A philosophy of social progress
This book was originally written with a double purpose. On the one hand, I wished to introduce students to a conception of a social philosophy which should be definitely linked to modern sociology, and not be treated as a mere outgrowth of the older political philosophy.
On the other hand, I hoped to establish a new position in regard to the philosophical conception of social change a position in opposition to that usually assumed both by the sociologist and by the philosopher. With regard to the first aim, there is now abundant evidence that social philosophy is freeing itself from the rather narrow limits within which it was previously confined.
The recent works of Professors Hobhouse, Muirhead and Hetherington are excellent illustrations of this advance. And though the academic interest in political philosophy, and (in this country) the comparative lack of interest in sociology, may still tend to narrow the field, it is unlikely that the subject will again be confined within the limits originally assigned to it.
With regard to the second aim, there is no evidence at all that my main contention has been admitted either by sociologists or by philosophers. Nor was this to be expected, since the contention itself amounts to a flat denial of many of the claims of scientific sociology, and to a less degree of those of the intellectualism upon which philosophy usually depends. I have tried to show that social science, or the science of social phenomena, cannot be regarded as a science in the same sense as the sciences of natural phenomena; and that prevision of social change is therefore impossible.
And part of the argument urged in support of this position involves a denial of the paramount importance of intellect as the directing faculty in human affairs. My contention, very briefly stated, amounts to this: that, apart altogether from the peculiar subtlety of social facts, whose significance is, for us, coloured by the elements of unanalysed bias which we perforce introduce into our most impartial survey of them, every change in those facts is dependent upon impulses in the individual and the group, whose origin is to be sought in the equipment of feelings and conations which are never fully presented to consciousness, and are neither inspired by nor directed by intellect.
These impulses are, I maintain, the life-motives in the individual and the group, and determine action at all the critical moments of life, and their force and direction can neither be calculated nor foretold. This position resembles in part the pragmatic position of Bergson's philosophy. But only in part; for I contend further that the life-impulse upon which, from moment to moment, society's ' choices ' depend, is itself dependent upon the spiritual element which every individual must be assumed to possess. This spiritual element I regard as the reality of the individual, and the clue if only we could read it to each individual's character.
The determination of individual conduct, and of society's conduct also, depends therefore upon the combination of three factors, two of which are always unknown, acting in the presence of circumstances which are never more than partially known; and the three factors are, first, the vital impulses expressing a partly-conscious response to new needs; secondly, the conscious purpose in which intelligence does its best, to sum up, its solution of that part of the problem which it can grasp and analyse; and thirdly, the promptings of a much deeper faculty whose influence we could only know if we had complete knowledge of each individual concerned.
It follows from this contention that the province of our intellect in its treatment of social phenomena is definitely limited. I am far from arguing that science is impossible in relation to social facts; it is of course obvious that there is scientific knowledge of large fields of phenomena which underlie social life, influencing its changes at every moment; and this scientific knowledge is, equally obviously, of paramount importance to the social philosopher.
But since social phenomena, as such, are for us sharply differentiated from natural phenomena by the simple fact that we cannot observe them as they are, but only as our bias presents them that, in short, they are never neutral but always marked and classified by the unconscious action of the observer's own social prejudices it follows that the human intellect is not competent to treat them as it treats the phenomena of nature.
There may be a real science of social life but it is not for us. Only to an impartial observer not of this human world could it be unfolded. It follows, further, that if we venture now or at any future time to predict the direction of social change, we must do so, not scientifically but speculatively. In other words, whoever is bold enough to be a prophet in regard to the future of society must call himself a social philosopher, not a scientist.
As a philosopher, he may conceivably be right in his general forecast of the course of progress, basing this upon his analysis of the values of human life and of the purposes of human societies. But as a scientist, he cannot advance at all beyond the natural background of social events, and the range of happenings beyond that background is infinite.
Note to the second edition v
I social life and its problems: the reformer's
Interest and the social philosopher's
Interest. The social philosopher's position
Ii society considered as subject to the forces And laws of the physical world . . 26
Iii society considered as subject to the forces And laws of organic life .... 46
Iv society considered as subject to the laws of Mind 80
V society considered as subject to the laws of Mind (continued) ...... 105
Vi society is considered as an ethical structure :
A unity dependent upon purpose . . 122
Vii the implications of citizenship, and the rights And duties of the citizen .... 146
Viii the spiritual element in social progress, and The nature of the true individual . . 171
Ix the real purpose of the social process; and
The tests of the reformer's alms and
Methods ....... 197
X the final criteria of social progress. 216
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