Popular Science Monthly/Volume 70/April 1907/Civology - A Suggestion

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SO far civilization—Johnson 'abominated' the word and suggested 'civility' instead—has been considered philosophically, described historically, viewed esthetically and computed statistically. I say 'so far' and I may add 'so good,' for by these disciplines the phenomena in question have been arrayed under their vicarious aspects with illuminating, impressive, interesting and significant results. Hence we have systems, narratives, tales and tables, all of which are well enough in their respective ways. As a whole, however—if one can consider them collectively—these systems, narratives, tales and tables lack continuity. Coordination is required, so, it seems to me, civilization should be subjected to scientific research. Ours is the age of science, we affirm; certainly each century has contributed its quota. To the credit of the nineteenth belongs biology, which has succeeded in coordinating the phenomena of life; it is the task of the twentieth, I take it, to coordinate the phenomena of civilization and afford us the science of, Civology, shall I say?

But why, you ask, is a new science necessary? Civilization is the work of man and anthropology, the science of man, is already established. Beavers build dams, but there's not one science of beavers and another of their dams, why, then, one science of man and another of his works? If men established civilizations by instinct, as beavers build dams, and the same sorts of civilizations from generation to generation, with only such changes as are effected through selection, there would be no necessity of a separate science, but such is not the case. Civilization is not instinctive and conservative, it is purposive and progressive. So there is something in the distinction Spencer sought to establish between organic and super-organic phenomena. Man himself is an organic phenomenon, his works, however, are super-organic—to be sure, they proceed, as Spencer said, by insensible steps out of the organic, even as organic phenomena proceed by insensible steps out of the inorganic, still for this very reason they are super-organic. Since such is the case, manifestly man and his works can not be included within one science; there must be two sciences, one of man, and another of his works. It is of no avail—in fact it only mixes matters the more—to divide anthropology into two parts: physical anthropology, which purports to deal with man himself, and cultural anthropology. which sets out to consider his works. Inasmuch as man is an organic phenomenon, anthropology, the science of man—like botany, the science of plants, and zoology, the science of animals—is properly speaking a branch of biology, the general science of all organic phenomena. Call this physical anthropology if you prefer—though the adjective seems to me superfluous—but pause and consider before you speak of cultural anthropology. The adjective in this case is incongruous; cultural includes man's works, which are confessedly super-organic. Now there may be no principles capable of coordinating these super-organic phenomena—if so there can be no such thing as a science of civilization—but simply because these principles are still unknown, or unknowable, if you like, is no reason why other known principles should be accepted to serve their stead. You can not coordinate organic phenomena under inorganic categories, why should you expect to coordinate super-organic phenomena under organic categories? But this is precisely what is proposed by the incongruous combination: cultural anthropology—the science itself is organic, its subject-matter is super-organic.

Congruity requires that the new science shall be super-organic to correspond with its subject-matter. But there is such a science, you say, sociology, which claims to be the science of super-organic phenomena. If 'social' and 'super-organic' were synonymous, as Spencer supposed, the claim would be justified, but they're not, and no amount of argument or assumption can make them so. To go no further for the moment, it is evident enough man's works are individual and familial as well as social; then too, from another point of view, some of man's works are economic, others esthetic, and so on, all of which are included within the broader concept 'civilization,' but not necessarily within the narrower concept 'society.' Thus though sociology is, logically at least, a science of super-organic phenomena, it is certainly not the science of super-organic phenomena, since it does not, and can not be made to coordinate the subject-matter in question. All organic phenomena are coordinated under the general science of biology, perhaps some day all super-organic phenomena will be coordinated under the general science of civology. If so, sociology will constitute one of the subsidiary sciences of civology, even as morphology constitutes one of the subsidiary sciences of biology. Till then the so-called science should be classed among the above-mentioned 'systems.' Even as such—if I may add a word by way of criticism—it is not a striking success—to quote from a recent writer: "In regard to the fundamental principles of sociology, the confusion is hopeless. The student will search in vain in the systematic treatises on sociology for any definite body of established doctrine which he can accept as the ground principles of the science. He finds only an unmanageable mass of conflicting theories and opinions. Each treatise contains an exposition of what the author is pleased to label the 'Principles of Sociology.' But the 'Principles' are not the same in any two treatises; and by no process of analysis and synthesis can they be brought into harmony. They are fundamentally contradictory. It is impossible, I believe, to discover a single alleged ground-principle of sociology that has commanded general assent."[1] If so, well may Gabriel Tarde advise his fellow sociologists: "Instead of discoursing upon the merits of this infant sociology—which men have had the art to baptize before its birth—let us succeed, if possible, in bringing it forth."

