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A Escola Mecanicista

Nesta escola podemos classificar todas as teorias sociolgicas que


interpretam os fenmenos sociais em termos e conceitos da Fsica, Qumica
e mecnica. Suas diversas ramificaes apresentam algumas diferenas
entre si; ora se d preferncia interpretao geomtrica, ou para a
mecnico-fsica, a energtica ou ainda as leis matemticas da sociedade.
Uma vez que a escola mecanicista interpreta todos os fenmenos
sociais como meras variantes dos fenmenos fsicos, a sua caracterstica
essencial a concepo monstica do Universo como um todo, incluindo a
aplicao universal destas leis naturais, e a busca da unidade destas leis.
Por isso, todas as interpretaes monistas do mundo em especial o
materialismo contm esta viso da escola mecanicista. Os elementos
fundamentais da interpretao mecanicista a respeito da natureza humana
e suas atividades sociais remontam Antiguidade: as filosofias monistas,
tanto em suas variantes materialistas quanto idealistas, so bastante
antigas. Desde a afirmao de Tales de Mileto de que a essncia de todas
as coisas no Universo a gua, ou de Anaximenes, que disse a essncia
o ar, at o monismo atmico de Empdocles, Leucipo, Demcrito,
Anaxgoras e Lucrcio todas apresentam j a interpretao mecanicista
do Universo, a includos os fenmenos sociais. Estes, desde esta poca,
eram vistos como subordinados a leis mecnicas universais. Isto no foi
exclusividade grega, pois a filosofia indiana e a chinesa experimentaram
teorias semelhantes.
Outro elemento fundamental da interpretao mecanicista dos
fenmenos sociais, o uso da matemtica na interpretao destes,
acompanhada da crena absoluta na universalidade das regularidades
quantitativas as leis das dinmicas sociais. Estes elementos foram
bastante enfatizados por Pitgoras e seus discpulos, aliados neste sentido
aos filsofos gregos monistas. O mecanicismo social tambm est nas
teorias de Epicuro e os esticos. Sneca e outros esticos tambm
monistas materialistas defendiam que mesmo o Tempo, a Virtude e o Mal
so coisas, no sentido fsico da expresso.
Em pocas de grande progresso nas cincias matemticas e naturais,
as concluses destas foram aplicadas compreenso dos fenmenos

sociais. Como consequncia, reforaram a interpretao mecanicista. Isto


demonstra por qu a sociologia mecanicista tornou-se a interpretao
dominante dos fenmenos sociais no sculo XVII, o sculo de descobertas
formidveis nas reas da Fsica, Matemtica e mecnica. Basta lembrar os
nomes de Newton, Galileu, Descartes, Leibniz, Pascal, Kepler, Bacon e
muitos outros, cujas descobertas ocorreram neste sculo. No por acaso
que a mesma poca das grandes interpretaes mecnicas da sociedade
o surgimento da Fsica Social no sculo XIX com Auguste Comte pode ser
vista como uma consequncia deste progresso, que no cessou de ocorrer
desde a poca do Newton.
No entanto, a sociedade j era analisada em termos de Fsica Social
desde o sculo XVII. Muitos dos princpios das cincias sociais, polticas e da
psicologia j estavam postos nesta poca, ainda que no sculo XX tenham
sido retomados e julgados como descobertas recentes. As caractersticas
essenciais da Fsica Social dos anos seiscentos podem ser resumidas desta
forma:
1 O abandono do antropomorfismo, teleologismo, moralismo e o
hierarquismo no estudo da mentalidade humana, seu comportamento,
natureza e fenmenos sociais.
2 Estudo dos fenmenos psquicos e sociais como fenmenos
fsicos, de forma racional e objetiva. O ser humano visto como um objeto
fsico uma mquina.
3 Uma vez que somos como mquinas, tudo o que em ns
manifesto e nossas aes incluindo aqui as aes em sociedade,
obviamente ordenado por leis fsico-matemticas, passveis de serem
descobertas, estudadas e utilizadas para o aprimoramento das sociedades.

