Psychological evolutionism in sociology


Moscow Financial and Industrial University “Synergy”

Faculty of General Management

Department of Political Science and Sociology

Independent work

in the discipline “Sociology”


The development of sociology at the end of the 19th century


1st year student

group DLM-102

Kosynkin Alexander Yurievich.

Discipline teacher:

Polyakova Evelina Nikolaevna

Moscow, 2011



1. Psychological evolutionism in sociology (L. Ward, F. Giddings)

2. Instinctivism (W. McDougall)

3. “Psychology of peoples”

4. Group psychology and imitation theory

5. The birth of interactionism




Naturalistic theories could not for any long time satisfy the needs of rapidly developing sociology, which, like a sponge, absorbed all the latest scientific discoveries and achievements and reacted vividly to them with the emergence of new trends, schools, and even paradigms. The search for a new key to unraveling many social phenomena and processes has intensified; it was most often seen in the sphere of the human psyche, motivating his actions, identifying needs and desires.

The crisis of biological-naturalistic theories at the end of the 19th century contributed to the strengthening of the psychological trend in sociology. During this period, a psychological direction arose in sociology, which had a strong influence on its development as a science. The emergence of a new direction was associated with the success of psychology, especially experimental.

However, the idea of reducing the social to the psychological was not, of course, new. Both Locke and Hume, as well as French enlighteners and English utilitarians, referred to the “universal laws of psychology” and “properties of human nature”. Mill, in a polemic with Comte, argued that all social laws are reduced to “the laws of individual human nature.” “By uniting into a society, people do not turn into something else with different properties. In social life, people have only those properties that follow from the laws of nature of an individual person and can be reduced to them. Therefore, sociology as a science “about the actions of masses of people and about the various phenomena that make up social life” has psychology as its basis.

The psychological direction in sociology, formed at the turn of the century, had a complex structure. Allocate psychological evolutionism, group psychology, psychology of imitation, psychology of peoples, instinctivism, interactionism. The development of psychological sociology in Russia is also singled out.

All these areas are united by the desire to seek the key to explaining all social phenomena and processes in the mental factors of the development of man and society. Representatives of psychological sociology paid attention to the problem of the relationship between social and individual consciousness as the most significant.

Psychological evolutionism in sociology

Psychological evolutionism is a current of sociological thought of the late 19th – early 20th century, whose representatives considered the process of development of society as part of cosmic evolution, which has a directed character, as a transition from simple to complex stages, based on the development of a conscious principle, that is, the reasonable management of social processes. At the same time, each new stage incorporates the best achievements of the previous one thanks to the organized mental activity of a person.

The most prominent representatives of psychological evolutionism are the American sociologists Lester Ward (1841-1913). and Franklin Giddings (1855-1931)

Consider the ideas that were proposed by L. Ward.

His main works are: “Dynamic Sociology” (1883), “Essays on Sociology” (1898), “Pure Sociology” (1903). L. Ward was the founder and first president of the American Sociological Society (1906 – 1908).

The main ideas of social evolution are presented by L. Ward in a polemic from the positions of Spencer. He criticizes the British sociologist for the “impersonality” of the process of social evolution, in which there is no place for the consciousness and purposeful activity of people. Social evolution, according to Ward, cannot be a purely natural, biological phenomenon (as Spencer interprets it), since people endowed with consciousness and psyche live and act in society. Consequently, sociological analysis can be based, first of all, on psychological rather than biological principles, psychological rather than biological mechanisms of social life.

Ward’s approach to understanding social evolution is that it is necessary to see in the evolutionary process natural spontaneous development, which he called genesis, and conscious, purposeful actions leading to its development, which was called telesis by the American sociologist. Genesis and telesis in Ward’s sociology act as two integral and interrelated parts of the evolutionary process.

As can be seen, Ward seeks to combine the study of the natural and the social in sociological science. The connecting link in this case is a person – half natural, half social being.

In the first case, with genesis, the sociologist has in mind natural, natural progress.

In the second case – with telesis – we are talking about the progress associated with the activities of people. This activity is based on certain forces, called by the sociologist both social and mental.

In the teachings of L. Ward, the concept of social forces, which he characterizes as “mental forces acting in the collective state of man” has become a central link. Social forces determine human behavior. Since they are psychologized by Ward, we can conclude that the basis of sociology is psychology.

The primary social force is desires – hunger, thirst, sexual needs. On their basis, secondary – intellect, moral, aesthetic forces – desires arise. Chief among the secondary powers is the intellect. As long as desires “live” “within” the individual, they are psychic forces. Once desires are realized, they become interests, and thus turn into social forces.

