Sociology, the science which treats of the actions of men living together in society, and of the institutions thus created. Its scope embraces the whole history of man from the origin of language to the latest development of modern civilization. As a constructive science it is of very recent birth. In a looser sense, as consisting of general speculations upon social affairs, it is almost as old as society itself. Plato, doubtless founding on legendary ideas about the relation between the microcosm and the macrocosm, discovered the parallelism between the parts of a society and the faculties of the human mind; he also philosophically explained the rise of division of labor in a society. Aristotle classified politics, constructed a framework for speculations on government, and stated two of the three sources of the origin of society: instinctive gregari-ousness and experience of utility. The later Greek historians of Rome indulged in some arbitrary theories about the influence of climate. Hobbes, following the lead of Plato, tried to establish an erroneous parallelism between a society and the human body; but his conception of the state, the Leviathan, as an organism, a living whole made up of related parts, was a real sociological advance.
Pascal developed this idea; he regarded the whole succession of human beings as a single individual man, whose youth is the world's antiquity, whose years are the world's generations, whose maturity is the world's prime; he thus formally enunciated the idea of progress, so vital to sociology. Vico held that it might be shown that peoples the most widely separated in place and time had followed nearly the same course in the development of their languages and political condition. About the middle of the 18th centurv, the French ceo-nomic sect of the physiocrats maintained that there are natural laws of society which give it a direction of its own, irrespective of legislative interference. Turgot even earlier had discovered that all epochs of history are fastened together by a sequence of causes and effects, and had concluded that there is an ordered movement of advance in societies. Herder, in his Ideen zur Philosophie der Ge-schicJtte der Menschheit (1784), considers humanity as an individual tending through many vicissitudes to perfection, which it reaches in another world.
Of the many socialist schemes which sprang up after the French revolution, that of Saint-Simon alone has any scientific value; and all that was true in his somewhat unscientific speculations has been incorporated by Saint-Simon's secretary and disciple Auguste Comte in his positive philosophy. Comte first subjected the whole course of history to a careful analysis, so as to throw new light on the development of society. He first fully apprehended the relations of biology or the science of man to sociology; first clearly stated the diminishing influence of physical surroundings on societies; first gave its entire weight to the increasing influence of social circumstances, both on the society in which we live and on that which has gone before us. Comte was consequently the first to lay down the lines, although they are rude and imperfect, on which a scheme of society as it will be may be constructed. His sociology, however, bears the marks of the incomplete erudition and backward science of the time. "When, in the hands of the Thierrys, Guizot, Villemain, and many others, history had taken a new departure, Comte profited by the movement.
But the studies of these distinguished writers were too closely confined to the political and intellectual aspects of society, and Comte followed them in their exclusiveness. Coming in the wake of the great modern scientific movement, Herbert Spencer has attempted to change the face of sociology. Taking up the analogy between society and man, erroneously treated by Plato and Hobbes, Pascal and Turgot, Spencer has converted it into a series of generalizations exhibiting a correspondence between individual organisms and societies, and of these he has made the basis of his new science. He describes each community as a social organism, which has structures and functions. The structures are forms of government, civil, ecclesiastical, military, industrial, and ceremonial; the functions are sentiments, ideas, industrial processes, the fine arts; and both closely resemble the structures and functions of an individual organism. In his."First Principles " he goes further, and seeks to derive social and organic together with inorganic laws from certain ultimate principles. Thus the origin of division of labor in a community, and differences in industrial occupations, are clearly due to diversities of external circumstances.
This is an induction; as a matter of fact all simple societies, various groups of which are exposed to unlike outward conditions, tend to become complex societies. Spencer's a priori explanation is that, all influence being force, river banks, sea shores, all climatic and local conditions, are forces. If they do not influence the feelings and thus modify the habits of organic beings near them, they are wasted; but this is inconceivable, for force persists. The instability of homogeneous or low forms of social life is therefore deducible from the persistence of force. Passing from general to special aspects of sociology, his plan embraces next the history of the domestic relations. Political organizations as historically based on the family will then be elucidated, and the functions of government discriminated. The necessary development of industry from slavery through serfdom to cooperation will be shown. Intellectual, aesthetic, and moral progress will be regarded as psychological processes determined by social conditions. And finally all phases of society will be shown to be connected with and reacting on one another.
But one division of this immense work has been executed (1876).