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The Contribution of Herbert Spencer to Sociology (1110 Words)

by Puja Mondal Sociology
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Read this article to learn about the contribution of Herbert Spencer to sociology!

Herbert Spencer was born in Derby, England, on 27th April, 1820. He was recognized as one of the important social philosophers of the 19th Century. He had exerted a profound influence in the development of modern Sociology. He was treated as the continuator of Comte’s evolutionary approach. He was much more precise than Comte in specifying special fields for which Sociology must take responsibility.

Sociology
Image Courtesy : upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3a/Herbert_Spencer_5.jpg
He is believed to be the most notable exponent of social evolution. He is also considered as the father of classical evolutionists. In 1848 he was appointed as an editor of “The Economist”. By 1850, he had completed his first major work, “Social Statics”. He is famous, for his theory of’ Social Evolution’ and Organismic Analogy in the study of Sociology. Some of his important writings are:

(i) Principles of Ethics-1891

(ii) Synthetic Philosophy-1896

(iii) Principles of Sociology-1880

(iv) Social Statics-1850

(v) Principle of Biology

(vi) The Study of Sociology-1873.

Organismic Analogy:

An important work of Spencer which was shared with both Comte and Durkheim was his theory of organic analogy in which he developed the tendency to see society as an organism. He borrowed his concepts from biology.

He was concerned with overall structure of society, the interrelationship of the parts of society, and the functions of the parts for each other as well as for the system as a whole. He had compared the society with a living organism by taking into account the following points.

(i) There is growth and development of both society and living organism. The process of growth and development is gradual and it passes from simple to complex. At the time of birth of a living organism or biological organism it is very simple.

It has no self of its own. But gradually due to its development it becomes more and more complex and complicated day by day. It changes its structure. In the beginning it is small but becomes quite complex gradually.

In case of society we find the same thing. At the time of its origin it is very small and simple but becomes vast and complicated gradually. For example, the hunting and food gathering society has now reached at its modern state with the changes in its growth and development.

(ii) There is close relationship in its parts and organs. In the bio logical organism or living organism there is close relationship in the parts. It implies that all the parts or organs are dependent upon each other. In a living organism, for example, each organ performs separate function of its own. Similarly, different organs perform different functions for the continuity of the whole. Neither the function of one organ can be carried on by other organs nor can the whole be maintained with the help of all the functions of all other organs. This is also true of society. All the parts of the society depend upon each other for its continuity.

(iii) There is importance of the whole in both society and living organism. Although all parts of society and living organism are inter- dependant there is importance of the whole. We cannot realize the importance of the different parts unless we look at the organism as a whole. If one part gets destroyed then the new ones are born. There is no break in the importance of the whole. It continues. This is true in both society and biological organism.

(iv) There is one centre of control in both-society and living organism. In the living organism the Centre of Control is the brain which regulates all the activities of the different parts of the whole. Similarly, in case of a society the government or the administration acts as the centre of its control. It controls the functioning of the whole. Its different parts carry out the orders issued by the centre of control. So society and the living organism are similar.

(v) According to Spencer, Society and the living organism are similar as both of them following similar processes and methods for its efficient functioning. For example, in the living organism, the various systems like digestion, circulatory, respiratory etc. are responsible for its functioning whereas, in the society, the transport system, communication system, production as well as distribution etc. fulfill their respective roles. Thus Spencer clarified that there is similarity between society and living organism. Apart from the above similarities between the biological organism and the society. Spencer has analyzed some points of difference between these two. They are:

(i) The living organism is a concrete and integrated whole whereas society is composed of discrete and dispersed elements.

(ii) There is no centralization of consciousness in the society whereas in the living organism although different organs do not have different consciousness, it has a centralized consciousness. But in the society each and every part has separate consciousness of its own.

(iii) In the society the parts are not always necessarily meant for the welfare of the whole. Rather, the whole is made for the welfare of its parts. This is not true of the living organism. Because all the parts exist for the welfare of the whole.

(iv) The parts of the society are capable of independent existence but the parts of living organism are incapable of independent existence. If the parts of the living organism are made separated from the whole, then it becomes deformed and in the worst case it leads to death.

From the above discussion we come to know that Spencer has tried to treat society similar with a living organism by taking into account few important points. But his theory is not free from the criticisms. Some of the criticisms are the following.

(i) It is not possible to bring out the differences between the society and the living organism. Society is abstract whereas living organism is concrete. So the critics have commented that it is not possible to compare the two. It is nothing but the imaginary description of Spencer.

(ii) The nature of consciousness of the society and the living organism differs. In the living organism there is centralization of consciousness but in the society different parts have different consciousness of their own. So the society and the living organism cannot be compared with each other on this ground.

(iii) Another criticism is regarding their birth, growth and death. It is said that the process of birth, growth and death of the living organism is purely different from the society. So society can never be made similar with the living organism.

Apart from the above criticisms Spencer himself has also contradicted his own views.…...

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