Man As A Social Being Essay Format


Man is a social animal and that, he loves to live in society with other human beings, is a general conception about his basic behavioural pattern. Almost all sociological thinkers agree that there is a very close relation between the individual and the society. Whether any particular individual could have been nurtured under conditions in which there did not exist any society is a different question; but the fact remains that without a social environment, be it his home, his community or his state, no stability would be brought to his status as an individual.

One would almost conclude from the foregoing statement that the individual is a product of society. Instantly, other thinkers would raise a hue and cry that the truth is just the contrary, that is, the society is the product of an individual and another.

As McIver says, it may be pointless to enter into the controversy as to whether the individual came before the society, or the society came before the individual. We would like rather to concentrate our attention on the causes of the growth of the society and the role of the individual in it.

Of the several theories that seek to explain the relation between the society and the individual, the ‘theory of the Social Contract’ seeks to give a historicist explanation to the matter. Enunciated in the seventeenth century by Thomas Hobbes in his The Leviathan, the theory conceives of a pre-society state of nature in which strife and killing was the rule, and man’s life was ‘poor, solitary, nasty, brutish and short’.

Quite naturally, therefore, man wanted to escape from the condition and a relation was consequently built up between human beings in the form of a social contract. The contract not only established a relation between them, but each individual suffered in himself a demolition of irresponsibility and brutish behaviour.

When in the eighteenth century, Rousseau took up the concept of social contract and made certain departures from Hobbesian thought on the point as also from Althusius’s though, the latter regarded society as a product of a contract naturally made between human beings. Rousseau’s state of nature was a free world in which unlimited human bliss did not at first motivate man to think in terms of a contract.

Gradually, when population increased and the concept of personal property was gaining recognition, in order to protect himself, man voluntarily made the social contract. Individual will was then, for collective good, made subject to collective will. John Locke, too, believed that the pre-contract state of society was the state of nature in which peace and harmony prevailed and every man was born free.

There was a natural order that guided man’s actions, but no sanction existed for the punishment of any violation of any natural law. This brought about the social contract and the society, though Locke did not equate the society with the Govern­ment.

The social contract theories were from time to time enunciated for the purpose of justifying either a new ruler’s course of action after the overthrow of a legitimate one, or to encourage the popular mass in rising up in arms against the establishment. In that sense, the theory is basically a political thought and, as McIver quite righty points out, the theory is not based on any analysis of historical facts.

Besides that, the theory separates the individual from the society and would almost make the assumption of the existence of the individual before the society. Sociologists do not agree that man could ever have lived without a social consciousness.

The‘Organismic theory’ of society is another attempt at establishing the origin of man’s social behaviour. Spencer holds that society can be likened to a physical organism that exhibits the same kind of unity that an individual organism shows, and it is subject to similar laws of development, maturity and decay.

The limbs and organs would be the different associations and institutions. Like Spencer and the Bluntschli, even some thinkers of this century like Oswald Spengler (in The Decline of the West) subscribe to the organismic theory, though with certain modifications. Some modify the theory in order to explain the analogy only so far as the organic processes of birth, youth, maturity, old age and death are concerned.

Spengler, finds an organic cycle in societies that pass from birth to death. To these thinkers, the individual is a mere manifestation of organism that is society, and his entire life and will must be subjected to it.

Spencer, however, explains his theory by allowing the individual more of independent attributes; he thinks that though the individual and the society are one, each has his own set of actions and individuals collectively execute their functions in the interest of the society. Just as a biological organism cannot function healthily if any part of it is weak or strained, a society too depends on the harmonized activities of all individuals.

Sociologists in general do not find the organismic theory as entirely satisfactory, since a comparison between an organic cell and a human individual is stretched too far. An individual has a self; he can think for himself independently of society, which process is unthinkable in the case of a mere cell. Besides that, the organismic theory stresses the importance of social unity to such an extent that individual qualities are underscored or even obliterated.

If one would speak of the interests of a society, even in terms of social unity, one cannot but refer to such interests as are felt by every individual in such society. Therefore, the organismic theory is best understood as long as it recognizes the fact of reliance of the individual upon the society, and it would be wrong to stretch the comparison any further than that.

Other theories relating to the origin and the nature of society include the one connected with man’s ‘Herd-instinct’ and the concept of the ‘group mind’. Some writers like Mc Dougall maintain that social behaviour is determined by man’s social instincts, while others feel that social behaviour is the result of the social environment into which man is born.

The herd-instinct theory explains the concept of man being a social animal in his tendency to herd together and to suffer in conditions of isolation. This instinct is present in animals too, but in the case of man it is extended to other sensibilities also.

