The Development of Sociology
George E. Vincent
[George Edgar Vincent, Professor of Sociology, University of Chicago, since 1900. b. Rockford, Illinois, March 21, 1864. A.B. Yale, 1885; Ph.D. Chicago, 1896. Graduate, Chicago, 1896. Principal of Instruction, Chautauqua Institution.1892. Author of The Social Mind and Education; An Introduction to the Study of Society (with A. W. Small).]
THE turbid stream of social theory which flowed out of the past into the nineteenth century carried a confused mass of knowledge and speculation about every aspect of collective life. The penetrating idealism of Plato, the realistic insight of Aristotle, the semi-humorous sanity of More, the shrewd analysis of Machiavelli, the upheaving dialetic of Hobbes, the wide vision of Vico, the contagious paradoxes of Rousseau, the naturalistic explanations of Montesquieu, the scientific generalizations of Adam Smith, the optimistic dreams of Condorcet, the mystical interpretations of Lessing and Bunsen — all these conflicting, overlapping, or partial theories formed a bewildering tradition which it has been the task of nineteenth-century philosophers and scientists to sift, enlarge, and systematize. The one common idea appearing in many forms throughout this mass of speculation was that of law as finding expression in the affairs of men. This recognition of inevitable sequences and coexistences, to whatever cause attributed, was the fundamental principle which the social philosophy of the nineteenth century received from the past.
The elaboration of this vast tradition has involved both analysis and synthesis. The mass had to be classified, differentiated. At the outset economic science alone had begun to assume a distinctive form. With the increase of observation and reflection still other facts were set off into specialized fields of research. Thus one outstanding achievement of the century has been the division of a confused tradition into a number of fairly well-defined social sciences. But there has also been a persistent effort to resist this dissolution into parts, to restore to their larger relationships the abstracted elements; i. e., to preserve the unity of social theory as a whole. Such is the secular antithesis between analysis and synthesis, between science and philosophy.
The term "sociology" is used in at least four different senses, two of which are directly related to the present discussion: (1) as a vague general term to include the entire field of social fact and theory; (2) as a social philosophy which aims at a unifying conception of society as a whole; (3) "pure" or "general" sociology seeks recognition as a science, classifying facts and discovering
( 801) the laws which underlie association as such; (4) "practical" sociology describes the scientific treatment of the problems of social organization and welfare. To the development of sociology as philosophy and as science this survey must be confined.
As to method of treatment, several ways lie open. Each has certain advantages. The division of sociologies into (1) classificational, (2) biological, (3) organic. and (4) psychological, affords seemingly definite criteria and a natural developmental series. Traditional philosophic dualism displays itself also in social theories, which may be classified as objective or naturalistic on the one hand, and subjective or idealistic on the other. Again. the division into individualistic and collectivistic has a certain significance. So also the chronological treatment of men and theories is of unquestioned value. In the present case, however, no one of these methods seems sufficiently flexible or comprehensive. While, therefore, reference will be made, as occasion may demand. to one or another of these classifications, this survey will select certain typical problems of social science and philosophy, and will attempt to show (1) what kind of problems have engaged the attention of sociologists, and (2) what development of theory has been associated with each. The problems which have been selected for this purpose are the following:
(1) The problem of conceiving society as a whole.
(2) The problem of race-conflict and group-struggle.
(3) The problem of the psychical nature of the group — the social mind.
(4) The problem of the individual and society.
(5) The problem of the influence of natural environment on the social group.
(6) The problem of social progress.
(7) The problem of the province of sociology as a science.
