Individual and Society

Man is a social animal. He lives in social groups in communities and in society. Human life and society almost go together. Man cannot live without society. Man is biologically and psychologically equipped to live in groups, in society. Society has become an essential condition for human life to arise and to continue.

Individual and Society

In present days different thinkers have conjured up a controversy upon the question of the relation between society and individual but all agree that this relation is an intimate one. The relation of the individual to society is very close and intimate. The development of the individual depends very much upon the social environment. Each individual can preserve his individuality, perform his function and release his own end in so far as he remains in harmony with others. Owing to this intimate connection every individual unconsciously promotes the general well-being, even when apparently pursuing his own private ends.

Theories on the Relation between Individual and Society

When we discuss the relationship, we found the following theories:

Social Contract Theory

A famous theory among the many theories propounded upon the subject of society-individual relation, is the Social Contract Theory. In the 17th Century , Thomas Hobbes wrote in his famous book “Leviathan” that society was founded in order to save man from his vicious, animal and egoistic tendencies.

According to Adam Smith and his followers, the society is an artificial device made by man in order to circulate mutual economy. In the 18th century, the French philosopher Rousseau supported theory animatedly in his renowned treaties “Social Contract”, saying that individuals compromised amongst themselves and constructed society. Among other supporters of this theory are John Locke (1622-1704) and Hobhouse (1588-1679).

According to this theory, everyone was born equal and free in outside society. People agreed among themselves and formed society and invested it with some rights. In this way, society is an artificial structure and it has no right to confiscate the natural rights of the individual. Society can exercise it control over individual. Society can exercise its control over individual rights only in so far as it has been possessed with rights.

Organics Theory of Society

Another theory in the subject of the society-individual relation is the organic theory. According to this theory society is complex organic being whose structure ad working resembles the individual being and which also evolves to an identical set of laws. The cells of this social anatomy are the people. Organization and institutions are its articles.

In the words of Spencer, “Social structure can be compared to an animal body whose system of nutrition has its counterparts in society in the industrial and agricultural system the circulatory system with the heart, arteries and veins, corresponds to the communication and transport system of a nation, the nervous system to the government, and so on.”

Theory of Group Mind

Another theory propagated about the relation of the society and individual is the theory of Group Mind. The Idealist and Group mind theories treat society as mind. In the words of Plato, “Civil Society is a mind writ large.” Hegel has written, “Society as manifested in the state, is a natural organism representing a phase of the historical world process or Absolute. The state, not the individual, is the real person…. the individual has reality only in so far as he is a member of the state.”

Among the many supporters of this theory are Green, Bradley, Bosanquent of England, Emerson of America and Wunde and Wangner of Germany. Durkheim has discoursed in the same vein, “ Social mind is an existence distinct (not apart) from the mind of the individuals, and is superior to them. This mind or collective consciousness is the higher from of psychic life. It tends to absorb the individual mind from which it differs not only in the richness of content but also in kind.

Criticism of above Theories

Maclver and other modern sociologists treat the social contract theory as false. This theory is based neither upon historical facts nor logical truths. The existence of society and individual cannot be conceived of separately.

The major defect of the organic theory is that the relation between body and cell has been assumed identical to the relation between body and cell has been assumed identical to the relation between societies and individual. But these relations are distinctly different.

Contract theory and the organic theory contradictory to each other and the third theory where the conception of social mind is redoubtable. The only thing which corresponds to all of these theories is their universal acceptance of an intimate relation between individual and society. As Maclver and Page express it, “ No one can be an absolute individualist any more than anyone can be an absolute socialist for the individual and society interact on one another and depend on one another.”


Notes were taken from Ganpat Rai & Veena Kapoor, “ Individual and Society”, Philosophy (BA Ist), USOL, 2009-2010, pp. 40-48.

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