Man is capable of reacting to the attitudes of others in society towards him, that is, to attitudes of friendliness or hostility; he has an inborn quality to adapt himself to his social environment. Galton explains the quality of gregariousness in man with the help of the example of the Damara ox which would show signs of desperation when separated from its kind. Man’s herd-instinct may not be that acute, but possesses the instinct as his basic quality.

Some writers maintain that while man has a herd-instinct, he also enjoys the power to adapt himself to his social environment. In other works, he does not merely like to live with his fellow beings; he is capable of establishing a definite mode of relationship with them. The theory of ‘Social induction’ explains the stages in which an individual would respond to certain tendencies in moulding his social behaviour.

First, he would develop the tendency of ‘suggestion’, that is, the tendency to respond by an acceptance of opinions expressed by other people. In the next stage, he would respond emotionally to the expression of the feelings of other people, and this is known, as the ‘sympathy” stage. Finally, he develops the tendency to ‘imitate’ the behaviour and activities of other people.

Another theory that explains social relationships is that of ‘Dominance and Submission’. In any group, these opposite tendencies may determine social relations, and, therefore, while some would seek to dominate, others would submit, and this relation may be transmitted serially, that is, from A to B. from B to C, C to D, and so on. However, no individual may be characterized by qualities of either dominance or submission alone. An individual may be submissive in some matters and dominating with regard to other matters. A person may be so negative in his psychological traits that he will be neither dominating nor submissive.

The ‘Group-Mind’   theory merely replaces the concept of society as an organism by the thought that society has a collective or a group mind. Emile Durkheim maintains that this social mind or the group mind is an entity that is quite distinct from the mind or the mental processes of every individual in it. Once again, like the organismic theory, it is a mere metaphorical appreciation of facts.

McDougall’s submission that ‘every society is capable of having a group mind or an organized system of mental or purposive forces’ has not been accepted by several writers. They maintain that in the case of a group decision, one would notice that the decision is truly being taken by some leading individual or by some dominant majority.

The group then becomes a mere instrument for giving expression to his or their own opinions or wills. A true group-mind is a condition of unanimity which might have been obtained in certain primitive societies. In modern times, a consensus is the closest approximation to the concept of the group-mind.

In the final analysis, one would say that in social relations neither the society nor the individual has its own distinct importance, for one is manifestly linked with the other. While society as a unit has its importance, the individual has no less significance in the context. A class of students is indeed a group but, as the class cannot be constituted without individual students, an individual student has no group importance without the class. Hence, the society exists for the individual as much as the individual exists for the society.

Individual and Society:

In the growth and development of the individual, the role of the society may be explored by taking into consideration that, though man is a social animal, he is not born as such. In his initial stages, his basic needs determine the course of his living. A child in its early years is not conscious of the culture into which it is born, but in the later stages he is gradually moulded by his environment and the social institutions around him.

According to the German philosopher, Fichte, man acquires his human qualities only after coming into contact with society. It will be found in the course of our discussion on culture and personality that an individual’s personality will be determined mainly by the culture which has been his social environment.

Therefore, it is maintained by several thinkers that the individual is a social product. It is undeniable that the society, even the primitive one, shapes and moulds the course of life of the individual. A child, when it comes to this world, has no sensibility of social relations; but by the time it reaches adulthood it places upon itself the imprint of the .ways of its society. Sociologists have studied the cases of certain individuals, who did not have the benefit of society from their childhood and consequently did not develop signs of social consciousness and behaviour.

In Germany, one Kaspar Hauser remained without any social contact till the age of seventeen, and when he happened to wander into the city of Nuremberg in 1828 he could hardly walk; he had the mind of an infant and took, inanimate objects for living beings. He spoke no language but, like an animal, could make certain inarticulate sounds.

After his death, a postmortem study revealed that his brain development was subnormal. The wolf girls, Amala and Kamala, discovered from wolf den in India in 1920 were similarly subnormal. Amala died soon after she came into human contact, but Kamala lived for a few years, walking on all fours, devoid of all human qualities and even apprehensive of human contact. Initially, the child did not have any consciousness of her human self, but gradually a development of a kind of human individuality took place in her.

The third example is that of Anna, an illegitimate American child who was kept isolated in a room at the age of six months. She was given a diet of milk and little else for five years and, when after the period »as brought out of confinement, she could not walk or speak and was completely indifferent to people around her.

As she was trained later, she rapidly developed human qualities’ establishing the argument that the human being develops his human nature only when he is in society, sharing a life in common with other fallow beings.

It must be considered how the child goes through a process of socialization. However, initially we have to come to the inescapable conclusion that the unit- whole relationship of the individual and the society is essential to the growth of the self and the personality of the human being.

