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Society, concept of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-R031-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

The term ‘society’ is broader than ‘human society’. Many other species are described as possessing a social way of life. Yet mere gregariousness, of the kind found in a herd of cattle or a shoal of fish, is not enough to constitute a society. For the biologist, the marks of the social are cooperation (extending beyond cooperation between parents in raising young) and some form of order or division of labour. In assessing the merits of attempts to provide a more precise definition of society, we can ask whether the definition succeeds in capturing our intuitive understanding of the term, and also whether it succeeds in identifying those features of society which are most fundamental from an explanatory point of view – whether it captures the Lockean ‘real essence’ of society.

One influential approach seeks to capture the idea of society by characterizing social action, or interaction, in terms of the particular kinds of awareness it involves. Another approach focuses on social order, seeing it as a form of order that arises spontaneously when rational and mutually aware individuals succeed in solving coordination problems. Yet another approach focuses on the role played by communication in achieving collective agreement on the way the world is to be classified and understood, as a precondition of coordination and cooperation.

Citing this article:
Ross, Angus. Society, concept of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-R031-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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