyed. Thus it is also with a society and its units. Integrity of the whole and of each large division is perennially maintained notwithstanding the deaths of component citizens. The fabric of living persons which, in a manufacturing town, produces some commodity for national use, remains after a century as large a fabric, though all the masters and workers who a century ago composed it have long since disappeared. Even with the minor parts of this industrial structure the like holds. A firm that data from past generations, still carrying on business in the name of its founder, has had all its members and employees changed one by one, perhaps several times over; while the firm has continued to occupy the same place and to maintain like relations to buyers and sellers. Throughout we find this. Governing bodies, general and local, ecclesiastical corporations, armies, institutions of all orders down to guilds, clubs, philanthropic associations, etc., show us a continuity of life exceeding that of the persons constituting them. Nay, more. As part of the same law, we see that the existence of the society at large exceeds in duration that of some of these compound parts. Private unions, local public bodies, secondary national institutions, towns carrying on special industries, may decay, while the nation, maintaining its integrity, evolves in mass and structure.

In both cases, too, the mutually dependent functions of the various divisions, being severally made up of the actions of many units, it results that these units dying one by one, are replaced without the function in which they share being sensibly affected. In a muscle each sarcous element wearing out in its turn, is removed and a substitution made while the rest carry on their combined contractions as usual; and the retirement of a public official or death of a shopman, perturbs inappreciably the business of the department, or activity of the industry, in which he had a share.

Hence arises in the social organism, as in the individual organism, a life of the whole quite unlike the lives of the units; though it is a life produced by them.

From these likenesses between the social organism and the individual organism, we must now turn to an extreme unlikeness. The parts of an animal form a concrete whole; but the parts of a society form a whole that is discrete. While the living units composing the one are bound together in close contact, the living units composing the other are free, not in contact, and more or less widely dispersed. How, then, can there be any parallelism?

Though this difference is fundamental and apparently puts comparison out of the question, yet examination proves it to be less than it seems. Presently I shall have to point out that complete admission of it consists with maintenance of the alleged analogy; but we will first observe how one who thought it needful, might argue that even in this respect there is more kinship than a cursory glance shows.

He might urge that the physically coherent body of an animal is not composed all through of living units; but that it consists in large measure of differentiated parts which the vitally active parts have formed, and which thereafter become semivital and in some uses almost unvital. Taking as an example the protoplasmic layer underlying the skin, he might say that while this consists of truly living units, the cells produced in it, changing into epithelium scales, become inert protective structures; and pointing to the insensitive nails, hair, horns, and teeth, arising from this layer he might show that such parts, though components of the organism, are hardly living components. Carrying out the argument, he would contend that elsewhere in the body there exist such protoplasmic layers, from which grow the tissues composing to various organs--layers which alone remain fully alive, while the structures evolved from them lose their vitality in properties as they are specialized: instancing cartilage, tendon, and connective tissue, as showing in conspicuous ways this low vitality. From all which he would draw the inference that though the body forms a coherent whole, its essential units, taken by themselves form a whole which is coherent only throughout the protoplasmic layers.

And then would follow the argument that the social organism rightly conceived, is much less discontinuous than it seems. He would contend that as, in the individual organism, we include with the fully living parts, the less living and not living part which cooperate in the total activities; so, in the social orgasm we must include not only those most highly vitalized units, the human beings, who chiefly determine its phenomena, but the various kinds of domestic animals, lower in the scale of life, which under the control of man cooperate with him, and even those far inferior structures the plants, which, propagated by human agency, supply materials for animal and human activities. In defense of this view he would point out how largely these lower classes of organisms, coexisting with men in societies, affect the structures and activities of the societies --how the training of the pastoral type depend on the natures of the creatures reared; and how in settled societies the plants producing food materials for textile fabrics, etc., determine certain kinds of social arrangements and actions. After which he might insist that since the physical characters, mental natures, and daily activities of the human units, are, in part, molded by relations to the animals and vegetals, which, living by their aid, and aiding these to live, enter so much into social life as even to be cared for by legislation, these lower living things cannot rightly be excluded from the conception of the social organism. Hence would come his conclusion that when, with human beings, are incorporated the less vitalized beings, animal and vegetal, covering the surface occupied by the society, an aggregate results having a continuity of parts, more nearly approaching to that of an individual organism; and which is also like it in being composed of local aggregations of highly vitalized units, imbedded in a vast aggregation of units of various lower degrees of vitality, which are, in a sense, produced by, modified by, and arranged by, the higher units.

But without accepting this view, and admitting that the discreteness of the social organism stands in marked contrast with the concreteness of the individual organism, the objection may still be adequately met.

Though coherence among its parts is a prerequisite to that cooperation by which the life of an individual organism is carried on; and though the members of a social organism, not forming a concrete whole, cannot maintain cooperation by means of physical influences directly propagated from part to part; yet they can and do maintain cooperation by another agency. Not in contact, they nevertheless affect one another through intervening spaces, both by emotional language, and by the language, oral and written, of the intellect. For carrying on mutually-dependent actions, it is requisite that impulses, adjusted in their kinds, amounts, and times, shall be conveyed from part to part. This requisite is fulfilled in living bodies by molecular waves, that are indefinitely diffused in low types, and in high types are carried along definite channels (the function of which has been significantly called internuncial). It is fulfilled in societies by the signs of feelings and thoughts, conveyed from person to person; at first in vague ways and only at short distances but afterwards more definitely and at greater distances. That is to say, the internuncial function, not achievable by stimuli physically transferred, is nevertheless achieved by language.