The conception of society as an organic whole enduring through secular time, extending over wide areas, and unified by natural forces from without and by conscious consensus from within, was fundamental with Comte. His "law of the three stages" swept into its ken an unbroken continuity of generations which were later idealized into an object of worship — Humanity. True, this idea had been implicit in all the philosophies of history, and the organic simile is traceable to remote antiquity, but Comte was the first — with the possible exception of Pico — to present in a realistic and vivid way this view of the unity of mankind. The "hierarchy of the sciences" was only another means of empha-
(802) -sizing this idea. Step by step the mind is led up from physical and chemical combinations to organic and thence to social unities. This conception, familiar as it seems, was in Comte's time by no means obvious, and to-day it is far from generally accepted. Persons and small groups, not vast social wholes, are the striking surface facts which hold the attention of the average observer.
Biological sociology has elaborated the conception of social unity, and centralization. Comte merely outlined the idea of the social organism. Spencer carried the analogy to a high degree of definite detail, insisting especially upon parallels of structure. Lilienfeld laid all the stress upon the nervous system, as does Novicow in his theory of the social élite. So, too, Fouillée classifies social organisms according to the degree of centralization they have attained; i. e., according to their nervous organization. Schäffle emphasized functional analogies rather than structural correspondences, and made much of the integration of social activities in a complex common life. Worms has carried the biological `analogy almost to the point of asserting an identity. Beneath all these variations in emphasis, underlying a mass of common-place, fanciful, and even grotesque parallelisms, one discovers always the fundamental idea of social unity, structural and functional. If the biological sociologists have not always seen society steadily, they have at least tried to see it whole.
The so-called classificationalists who, following Comte's example, have sought to solve the problems of sociology by classifying social phenomena into hierarchical orders, have also contributed to the idea of social unity. Thus Littré discovers four social systems which appear in this order: economic, political, artistic, and scientific. De Greef increases the number to seven; La Combe, with his theory of urgency in human motives, arranges these in an order practically the same as De Greef's. Others still have made classifications, although not of the hierarchical kind. A. Wagner classifies human motives under five heads, while Small discovers six typical demands for satisfaction — demands which work themselves out into social activities and institutions. It is to be noted that all these classifications, whether of phenomena, systems, or motives, assume a society which is unified by the dependence and interrelations of the analyzed elements.
With the shifting of emphasis from the biological to the psycho-logical analogy this theory of the social whole has been inevitably modified. Division of labor and interdependence have yielded more and more to the idea of a unity in habit, feeling, and thought. Tarde, for example, conceives a constant tendency toward larger social groups by means of ever-spreading waves of imitation. This conception of an increasing unification of mankind is traceable in part to the evolutionary philosophy of the second half of the century, in part to the rapid extension of commerce and the closer international relations which this has involved, and in some degree to that idealism which Condorcet suggested, which Comte exalted, and which finds expression in the dream of "a parliament of nations, the federation of the world."
Valuable as this philosophical idea of organic social unity and increasing centralization undoubtedly is, it has distinct limitations. The biological analogy is clearly recognized as having reached and often transgressed the limits of its usefulness. It is the descriptive philosophy of an observer from without rather than the science of the student at close quarters with the facts of association. Mallock has asserted that the Spencerian sociology, when tested by the practical demands of the times, utterly breaks down. It has no solution for the problems of the day because Spencer deals with society as a whole, while all so-called social problems arise from maladjustments and conflicts between the parts of society — classes, parties, sects, and other groups. It is further true that the concept of society as a whole is a vague notion at best, and on ultimate analysis is likely to resolve itself into the idea of a national group defined by geographical boundaries and controlled by a single political system.