PREDECESSORS
Second, they began to study social and
psychic phenomena as a physicist studies physical phenomena,
rationally but objectively. Man was regarded as a physical objecta
kind of machine ^ or physical
automaton. His life and action were regarded "as a regular
functioning of the human machinery; his death, as a wreck of it."
''There was not admitted any vitalistic force." Descartes and
Hobbes compared death with the stopping of a watch
mechanism.^ The human soul is interpreted as a movement as
regular as any motion studied in mechanics. ''Vita mot us est
perpetuus," says Hobbes. "Notre nature est dans le mouvement;'
wrote Pascal. ''Human life is nothing but a circulation of blood and
circulation of thoughts and desires," explains Malebranche.
Where there is movement there is inertia, according to
mechanics; and inertia is to be recognized also in human society
and psychical movement. It is manifested in a human being's
tendency to preserve himself and to look after his own interests.
''Siimn esse conser-vare, suiim sibi utile quaerere," says Spinoza.
This is a universal law of nature, and it is the law of human nature
also. Viewing the human soul in this mechanical way, the
physicists of the seventeenth century tried to analyze it into its
components, as a mechanism may be disassembled into its parts.
The corresponding components of the human soul were found in
a series of primary "tendencies," or "conations" (self-preservation,
gravitation to or repulsion from other human beings, etc.) or
"affections," or "appetites." Classifying them (six principal
affections, according to Descartes, or three, according to
Spinoza), they regarded a human being as an embodiment of
these components, and human activity as a result of these
conations (gravitation or repulsion or relationship). Their mutual
gravitation or repulsion results in a regularity of human activity and of
psychical processes which, being similar to the regularity of
physical movement, could be interpreted by the principles of
mechanics. In this way they set forth ''the mechanics of psychical

processes" and of ''human activity." Thus a human soul was


interpreted as ''a kind of astronomical system" in which different
processes go on with the same regularity as in an astronomical
system interpreted by mechanics. The ''human individual was
regarded as a kind of astronomical system of affections or other
psychical elements bound together by mutual attraction or
repulsion." "^
From this it was easy to pass to the construction of "a social
mechanics" or of "a mechanistic interpretation of society."
"Society was regarded as a new astronomical system whose
elements were human beings, bound together by mutual
attraction or repulsion, like the atoms of physical substance."
Finally, the mutual relationship of societies and of states was
viewed again as a new system of balanced oppositions whose
elements themselves were human groups. Thus we have
gradually enlarging series of gravitations and repulsions (of man,
society, groups of societies) which, according to Spinoza, did not
constitute any specific realm in the kingdom of nature, but easily
entered, as a part, into the mechanistic kingdom of the universe
without a break in its mechanistic structure (Spektorsky, Vol. II, p.
422). The scheme of the social order may thus be seen to be in
three parts, as follows:
1. The human being: an astronomical system composed of the
attraction and repulsion of conations;
2. Society: an astronomical system composed of the attraction
and repulsion of individuals; and
3. Mankind: an astronomical system composed of the attraction
and repulsion of groups.
From the above it is clear that any supernaturalism, indeterminism,
any freedom of the will, were expelled from the sociological
theories of these social physicists. Hiey viewed all these
phenomena as a result of the natural play of natural causes. Their
purpose was to study these phenomena as a system of
relationshi]), to measure these relations and to give the results of
such a study
in the forms of the laws of social mechanics.
Hence, the mathematical method of their studies. Of any science
they demanded that it be a science of mathematical type.
Generalem quandam esse dehere scientiam, . . . eamdemque . . .
Mathesim itniversalem nominari (Dtsca.vtts) IS thQ rnotto oi their
method. ''Without mathematics human beings would live as the
animals and beasts," Weigel declared. ''All truths are dis covered
only through measurement," said Malebranche. Hence their
geometrical and mathematical method. Hence their conception
that the truth is nothing but quantitatively described relationship.
Hence their attempts to create "Pantometrika," "Psychometrika,"
"Ethicometrika," "Sociometrika"; in brief, a universal quantitative

