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Social Philosophy

( Originally Published 1915 )

Historical Development of Sociology. — A knowledge of the development of sociology is essential to a full comprehension of the subject. It is a history of the speculations touching the origin and development of society, and of the steps in the process by which sociology is becoming not only social philosophy, more or less closely applied to political philosophy, but also a science with its own methods and norms, with its generalizations based primarily upon a wide induction from social facts. In a brief sketch the ideas of the principal contributors to the science may be reviewed, even though an analysis of all their theories and systems of thought is not possible.

Although the evolution of society has been in progress since an early period, the development of sociology began at a comparatively recent date. However, wherever society has developed so that there has been leisure for thought, men have speculated about society. Hebrew prophet and Attic sage has each contributed something to social theory, the one emphasizing the purpose of the state from the standpoint of religious idealism, the other stressing the philosophical nature and function of the state. Plans of association, of government, law, religion, or general social order have been set forth by leaders in thought and action during the course of human history. Many of the early suggestions were concrete plans for the practical regulation of a particular social group or nation.- General theories were seldom advanced. Yet these practical experiments were of service in developing a program of social action and preparing the way for more general theories and systems. In the history of sociology there will be found, then, three distinct classes of ideas, namely: (1) those arising from ideal systems set forth by philosophers, (2) those arising from plans of practical social changes, and (3) those coming from the scientists who have through investigation and logical construction laid the foundations of a scientific sociology. These classes of ideas do not necessarily follow each other but are more or less blended from age to age. It will be possible to allude to only a few of the prominent epoch-making examples of each class.

Ancient Philosophers. The ancient philosophers who constructed elaborate theories of government and social organization have had much influence in awakening thought on the nature of society and forms of social order. In this particular connection, perhaps the philosophy of Plato has been more extensive in its influence than any other idealistic system. While the methods of social organization set forth in The Republic were never put into practice, that book was the first great utopian scheme conceived by man and has influenced modern thought in many ways.

In quite a different way has the Politics of Aristotle modified social thought. It was rather a scientific treatise on government than an ideal system of social order. Discussing the philosophical foundations of social order it could not fail to influence men's thoughts about social relations. As a critical analysis of the bases of government it modified the thought of Western Europe from the time of its introduction into the cur-rent of political discussion among the nations which slowly arose from the ruins of the Roman Empire in the Middle Ages. It was an original philosophy of government based upon the best examples in history. Wherever read, it created thoughtfulness as to the nature of society and the power and duty of government.

Likewise, Cicero in his philosophy of the State and Justinian in his Codex, from the Roman standpoint gave a new direction to social philosophy. The Romans were intensely practical in governmental affairs, and were so successful in creating law and establishing social order, that the impress of their deeds upon subsequent philosophy was tremendous. Not only was their theory of the law and their form of government followed closely by succeeding generations, but their conception of society and social order have colored the discussions of jurists, historians, and philosophers of medieval and modern times. Especially to be noted is the Roman interpretation of property rights and systems of administration which dominated the early states founded among Teutonic peoples.

Among the Teutonic peoples, before they were influenced by Roman law, there was comparatively little constructive work. Their codes of laws were tribal customs and their social life very simple, although Alfred may have devoted some thought to a plan for the better government of his Saxons. The Roman law found in the Teutons and Celts a people prepared both by their previous history and by the new problems raised by their recent social development.

Medieval Philosophers. — While early philosophers and practical reformers sought to make a transition from the ethnic to the demographic society, those of medieval times were crying out against the corruption of a system of government that was established through the rise of kingship immediately following the dissolution of the feudal system. The Roman idea of imperialism entered the Teutonic nations just as they were emerging from the tribal into demotic society. On the decay of feudalism the Roman idea of government, suggested both by the students of Roman law and by the example of the Church, came into practical operation. The Christian Church had already by the fourth century so thoroughly established its system of brotherhood and so completely adopted the Roman idea of government in its organization that it became a formidable opponent to the rapidly decaying Roman Empire. On the fall of the Western Empire in 476 A.D. the Church was pre-pared to take up in a measure the reins of government struck from the nerveless grasp of the ancient City. The one first to give this aim convincing literary expression and so to establish it in the minds of succeeding generations of churchmen was Augustine, who in order to contrast the ideal workings of the Christian Church with the corrupt practices of the world, wrote his City of God. It was a presentation of the ideas of a Christian state founded on the doctrine of brotherly love and perfect equality, under the headship of the Catholic clergy.1 In subsequent years a series of able popes realized in concrete and definite form the main lines of his ideal of this divine system. St. Augustine was a virile writer and had a great influence, not only on subsequent theology, but on the medieval church as a temporal state. Writers of the medieval period followed Augustine in seeking to reform the government on what they believed was the Christian basis.