Setting aside cultural anthropology as inadequate and sociology as insufficient, I revert to the necessity of a new science. As to its name, it is premature, perhaps, to baptize this infant also before its birth, but I may at least be allowed to suggest Civology. I do so for consistency's sake; life is organic, civilization is super-organic, the organic science of life is called biology, the super-organic science of civilization should be called civology. I assume, you see, that civilization and superorganic are synonymous, and rightly, I think; certainly all civil phenomena are super-organic, the only question is: are all super-organic phenomena civil? They are essentially so, I should say, and, in any event, civilization is such a flexible term it may very well, far better, in fact, than any other, be extended so as to include all the phenomena in question. But enough of the name, now for the substance of the new science. Its subject-matter is super-organic; so much is established. The next step is to formulate fundamental principles capable of coordinating super-organic phenomena—an exceedingly long step. Indeed it is, so long, I fear I shall be obliged to jump at conclusions. Fortunately the path is well paved to this point, and beyond the general direction of advance is defined. So far science exhibits an orderly processus of phenomena, with the result that organic phenomena have been shown to proceed by insensible steps out of the inorganic. I assume simply that such consistency continues to the end, with the result that super-organic phenomena proceed by insensible steps out of the organic. If so, civology stands in the same relation to biology that biology stands to physics and chemistry. The fundamental principles of biology are subsequent to and consistent with the fundamental principles of its antecedent sciences, physics and chemistry; accordingly, the fundamental principles of civology should be subsequent to and consistent with the fundamental principles of its antecedent science, biology. Before taking the step—or making the leap, if you like—it will be best, then, to go back a bit, and, passing the line of organic evolution in review, run over the fundamental principles of biology.

Organic evolution is characterized by countless variations, according to which the manifold forms of life can be classified under more or less definite categories—kingdoms, sub-kingdoms, classes, orders, families, genera, species and varieties, with many intermediate divisions—and arranged in an ascending series culminating, as we view it, in man. The extrinsic cause, or perhaps I should say the condition, of these variations is environment. The intrinsic cause is the physiological principle of variability, or mutability, by which biologists mean the susceptibility to modification inherent in organic life, that plasticity or modifiability of any organism in virtue of which an animal or a plant may change in form, structure, function, size, color, or other character, lose some character or acquire another, and thus deviate from its parent form.' This tendency of all organisms to become unlike their parents is, as I say, in first instance an intrinsic quality, and, like other natural attributes, transmissible from generation to generation. But though originally instrinsic, variability is only called into play by extrinsic conditions. As a result, organic variations are the outcome of an interaction between intrinsic and extrinsic factors, variability and environment. Looking along the line of organic evolution, the general tendency appears to be toward the preservation of the more useful and the extinction of the less useful or useless characters. This is due, in first instance, to adaptation, and then to the fact that selection in one form or another has been operative all along the line, eliminating the unfit or ill-adapted from the struggle for existence and allowing only the fittest or best adapted to survive. Selection acts accordingly as the regulative factor of organic evolution—so in last analysis variations become "the accomplishment of that which variability permits, environment requires, and selection directs." To be noted also is the fact that variability, or the tendency to vary under environmental conditions, is counteracted to a considerable extent by heredity, or the tendency to breed true, the former being the progressive, the latter the conservative, principle of organic evolution.

Man himself is an animal, the final product, apparently, of organic evolution. Classified biologically he belongs to the sub-kingdom: Vertebrata, class: Mammalia, order: Primates, sub-order: Anthropoidea, family: Hominidae, which family constitutes one genus and a single species. In the course of its evolution this single species has, however, become further differentiated into at least four sub-species, which constitute the great races of man—and these in turn into a great number of ethnic varieties. Arranged in an ascending series, we rank the Negro, or Black race, lowest; next the American, or Eed race; then the Mongolic, or Yellow race, and finally the Caucasic, or White race. Within this last we take the Anglo-Saxons to represent the highest ethnic type—though this is more or less arbitrary, depending upon the point of view. But whatever the order of arrangement, there can be no doubt of this: these several races and numerous varieties of mankind represent so many organic variations of the human species, effected through the interaction of variability and environment, and established by adaptation and selection. Now each of these races and every variety of the human species has contributed something to the sum total of civilization. So it seems, in man's case, the line of organic evolution is succeeded and supplemented by a line of super-organic development. And as the line of organic evolution is characterized by countless variations culminating in the several races and numerous varieties of man, even so is the line of super-organic development characterized by successive states of civilization, established by the several races and numerous varieties of man. These states of civilization likewise can be classified according to their complexity and arranged in an ascending series, culminating, if you like, in the existing civilization of the Anglo-Saxons—though this again is a matter of opinion, or prejudice perhaps. But whatever the order of their arrangement, of this I am quite convinced: these states of civilization connote in last analysis so many systems of utilization. My concept of the subject may seem somewhat restricted, but I assure you it will expand as we proceed, meanwhile I ask you only to accept the connotation provisionally, as a possible point of departure.

