Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/December 1896/The Relations of Biology, Psychology, and Physiology
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The Relations of Biology, Psychology, and Physiology
By Herbert Spencer
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FROM time to time proof has come to me that in the United States there have arisen erroneous conceptions of my views concerning the connections between the sciences dealing respectively with organic evolution and super-organic evolution. These misconceptions will, if nothing be said, become established. Hence it seems needful that I should point out how entirely at variance with the evidence they are. The following extracts from two leading American writers on Sociology will sufficiently exemplify them. Mr. Lester Ward says: —
"The founder of sociology placed it next above biology in the scale of diminishing generality and increasing complexity, and maintained that it had that science as its natural basis and as the substratum into which its roots penetrated, Herbert Spencer, although he treated psychology as a distinct science, and placed it between biology and sociology in his system of Synthetic Philosophy, made no attempt to affiliate sociology upon psychology, while on the contrary he did exert himself to demonstrate that it has exceedingly close natural affinities with biology, as was shown in the third paper. At the close of that paper the fact came clearly forth that almost the only legitimate comparisons between society and a living organism were those in which the nervous system was taken as the term of comparison. In other words, it was clear even then that the class of attributes in the individual animal with which those of society could best be compared were its psychic attributes. If we are to have a science of psychology distinct from biology these attributes belong to that science, and hence it is really psychology and not biology upon which sociology directly rests." ("Sociology and Psychology." In American Journal of Sociology, vol. i. No. 5, March, 1896.)
In his recent work, published under the same title as my own. The Principles of Sociology, Prof. Giddings recognizes the fact that by me "the principles of sociology are derived from principles of psychology and of biology" (p. 8). But by his expressed belief that "the time has come when its principles, accurately formulated and adequately verified, can be organized into a coherent theory" (p. 17), he tacitly implies that my own theory is not coherent; and he proceeds to supply that which he regards as the needful bond — an ultimate psychological bond. His words are: —
"Accordingly, the sociological postulate can be no other than this, namely: The original and elementary subjective fact in society is the consciousness of kind. By this term I mean a state of consciousness in which any being, whether low or high in the scale of life, recognizes another conscious being as of like kind with itself." (Ib.)
And then on p. 19, after indicating the external conditions which prompt social aggregations, he goes on to say: — "But presently, within the aggregation, a consciousness of kind appears in like individuals and develops into association. Association, in its turn, begins to react favorably on the pleasures and on the life chances of individuals."
To deal properly with the several questions thus raised I must go back to the beginning. In my first work, Social Statics, published in 1850, will be found evidence that at the very outset I regarded the Science of Society as having for its chief datum the Science of Mind. This was not overtly asserted, for at that time questions concerning the filiation of the sciences were not entertained by me; but it was taken for granted as an obvious truth. All through the work there runs the implication that societies are determined in their actions and structures by the mental characters of their units; and in a closing chapter, entitled "General Considerations,"there is a delineation of the way in which, along with mental evolution in men, there goes higher social evolution. Here are some extracts indicating this:
"So that only by giving us some utterly different mental constitution could the process of civilization have been altered."
"Dependent as they are upon popular character, established political systems can not die out until the feeling which upholds them dies out."
"So that wild races deficient in the allegiance-producing sentiment can not enter into a civilized state at all; but have to be supplanted by others that can."
"Of course the institutions of any given age exhibit the compromise made by these contending moral forces at the signing of their last truce."
"The process by which a change of political arrangements is effected, when the incongruity between them and the popular character becomes sufficient, must be itself in keeping with that character, and must be violent or peaceful accordingly."
That these conceptions remained unchanged in 1860, when the prospectus of the Synthetic Philosophy was issued, might be inferred even from the order of the subjects specified in it, which ran: — Principles of Biology, Principles of Psychology, Principles of Sociology. But this prospectus contains much more definite evidence of my persistent belief in the dependence of Sociology upon Psychology. Of the divisions constituting the Principles of Psychology the last stands thus: — "VIII. Corollaries. — Consisting in part of a number of derivative principles which form a necessary introduction to sociology." And then in pursuance of the thought there expressed, the enumeration of the divisions constituting the Principles of Sociology begins thus: — "Part I. The Data of Sociology. — A statement of the several sets of factors entering into social phenomena — human ideas and feelings considered in their necessary order of evolution; surrounding natural conditions; and those ever complicating conditions to which society itself gives origin:" in which statement of data, be it observed, there is no mention of biological data. Even without saying more, I should, I think, have furnished adequate disproof of the erroneous assertions quoted above. Bat now let me pass on from the programme of these works to the works themselves. The closing division of The Principles of Psychology, entitled "Corollaries" (as in the programme), opens with a chapter containing the following passages: —
"Having presently to follow out Evolution under those higher forms which societies present, the special psychology of Man, considered as the unit of which societies are composed, must be briefly outlined." . . .