Several writers who would scarcely be classified as medieval, but with much less propriety may be considered modern, such as Sir Thomas More, Campanella, Dante, and Machiavelli, presented ideal systems of government in contrast with the corrupt and defective medieval system which was prolonging itself beyond its stage of usefulness. In The Prince, Machiavelli makes an attempt to unify these scattered elements of governmental practice and philosophy into a new imperialism. Its chief influence arises from its recognition of the need of reform rather than from the definite remedy suggested. Like-wise, in the De Monarchia of Dante, imperialistic ideas are not wanting, but the evil characteristics of government are to be eliminated through the light of Christian doctrine. But neither Machiavelli nor Dante had so great an influence on social philosophy as Thomas More. While More's Utopia, the most remarkable of all the ideal commonwealths after Plato's Republic, comes at the opening of the modern period, its chief aim is the criticism of the medieval system then obtaining in England. In contrasting the corrupt and defective methods of government then in vogue with an ideal community based on political, industrial, and social equality, he created a new conception of social organization and suggested new aims of association and of government. Campanella's City of the Sun, written about the beginning of the seventeenth century, formulated for the first time a complete socialistic system. While not so great a book in many ways as the Utopia of More, it emphasized the communistic ideal of society. It presented an ideal city carefully organized and thoroughly disciplined. The basis of government was equality and the sacrifice of the individual to the community. Campanella was opposed to the philosophy of Aristotle, and his work was the counterpart of Plato's Republic. It furnished a scientific basis for communistic socialism.

These systems of ideal governments, projected by thoughtful minds, helped to suggest scientific principles of government and showed the world how far the regnant ideals of the time were from the ideals of social justice, and from social aims terminating in the general welfare of the people. They called attention to the changes in economic and social life consequent on the rise of a broadened commercial and industrial horizon and suggested that these new conditions demanded the consideration of the state. While the works of Campanella and More represent only a dream of government which could never be realized as pictured, they embodied an ideal of justice which, if states and societies are to be perpetuated, must eventually be approximated. Further, they demonstrated that the methods of social life were worthy of the study of philosophers.

Modern Philosophers. — The difference between medieval and modern philosophy is a difference in fundamental ideas rather than in chronology. It is difficult, therefore, to say when the former ended and the latter began. Perhaps The New Atlantis of Bacon, written early in the seventeenth century, should be classified along with the Utopia of More and the City of the Sun of Campanella. However, as The New Atlantis was a fragment of the philosophy of Bacon which stands at the beginning of the modern era it may be considered as a part of modern philosophy. Its purpose is rather to awaken an interest in philosophy and show the duty of the state towards science than to stimulate governmental experiments. Bacon hoped to ameliorate the conditions of society through the advancement of knowledge, and he attempted to show that it is, therefore, the state's duty to take an interest in all affairs that affect the physical well being of man, as well as those that perfect the organization of human society.

The approach to the social order through philosophical means was finally changed to the political point of view. Harrington's Oceana, written in 1656 and dedicated to Cromwell, was a serious consideration of a written constitution for the purpose of limiting monarchy. This was followed by Hume a century later in his Essays Moral and Political, in which he presented his idea of a perfect commonwealth. From this time a strong current of English thought set in toward a liberal spirit in government.

In France the same spirit of liberty was stirring in the seventeenth century. Vairasse d'Allais pictured an ideal monarchy in which the state owned the land and the people dwelt in semi-communistic groups. Fenelon's Télémaque also describes a perfect monarchy ruled by a perfect king. These were but hints of an ideal system in strange contrast with the government then in vogue.