science of relations applied to the study of all phenomena,


including psychical, ethical, political, and social ones. (See
Spektorsky, Vol. I, pp. 328 ff.) ''Mens, mensura, quies, motiis,
positiira, figiira sunt cum materia cunctaruni exordia rerum/' Such
was their motto. H. Grotius interpreted the phenomena of law
''sicut Mathematici figuras a corporibus semotas considerant'\'
Leibnitz explained juridical relations in modo geo-metrico, with
charts and diagrams; Weigel and Puffendorff drew a series of
circles of human actions ''ad analogiam sysfematis Copernicaei."
"In societate inter homines nihil fere agitiir quod a numerorum et
mensurae scientia non dependeat/' claimed Richard
Cumberland.^ Politics was interpreted "per magnitudinem,
figurant et motuni." This is not all. In order that these declarations
and aspirations be realised the attempt became necessary to
build "social mechanics" factually. And w^e see indeed some
attempts to do this. The conceptions of space, time, gravitation,
inertia, and force or powder are the fundamental principles by
which physical mechanics succeeded in interpreting the motion of
physical objects, beginning with that of atoms and ending with
that of the planets, stars, and systems of the universe. The social
physicists of the seventeenth century tried to do the same as the
physicists themselves. In the first place they constructed the
conception of a moral or social space in which social, and moral, and
political movements go on. It was a kind of space analogous to physical
space, and superposed upon it. To the
position of a material object in physical space, there
corresponded, in social space, the conception of status, as of sex,
age, occupation, freedom, religion, citizenship, and so on. In this
way they constructed a system of social coordinates which
defined the position of man in this moral space as exactly as the
system of geometrical coordinates defines the position of a
material object in physical space.^ Physical mechanics explains
the motions, also, of physical objects by the principles of inertia
and gravitation. Similarly, social mechanics regarded the social
processes as a result of the gravitation and inertia of human
beings or groups. In physical mechanics any physical system is
regarded as an equilibrium. In the same way, any society or group
or state was regarded by the social physicists as a system of
equilibrium of centrifugal and centripetal forces. A series of
political institutions was interpreted as a system of counterbalances.
The social and political organization of a society, and
the phenomena of power and authority were interpreted as
resultants of the pressures of ''social atoms" (individuals) and
''social molecules" (groups). In this way these social theorists
created "social statics" or a theory of social equilibrium,
analogous to "statics" in physical mechanics.
They also laid down the elements of social dynamics. In

mechanics motion or change is a function of space and time.


Time also plays its role in the social mechanics of the
seventeenth century; for these thinkers conceived the idea, not
only of a status in moral space, but in moral time as well. This led
them to constructions in rcspcctu ad durationcni and even to the
theory of a specific status quandicativus with a specific "moral
time." Historical and social events were viewed as motions or
movements and time as a coefficient of motion. ''Tcnipus nihil
aliud est quam magnitudo inotus," wrote Leibnitz. Any process
came to be understood as a kind of mechanically moving object.
"Time was depicted by a geometrical line; historical processes
began to be illustrated by various curves, and an individual's life
history, by a curve as of a falling body. Straight lines, parabolas,
and spiral curves began to be used to describe these processes."
In brief, the physicists were the real initiators in the social, as well as
in many other fields of science.^^ From the above it follows that
the plan of social mechanics outlined by the thinkers of the
seventeenth century was grand and magnificent indeed.^^ If they
did not succeed in realizing it more or less satisfactorily, it was not
the fault of lack of effort, but that of the complexity of the problems
studied. In spite of many failures and childish statements, their
effort to create a social physics yielded as a byproduct a series of
valuable contributions to the social and psychological sciences,
contributions which at the present moment are being rediscovered
as something quite new and unknown to the past.
Furthermore, the mechanistic interpretation of social phenomena
now in vogue is nothing but a repetition, with slight modifications
of the principles laid down by the great thinkers of the
seventeenth century, often, however, without any reference to
their names or works. It is true that some of the methods and
conclusions of these earlier thinkers have been further developed
in the biological, psychological, statistical , and sociological works
of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. This
has been the case with W. Petty's seventeenth century study of social
and moral phenomena/^ and with that century's
deterministic and objective study of such phenomena irrespective
of any religious or moral evaluation. Such later development was
carried forw^ard in ethics and psychology by Jeremy Bentham's
''moral arithmetic," by Herbart's studies in ''mechanistic
psychology," and by others in the field of statistics. But the same
cannot be said for the "social mechanics" of the seventeenth
century, in the narrower sense of that term. Almost all attempts in
that field which were made in the eighteenth and first half of the
nineteenth centuries were but variations of the social physics of
the seventeenth century.
Along the lines of social physics of the seventeenth century
George Berkeley (1685-1753) constructed his theory of moral