It was inevitable in the circumstances that to certain students society should present a picture, not of harmony and unity, but of conflict and struggle. Thus Gumplowicz sees in the history of mankind a never-ending conflict of hordes. tribes, races. classes, and other groups. These struggles may change their forms, but never their essential character, the exploitation of the weak by the strong. To Ratzenhofer society is an area of interests which first form individuals, then groups, then wider groups, and struggle perpetually for the realization of the dominant interest. Each interest forms a struggle-group in which leadership and authority
( 804) are developed under the reacting influence of the led. Novicow elaborates the idea of conflict which he conceives as gradually passing from the crude form of violence and robbery, through exploitation, monopoly, and privilege, to the higher form of mental conflict — discussion. Sighele in his study of sects and parties also makes much of the rôle of antagonism and struggle. Marx utilizes the same general idea in his famous doctrine of class-conflict. Loria, too, discovers everywhere the dominance of class interests with no concern for the common welfare. Vaccaro, on the other hand, while recognizing the prevalence of upper-class control, describes the gradual mitigation of this struggle through concession until a larger social unity is achieved. Here he approaches Spencer, who naturally makes much of group-conflict in the early stages of social evolution, but almost wholly overlooks, in modern life, the persistence under many disguises of these "struggle-groups." The fundamental difference between the unity school and the conflict school is as to the degree to which unity has been attained. Of those who see chiefly group-struggle in society, only one, Gumplowicz, refuses to admit any progress toward an ultimate harmony. The rest, while emphasizing the struggle phase, leave room for a more or less remote possibility that this conflict may be in some measure mitigated, if not abandoned. As a means of interpreting contemporary or historical social facts the conflict theory — with the group-psychology which this involves — has obviously a practical value. The organic unity of a modem city or nation is an elusive idea in contrast with the contests of classes, sects, races, and parties, which lie upon the surface. Yet it would be a serious error wholly to lose sight of the larger unity which actually underlies these apparently endless group-struggles.
Comte based his idea of social unity not only on the organic or naturalistic analogy, but on consensus or psychical community. Of late it is the latter concept which has been elaborated. The idea of a social or group-spirit is not new: it is a philosophical notion of long standing. The Zeitgeist, the popular will, public opinion, were familiar phrases long before the days of social psychology. Spencer, Schäffle, and Lilienfeld recognized the psychical
(805) nature of society, but their attention was too much fixed upon the rounding out of their analogies. They assumed what others have sought to analyze. The concept of the social mind is playing a more and more important part. It was a somewhat mystical idea with the founders of Völkerpsychologie, Lazarus and Steinthal, but it has become increasingly concrete and definite, until it may perhaps be regarded as the most fruitful field of contemporary sociological research. The need of such a theory was made clear by the failure of the biological school to supply an adequate explanation of social unity. Mere division of labor and an interdependence almost wholly economic left too much to be desired.
Beginning with a general statement like this from Lazarus, "A people is a collection of men who regard themselves a people. It is the spiritual achievement of those who compose it, who ceaselessly create it," it is instructive to trace the gradual closing-in upon the problem. Lewes made several illuminating observations. Psychologists like Wundt, James, and Baldwin were irresistibly drawn over into the new field. The phenomena of group opinion, feeling, and conduct began to be studied in earnest. Tarde announced his process of imitation, opposition, and invention; Giddings contributed "consciousness of kind" and outlined the "integration of the social mind; " Simmel based group-unity on common symbols, obedience, loyalty, and consciousness of group-honor;  Hauriou suggested the analysis into (1) grouping and the feeling of grouping, (2) individuality and the feeling of individuality, and (3) conciliation; Baldwin offered his "dialectic" of personal and social growth; and Ross published a keenly analytic study of social control. More-over, Boris-Sidis, Le Bon, Ross, Tarde, and Sighele made important contributions to the morbid psychology of the group, as displayed in mental epidemics and mob violence.
However various and conflicting these different theories may seem at first glance, they are actually in most cases complementary, and together they afford an admirable working theory. The rôle of suggestion is recognized as fundamentally important; the sub-ordination of reflection to feeling, the persistence of custom and habit, the predominance of unconscious ford, the function of leadership, the control by group ideals. the modification of these ideals in adjustment to the changing conditions which the group confronts, the devices by which the group cozens its members into conformity — all these aspects have been combined into a psycho-
( 806) -logy of group organization and activity which demands nothing less than a renovation of the assumptions of all the social sciences. The "consent of the governed" theory, the theory of value, the ideas of property, sovereignty, inalienable rights, free-will, must all reckon with social psychology. Indeed, there are those who go so far as to say that sociology as a science will turn out to be nothing else than this psychology of association.
