The Organic View of Society

Cooley's sociology is decidedly holistic. When he speaks of society as anorganism, he does not want to make an analogy with biology in the mannerof Spencer, but means to stress the systemic interrelations between all socialprocesses. "If . . . we say that society is an organism, we mean . . . that it is acomplex of forms of processes each of which is living and growing by inter-action with the others, the whole being so unified that what takes place in onepart affects all the rest. It is a vast tissue of reciprocal activity.''

This organic view of society leads Cooley to his principled objection to theutilitarian individualism that is at the basis of classical economics and Spen-cerian sociology alike.

So strong is the individualist tradition in America and England that wehardly permit ourselves to aspire toward an ideal society directly, but thinkthat we must approach it by some distributive formula, like "the greatestgood of the greatest number." Such formulas are unsatisfying to humannature.... The ideal society must be an organic whole, capable of beingconceived directly, and requiring to be so conceived if it is to lay hold uponour imaginations.

"Our life," Cooley reiterated over and over again, "is all one human whole,and if we are to have any real knowledge of it we must see it as such. If wecut it up it dies in the process.''

From Coser, 1977:307.


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