attraction and social stability.^^ According to his "social physics,"


physical gravitation has its analogue. The centrifugal forces are
manifest in the form of egoism, which drives persons apart; while
the social instincts correspond to the centripetal forces, because
they draw persons together. Society is stable when the centripetal
forces are greater than the centrifugal. The role of physical mass
in social mechanics is played by the population; the role of
physical distance, by the homogeneity or heterogeneity of
individuals.^^ In brief, Berkeley's theory of moral attraction is a
mere variation of the theories of the seventeenth century.
The same must be said of the majority of the mechanistic theories
in sociology of the eighteenth ^^ and of the beginning of the
nineteenth centuries. Some of the Encyclopedists may be
included here. Saint-Simon's attempts to interpret social
phenomena in the light of Newton's law of gravitation and system
of mechanics did not add anything essentially new to the social
physics of the seventeenth century. Later on F. M. Ch. Fourier,
among his many theories, made a sketch of the mechanistic
interpretation of history; but, like many of his other theories, it was not
systematically developed and was set forth in a somewhat erratic
and extravagant form. Finally, Auguste Comte and A. Quetelet
both show the influence of the seventeenth century's social
physics, especially in the terminology which they employ. ''Social
statics" and ''social dynamics" are the principal parts of sociology,
according to Comte; while Quetelet even uses the term "social
physics" as the title of his work. It should be distinctly stated,
however, that this use of an earlier terminology is misleading, for
their interpretations of social phenomena were far from being the
mechanistic interpretation of the seventeenth century. Since the
second half of the nineteenth century this has begun to show
decided symptoms of revival. Since that time there have
appeared several works which, though pretending to be a new
interpretation of social phenomena, have, as a matter of fact,
moved along the general plan of social physics in the seventeenth
century. Let us now turn to a survey and analysis of these recent
recapitulations and developments. Modern representatives of this
school of sociology are: H. C. Carey, Voronoff, E. Solvay, L.
Winiarsky, A. P. y Barcelo, Haret, W. Ostwald, W. Bechtereff,
Edgeworth, F. Carli, A. Bentley, T. N. Carver, Alfred J. Lotka, and
finally V. Pareto, not to mention other names.^*' Their works may
be divided into four or five principal branches : the branch of
social physics (Carey) ; of social mechanic Of other works in
which the authors claim to interpret social phenomena according
to the laws of physics and mechanics, but actually fail to do so,
may be mentioned the following: Planta, J. C, Die Wissenschaft
des Staates oder die Lehre vom Lebensorganismus, Chur, 1852;
Zacharia, K. S., Vierzig Biicher vom Staate, 7 vols., 1839-43;

Mismer, Principes sociologiques, 1880; De Marinis, Sistema di


Sociologia, Torino, 1901; Fiske, J., Outlines of Cosmic
Philosophy^ Lond., 1874; Bagehot, W., Physics and Politics, N.
Y., 1884. vSimmel and the formal school in sociology use
extensively geometrical analogies and forms; but trait is purely
incidental to their theories; therefore they have only the remotest
relation to the "mechanistic" interpretation of social phenomena.
(See "The Formal School" in this book.) Somewhat more
mechanistic or energetistic to some extent are the interpretations
of economic and juridical phenomena given by Helm, G., Die
Lehre von der Energy, pp. 72 ft"., Leipzig, 1887, and by Bozi, A.,
Die Weltanschauung der Jurisprudenz, pp. 108 ft. A
comparatively good (thpugh a little elementary and out of date)
characterization of the mechanistic school is given in F.
Squillace's Le dottrine sociologiche, Roma, 1902, Chap. I; and
Petre Trisca's Prolegomenes a une Mecanique Sociale, Vol. II,
Paris, Alcan. 1922; in G. Solomon's introduction to Bousquet's
Grundriss der Soziologie Paretos, 1926.
H. C. Carey's Principles of Social Science ^^ is one of the most
conspicuous attempts in the second half of the nineteenth century
at a physical interpretation of social phenomena. At the very
beginning of the first volume of the Principles we find his emphatic
declaration that ''the laws which govern matter in all its forms,
whether that of coal, clay, iron, pebble stones, trees, oxen,
horses, or men" are the same/^ Hence, the mechanistic monism
which permeates his sociological and economic theories. In
harmony with Carey's general "mechanistic" attitude are his
theories that "man is the molecule of society"; ^^ that associati on
is only a variety of "the great law of molecular gravitation";"^ that
"man tends of necessity to gravitate towards his fellow-man," "that
gravitation is here (in human societies), as everywhere else in the
material world, in the direct ratio of the mass (of cities), and in the
inverse ratio of the distance"; ^^ centralization and
decentralization of a State and of a population in the cities is
nothing but a variety of centripetal and centrifugal forces working
according to the laws of physical mechanics."" As in physics, the
greater the difference of the temperature of two bodies the more
intense is the process of the transmitting heat in the form of
motion from one body to another; in a similar way, thegreater the
differences between individuals or grou])s the greater
is the power of association and commerce between them.
Among purely agricultural communities association scarcely
exists; whereas, it is found in a high degree where the farmer, the
lawyer, the merchant, the carpenter, the weaver, etc., are seen
constituting portions of the community.^^
Progress for Carey is a motion. "Motion comes with heat, and
heat results from association." ~^