The eighteenth century in France witnessed a serious consideration of the so called natural rights of men and the relation of civil government to natural law. Montesquieu gave a philosophical discussion of the three sorts of government, the despotic, the monarchical, and the republican, which he examined with great care, and thereby gave an impetus to the study of political science. Rousseau's Social Contract appeared in 1762, which set forth the peculiar doctrine that government existed through voluntary compact, to be dissolved at will. While it was extreme in its views, being inspired by reaction against the French monarchy and the theory of the divine right of kings, then supreme, it has had enormous influence on social philosophy. This was followed by Mably, who in a series of writings denounced private property, the right of inheritance, methods of commerce and credit, as well as all forms of culture. He was iconoclastic in the extreme, almost revolutionary in his utterances. He was a strong advocate of poverty as the mother of virtues, and of equality and community of goods as the basis of the state. These writers prepared the way for the French Revolution and its socialistic philosophers.

Baboeuf, Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet, Louis Blanc, and Proudhon advocated various ideal systems which ranged all the way from state socialism to a system of anarchy. These schemes were the attempts of dreamers to eliminate the harsh and unjust, social and political systems of Europe by the establishment of an ideal social order. Impractical as many of their schemes were in detail, their writings were highly serviceable in pointing out the evil of existing affairs and suggesting many means of improvement which were brought about later by less radical measures.

Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations gave a great impetus to thought concerning the commonwealth. John Stuart Mill's Political Economy and his political philosophy embodied in others of his writings were important contributions to the subject of political science. Mill points out the need of a social science or sociology as a more complete study of human society. Malthus, in his study of the relation of the food supply to the population, startled the world by his conclusions and stimulated interest in statistical inquiry into the condition of human society. All of these writers, as well as others, directed human thought towards social affairs, but formulated no science of society and suggested no synthetic method for its study.

Experimental Social Philosophers. — While the number of persons who have given us ideal systems of government is great, comparatively few in number are those who have attempted practical experiments for the improvement of the social order. In some cases experiments in social reform by means of laws and ideals grew out of the practical necessity of coming to terms with an existing situation. In other cases, especially in later times, social experiments were inaugurated in response to utopias presented by the social philosophers of their time or of earlier days. Among those who stand out from all the rest among the ancients in suggesting practical social improvement are Moses, Lycurgus, Solon, Servius Tullius, and Charlemagne ; while among the moderns are the French revolutionists, the American revolutionists, and men like Robert Owen, Louis Blanc, and Etienne Cabet. While the great lawgivers used the practices of common law and social order already in existence before them as a foundation of their systems, still they were masterful organizers who set forth new plans and forced society to adopt them. For example, the early Hebrew kingdom was built up on a social basis of tribal customs and laws existing long before but modified by the exigencies of settlement among a hostile people, the Caananites, and connected by tradition with the earlier hero and lawgiver, Moses. Upon that basis layer after layer of law and rule was laid down from age to age by lawmaking prophets and priests, from the Deuteronomic Code, the work of the disciples of the great eighth century prophets, down through the so-called Priest's Code to the legislation of the Talmud. The earlier codes aimed at political, social, and industrial justice, and, dealing as they did with a semicivilized race, they regulated morals and religion as well as civil affairs. They represent the transition from ethnic to demographic society. They recognized classes and defined the rights of each class and gave each individual a place in the social organization. Perhaps no collection of laws in existence ever illustrated more fully the sociological development of law and government than the various codes of the Hebrew and Jewish peoples. All the social relations in existence at the time were recognized and dearly defined by law. While the rights of the individual were acknowledged, they were always subordinated to the general social order. It was recognized that the individual could not go far in any direction without coming into conflict with the rights of his fellows. They all reflect the social order of the times for which they were intended and set forth an ideal towards which the people were urged by formal enactments ostensibly handed down by an ancient lawgiver of peculiar endowment and authority. The so-called Mosaic codes, therefore, represent not only the collected laws relating to the Hebrew people, but also ideal societies and practical experiments in social life. These laws have had great influence on subsequent forms of government and legislation and especially on the philosophy of government and social usage.

The laws of Lycurgus, while representing the usages of the Spartans, had for their purpose the carrying out of the new practical plan of government in which the individual was largely subjected to the social order. Likewise, the laws of Solon represent the transition from the old forms of ethnic society to a newer democracy and as such are somewhat experimental in their nature, although like all others his laws rested upon the best usages of the people.' Yet many of them, based upon existing laws as a foundation, instituted such practical reforms as resulted in the transformation of social order. Of a similar character were the laws of Servius Tullius of Rome, who organized the Roman society on a military basis — the first formal departure of the Romans from the old groupings of ethnic society. Subsequent attempts at the reform in the land laws of Rome represent practical experiments in government. All attempts to reform society through such experiments have had great influence in shaping the practices and theories of government. The conquest and reorganization of Western Europe by Charlemagne was accompanied by an attempt to establish educational and civil reforms which, though not lasting or continuous in subsequent development, stand out as historical landmarks and possibilities of what may be done by government to modify society.