"It is manifest that the ability of men to co-operate in any degree as members of a society, presupposes certain intellectual faculties and certain emotions. . . . Hence, in preparation for the study of social evolution, there have to be dealt with various questions respecting the faculties it brings into play, and respecting the modes in which these are developed during continued social life." (§ 477.)
In pursuance of this announcement, there presently follows a chapter on "Language of the Emotions," which introduces a chapter entitled "Sociality and Sympathy." The manifest implication is that recognition of these mental factors must precede the interpretation of social phenomena. After indicating, as Prof. Giddings has recently done, the genesis of sociality, which in certain classes of animals becomes "naturally established as furthering the preservation of the species," I have gone on to say: —
"Sociality having thus commenced, and survival of the fittest tending ever to maintain and increase it, it will be further strengthened by the inherited effects of habit. The perception of kindred beings, perpetually seen, heard, and smelt, will come to form a predominant part of consciousness — so predominant a part that absence of it will inevitably cause discomfort." (§ 504.)
Here, it seems to me, there is described in other words, that "consciousness of kind "which Prof. Giddings regards as the "new datum which has been sought for hitherto without success" (p. 17); and that it is regarded by me as the primary datum is shown by a subsequent sentence running as follows: —
"Among creatures led step by step into gregariousness, there will little by little be established a pleasure in being together a pleasure in the consciousness of one another's presence — a pleasure simpler than, and quite distinct from, those higher ones which it makes possible."
After proceeding, through a dozen pages, to trace the development of sympathy as a result of gregariousness, there comes a brief statement of —
"The cardinal facts which it has been the aim of this chapter to bring to view, and which we must carry with us as aids to the interpretation of emotional development, and to the subsequent interpretation of the sociological phenomena accompanying emotional development." (§ 512.)
We come now to a still larger mass of evidence directly disproving the statement that I have "made no attempt to affiliate sociology upon psychology." On passing to the Principles of Sociology itself I have, in setting forth its data, dealt elaborately with certain further psychological dependencies. After preliminary chapters come three entitled respectively" The Primitive Man — Physical," "The Primitive Man — Emotional," and "The Primitive Man — Intellectual": a fact which implies full recognition of the psychological factors. But this is far from being all. There follows a chapter which begins with the sentence: — "Yet a further preparation for interpreting social phenomena is needful;" and the preparation thereupon commenced is an account of "Primitive Ideas." After 30 pages describing the genesis of these, come seventeen chapters setting forth the resulting development of ancestor-worship and the accompanying superstitions. More than 300 pages are thus occupied; avowedly because the conduct of men in society can not be understood until the natures of these primitive beliefs and accompanying emotions are understood. Sentences from the succeeding chapter on "The Scope of Sociology" run: —
"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 religious control." (§ 209.)
In pursuance of these general conclusions there are given in subsequent parts of the work various illustrations of the ways in which these psychological factors conduce to social evolution — as in the chapter on "Political Heads" (§§ 477, 482); as in the chapter on "Laws" (§§ 529, 535); as in the whole division on Ecclesiastical Institutions"; and in many less conspicuous places.
How has it been possible for these misconceptions to have arisen? is a question that necessarily suggests itself. Among causes to be considered is the occurrence of two chapters in The Study of Sociology entitled respectively "Preparation in Biology" and "Preparation in Psychology." In the first of these, along with avowed dissent from certain of M. Comte's sociological views, there goes applause of him for having "set forth with comparative definiteness the connection between the science of life and the science of society"; and again, concerning his general conception, it is said that "among other of its superiorities was this recognition of the dependence of sociology upon biology." Moreover a subsequent sentence runs thus: —
"In the first place, all social actions being determined by the actions of individuals, and all actions of individuals being- vital actions that conform to the laws of life at large, rational interpretation of social actions implies knowledge of the laws of life."
But though these passages seem to support the interpretation of my views which I repudiate, yet on looking at the context it will be seen that this is not so. For, as shown by preceding and succeeding passages, "the laws of life at large," as here understood, are laws comprehensive of both bodily life and mental life. Though, as I have conspicuously shown, I do not, like M. Comte, merge psychology in biology — though, under its objective aspect, I regard it as a science clearly marked off, and under its subjective aspect as a science fundamentally contrasted with all others; yet, as every one must do, I admit that the science of mind is dependent on the science of life. For we know nothing whatever of mind save as exhibited by living bodies. That by "laws of life at large" I mean laws of bodily life and mental life taken together, is, indeed, clearly implied by the use of the words "the actions of individuals," as being dependent on these laws of life; since the actions of individuals are all mentally determined. But there are set forth in the chapter named, certain direct dependencies of social phenomena on vital phenomena. It is said that the sociologist must learn "the laws of modification to which organized beings in general conform"; that he must recognize the effects of use and disuse in causing increase and decrease of bodily and mental powers ; that he must remember how, as a consequence, human nature "is always adapting itself both directly and indirectly to its conditions of existence"; and that he must bear in mind the truth that "every species of creature goes on multiplying till it reaches the limit at which its mortality from all causes balances its fertility," so that taking away one cause of mortality by and by entails intensification of other causes arising from increased pressure of population. Against this evidence, however, has to be set the evidence contained in the next chapter, which shows the still more important dependencies of sociology upon psychology, and ends with the conclusion that "without preparation in mental science there can be no social science."