Here are other samples of Carey's mechanistic interpretation of


social and economic phenomena.
From the indestructibility of matter, as the physical premise, it
obviously follows that what we term production and consumption
are mere transformation of substance. Whether fossil coal is
converted into heat, smoke, and ashes; corn into hogs' flesh;
corn, pork, turnips, and mutton into human muscle and brain; the
uniform phenomenon is alteration of matter in its quality merely,
without increase or diminution of its quantity. In every transition of
matter from one condition to another, force is employed, or, as we
say, consumed, and force is also evolved or produced. . .
Economic value is nothing but a kind of inertia; utility, an
equivalent of mechanical momentum.
Consumption of a product is "nothing else than its passage from a
state of inertness to one of activity." "^ Commerce is "a change of
matter in place"; "production, mechanical and chemical changes
in the form of matter." ^^
Such interpretations of social and economic phenomena involving
comparisons of these phenomena with physical ones, and
especially of man with various mechanisms, go on throughout all
Carey's works. While the so-called organismic school in sociology
drew analogies between social and organic phenomena, the
mechanistic school compares social processes with physical
mechanisms. In this respect Carey's works are representative of the
latter; and the above gives a general idea of his method of
interpreting social and economic facts. Carey's own summary of
his principles of social science is clear and comprehensive. It is
given at the end of the third volume of his Principles and in
abbreviated form it runs as follows :^^
Fundamental Physical Laws
Corresponding Social Forms of these Lazvs
The simple laws which govern matter in all its forms, and which
are common to physical and social science, may be briefly stated
thus:
I. All particles of matter gravitate towards each other, the
attraction being in direct ratio of the mass, and the inverse one of
the distance.
2. All matter is subjected to the action of the centripetal and the
centrifugal forces, the one tending to the production of local
centres of action, the other to the destruction of such centres, and
the production of a great central mass, obedient to but a single
law.
3. The more perfect the balance of these opposing forces, the
more imiform and steady is the movement of the various bodies,
and the more harmonious the action of the system in which they
are embraced.
1. Man becomes subjected to the great law of molecular

gravitation in the direct ratio of the mass, and in the inverse one of
the distance. [Phenomena of association and concentration of the
population.]
2. Local centres attract man in one direction, while great cities,
centres of the world, attract him in the other.
3. The more perfect the balance of these opposing forces, the
greater is the tendency towards the development of local
individualities, and towards the extension of association
throughout the interior of communities, with constant increase of
the power of i:)roduction, in the value and freedom of man, in the
growth of capital, in the equity of distribution, and in the tendency
towards harmony and peace. 4. The more intense the action of those
forces, the more rapid is
the motion, and the greater the power.
Heat is a cause of motion and force, motion being, in its turn, a
cause of heat and force.
The more heat and motion produced, the greater is the tendency
towards acceleration in the motion and the force . . . towards
decomposition of masses, and in-dividuaHzation of the particles,
of which they are composed.
The greater the tendency towards individualization, the more
instant are the combinations, and the greater the force obtained.
The more rapid the motion, the greater the tendency of matter to
rise in the scale of form [ from inorganic to organic world, and
finally to man].
4. The greater is that motion and force, the more does man
become subjected to the law of gravitation (association).
The more intense becomes the heat, the more rapid is the societary
motion, and greater the force exerted.
Individuality is developed in the ratio of the diversity of the modes
of employment, and consequently diversity in the demand that is
made for the production of human power.
The greater the diversity, the greater is man's power to control
and direct the great forces of nature, the larger the number of
persons who can draw support from any given space, and the
more perfect the development of the latent powers of both earth
and man.
Such are the essential physical laws and their social
manifestation. The above is sufficient to characterize the
essentials of Carey's social physics and its similarity to the
principles of the social physics of the seventeenth century.
3. CONTEMPORARY SOCIAL MECHANICS
Probably the most typical samples of a transfer and direct
application of the laws of physical mechanics to an interpretation
of social phenomena are the works of Voronoff, Haret, Alfred
Lotka and Antonio Portuondo y Barcelo."^ All these authors start their
discussion with an indication that ''the body of

