Nature of Society and its Relation with Individual!
Nature of Society:
The question of the nature of society is closely connected with the question of the relationship of man and society. Long ago Aristotle had said that man was a social animal by nature and one who does not live in society was either a beast or God.
As soon as we call man a social animal the question at once arises: In what sense is man a social animal? What is the nature of our dependence upon society? In other words, what types of relations exist between the individual and the social system?
There are mainly two theories of the relationship of man and society which have been propounded by several writers. One of them is the Social Contract Theory and the other is the Organic Theory.
The social contract theory has already been described. Here it needs only be said that the social contract theory does imply that man in the state of nature was living in society, outside of which he could not have acquired those ideas and feelings which led him to enter into the social contract.
The Organic Theory of Society:
This theory is as old as Plato and Aristotle. Plato compared society or state to a magnified human being. He divided society into three classes: the rulers, the warriors and the artisans based upon the three faculties of the human soul, i.e. wisdom, courage and desire. Aristotle drew a comparison between the symmetry of the state and symmetry of the body and firmly held that the individual is an intrinsic part of society.
In more recent times Bluntschlli and Herbert Spencer have worked out to the minutest possible extent the parallelism between an individual organism and a social organism. Bluntschlli went so far as to attribute qualities of sex to the state.
The state, according to him, was masculine in character, while the church was feminine. According to Spencer the state is subject to the same laws of growth and decay to which the human body is. It has its youth, its prime, its old age and death. Like the human organism it has subsidiary organs also. The workers who farm the soil and the men who work in the mines, factories and workshops are the elementary organs of a society.
The wholesalers, retailers, bankers, railway and steamship men may correspond to the vascular system of an organism. The professional men—doctors, lawyers, engineers, rulers, priests—the thinkers, in short, perform the functions of the brain and the nervous system.
Murray sums up the points of resemblance between a society and an individual organism noted by Spencer as follows:
(i) Starting as small aggregates both grow in size.
(ii) As they grow their initial relative simplicity is replaced by increasing complexity of structure.
(iii) With increasing differentiation there comes about an increasing mutual dependence of the component parts; the life and normal functioning of each becomes dependent on the life of the whole.
(iv) The life of the whole becomes independent; with a far more prolonged nature than the life of the component parts.
On the basis of the above resemblance Spencer concluded that society is an organism; it is a social organism. The individuals are the limbs of the society and behave as the cells of the body whose activity and life are meant for the sake of the whole. Just as the limbs separated from the body have no life, similarly individuals separated from society have no life.
There are, to be sure, significant resemblances between society and an organism, but there are also very significant differences. Herbert Spencer himself took note of these differences and on their basis he built up his individualistic theory.
According to him, the important points of difference between society and an individual organism are:
(i) A society has no specific form comparable to the body of an individual;
(ii) The units of a society are not fixed in their respective positions like those of an individual organism.
(iii) The units of a society are dispersed persons and are not physically contiguous like cells of an individual.
(iv) Society has no ‘common sensorium’, no central organ of perception and thought as an individual has.
In addition to the above points of difference society differs from human organism in other respects as well. It is not true to say that society is born in the same way as an individual is born. As we know an individual is born when the two cells, one from the male and other from the female unite. The same cannot be said of society.
The union of individuals in society is not of the same type as the union of the two cells in the female body. Similarly, society does not die in the manner the individual dies. The truth is that the concept of organism can be applied to society only metaphorically: but not literally. The society is not, and cannot be an organism: it is like an organism. It is a mental system and not a physical one.
Society has no body; it is a mental structure, an organisation of minds for a common purpose. To sum up in the words of Barker, “Spencer is the classical Instance of the labour and the forgetting…. If you seek to establish a parallel, it is necessary to be clear about the two terms of the parallel, if you compare the two organisms; you must be clear about both. Spencer is clear about the individual organism, which is obviously physical; he is by no means equally clear about the social organism.”
Group Mind Theory:
The group-mind or idealist theory is closely related to the organic theory. It has been propounded by a number of thinkers including Plato, Hegel, Bosanquet, Otto Gierke, McDougall, Emerson and Wagner and Wundt. Plato called society a ‘mind writ large’ and divided it into three classes of philosophers, warriors and artisians based respectively on wisdom, courage and desire. However, this comparison of society with the human mind did not go beyond a metaphor in Plato.