This psychical nature of the group suggests another fundamental problem -- that of the individual and society. Of Comte it has been said that he regarded the individual as an abstraction and society as the only reality. On the other hand, it might be fairly asserted that the thorough-going individualists of the English school saw only persons, and thought of society itself as the abstraction. With Comte the family, not the individual, was the unit of the social organism. Spencer, in spite of occasional aberrations in favor of the family, represented the individual as corresponding to the cell in the animal body. Spencer's political views made him adhere to a conventional individualism not always congruous with the biological analogy. His influence told, therefore, in favor of the older idea of the individual as a reflecting, calculating unit, consciously coöperating in society for his own ends, and nicely weighing his own interests against those of his fellows. All the political philosophy of Rousseau, mediated through the French Revolution, chimed with this theory of the individual. Oddly enough, the "great-man" doctrine of Carlyle aroused Spencer to the defense of his biological conception of social evolution. In demonstrating the continuity of this process and vindicating the uniformity of causation, Spencer was obliged to explain the "great man" as a product of his age and social group — a theory which did not always jump with the implications of his political creed. Before this discussion was dropped, William James, Fiske, and Grant Allen had been drawn into the lists. The latter in his Psychology dealt with the "social self " in a suggestive and enlightening way. This was the first of a series of studies by various scholars which have radically modified the concepts of the individual and of personality. The same problem was also partially involved in the attempt of Mackenzie to abstract the organic idea from the biological sociology. One of the elements of this organic idea is "an intrinsic relation between the part and the whole," i. e., the person and society. The essential idea in
(807) "intrinsic " is that each gets its meaning from the other. The individual can be understood only in relation to his group, and the latter has no meaning apart from the persons who compose it. In this view not only society but the individual is an abstraction from a complex unity which includes both. This general thesis has been developed by several social psychologists, notably Baldwin and Cooley. The former explains the grow of personality as a process of give-and-take with the social group. This makes for a uniformity which is prevented from becoming identity because of the inventions or particularizations of individuals. Society grows by the generalizing or imitating of these particularisations. The process as a whole closely corresponds with Tarde's, but the latter's psychological analysis of the social person is far less keen and detailed. This view of the individual as at once a social product and a social factor is a rational and scientific mean between the old individualism which made the person almost independent of his group. and the socialistic fatalism which represents the individual as merely the outcome of social forces over which he has no control.
The danger that the new social psychology might over-emphasize uniforming tendencies and neglect the forces which individuate the members of a group has not been realized. Of late the tendency has been rather to investigate the facts and causes of individual differences. The influence of sex, race. disposition. and occupation has been studied. Patten explains English evolution in terms of four types dominant at different periods — the clingers. sensualists, stalwarts, and mugwumps. Giddings classifies character into four categories — the forceful, convivial, austere, and rationally conscientious. Ratzenhofer regards only congenital differences which he assorts into nine subdivisions of three great classes—the normal, abnormal, and defective. The differentiating influence of social institutions and occupations has been analyzed in a suggestive way by many investigators and students. While most of these essays are merely tentative, they are full of promise. The individual as to-day conceived by sociologists is a far cry from the abstraction who with inalienable rights, a preternatural rationality. and an unhampered will stalked out of the "social contract" into, the nineteenth century.