In the couse of his growth, as the child advances from making a few sounds to uttering articulate language, the individual too replaces his egocentric thoughts by a rational co-ordination, as Jean Piaget calls k. of his ideas with those that are of the society, the individual realizing that, whatever he is, he B a mere part of his society.

Every individual is a product of a pre­determined social relationship. He is neither the beginning, nor the end; he is a link in the succession of life not only in the biological sense but in the sociological one too. He is born on the soil of this earth no doubt, but the picture becomes complete when we relate his nature and nurture to his social environment or his social heritage.

Therefore, when Aristotle, says that man is a social animal, and we agree with the statement, were merely comprehend the fundamental interdependence of the individual and his social heritage. As McIver says, an individual personality would have no meaning without society and the support of the social heritage.

The Process of Socialization:

It has already been noted that a child is not born with social consciousness and that he gradually acquires with his growth a sense of social relationship that leads him to variegated experiences. In this way not only is the child socialized, he is able to maintain a distinct link between the generations; and without a stable link between the different generations, stability of a society is unthinkable.

Kingsley Davis maintains that without the process of socialization, no individual can become his human self, that is, social self. Bogardus thinks that through socialization individuals not only establish an inter-relationship between themselves, but begin to consider their mutual welfare and carry out their respective social responsibilities.

McIver contends that the social heritage determines the self of the individual and socialization helps the individual to build up organisations for the purpose of establishing and maintaining relations between themselves. Hence, the process of socialization helps to develop the individual as also to make him conscious of his social obligations befitting his role in the society.

Socialization, therefore, is the process that makes an individual conscious of his ‘social self’ and of his ‘role’ in the society. A functional pre-requisite of a society is the integration of the activities of individuals and the ordering of social relations. There will be a co-ordination in a society of the different statuses and roles that different individuals will be required to assume. Learning the social role is, therefore, one of the primary obligations of a social individual and. in this regard, the child begins with the ‘self-role’.

Charles Cooley explains the concept of this ‘self ‘as ‘I, me and myself and advances the ‘looking-glass’ theory of its realization. According to him, for the child there is a looking-glass process according to which he develops the idea of his ‘self’.

In this process, there are three elements:

(i) The self-imagines its appearance to the other person;

(ii) It imagines the judgment of that imagined appearance of itself, and

(iii) It cultivates some sort of self-feeling, either pride or mortification, that is induced by that judgment. Johnny knows that his mother finds him smart.

The mother’s judgment becomes his own thought about his self, and he feels proud about it. He would feel distressed even about his true good looks if he has heard people despising his appearance.

Another theory relating to the self is the one advanced by George Herbert Mead, and it is known as ‘the taking the role of the other’. According to Mead, ‘self’ develops by taking the role of the other. At first, the child takes the role of the parents and then of other like playmates, teachers and friends; and in each of these stages the child steps into the other person s shoes and looks at himself through his own eyes.

In other words, it develops attitudes towards itself through the attitude of the other. A variant of role-taking is ‘playing-at-a-role; as Mead puts it. A child plays with her doll and imagines herself to be its mother. She cannot be the true mother but, in her conversation with the doll, she tries to express her mother’s wishes as they would be in her own context. She is, during the play, both the doll and her mother, that is, both her own self and her mother’s self. In this process, she is able to develop her attitudes towards herself.

The process of a socialization to a large extent determines the nature of the ‘status’ that the child seems to acquire through his association with his family, his school and other organizations. In this regard, his ‘initial status’ in the family is of signal importance, for that may determine his healthy development or otherwise.

If, in the course of his socialization, the child is obstructed by the members of the family, and his initial status in the family is not earned, the process remains incomplete and his healthy growth is ruled out. If his parents cannot accept him with ‘all the imperfections on his head’, in later life too his power of adjustability with new environments will remain inadequate.

He becomes hostile to his social surroundings and problems of ‘deviance’ may arise. Similarly, if the parents either pamper or unwittingly suppress the personality of a child, it will have corresponding adverse effects. If parents confidently refer to a child, there is every possibility of the child growing up as a confident man.

On the other hand, a mother who refers to her child as a ‘shy one’ or a ‘modest little thing’ while another offspring is labelled as a ‘ray of sunshine’, clearly ensures the defective growth of the former and the development of an egotistic self in the latter. Some writers have called this the development of ‘the self-other attitude’. What is meant is that our self-attitudes are initially the attitudes of the other members of our family. Even though a person’s self is changing constantly, the ‘looking-glass’ experiences are important in the development of his personality.

Freud holds that the social relations of a child are primarily determined by his family environment. Just as healthy soil determines the healthy growth of a child, appropriate environment is required for completing the process of socialization of a child. It is being suggested that the family environment is the only determinant in the process of socialiaztion; other associations and organizations to which he is exposed  in later life will have their share in the act of socially moulding the child.