human individuals, with all its organs and material elements,


composes a system which is subjected to the laws of physical
mechanics," like any other material system; and that, "in spite of
man's desire to escape from the law of gravitation and from all
other laws of mechanics, he cannot do it" (Barcelo). ''The laws of
the chemical dynamics of a structural system . . . will be precisely
those laws . . . which govern the evolution of a system comprising
living organisms." -^ From such rather obvious |)remises these
writers infer that "if the principles and the laws of social
mechanics are applicable to all forms of force, they evidently are
also applicable to man and to those psychical forces that are
styled social." Having indicated these reasons, these writers
proceed in a true mechanistic fashion to transfer the coiv ceptions
and terminology of mechanics into the field of social phenomena,
and to give us such mechanistic interpretations as the following:
According to Voronoff, association and cooperation are "addition
and multiplication of forces"; war and social struggle, "subtraction
of forces" ; social organization, "an equilibrium of forces";
degeneration and decay, "disintegration of forces"; law and
judicial phenomena, "co-relation of forces," and so on.^^
Similar though somewhat more complex are the mechanistic
interpretations of Haret and Barcelo. In their works the translation
of the non-mechanistic language of social science into that of
mechanics goes on in the following way: The individual is
transformed into a material ])oint, and his social environment into
"a field of forces," {cJimnp dc force). As soon as this is done,
there is no difficulty in applying the formulas of mechanics to
social phenomena; all that is necessary is to copy these fornnilas,
inserting the word individual instead of material point, and
the term social group instead of a physical system or a field of
forces. Proceeding in this way, both writers give us a series of
formulas of social mechanics like the following: "An increase of
kinetic energy- of an individual is etpiivalent to a decrease of his
potential energy." "The total energy of an individual in his field of
forces remains constant throughout all its modifications." ^^ "The
total energy of a social group in regard to its action
{quant a line action) at a moment of time (Ti) is equivalent to that
total energy of the group which it had at an initial moment (To)
plus the total amount of work which during this period of time (TiTo)
has been done by all forces exterior to the group which have
influenced individuals or elements of the group," and so on.^- To
complete the identity of social with physical mechanics these
thinkers, especially Barcelo, supply a considerable number of
mathematical formulas both simple and complex which they have
extracted from the subject matter of mechanics. Such are the
essential traits of this type of the mechanistic school in
sociology.^^

4. CONTEMPORARY SOCIAL ENERGETICS


Different varieties of this branch of mechanistic theory are
represented by the works of E. Solvay, the founder of the Solvay
Institute in Belgium; by those of W. Ostwald, great chemist and
theorizer of energetics; in the Collective Reflexology of a
prominent Russian psychologist, W. Bechtereff (1857- )' ^^^ '^^^
^^^^ Economy of Human Energy by a distinguished American
economist, T. N. Carver (1865- ). Let us briefly glance at the
framework of their energetistic interpretations.
The least serious and the least valuable of these works is
Bechtereff's Collective Reflexology.^"^ Although Bechtereff has
published several earlier investigations of recognized value, the
second part of this book is of questionable scientific worth. The
explanation is probably to be found in the abnormal conditions of
the Russian Revolution, under which this work was produced.
Having declared that "the laws of super-organic, that is, of social,
phenomena are the same as the laws of inorganic and organic
phenomena," into his interpretation of social phenomena he
simply