Hegel, the German idealist, holds that society is the embodiment of the Absolute Mind. It represents a phase of the historical world process, Universal Spirit or Absolute Idea. The state, which comprises in itself the essential elements of the preceding stages, namely, the family and the civil society, is the final dialectical evolution of mind and represents its highest embodiment upon earth.
The will of state is the perfect manifestation of Absolute Reason. The individual has reality only in so far as he is a member of the state. Apart from it he is merely an abstraction. He derives all the value and significance and ethical status he possesses from its membership.
The state is a higher end than the individual because it is the individual himself “objectified and eternalised by the elimination of his merely accidental and ephemeral features and the retention of what is universal in him.”
Bosanquet Hegel was followed by T. H. Green, F. H. Bradley, and B. Bosanquet in England. According to Bosanquet, the state is “the common substance of the minds of all the citizens”. State is not merely some millions of men and women residing in a given territory and subject to a common sovereignty, but is a group of mind.
The group of minds becomes a group-mind by virtue of the common purpose uniting them. Even though the group-mind cannot exist apart from the minds of the individuals, nevertheless, it is a reality.
The group-mind is superior to the minds of the individuals. It is the higher form of psychic life and absorbs the individual mind from which it differs not only in the richness of content but also in kind.
The idea of the group-mind found a strong advocate in McDougall. In his book, The Group-Mind, published first in 1920, he writes, “The aggregate of individual units which is a society, has a certain individuality, is a true whole which in great measure determines the nature and the whole of activity of its parts; it is an organic whole.
The society has a mental life which is not the mere sum of the mental lives of its units existing as independent units; and a complete knowledge of the units, if and in so far as they could be known as isolated units, would not enable us to deduce the nature of the life of the whole in the way that is implied in Spencer’s analogies.”
“Since then the social aggregate has a collective mental life which is not merely the sum of the mental lives of its units, it may be contended that a society not only enjoys a collective mental life but also has a collective mind or, as some prefer to say, a collective soul.” McDougall goes on to say, “The structure and organisation of the spirit of the community is in every respect as purely mental or psychical as the structure and organisation of the individual mind.”
In this way, McDougall comes very close to Bosanquet. Both of them suggest that society is not merely a group exhibiting certain traits, characteristics of its members generally but is itself a mind and a reality.
The group-mind theory has been subjected to severe criticism by critics like Professors Hobhouse, Laski and MacIver. That society is something more than a mere aggregate of individuals is conceded by these critics but that it has a mind or will of its own distinct from the minds and wills of the individuals, who constitute it is not conceded by-them.
MacIver says, “If we speak of the “mind of a group’ we have no evidence and therefore, no right to conceive it as anything but the minds of its members thinking or feeling in like ways, making like responses, and being moved by like or common interests.”
The concept of group mind can be used only in a metaphorical, never in a real sense. The only centres of feeling and of activity are the individual selves. In society these selves are bound together by inter-relationships which they themselves create. When we say that our minds are closely identified in the furtherance of a cause, we only use a metaphor indicating that we are jointly co-operating towards that cause.
McDougall’s identification of mental system with a mind is not correct. There may be said to exist a group-mind, a social mind, a college mind without being attached, however, any mental act to them. “Mind may communicate with mind, but one never becomes the other.” The coordination or even integration which belongs to the mental acts of various individuals is never the co-ordination which belongs to the acts of a single individual.
Therefore, to ascribe a mind to society and to place it by the side of individual mind fails to do justice to the individuality of the social being.
The Relationship between Individual and Society:
The theories just presented above, as we have seen, fail to explain adequately the relationship between the individual and society. The Social Contract theory puts undue emphasis upon the individual minimising thereby the value of society which is said to be a mere instrument devised for the satisfaction of certain human needs.
The organic and group-mind theories almost entirely discount the role of individual in social life. The relationship between individual and society is not one sided as these theories seem to indicate.
Before we proceed to examine the true relationship between individual and society we may just see in what sense man can be called a social animal. Man can be called a social animal on three bases:
Man is Social by Nature:
Firstly, man is a social animal by nature. Man’s nature is such that he cannot afford to live alone. No human being is known to have normally developed in isolation. MacIver has cited three cases in which infants were isolated from all social relationships to make experiments about man’s social nature.
The first case was of Kaspar Houser, who from his childhood until his seventeenth year was brought up in the woods of Nuremberg. In his case it was found that at the age of seventeen he could hardly walk, had the mind of an infant and could mutter only a few meaningless phrases. In spite of his subsequent education he could never make himself a normal man.