When an I experimenter seeks to measure the effects of environment upon a child as distinct I from his hereditary traits, he cannot fail to observe the effect of socialization upon I him. When even monozygotic twins, or identical twins as they are called, are reared apart, they are seen to have developed different mental abilities and responses. This should emphasize the importance of socialization in developing the individual.

Individuality and Society:

The term ‘individuality’ is capable of several interpre­tations, according to the different senses in which it may be applied. In the physical sense, it has the characteristics of a unit, detached from others. In the biological sense, the term stands for a living creature that is able to respond to external stimuli and control itself. An organism that has a few simple reactions will possess, therefore, less of individuality than the one that is organized, like man, to finer and more sensitive reactions to external surroundings.

However, the term in the sociological sense means that a human being does not merely imitate and that his social responses are not merely spontaneous as those of a slave of habit. It is an attribute that exposes the ‘self of an individual in the society, in spite of such society.

One does not mean by individuality the divergence of the behaviour of the human being from the rest in society; it means, in its true analysis, the power to act according to one’s own consciousness and with his own interpretation of social relationships. As McIver says, the degree in which he possesses and manifests these qualities is the degree in which he possesses individuality.

Individuality, in the sociological sense, is less marked in a primitive society than in the more organized and complex ones. In fact, in a modern complex society there is a greater demand for and recognition of, individuality.

Apart from the fact that even in the expression of our language one distinctly notices the stamp of individuality, and so perhaps in many spheres of life, one cannot afford to disagree with the proposition that it would be a tedious matter to have every member of the society endowed with like capabilities.

If all men were to think alike and to work alike, progress in society would be halted, and this helps to explain why for several centuries man did not advance in civilization by many degrees. One may venture to say that the absence of individuality accounted for the slow advance of the primitive community.

The task of the sociologist is not to find out whether or not a person really enjoys the freedom in society to cultivate his individuality; that is for the politician to build up his polemics upon.

But the sociologist most certainly has to take into account the importance of the following questions in his study of the individual – society relationship:

(I) Can any society truly and completely integrate individuals within the social order? One may hold the view that interests of different individuals will always result in conflicts and clashes, and social harmony can hardly be achieved. We may strive to achieve the harmony and the integration which the primitive society knew at least temporarily, but the prominence of the cult of individuality will always be a treat to social integration.

(2) Can any society be allowed to suppress and frustrate individuality, well- established norms and ideals, whether they be folkways, mores or codes, impose a tyranny upon the self and baulk its expansion? So often we hear that creative impulses are being checked by the fixed demands of society and its standards.

Standardization itself can be ruinous of novelty and, without novelty, society tends to remain static. A compromise between the wishes of the society and the urge for individuality must be achieved. It must be remembered that society is a condition for the development of individuality, that is, no individuality divorced from society is worth its salt. Therefore, no society stands to lose in the context of the growth of individuality; on the contrary, individuality in society can in more ways than one help the progress of the society.

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The most successful essays are well planned. Essays that go off the point with lots of extra detail will get poor marks.

Stick to the question

Underline key words in the essay title so you really understand the question being asked. It’s not about writing all you know about a topic.

Words like ‘discuss’, ‘compare and contrast’, ‘evaluate’, ‘account for’ are used as ways to direct your answer; make sure you know what they mean.

Other questions may start with ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘why’ or ‘when’.

Write a plan

Brainstorm your ideas on the essay topic to get started. Spider diagrams are good for this.

Plan the structure of the essay by numbering each of your ideas in order of importance. At this stage you may wish to leave some of them out or develop others by breaking them into sub points. Redo your original spider diagram as necessary.

You may have to present your argument for the essay under broad themes like ‘economic’, ‘social’, ‘political’ or ‘religious’ reasons. Make sure you understand which theme suits each of your points, then group your all points on the same theme in order of importance into a separate paragraph.

Writing the essay

1. Introduction

Your essay must have an introduction. State the main points you will discuss in order to support your answer to the question set in the title of the essay.

2. Development of your argument

After the introduction add further paragraphs to build your argument, make the most important points first. Remember the way these points are ordered makes your argument clearer to the reader.

Start a new paragraph for each new important point and any linked points that relate to the question. You may include quotations from other historians and refer to primary sources (such as you can find on this website) to support a particular point.

Make sure your essay makes chronological sense. Try to present any factual points in date order.

Avoid telling the story of what happened. If you refer to an important historical event, you must make a point or comment about it. This will stop your essay from becoming a simple narrative and it shows you are trying to analyse events rather than just describe them.

Aim for five to seven paragraphs, depending on the essay and level of course you are following.

3. Conclusion

Sum up the main points and briefly restate your argument.

Re-read your work, check for spelling errors, and redraft if necessary.


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