The basis for the satisfaction of primary needs is labor, and deception acts as a kind of labor.

A person’s behavior in accordance with Ward’s concept can be determined, in addition to desires, also by reproductive forces, to which he refers love. All these are stimuli of individual behavior, including desires and reproductive forces.

But Ward also speaks of the psychological factors of civilization, which he subdivided into three groups:

– various manifestations of the soul – feelings, volitional acts, emotions.

– intuition, intelligence, invention.

– economy of mind, economy of nature, social aspects of will and intellect.

It is not difficult to understand that sociological theory in Ward’s work is fairly psychologized.

The psychological evolutionism of the American sociologist is the result of the collision of the individual’s mental progress with the social conditions of his life. The social progress of society is provided by sociogenetic forces. These forces are divided by him into intellectual and moral. The first ones are the most important. They underlie people’s desire to acquire knowledge and to be educated. He believes that education is the stimulus and the most reliable form of social change. Therefore, the introduction of universal equal and general education has a positive result.

Also, in the light of Ward’s reformist ideas, one should consider the utopian doctrine he created about an ideal society – sociocracy, the main feature of which is the social control of social forces through the “collective mind of society”. He supported trade unions and workers’ movements, argued the need to improve the position of the proletariat. Like many sociological teachings, Ward’s sociology was characterized by humanism.

The general conclusion that follows from the consideration of Ward’s concept is to identify two interrelated positions that emphasize the characteristic features of his teaching. This is the psychological sociology of processes and the utopianism of social transformations. In general, Ward made a significant contribution to the development of sociology, primarily by his desire to prove that the social revolution, which has an active character, has a leading role in the psychology of man and his will.

Consider the work of the American sociologist F. Giddings. He was the first founder of the Department of Sociology (1894) at Columbia University, was elected president of the American Sociological Society (1908). His main work is “Principles of Sociology” (1896), and such works as “Elements of Sociology” (1898), “Inductive Sociology” (1901) and others followed.

In accordance with his ideas, sociology is a science that seeks to understand society as a whole and explain it through cosmic laws and causes. For Giddings, the psychological origin of sociology is beyond doubt. But, sociology and psychology have differences. Sociology, first of all, explores the processes of evolution of society, and also has other features. In his opinion, “sociology is an attempt to explain the emergence, growth, structure and activity of society by the action of physical, vital and psychological causes acting together in the process of evolution.” The main feature of sociology is that its representatives explain social phenomena through the use of mental causes. As an American sociologist writes, “sociology is the interpretation of social phenomena through mental activity, organic adaptation, natural selection and conservation of energy.”

The central idea of Giddings is the idea of “self-like consciousness” (ancestral consciousness), that is, this sense of identity that is experienced by some people in relation to others.

Giddings believed that two forces act in the process of social evolution – the unconscious and the conscious. To the first he refers natural, and, consequently, objective factors. To the second force – factors of a subjective – psychological nature. He considered them not as personal manifestations, but as “kind consciousness”. This concept is one of his central ones. The consciousness of the genus and the social mind means the spiritual unity of rational beings, which makes possible their conscious interaction with each other while maintaining the individuality of each.

Giddings’ interpretation of the class structure of society is curious. He defines “social classes” not according to objective characteristics, but according to the degree of development of the individuals belonging to them of “kind consciousness”, that is, a sense of solidarity. He distinguishes, firstly, a social class consisting of people who actively defend the social order; secondly, the “non-social class”, consisting of those who gravitate toward narrow individualism and are indifferent to public affairs; thirdly, a “pseudo-social” class, consisting of poor people striving to live at the expense of society; fourthly, the “anti-social class”, which includes instinctive or habitual criminals, in whom the consciousness of the species has almost disappeared and who hate society and its institutions.

Summing up, it should be noted that the influence of Giddings’ work on the development of sociological thought was not very significant and was preserved only within the framework of evolutionism. This direction supplemented Spencer’s biological-evolutionary scheme.

Despite the “external” opposition to Spencer by representatives of psychological evolutionism and their criticism of him, there was no real break with evolutionary ideas. Moreover, they were strengthened due to the use of the “conscious principle”, that is, the factor of reasonable management of social processes, in the course of the analysis of the complication of forms of social life.


The psychological evolutionism of Ward and Giddings did not make a significant contribution to the history of sociological thought. Much more influential was such a trend as instinctivism. The problem of “social instincts” arose in the 19th century not by accident. Constructing society in the image and likeness of the individual, 19th-century psychology sought to find an intrapersonal psychological determinant or set of determinants that could simultaneously explain both individual and group behavior.