The influence of physical environment on social organization and activity has long been a moot question. The contrast between materialism and idealism is as old as the Politics and the Republic. Is man the creature of contour, soil, and climate; or is he the master of his fate? The Physiocrats and Montésquieu gave materialism an impetus which brought it well into the century. Comte's interest in the subjective phase of social evolution diverted his attention largely from the objective. The rapid development of natural science, toward the middle of the century, again brought to the fore the naturalistic interpretation of social and individual differences. Buckle, Guyot, and Draper pushed this view to an extreme which seemed to make the continuity of natural forces from beginning to end not only complete but relatively direct. Buckle, for example, represented the "aspect of nature" as stamping its effect upon a people in an immediate and easily perceptible way. The careful researches and inductions of geographers like Ratzel and Ripley, and the contributions of the Le Play school in France, have led a reaction against the theories of the direct influence of nature on society. Le Play and his followers insist that environmental influence is mediated in an indirect and complex way through a long hierarchy of conditions, activities, and institutions, beginning with place and ending with the rank of the society in the scale of civilization. Vignes states the main thesis of the school to be that nature determines work and reward, which in turn mold the society and differentiate its population. Demolins in recent volumes has illustrated the Le Play theories concretely as applied to the creation of different local types in France, and as explaining the leading racial groups of the world. A similar tendency is observable in the United States, where scientists like Shaler and Brigham, historians like Hart and Turner, geographers like Ripley and Miss Semple, and sociologists like Giddings, have been at work upon the problem of environmental influence. The general tendency away from the idea of immediate effects toward the theories of influence exerted indirectly through social institutions is attributable largely to the increasingly important part which sociology is playing, not only as a science, but as a social philosophy which affects all the social sciences.
The idea of social progress was fundamental with all the philosophers of history. Whether spiral as with Vico, or rectilinear as with Condorcet, the path of human advancement was not to
(809) be missed. De Greef has traced the historical origin and development of this idea which was a part of the heritage of the nineteenth century from the past. Rousseau's "back to nature" and the golden age of primitive innocence left this optimistic dream intact. Comte by his division of sociology into static and dynamic provided a new term for progress which he regarded as conditioned by the intellectual movement generalized in the law of the three stages. With the prevalence of positivism all differences of opinion —"intellectual anarchy" — would perforce disappear and complete harmony would reign in a final static order. The idea of evolution as illustrated by social changes is the great central concept of nineteenth-century sociology. It is everywhere dominant, and every problem has been stated or restated in terms of the developmental doctrine. But evolution and progress are by no means synonyms. Spencer naturally discovered in his law-of evolution certain criteria which were sometimes assumed to be those of advance. Heterogeneity, coherence, definiteness, were often set up as tests — however abstract and difficult to apply — of social advancement. But Spencer really relied upon his two social types of militarism and industrialism with their characteristic status and contract. Here was an infallible criterion. Whatever tended toward military autocracy portended retrogression, while movement toward industrial liberty and free contract was to be reckoned progressive. Ward represents the Comtean theory that intellectual control is the guiding dynamic agency. Telesis—purposeful social action — is contrasted with genesis — unconscious, natural social growth — and likened to the calculated course of an ocean liner as compared with the drifting of an ice-berg. With Ward the diffusion of accurate knowledge is an automatic means of progress. Giddings, admitting that the problem is philosophic rather than scientific, sees three progressive stages in social evolution: (1) political centralization: (2) criticism and freedom; (3) industrial and ethical development. By these he would test the degree of advancement and the trend of a given people or society.
In an address delivered in 1892, Mr. A. J. Balfour examined the popular belief in progress, taking up successively the arguments from biology, the increase of knowledge, and the elevation of ethics. His conclusion was that there are no rational or strictly scientific grounds for predicting progress, and that it is futile to raise the question. While sociologists as a class would hardly take this
( 810) view — while, as a matter of fact, they expect their researches to have social utility — their present interest may be said to turn not so much to large philosophic generalizations concerning vast secular movements as to the more definite scientific study of concrete social phenomena. They are concerned rather with the laws of change than with the formulation of world-theories. This is only a manifestation of a general tendency to be noted presently.