But the small regard paid to all the proofs given at the outset that the psychic factors of social phenomena are by me considered the predominant ones, appears to have resulted from thinking only of the parallelism I have asserted between certain traits of individual organisms and certain traits of social organisms. Prof. Giddings writes: — "The second form in which the characteristic error of sociological classifications appears is that of the overworked biological analogy. Mr. Spencer's essay on 'The Social Organism' made a lasting impression. At present the greater part of sociological literature is written in terms of a biological nomenclature. . . . Sociology will have to discard this classification and nomenclature. . . . In certain fundamental things social organization is like vital organization, but in all that justifies Mr. Spencer's own phrase of 'super-organic evolution' it is peculiar, and not to be classed with organisms. Were this not true, sociology would be a mere division of biology." (Pp. 62-63.)
Most readers will, I think, carry away from these sentences the impression that I am supposed to have dwelt too much on this analogy in my sociological interpretations. But any one who reads through The Principles of Sociology, or even reads the titles of its chapters, will see that this analogy plays but a relatively inconspicuous part. I must be excused if, to make clear the way in which I conceive and use the analogy, I go back to the origin of it. In a chapter of Social Statics entitled "General Considerations" (pp. 451-3 in the edition of 1850) occur the following passages: —
"Hence we are warranted in considering the body as a commonwealth of nomads, each of which has independent powers of life, growth, and reproduction; each of which unites with a number of others to perform some function needful for supporting itself and all the rest; and each of which absorbs its share of nutriment from the blood. And when thus regarded, the analogy between an individual being and a human society, in which each man, while helping to subserve some public, want absorbs a portion of the circulating stock of commodities brought to his door, is palpable enough.
"A still more remarkable fulfillment of this analogy is to be found in the fact, that the different kinds of organization which society takes on, in progressing from its lowest to its highest phase of development, are essentially similar to the different kinds of animal organization. Creatures of inferior type are little more than aggregations of numerous like parts — are molded on what Prof. Owen terms the principle of vegetative repetition; and in tracing the forms assumed by successive grades above these, we find a gradual diminution in the number of like parts, and a multiplication of unlike ones. In the one extreme there are but few functions, and many similar agents to each function: in the other, there are many functions, and few similar agents to each function. . . ." Now just this same coalescence of like parts, and separation of unlike ones — just this same increasing subdivision of functions — takes place in the development of society. The earliest social organisms consist almost wholly of repetitions of one element. Every man is a warrior, hunter, fisherman, builder, agriculturist, toolmaker. Each portion of the community performs the same duties with every other portion; much as each portion of the polyp's body is alike stomach, skin, and lungs. Even the chiefs, in whom a tendency toward separateness of function first appears, still retain their similarity to the rest in economic respects. The next stage is distinguished by a segregation of these social units into a few distinct classes. . . . And without further illustration the reader will at once perceive, that from these inferior types of society up to our own complicated and more perfect one, the progress has ever been of the same nature."
In pursuance of the analogy it is then shown that in either case in proportion to the multiplication of unlike parts, severally taking unlike functions, there is "an increasing mutual dependence" and a consequent individuation (integration) of the whole organism, animal or social: the mutual dependence of parts being represented as that which constitutes the aggregate an organism.
Ten years later, in the essay on "The Social Organism," the conception here briefly outlined was elaborated. Four analogies between living bodies and bodies politic were enumerated.
" Commencing as small aggregations, they insensibly augment in mass. . . . While at first so simple in structure as to be considered structureless, they assume, in the course of their growth, a continually-increasing complexity of structure. . . . Though in their early, undeveloped states, there exists in them scarcely any mutual dependence of parts, their parts gradually acquire a mutual dependence. . . . The life of a society is independent of, and far more prolonged than, the lives of any of its component units." (Essays, Library ed., vol. i, p. 272.)
Neither in Social Statics, nor, I believe, in this essay is there any assertion that this analogy between animal structures and social structures is to be taken as the basis for sociological interpretations. In what way the analogy has been regarded by me was shown at a later date in The Study of Sociology. In that work it is said: —
"Now if there exists this fundamental kinship, there can be no rational apprehension of the truths of Sociology until there has been reached a rational apprehension of the truths of Biology." (P. 334.)
