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THE NATURE OF THE SOCIAL UNITY.
AN EXAMINATION OF THE THEORY THAT SOCIETY IS A
The fact that social processes are characterized by some sort of unity is generally recognized, but sociologists are not yet agreed as to the nature of this unity. Some of the earlier sociologists, including Comte, described society somewhat as a mechanical unity. Of course, this does not signify that they
. really failed to distinguish between the unity of a machine and the unity of society. They did practically make a distinction, but, not having thought it out clearly, they were not able to state it. In the absence of any well-defined notion of the peculiar nature of the social unity, they merely took the simplest notion of unity, the one which they had most clearly defined to themselves, generalized it, and then applied it to society. Now, in a practical sense this was not wholly wrong. It did serve to call attention to certain social relationships; and while the form of the statement was doubtless felt to be figurative or analogical, the relationships to which it called attention were real. Still the procedure was logically wrong, and the best thing to be said for it is that for a time it helped to stimulate the thinking that eventually created a demand for a more adequate statement.
The next and more adequate statement made much use of the biological analogy. Of some writers of this school it would be unfair to say that they did not distinguish between the social and the biological unity, but there is so much of biological terminology in their statements that they have helped to foster the habit of thinking of society after the biological analogy. Even Spencer, whose conception of the social unity is not fundamentally based upon the biological analogy, is to be criticised in that he does not make any adequate statement of a real basis at all. His superstructure implies a basis which is not merely analogical, but, in the absence of a clear statement of this, the reader is apt to mistake his profusion of biological illustration for a basis. Other writers of less note were more deeply influenced by the analogy. Fundamentally, the fallacy of the writers of this school, in so far as they did not escape from the form of their statement, is the same fallacy as that made by those who were influenced by the mechanical analogy. Instead of actually analyzing the social process and discovering the real unity, they merely generalized their conception of the biological unity. This was favored by two considerations. First, the recent scientific progress in biology and the practical problems connected therewith had brought it to the center of the stage. Everybody was interested in biology; its conceptions and its terminology were influencing the whole form of the world's thinking. Secondly, the biological unity bears a deeper resemblance to the social unity than does the mechanical, and thus it was more adequate as an analogy. Just as it is to be criticised on the same logical ground as the mechanical statement, so it has the same practical justification. Stated more generally, the fundamental fallacy of each lies in the fact that it takes a concept which is valid in a certain sphere and applies it in a sphere in which it is not valid, just because there are certain resemblances between the two spheres. The two spheres are not altogether similar. It is just because these points of difference were not analyzed and considered equally with the points of resemblance that the unity was not adequately conceived.
Following the biological analogy came the psychological analogy. This can, in a general way, be accounted for in much the same manner. Psychology had made progress. Its conceptions and terminology were exerting a greater influence upon thinking generally. In a certain respect the psychological analogy was more nearly adequate as a statement of the social unity than was the biological analogy. In its extenuation much may be said similar to what has already been said in regard to the other two forms of analogy. It has helped to call attention to certain aspects of reality. It may also be granted that the psychological statement is felt to be, in some sense, figurative, although some of the writers of this school positively assert that they are to be taken literally and not figuratively. To be perfectly fair to such writers, we must conclude, not that they have really conceived of society as a psychic unity, but rather that, in the absence of any adequate conception of the social unity based upon analysis, in the midst of a confusion of thought, they assert that the social is a psychic unity, not clearly seeing the implications of such a statement.
So far I have simply taken for granted the truth of the assertion that the mechanical, the biological, and the psychological statements of the social unity are merely analogies, crediting the writers in each case with a more or less vague feeling that they were analogies, and yet accusing them of a failure to state the unity in non-analogical terms, even when their superstructure has implied such a possible statement. At this time it is unnecessary to offer any argument to show that the assumption of their being mere analogies is true in the case of the first two; but there is a considerable number of writers of repute who still maintain that the psychological analogy is not an analogy, that “the sociological organism is in the final analysis a psychic organism.”1
While I have, for the sake of fairness, distinguished between the form of statement and the actual belief held by these writers, crediting them in most instances with better thinking than the form of statement would allow, I do not mean to hold the form of statement as a matter of small importance. Taking the most favorable view of an author's theory, it is still true that a false statement is the result of false, or confused, thinking. It is the purpose of this paper to criticise the psychological statement, showing that the social unity is not a psychic unity. An attempt will also be made to set forth the true nature of the social unity.