It remains to consider the scope and the phenomena peculiar to sociology as a science. Giddings asserts that it is "the general or fundamental science of society which occupies itself with the elements and first principles of social phenomena," leaving detailed investigation to special social sciences. In this view sociology bears the same relation to these social sciences that biology sustains to zoology, botany, anatomy, and physiology. Small, on the other hand, sees in sociology "a synthesis of all the particular social sciences" and regards sociologists as engaged in the task of "codifying the results of the special social sciences and in organizing these groups of scientific data into a coherent social philosophy." While these views at first seem radically different, they are not, after all, irreconcilable. Sociology is both a science and a philosophy. Moreover, sociology must discover the laws of association as such; but these laws are discoverable only in the concrete facts analyzed and organized by the special social sciences. If there be a distinction in these ideas, it is that the fundamental view fixes attention on principles, while the " synthetic" theory looks also over the border toward policy and practice.
Again, the phenomena peculiar to sociology are variously conceived. De Roberty's "socialité," Gumplowicz's "conflict," De Greef's "contract," Spencer's "cooperation," Tarde's "imitation," Durkheim's "coercion," Simmel's "subordination," Giddings's "consciousness of kind," seem at first glance to form a chaos of ideas. But on examination these turn out to be simply various aspects of the structure and activity of the social group as such. They are different characteristics common to all types of social organization. The fact that these characteristics are almost wholly psychical is significant of the trend of scientific sociology and goes far to identify it with social psychology.
Sociologists have by no means reached a consensus comparable, for example, with that of the economists, but when variations in terminology have been eliminated, a considerable and ever-widening area of agreement emerges from the apparent confusion.
( 811) Thus as to society in general all agree that it is (1) a product of physical and psychical forces, (2) working in an evolutionary process, in which (3) at first predominantly instinctive activities later yield in some measure to (4) reflective and purposeful policies. This view regards society as (5) organic in the general, not specific, sense of the term. As to the social group as a type of common mental life it is further agreed (1) that individuals in their very personal growth unconsciously incorporate the standard of their group, by which they are, furthermore, (2) coerced into conscious conformity. The uniforming influence of imitation and group ascendency is counteracted by (3) leaders or authorities who initiate new ideas and activities to be selected and appropriated by all. Between such leaders with their followers (4) a struggle for ascendency ensues. This results ultimately in (5) a relatively permanent body of customs and institutions imbedded in feeling; i. e., group tradition or character. When the members of the group are aware of common ideals and purposes (6) a social consciousness is developed.
If the tests of a science be formulation of laws and power to predict, sociology is not far advanced on the road to a scientific status. Such laws as have been put into definite form are too often either somewhat axiomatic or platitudinous, or are philosophical rather than strictly scientific. Nevertheless, especially in the field of social psychology, more successful results have been achieved. Principles closely approaching in insight and accuracy the unquestioned laws of economics have been enunciated, and promise of progress in this direction is not wanting. As to prediction, which is conditioned on the formulation of principles, naturally the sociologist is even more cautious than the economist about foretelling a result in a given concrete case. Certainly the point has not been reached when the sociologist is justified in dogmatizing on the basis of his scientific principles.
In this rapid survey of the growth of sociology certain tendencies stand out in fairly distinct outline:
Sociology began by being a social philosophy, a philosophy of history, and such it has been until very recently. To put social philosophy into the language of a natural science is not to make it a science. But as a philosophy it has rendered important service. It has preserved the unity of social theory — a unity constantly menaced by the specialization which has abstracted different groups of phenomena. It has afforded a point of view by which all the social sciences have been consciously or unconsciously influenced.
Of late sociology has given less heed to vague general consideration of society as a whole, and has come to closer quarters with certain phenomena of association —especially those of social psychology. The struggle-group as molded by conflict has received attention. The mental unity and-processes of the group have been studied.'' The theory as to the relation of the individual to society has been reviewed and radically modified." Environment is thought of as exercising, not an immediate, but a complex and indirect influence on society. Vague concepts of secular progress have yielded to a more careful study of the conditions and laws of order and change. Finally, sociology is seeking to add to its service as a philosophy the contributions of a science which shall formulate valid laws as to the universal principles that underlie the phenomena of association.