The second case was of two Hindu children who in 1920 were discovered in a wolf den. One of the children died soon after discovery. The other child could walk only on all fours, possessed no language except wolf like growls. She was shy of human beings and afraid of them. It was only after careful and sympathetic training that she could learn some social habits.
The third case was of Anna, an illegitimate American child who had been placed in a room at the age of six months and discovered five years later. On discovery it was found that she could not walk or speak and was indifferent to people around her.
These cases prove that human being is social by nature. Human nature develops in man only when he lives in society, only when he shares with his fellow beings common life. The children cited above had capacity to learn but failed to develop their human traits in the absence of human contacts.
The accounts of the noble savage free from all social restraints living in woods and appeasing his appetite with the fruits are idyllic tales devoid of all historical’ value. Even the sadhus who have retired from worldly life live in the company of their fellows in the forest. All this tends to show that society is something which fulfills a vital need in man’s constitution; it is not something accidentally added to super-imposed on human nature. Indeed, man is social by nature.
Necessity makes a man social:
Secondly, man lives in society; because necessity compels him to. Many of his needs will remain unsatisfied if he does not have the cooperation of his fellow being? Every individual is the offspring of a social relationship established between man and woman. The child is brought up under the car of his parents and learns the lessons of citizenship in their company. He is totally dependent for his survival upon the existence of some sort of society.
If the newborn baby does not receive protection and attention by the society, he would not survive even a day. There is no authenticated instance of a human infant who has survived on his own or has been brought up b wolves, apes, or any other lower animals. The human infant is s completely helpless that he must be given care by society. We get our needs of food, shelter and clothing fulfilled only by living and cooperating with others. The stories of feral cases cited above prove that people reared among animals away from human being remain animals in habits.
The importance of society for physic and mental development is obvious. No one can become human being unless he lives with human beings. Fear of wild animal makes some seek cooperation of others; the satisfaction food-hunger, rest-hunger etc. through exchange or barter may bring some into relation; joint action and division of labour may be found necessary for the achievement of some common end which the individual alone may not be able to secure. The need for self-preservation, which is felt by every being makes a man social Therefore, it is not due to his nature alone but also due to his necessities that man lives in society.
Society determines personality:
Lastly, man lives in society for his mental and intellectual development. Society preserves our culture and transmits it to succeeding generations. It both liberates and limits our potentialities as individuals and moulds our attitudes, our beliefs, our morals and ideals.
The mind of e man without society, as feral cases show, remains the mind of an infant at the age of adulthood. The cultural heritage directs our personality. Thus society fulfills not only physical needs but also determines our mental equipments. It stands beyond doubt that man is a social animal. Man requires society as a sine qua non condition for his life as a human being. It is not one or a few particular needs or tendencies of man that compel him to live in society but without it his personality cannot come into being.
Although the individual is a product of his society, sometimes more or less serious opposition between him and some aspects of his society may arise. He may have acquired personality which is incompatible with the circumstances in which he finds himself. The man who all his life wants to lead an army into the battle, but never gets the opportunity to do so,” is at odds with his society; he experiences some degree of frustration.
Opposition between the individual and society may also come from the deterioration of the social system. An individual brought up in political freedom will find the status of slave irksome and repressive. Under compulsion he may play the role but he will resent it and come in conflict with the society producing tensions in him which in time may release them in sudden and unprecedented acting.
On the basis of the above discussion, it may be concluded that individual and society are inter-dependent. The relationship between them is not one-sided, both are essential for the comprehension of either. Neither the individuals belong to society as cells do not belong to the organism, nor the society is a mere contrivance to satisfy certain human needs.
Neither the society itself has a. value beyond the service which it renders to its members, nor can the individuals thrive without society. Neither the society is inimical to the development of individuality, nor does it exist in its own right. All discussion about the question ‘Is the individual prior to the society or is the society prior to the individual’, is equivalent to the futile debate over the priority of the hen or egg.
The fact is that all human beings have been born into and inducted into some sort of society. In the words of MacIver, “No one can really be an absolute individualist; any more than anymore can be an absolute socialist. For the individual and society interact on one another and depend on one another,” both sure com elementary and supplementary to each other.
Explaining the relationship between individual and society MacIver observes. “Society with all the traditions, the institutions the equipment it provides is a great changeful order of social life, arising from the psychical as well as the physical needs of the individual, an order wherein human beings are born and fulfill themselves, with whatever limitations and wherein they transmit to coming generations the requirements of living. We must reject any view of this pattern that sees the relationship between individual and society from merely the one or the other side.”