Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/May 1895/Professional Institutions I

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1228634Popular Science Monthly Volume 47 May 1895 — Professional Institutions I1895Herbert Spencer




WHAT character professional institutions have in common, by which they are as a group distinguished from the other groups of institutions contained in a society, it is not very easy to say. But we shall be helped to frame an approximately true conception by contemplating in their ultimate natures the functions of the respective groups.

The lives of a society and of its members are in one way or other subserved by all of them: maintenance of the life of a society, which is an insentient organism, being a proper proximate end only as a means to the ultimate end—maintenance of the lives of its members, which are sentient organisms. The primary function, considered either in order of time or in order of importance, is defense of the tribal or national life—preservation of the society from destruction by enemies. For the better achievement of this end there presently comes some regulation of life. Restraints on individual action are needful for the efficient carrying on of war, which implies subordination to a leader or chief; and when successful leadership ends in permanent chieftainship, it brings, in course of further development, such regulation of life within the society as conduces to efficiency for war purposes. Better defense against enemies, thus furthered, is followed by defense of citizens against one another; and the rules of conduct, originally imposed by the successful chief, come, after his decease, to be re-enforced by the injunctions ascribed to his ghost. So that, with the control of the living king and his agents, there is gradually joined the control of the dead king and his agents. Simultaneously with the rise of agencies for the defense of life and the regulation of life, there grow up agencies for the sustentation of life. Though at first food, clothing, and shelter are obtained by each for himself, yet exchange, beginning with barter of commodities, gradually initiates a set of appliances which greatly facilitate the bodily maintenance of all. But now the defense of life, the regulation of life, and the sustentation of life, having been achieved, what further general function is there? There is the augmentation of life; and this function it is which the professions in general subserve. It is obvious that the medical man who removes pains, sets broken bones, cures diseases, and wards off premature death, increases the amount of life. Musical composers and performers, as well as professors of music and dancing, are agents who exalt the emotions and so increase life. The poet, epic, lyric or dramatic, along with the actor, severally in their respective ways yield pleasurable feelings and so increase life. The historian and the man of letters, to some extent by the guidance they furnish, but to a larger extent by the interest which their facts and fictions create, raise men's mental states and so increase life. Though we can not say of the lawyer that he does the like in a direct way, yet by aiding the citizen to resist aggressions he furthers his sustentation and thereby increases life. The multitudinous processes and appliances which the man of science makes possible, as well as the innumerable intellectual interests he arouses and the general illumination he yields, increase life. The teacher, alike by information given and by discipline enforced, enables his pupils more effectually to carry on this or that occupation and obtain better subsistence than they would else do, at the same time that he opens the doors to various special gratifications: in both ways increasing life. Once more, those who carry on the plastic arts—the painter, the sculptor, the architect—excite by their products pleasurable perceptions and emotions of the aesthetic class, and thus increase life.

In what way do the professions arise? From what pre-existing social tissue are they differentiated—to put the question in evolutionary language? Recognizing the general truth, variously illustrated in the preceding parts of this work [The Principles of Sociology], that all social structures result from specializations of a relatively homogeneous mass, our first inquiry must be—in which part of such mass do professional institutions originate.[2]

Stated in a definite form the reply is that traces of the professional agencies, or some of them, arise in the primitive politico-ecclesiastical agency; and that as fast as this becomes divided into the political and the ecclesiastical, the ecclesiastical more especially carries with it the germs of the professional, and eventually develops them. Remembering that in the earliest social groups there is temporary chieftainship in time of war, and that where war is frequent the chieftainship becomes permanent—remembering that efficient co-operation in war requires subordination to him, and that when his chieftainship becomes established such subordination, though mainly limited to war times, shows itself at other times and favors social co-operation—remembering that when, under his leadership, his tribe subjugates other tribes, he begins to be propitiated by them, while he is more and more admired and obeyed by his own tribe—remembering that in virtue of the universal ghost-theory the power he is supposed to exercise after death is even greater than the power he displayed during life; we understand how it happens that ministrations to him after death, like in kind to those received by him during life, are maintained and often increased. Among primitive peoples, life in the other world is conceived as identical in nature with life in this world. Hence, as the living chief was supplied with food and drink, oblations are taken to his burial-place and libations poured out. As animals were killed for him while he lived, animals are sacrificed on his grave when he is dead. If he has been a great king with a large retinue, the frequent slaughter of many beasts to maintain his court is paralleled by the hecatombs of cattle and sheep slain for the support of his ghost and the ghosts of his attendants. If he was a cannibal, human victims are furnished to him when dead as when alive; and their blood is poured on the grave-heap, or on the altar which represents the grave-heap. Having had servants in this world he is supposed to need servants in the other, and frequently they are killed at his funeral or sent after him. When the women of his harem are not immolated at his burial-place, as they sometimes are, it is usual to reserve virgins for him in his temple. Visits of homage made to his residence become, in after times, pilgrimages made to his tomb or temple; and presents at the throne reappear as presents at the shrine. Prostrations, genuflections and other obeisances are made in his presence, along with various uncoverings; and worship in his temple has the like accompaniments. Laudations are uttered before him while