A discussion of the question of the nature of the social unity must be preceded by some consideration of the question of unity itself. This cannot be done in any adequate way in this place, neither is it possible to avoid some statement of the position so
1 VINCENT, The Social Mind and Education, p. 92.
2 While not following him precisely, and while in some respects reaching a conclusion differing from his, I must acknowledge my indebtedness to J. S. Mackenzie for the general form of this analysis. See MACKENZIE, Introduction to Social Philosophy, chap. iii.
fundamental to the whole question. Unity is not a matter of existence, but of method; it is merely a limiting conception. If it should be maintained that unity is something inherent in the thing itself, independent of experience, then it would be necessary to say that the concept has no value; for we are not concerned with anything outside of the world of experience. A unity is just experience organized under a unifying concept, its nature depending on the purpose of the unifying consciousness. There are various grades or stages of unity. Anything may be thought of as a unity or a whole, if it suits any immediate purpose. On the other hand, anything but the universe may be thought of as a part of a larger whole, when it suits some purpose. Thus, a brick has unity from a certain standpoint- it is a whole brick; but it may be regarded as a part of a building. A picture has a certain unity in that it represents a single purpose and produces a single effect; but it cannot do this alone, for both purpose and effect lie outside of the picture, and consequently the picture is but a part of a larger whole which includes conscious individuals. The only absolute unity is the unity of the universe; all others are relative. In order to get intellectual and practical control of any situation, we are justified in considering anything as a whole. The only question concerning any conception of unity is: Does it subserve this scientific and practical end ?
Since, then, there are various grades or stages of unity, depending upon the purpose of the unifying consciousness, it will be helpful to distinguish between the more significant stages and to place society with reference to this gradation. First, a distinction should be made between a unity and a unit. A unit is a pait which may be conveniently used for the measurement or description of a whole made up of similar units. A unit is a unit with reference to the whole of which it is a part. A unity is a whole considered as made up of parts which derive their significance from their relation to the whole. Thus, in a flock of birds, a bird may be considered a unit with reference to the flock, which is the unity. Or, if the individual bird be the whole under considera
tion, the cell may be taken as the unit. In any case, we speak of the constituent units or parts, and the constituted unity or whole.
The idea of end is in some way involved in every sort of unity. It might, at first, seem that in the unity of a pebble there is no idea of end. But why does the pebble come into consciousness at all? Why does one distinguish it from the rest of the situation and give it an identity of its own? Evidently this is done only with reference to using it as a means toward some end. Of course, one may see and distinguish a pebble without at the time having any definite end in view, but, in general, the concept through which it is apperceived is developed through situations in which an end is present in consciousness. There would be no need for the concept “pebble” nor for the perception of a particular pebble, were it not for some end. It is perfectly clear, however, that the end in this case lies outside of the unity itself, and consequently that, when we take a deeper view of it, it loses its wholeness, becoming a mere part, a means to some conscious end.
It is only as we ignore ourselves and our purposes as a part of the situation that the pebble can be thought of as a whole. We are able to ignore the purpose just because, for the time being, it is assumed as fixed. Attention is concentrated upon the instrument or means, because that is to be selected. If, however, we are to get any real meaning for the unity as means, we must relate it to the purpose, thus making it an element in a situation, and not a whole in and of itself.
Likewise the unity of a machine lies in the end for which it is designed; and the end is outside of itself and in some conscious individual. The machine differs from the pebble in that, on the side of origin, there is a larger element of conscious purpose. It not merely subserves some end, but it was made for the purpose of subserving an end. To the degree, therefore, that a machine represents more of purpose in its origin, more of conscious adaptation and specialization in its utility, it represents a higher grade of unity than the pebble.
A plant has a higher grade of unity than a pebble or a machine. It is like them, however, in that its end lies outside of