Taken by itself this sentence appears to justify the interpretation given of my view, but the sentences immediately succeeding show that this is not so.
"The services of the two sciences are, indeed, reciprocal. We have but to glance back at its progress, to see that Biology owes the cardinal idea on which we have been dwelling, to Sociology; and that having derived from Sociology this explanation of development, it gives it back to Sociology greatly increased in definiteness, enriched by countless illustrations, and fit for extension in new directions."
In pursuance of this assertion it is pointed out that Milne-Edwards derived "the conception of 'the physiological division of labor' " from the generalizations of political-economists. It is then said that "when carried from Sociology to Biology, this conception was forth with greatly expanded"; and further on it is said "that the truth thus found to be all-embracing in Biology returns to Sociology ready to be for it, too, an all-embracing truth." Here it is manifest that the two sciences are regarded as yielding mutual elucidations; and if, as the first sentence taken alone may appear to imply, I regard the analogy as showing that Sociology must be based on Biology, then, on the strength of the subsequent sentences, it may just as truly be said that I base Biology upon Sociology. Clearly, when taken together, these passages show the thought to be that for distinct understanding of either science certain conceptions furnished by the other must be possessed. It can not be said that each science is based on the other. Hence the alleged connection must be not a necessary dependence but an exchange of enlightenments. There is direct proof of this. The sociological division of labor had been recognized long before Biology had assumed a scientific form; and "the physiological division of labor," though not thus named, had been long recognized in living bodies as a co-operation among the various organs. In either science the conception might gradually have been elaborated to the full without aid from the other, though with nothing like the same rapidity and clearness.
Let as pass finally to the exposition of the analogy contained in Part II of The Principles of Sociology. It is there said that "between a society and anything else, the only conceivable resemblance must be one due to parallelism of principle in the arrangement of components." (§ 213.) It is shown "how the combined actions of mutually-dependent parts constitute life of the whole, and how there hence results a parallelism between social life and animal life." (§ 218.) Mutual dependence of parts being thus regarded as the essential trait in either case, there is subsequently pointed out a fundamental contrast between the modes in which this mutual dependence is effected in individual bodies and in bodies politic. § 221 begins —
"Though coherence among its parts is a prerequisite to that co-operation by which the life of an individual organism is carried on; and though the members of a social organism, not forming a concrete whole, can not maintain co-operation by means of physical influences directly propagated from part to part; yet they can and do maintain co-operation 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."
It is argued that mutual dependence of parts requires the conveyance of impulses from part to part, and that while "this requisite is fulfilled in living bodies by molecular waves," "it is fulfilled in societies by the signs of feelings and thoughts, conveyed from person to person." Here, then, we come to a proof, more conclusive even than that before given, that social actions are regarded by me as resulting from mental factors. Though the specialization of functions, or division of labor, is held to be analogous in living bodies and social bodies — though, in both cases, co-operation of the mutually-dependent parts has to be effected by stimuli conveyed from one to another; yet it is shown that while in the one case this prerequisite is effected by a physical process, it is in the other case effected by a psychical process. So that beyond the proofs variously given that the organization of each society is mainly caused by the mental traits of its units, there is here given the proof that these mental traits produce their results through certain mental products — the signs of feelings and thoughts.
And now let me add a not unimportant conclusion brought into view by this long explanation. In the course of it there has become manifest to me the essential distinction, which I had not before observed, between the dependencies of Sociology on Biology and the dependencies of Sociology on Psychology. They concern respectively the substance of society and the structure of society. We may contemplate the social aggregate simply as a mass of living units, ignoring any arrangement of its parts; or, tacitly positing the existence of the mass, we may occupy ourselves exclusively with the arrangement of its parts. Under the one head we are concerned only with changes of quantity and quality — increases or decreases of the units in number, and organic modifications of their natures: changes produced in the course of generations by subjection of the units to certain conditions of life. For interpreting social phenomena included in this group, we depend directly upon Biology. Under the other head we are concerned only with the development of this social aggregate into an organization of mutually-dependent parts performing different duties the gradual evolution of structures and correlative functions and formation of a more and more integrated whole. For interpreting the phenomena included in this far more conspicuous and important group, we depend directly upon Psychology. Though the two can not be sharply separated, since bodily life and mental life are indissolubly united, and exert reciprocal influences, yet, as being respectively concerned with social substance and social form, the two are sufficiently contrasted.
- In passing I may remark that in the alleged progress from uniformity to multiformity, as well as in the implied processes of differentiation and integration, may be seen the earliest germ of the thought which eventually developed into the formula of evolution at large.