The mutual dependence of parts which constitutes organization is thus effectually established. Though discrete instead of concrete, the social aggregate is rendered a living whole.

But now, on pursuing the course of thought opened by this objection and the answer to it, we arrive at an implied contrast of great significance--a contrast fundamentally affecting our idea of the ends to be achieved by social life.

Though the discreteness of a social organism does not prevent subdivision of functions and mutual dependence of parts, yet it does prevent that differentiation by which one part becomes an organ of feeling and thought, while other parts become insensitive. High animals of whatever class are distinguished from low ones by complex and well integrated nervous systems. While in inferior types the minute scattered ganglia may be said to exit for the benefit of other structures, the concentrated ganglia in superior types are the structures for the benefit of which the rest may be said to exist. Though a developed nervous system so directs the actions of the whole body as to preserve its integrity, yet the welfare of the nervous system is the ultimate object of all these actions: damage to any other organ being serious only because it immediately or remotely entails that pain or loss of pleasure which the nervous system suffers. But the discreteness of a society negatives differentiations carried to this extreme. In an individual organism the minute living units, most of them permanently localized, growing up, working, reproducing, and dying away in their respective places, are in successive generation molded to their respective functions; so that some become specially sentient and others entirely insentient. But it is otherwise in a social organism. The units of this, out of contact and much less rigidly held in their relative positions, cannot be so much differentiated as to become feelingless units and units which monopolize feeling. There are, indeed, slight traces of such a differentiation. Human beings are unlike in the amounts of sensation and emotion producible in them by like causes: here great callousness, here great susceptibility, is characteristic. In the same society, even where its members are of the same race, and still more where its members are of dominant and subject races, these exists a contrast of this kind. The mechanically working and hard living units are less sensitive than the mentally working and more protected units. But while the regulative structures of the social organism tend, like those of the individual organism, to become seats of feeling, the tendency is checked by this want of physical cohesion which brings fixity of function; and it is also checked by the continued need for feeling in the mechanically working units for the due discharge of their functions.

Hence, then, a cardinal difference in the two kinds of organisms. In the one, consciousness is concentrated in a small part of the aggregate. In the other, it is diffused throughout the aggregate: all the units possess the capacities for happiness and misery, if not in equal degrees, still in degrees that approximate. As, then, there is no social sensorium, it results that the welfare of the aggregate, considered apart from that of the units, is not an end to be sought. The society exists for the benefit of its members; not its members for the benefit of the society. It has ever to be remembered that great as may be the efforts made for the prosperity of the body politic, yet the claims of the body politic are nothing in themselves, and become something only in so far as they embody the claims of its component individuals.

From this last consideration, which is a digression rather than a part of the argument, let us now return and sum up the various reasons for regarding a society as an organism.

It undergoes continuous growth; as it grows, its parts, becoming unlike, exhibit increase of structure; the unlike parts simultaneously assume activities of unlike kinds; these activities are not simply different, but their differences are so related as to make one another possible; the reciprocal aid thus given causes mutual dependence of the parts; and the mutually dependent parts, living by and for one another, form an aggregate constituted on the same general principle as an individual organism. The analogy of a society to an organism becomes still clearer on learning that every organism of appreciable size is a society; and on further learning that in both, the lives of the units continue for some time if the life of the aggregate is suddenly arrested, while if the aggregate is not destroyed by violence its life greatly exceeds in duration the lives of its units. Though the two are contrasted as respectively discrete and concrete, and though there results a difference in the ends subserved by the organization, there does not result a difference in the laws of the organization: the required mutual influences of the parts, not transmissible in a direct way, being transmitted in an indirect way.

Having thus considered in their most general forms the reasons for regarding a society as an organism, we are prepared for following out the comparison in detail. We shall find that the further we pursue it the closer does the analogy appear.

 

 

 

From Robert Bierstedt, The Making of Society. New York: Modern Library, 1959, pp. 253-273.

It has been said that Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) exerted an influence upon the intellectual history of his time far in excess of the intrinsic merit of his work. However this may be, he was born in Derby, England, of nonconformist parents and was encouraged by his father, who was a teacher of mathematics and science at a private school and a strong believer in self-education, to cultivate an interest in both science and history. In actuality the young Spencer received hardly any formal education except for three years in a school of which his uncle was the master. In his young manhood he had a job in the engineering department of the London and Birmingham Railroad and afterwards served as editor of various political journals. During the remainder of his life he supported himself on the somewhat meager returns from his books and from such subscriptions as his friends were able to encourage in his behalf.

About 1860 Spencer embarked upon an enterprise that seems to us, now that the day of the system builder is past, almost fantastic--namely, a series of books that would comprehend and unify the entire sum of human knowledge in terms of a single principle, the principle of evolution. Omitting the evolution of the inorganic universe, he managed to produce First Principles, 1862; Principles of Biology, 1864-67; Principles of Psychology, 1870-72; Principles of Sociology, 1876-96; and Principles of Ethics, 1879-93. He also wrote, in 1873, The Study of Sociology. If it was Darwin who discovered the principle of evolution, it was Spencer who invented Darwinism and who gave it such a charge that it lasted for at least a half a century and colored the whole of social drought.