Robert Owen sought to reestablish society on an industrial basis and his experiment at New Lanark was a theory of society put to the acid test. While it eventually failed, he left an influence making for cooperation which was both important and permanent. The modern experimenters, like Cabet and Louis Blanc, and the various communistic societies are important in demonstrating what may not be done by way of social reorganization, rather than what may be accomplished. All of these practical experiments have been useful in lighting up the nature of human society and the peculiar limitations which surround it. Practical experiments like these testify to a sense of social unity in a nation, and are indicative of the growth of social consciousness. More than this, they give evidence of a telic force in society the socialized human mind aiming to guide it towards a clearly perceived goal. They have inspired social study and helped to establish principles of social order, through a critical discussion of aims of society.

Recent Philosophy. — Recent philosophers following in the line of thought started by the writers mentioned above began to philosophize as to the origin, development, and constitution of society. Somewhat dogmatically, perhaps, they reached lofty conclusions concerning the nature and destiny of society, which they approached usually from the standpoint of social reform. The Christian socialists of England through the leadership of Charles Kingsley and F. D. Maurice protested against the hard determination of the dominant laissez-faire theory, and advocated the development of the social side of Christian life. They emphasized the social element as essential in the building of a Christian state. The problems of politics and economics, and the peculiar relations of rich and poor were to be settled on the basis of a Christian philosophy. The preaching by Carlyle, Ruskin, and William Morris of the gospel of a life of the true and the beautiful had a tendency to elevate social ideals. If their social points of view were not always properly taken, their impulses were good and their suggestions of the value of conscious social activity for the common good bore fruit in philanthropic endeavors.

More recently J. S. MacKenzie, in An Introduction to Social Philosophy, defined in a broad and general why the scope and limits of the application of philosophical principles to social questions. He brought the world of thought a little nearer to a social science. With a keen insight he presented the elements of social order and by his superior analysis of society showed what might be accomplished in the adaptation of social organization to social needs. Nevertheless, it was a critical philosophy rather than a science that he presented to the world. Its service, however, in establishing clearness of thought on social questions cannot be overestimated. Benjamin Kidd, in his Social Evolution, emphasized religion and the power of the emotions in human progress. But his work is rather a philosophy of civilization and progress than a scientific treatment of the evolution of society. It would scarcely claim to be scientific in premises, analysis, or conclusion, yet it served to arouse thought respecting certain phases of social development. Lotze, in his Microcosmos, brings history to view the social life of the people and lays down some scientific principles for the movement of civilization. Grozier, in his Civilization and Progress, and Nash, in The Genesis of the Social Conscience, brings us close to the organic conception of society.

All these are but philosophies about society, based more or less upon general facts. For the most part they are philosophic generalizations about society and social functions. While taken as a whole they give an exposition of certain aspects of social life, not one or all combined could rise to the dignity of a science of society. Yet their influence in shaping thought and in bringing general philosophy to the service of the science of society must be recognized.


DUNNING, W. A. Political Theories.

ELY., R. T. French and German Socialism.

SMALL, A. W., and VINCENT, GEORGE E. Introduction to a Study of Society.

WILLOUGHBY, W. W. Ancient Political Theories.

The student is especially urged to read the authors mentioned in the previous chapter.


1. By what three movements was sociology prepared for?

2. Read Exodus 20: 23—26; 21:2-16, 18—37; 22:1-23, 33, and make an outline of the state of society contemplated by this Mosaic code.

3. Compare with this code the Code of Hammurabi in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible, Extra Volume, pp. 599-608.

4. Read More's Utopia and show its bearing on the problem of social relations.

5. How does social philosophy differ from social science?

6. In what ways does social philosophy prepare for social science?

Outlines Of Sociology:
Poverty - Its Causes And Remedies

Charities And Charity Organization

Crime - Its Causes And Prevention

Social Degeneration

Administration Of Charitable And Correctional Affairs

Field Of Investigation

Methods Of Investigation

Social Philosophy

Science Of Society

Read More Articles About: Outlines Of Sociology

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