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Theory of Organic Analogy

Spencer is popularly known for his treatment of the organic analogy. The evolutionary doctrine was no doubt the foundation of Spencer's sociological theory. He however presented the organic analogy, a secondary doctrine which also played a vital role in his thought system. He established the hypothesis that society is like a biological organism and then proceeded to defend it against all objections with great logical force. But his logic proved to be his sociological downfall, for it spoiled his scientific insight.

Similarities Between Biological and Social Organisms

Spencer believed that the social structure is a living organism. He observed some similarities between biological and social organisms.

1. Similarity in Visible Growth:

Both society and organisms are distinguished from inorganic matter by visible growth. Thus both society and organism are subject to growth. Example; A child grows up to a man; a small community becomes a great city, a small state an empire, and so on. 

2. An Increase in the Complexity of Structure: 

Both society and organism grow in size and this growth is accomplished by increasing complexity of structure. Example; Primitive organisms like amoeba are very simple, whereas, the highest organisms like mammals are very complex. Similarly, primitive society was very simple, whereas, the modern industrial society is highly complex.  

3. Change in Structure Leads to Change in Functions:

When change takes place in the structure of organs and communities, there results a change in their functions. The function of the organs or parts become more and more specialized. This applies to the body of a living creature as well as to the society. In the case of an organism that has very complex organs and each organ performs a specified function. Similarly, in the society it has many different organisations and each organisation carries on a specified function.

4. Differentiation as well as Harmony of Organs: 

Evolution establishes for both societies and organisms, differences in structure and function that make each other possible. Along with this differentiation there is also the harmony between various organs. Each organ is complementary to the other and not opposed. This hold true both in society and organism.

5. Loss of an Organ/Part does not Necessarily Result in the Loss of Organism/Society:

It is common to both that a loss of some organs or some organizations does not necessarily result in their death. For example; if an individual loses his leg, it does not necessarily cause his death. Similarly  in society, if some associations or political parties disintegrate, it does not necessarily lead to the decay of the society.

6. Similar Processes and Methods of Organization:

In both the cases there are developed regulating systems  In society, there is the social control mechanism to fulfill the regulative function. In an organism, there are dominant centers and subordinate centers (the senses and a neural apparatus) to perform the tasks of the regulating system.

Differences Between Society and Organism

Spencer had recognized important differences between societies and organisms. These were analysed by Spencer but he considered them to be merely superficial differences. The main differences are as follows: 

1. Organs are Organised, but Parts of Society are Independent:

In an organism, the organs form a concrete whole. But in a society the parts are free and more or less dispersed. Example; limbs of the organism such as legs, hands, etc cannot have existence outside the physical body of the organism. But the parts of society such as family, school, etc are relatively independent and are not organically fixed to the society. The movements of the parts is relatively free here. 

2. Society does not have a Definite Form as does the Organism:

Unlike organisms, societies have no specific external form, such as a physical body with limbs or a face. Organisms have an outward form or shape, whereas, societies such as Indian society does not have any definite and externally identifiable form.

3. Manner of Difference in the Dependence of Organs or Parts on the Organism or Society:

According to Spencer, parts or organs of the body of the organism are independent upon the body itself. They exist for the sake of the body. On the other hand, in the case of society, the parts are more important than the society. In fact, society exists for the benefit of its parts, that is, individuals.

4. Difference Regarding the Centrality of "Consciousness":

In an organism consciousness is concentrated in a small part of the aggregate, while in society consciousness is diffused. 

5. Differences Regarding the Structure and Functions:

In an organism the parts exist for the benefit of the whole. In a society, the whole exists merely for the benefit of the individual. 


The differences between the organism and society never deterred Spencer from furthering his discussion of organic analogy. He even ventured to establish strong parallelisms between the two. For example, he compared the alimentary system of an organism to the productive industrial system of the society. He compared the circulatory system of an organism with the transportation system. Similarly, nervous system was compared with the regulative system of society, and so on.

Related Article: Spencer's Theory of Organic Analogy

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