he is alive, and the like or greater laudations when he is dead. Dancing, at first a spontaneous expression of joy in his presence, becomes a ceremonial observance, and continues to be a ceremonial observance on occasions of worshiping his ghost. And of course it is the same with the accompanying music: instrumental or vocal, it is performed both before the natural ruler and the supernatural ruler.

Obviously, then, if any of these actions and agencies, common to political loyalty and divine worship, have characters akin to certain professional actions and agencies, these last must be considered as having double roots in the politico-ecclesiastical agency. It is also obvious that if, along with increasing differentiation of these twin agencies, the ecclesiastical develops more imposingly and widely, partly because the supposed superhuman being to which it ministers continually increases in ascribed power, and partly because worship of him, instead of being limited to one place, spreads to many places, these professional actions and agencies will develop more especially in connection with it.

Sundry of these actions and agencies included in both political and religious ministrations are of the kind indicated. While among propitiations of the visible king and the invisible deified king, some of course will have for their end the sustentation of life, others are certain to be for the increase of life by its exaltation: yielding to the propitiated being emotional gratifications by praises, by songs, and by various aids to aesthetic pleasures. And naturally the agencies of which laudatory orations, hymnal poetry, dramatized triumphs, as well as sculptured and painted representations in dedicated buildings, are products, will develop in connection chiefly with those who permanently minister to the apotheosized rulers—the priests.

A further reason why the professions thus implied, and others not included among them, such as those of the lawyer and the teacher, have an ecclesiastical origin, is that the priest-class comes of necessity to be distinguished above other classes by knowledge and intellectual capacity. His cunning, skill, and acquaintance with the natures of things, give the primitive priest or medicine-man influence over his fellows; and these traits continue to be distinctive of him when, in later stages, his priestly character becomes distinct. His power as priest is augmented by those feats and products which exceed the ability of the people to achieve or understand; and he is therefore under a constant stimulus to acquire the superior culture and the mental powers needed for those activities which we class as professional.

Once more there is the often-recognized fact, that the priest-class, supplied by other classes with, the means of living, becomes, by implication, a leisured class. Not called upon to work for subsistence, its members are able to devote time and energy to that intellectual labor and discipline which are required for professional occupations as distinguished from other occupations.

Carrying with us these general conceptions of the nature of professional institutions and of their origin, we are now prepared for recognizing the significance of those groups of facts which the historical development of the professions presents to us.

  1. The series of articles to which this is introductory will in their eventual form be chapters constituting Part VII of The Principles of Sociology—Professional Institutions. Hence the explanation of the various references and allusions to preceding parts of that work which they will be found to contain. The various references to books will, as in past cases, be found at the end of the volume when published.
  2. When, more than twenty years ago, the first part of the Descriptive Sociology was issued, there appeared in a leading weekly journal, specially distinguished as the organ of university culture, a review of it, which, sympathetically written though it was, contained the following remark: "We are at a loss to understand why the column headed 'Professional,' and representing the progress of the secular learned professions. . . appears in the tables as a subdivision of 'Ecclesiastical.'"

    The raising of this question shows how superficial is the historical culture ordinarily provided. In all probability the writer of the review knew all about the births, deaths, and marriages of our kings; had read the accounts of various peoples given by Herodotus; could have passed an examination in Thucydides; and besides acquaintance with Gibbon, probably had considerable knowledge of the wars carried on, and dynastic mutations suffered, by most European nations. Yet of a general law in the evolution of societies he was evidently ignorant—conspicuous though it is. For when attention is given, not to the gossip of history, but to the facts which are from time to time incidentally disclosed respecting the changes of social organizations; and when such changes exhibited in one society are compared with those exhibited in other societies; the truth that the various professional agencies are derived from the ecclesiastical agency, is one which "leaps to the eyes," as the French say.