Man is a social animal. He has a natural urge to live an associated life with others. By living with others he enjoys the fruits of common life. Man needs society for his very existence or survival. The human child depends on his parents and others for its survival and growth. The inherent capacities of the child can develop only in society.
Society provides a favourable atmosphere for the development of human personality. A rich and varied social life provides him with immense opportunities to be his best self. Again individuals depend upon society for the satisfaction of their innumerable wants. Society provides insurance or security against odds in life.
The individual falls back on his family and friends in times of difficulty and insecurity. Society is a store-house of knowledge and experience, and each individual benefits by the wisdom and experience of generations of human beings.
All this proves that man is by nature and necessity a social animal. He is intimately related to social life. The relationship between society and the individual is reciprocal and complementary. Society is composed of individuals and each individual is an inseparable part of the social whole.
A society refers to the whole and individuals represent only its parts. It is obvious that individual is both a social factor as well as a social product. Thus there is no antithesis or contradiction between society and individual.
Nevertheless there may be occasions of conflict and opposition between the society and the individual. There is controversy among scholars as to who should be sacrificed in such cases. One group of thinkers known as the socialists, collectivists, idealists and the organismic theorists maintain that society as a collective whole is bigger and greater than each individual.
The individual may be selfish or egoistic. He may ignore the social interest and pursue his self-interest. In such cases it is the duty of the individual to adjust him to society or else society would compel him to conform to the pattern of social life and code of conduct. The individual may be sacrificed for the common good of society.
On the other hand, a group of thinkers known as liberals and individualists put premium on the dignity and worth of each individual person and maintains that society exists for the individuals. It is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Society is an instrument to achieve and promote human happiness.
They demand ample freedom of thought and action for the individuals and attack any attempt by society and associations to limit or take away precious freedom.
Both views are one-sided and exaggerate both the importance and superiority of society or of the individual. They contain some element of truth, but not the whole of it. It may be said that the proper relation between society and the individual is reciprocal and complementary and not one of conflict and antagonism.
Herbert Spencer is an advocate of the organismic theory which compares the relationship between society and the individual with the relationship of body with that of its various parts. The body and its parts are interdependent. Neither can exist without the other. Likewise individuals are indispensable for the composition of society and society is essential for the very existence of the individuals.
The ultimate goal of society is to promote good and happy life for its individuals. It creates conditions and opportunities for the all round development of individual personality. Society ensures harmony and cooperation among individuals in spite of their occasional conflicts and tensions. If society helps the individuals in numerous ways, great men also contribute to society by their wisdom and experience.
Scientists, statesmen, reformers, philosophers, poets, artists, intellectuals etc., have made rich contribution to social Me. IC individual as, a social product benefits be the wisdom and experience of society, and he also contributes to this store house of knowledge and experience in whatever capacity he might be placed in society.
Thus society and individuals are bound by an intimate and harmonious bond and the conflicts between the two are apparent and momentary. In a well ordered society, there would be lasting harmony between the two.