This at least is obvious: in order to live and move and have their being—to say nothing of meliorating their material condition—human beings are obliged to utilize the resources at their disposal. The manners in which and the means and methods whereby they do so are determined by the circumstances—physical, social and historical—within which they strive. Circumstance constitutes, accordingly, the extrinsic cause or condition of utilization. The intrinsic cause in this case is the psychological principle of utility, which is the quality of satisfying wants—an elusive and very variable quality, to be sure, none the less appreciable for all that. All men seek to satisfy their wants, therefore all men may be said to strive after utility. The quality in question supplies, as it were, the stimulus, the incentive, or better perhaps, the motive that makes for utilization. So I should say utility constitutes the progressive principle of super-organic development, even as variability constitutes the progressive principle of organic evolution. To acquire such utility and so satisfy their wants, men, as I have said, must utilize the resources at their disposal, in the manner and by the means and methods most in accordance with their circumstances. So it appears super-organic systems of utilization are, like organic variations, the outcome of an interaction between intrinsic and extrinsic factors, utility and circumstance in this case. Looking along the line of super-organic development, the general tendency appears to be toward the augmentation of utility accompanied by increasing complexity in the process of utilization. This is due to the expansion of human wants, the satisfaction of one usually causing another to emerge in the mind, and so on indefinitely. Circumstances conscribe and restrict such expansion always and everywhere; so, not being able to satisfy all their wants at once, men are compelled to choose between the satisfaction of one and the satisfaction of another. Such choice is effected through evaluation, which comes in last analysis to this: in every set of circumstances each man asks himself, 'to the satisfaction of which of my many wants do I attach the most immediate importance? which, in a word, is most worth while?' and having decided, proceeds to utilize his resources accordingly. The same is true in a more general way of peoples and races; as a result of a long series of evaluations, groups as well as individuals establish their standards in accordance with their physical, social and historical circumstances. So I should say: evaluation constitutes the regulative factor of super-organic development. If so, utilization becomes in last analysis the accomplishment of that which utility suggests, circumstances allow and evaluation controls. A word in conclusion: because of the expansion of human wants, utility constitutes the progressive principle of super-organic development, but utility is counteracted to a considerable extent by imitation, the disposition to accept traditionally established standards and utilize in accordance with custom and convention instead of circumstance—imitation constitutes accordingly the conservative principle of super-organic development.

Before stepping over from the formulated organic into the unformulated super-organic, in order to indicate the direction and measure the distance I said: the fundamental principles of civology should be subsequent to and consistent with the fundamental principles of its antecedent science, biology. Having taken the step—or made the leap, if you like—let us look about us and see where we have landed. In the first place, are the super-organic principles suggested consistent with the organic principles already established? They seem to me so—I appeal to comparison. Biology has succeeded in coordinating the phenomena of life; the task I set civology was to coordinate the phenomena of civilization. The phenomena of life are organic, the phenomena of civilization are super-organic. The former, that is the phenomena of life, present themselves to science as variations; the latter, that is the phenomena of civilization, should, I say, present themselves to science as systems of utilization. Organic variations are conceived of by biology as the accomplishment of that which variability permits, environment requires, and selection directs; so, it seems to me, super-organic systems of utilization should be conceived of by civology as the accomplishment of that which utility suggests, circumstance allows and evaluation controls. The parallelism between the two processes is apparent: Both proceed from intrinsic principles which are progressive in character—the organic process from the principle of variability, the super-organic process from the principle of utility. In each case the progressive action of these intrinsic principles is conscribed and restricted by extrinsic conditions—variability by environmental conditions, utility by circumstantial conditions. In each case also the interaction of intrinsic principles and extrinsic conditions is directed and controlled by factors which are neither intrinsic nor extrinsic, but rather intermediate in character—the interaction of variability and environment by selection, the interaction of utility and circumstance by evaluation. Finally, both processes are arrested and established to some extent by the influence of other intrinsic principles that are conservative in character, the organic process by heredity, the super-organic process by imitation. But enough of this, a parallelism pushed too far comes dangerously near an analogy. In another paper I shall endeavor to show in what sense the suggested principles of super-organic development are subsequent to the known principles of organic evolution.

  1. F. Spencer Baldwin, 'Sociology,' Popular Science Monthly, LV., p. 817.