What are the major contributions of Herbert Spencer to Sociology?

Herbert Spencer was a theorist whose valuable insights have often been drowned in a sea of irrelevance and spacious reasoning. He is popularly known as the British Aristotle and often called the second founding father of sociology. Spencer's ideas have left an indelible impression on the succeeding writers. Spencer's name was associated with the birth of sociology in England. Herbert Spencer was born an April 27, 1820, in Derby in England. He was a man of original and independent thinking. He has contributed to various fields of knowledge like philosophy, biology, psychology, anthropology and sociology. Spencer wrote a number of books. They are as follows.

1) Social Statics (1850)

2) First Principles (1862).

3) The study of Sociology (1873)

4) The Principles of Sociology in three volumes (1876-96)

5) The Man verses the State (1884) Organic Analogy:

Spencer is popularly known for his treatment of evolution. The evolutionary doctrine was no doubt the foundation of Spencer's sociological theory. He, however, presented the organic analogy, a secondary doctrine which also played a vital role in his thought system. He identified society with a biological organism. But this comparison of the society with the biological organism was not originally propounded by Herbert Spencer. Several other philosophers had given the concept previously. He established the hypothesis that society is like a biological organism and then proceeded to defend it against all objectives with great logical force. Indeed, he regarded the recognition of the similarity between society and organism as the first step towards a general theory of evaluation. In his "Principles of Sociology Spencer observed some similarities between biological and social organism:-

Society is thus viewed as being essentially analogous to an organism, with its interdependent parts or organs making up the body of society.

Spencer observed some similarities between biological and social organism:-

1) Both society and organisms are distinguished from inorganic matter by visible growth, a child grows up to a man, a small community becomes a great city, a small state an empire.

2) Both grow in size and this growth is accomplished by increasing complexity of structure,

3) In the organism and in society there is an interdependence of parts. The progressive differentiation of structure in both is accompanied by progressive differentiation of functions.

In both, the differentiation of structure is followed by a similar differentiation of function. 5) The life of society, like the life of an organism is far larger than the life of any of the units of parts.

Differences:-

Having out lined these similarities, Spencer points out the ways in which societies and organism differ from each other. The differences are as follows,

1) The organism is a concrete, integrated whole whereas society is a whole composed of discrete and dispersed elements.

2) In an organism consciousness is concentrated in a small part of the aggregate, while in society consciousness is diffused.

3) Unlike organisms, societies have no specific external form, such as a physical body with limbs or face.

4) In an organism, the parts are fixed and bound together in close contact while, in a society parts are separated and dispersed.

5) In an organism the parts exist for the benefit of the whole. In a society, the whole exists merely for the benefit of the individual.

However, in spite of such elaborate description, Spencer points out that his analogy mainly serves the purpose of scaffolding which is removed when the building is completed and that the scaffolding itself has no value. Spencer has given much importance to the term organism that the scaffolding is usually mistaken for the real structure.

Criticisms:

Spencer's theory suffers from certain drawbacks. Spencer used his organic analogies in a ridiculous manner. For example, he compared the king's council to the medulla oblongata, the House of Lords to the cerebellum, and the House of commons to the cerebrum. The organic analogy was used by thinkers in their discussions even prior to Spencer. If a society is an organism, it undergoes a cycle of birth, maturity and death. But the death of a society does not come with organic inevitableness. A society need not die also. Timasheff is of the view that merely on the ground of systematic similarity, society cannot be considered an organism.

But in spite of all these criticisms, his organism theory highly influenced the later sociologists like Paulvan, Ward, Sumner and Giddings.