Social phenomena begin to be interpreted in terms of unconscious “instincts”, “impulses”, “aspirations”. The concept of “instinct” was used in a broad community sense, denoting the biological needs of the body, and hereditary programs of behavior, and even just desires.

The theory of instinctivism appears, the founder of which was William McDougall (1871 – 1938), an English psychologist, from 1921. working in the USA, author of the highly popular book Introduction to Social Psychology (1908).

McDougall sought to create a psychological system of the social sciences in which psychology would be the basis, and everything else, including sociology, history, philosophy, etc., would be built on top of it. At the same time, he considered sociology to be the main superstructural science. “Mixing” it with psychology, he developed a socio-psychological theory of personality.

According to McDougall, the “psychology of instinct” should become the theoretical basis of all social sciences. McDougall understood instinct as “an innate or natural psychophysical disposition that causes an individual to perceive or pay attention to certain objects and experience a specific emotional arousal and act in relation to these objects in a certain way, or at least experiencing an impulse to such an action. “. According to McDougall, each primary instinct corresponds to a certain emotion, which, like the instinct itself, is simple and indecomposable. So, for example, the instinct of flight corresponds to the emotion of fear, the instinct of curiosity – the emotion of surprise, the parental instinct – the emotion of tenderness.

Extending his psychological theory to society, McDougall subsumes an instinct or a group of instincts under every social phenomenon. McDougall attached the greatest importance to the herd instinct, which keeps people together and underlies most of the institutions of society. The immediate manifestation of the herd instinct is the growth of cities, the collective nature of human leisure, mass gatherings, etc.

Further development of instinctivism was facilitated by the work of McDougall’s followers. Graham Wallace (1858 – 1932) extends psychological analysis to the realm of politics, paying particular attention to the instinct of loyalty, which must ensure the functioning of state power.

Instinctivism played a role in the development of sociology. He aroused interest in the study of the psyche and stimulated attention to problems of consciousness that had not been raised until that time. In the theories of instinctivism, an aspect was made on the important aspects of the human psyche as the basis of human behavior. Moreover, these theories drew the attention of researchers to the unconscious aspects of the psyche and their role in social life. However, his own theoretical foundation was shaky.

“Psychology of peoples”

All of the above theories were subjectivist. But in the science of the 19th century, there was another interpretation of social consciousness, which had its ideological roots in the theory of the “objective spirit” and the concept of the “folk spirit” of the German romantics.

German scientists Moritz Lazarus (1824 – 1903) and Geiman Steinthal (1823 – 1899) proclaimed in 1860. creation of a new discipline – “psychology of peoples”. According to Steinthal, due to the unity of their origin and habitat, all individuals of one people bear the imprint of the special nature of the people on their body and soul, and “the impact of bodily influences on the soul causes certain inclinations, tendencies, predispositions, properties of the spirit that are the same for all individuals, as a result of which they all have the same folk spirit.” He understands the spirit of the people as a mental means of individuals belonging to a particular nation, and at the same time as their self-consciousness; the content of the national spirit is revealed in the study of language, myths: morality and culture within the framework of the “historical psychology of peoples”.

Although M.Lazarus and G.Steinthal could not fulfill this program, their idea was picked up and developed by Wilhelm Wundt. In his opinion, the real content of mature consciousness is not covered by physiological psychology. Higher mental processes, and, above all, thinking, are the result of the historical development of human society and therefore must be studied by a special science. Wundt objects to the direct analogy between individual and national consciousness, which took place among his predecessors. As the consciousness of an individual is not reduced to the initial elements of sensation and feeling, but represents their creative synthesis of individual consciousnesses, as a result of which a new reality arises, which is found in the products of superpersonal activity – language, myths and morality. Wundt devoted the last 20 years of his life to their study.

Like his predecessors, Wundt failed to realize his programmatic goals. Wundt considers individual forms of social consciousness as “psychological”, and not as “sociological” phenomena. Thus, the laws of language are revealed to him by analogy with the laws of association of ideas, myths – as a result of the processing of ideas by feelings, and morality – as a result of connecting the will to the primary elements of consciousness.

It should be noted that the “psychology of peoples” as a whole played a positive role, posing a number of sociological problems of the spiritual life of ethnic groups and managing to attract linguists, historians, ethnographers, philologists, and most importantly, psychologists and sociologists to their study. It was one of the first attempts to study the interaction of culture and individual consciousness. Historical psychology, ethnopsychology, and even socio- and psycholinguistics, not without reason, find their origins in the “psychologists of peoples”. But it was in sociology that her influence was minimal.

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