What unites, and what divides us?

What connects the individual with the social dimension? This question can be investigated from various points of view: politics, philosophy, psychology, or social sciences like sociology and anthropology.

A famous anthropologist, Gregory Bateson (1904-1980) wrote: "What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all the four of them to me? And me to you?"

  • How does human nature relate to the organization of society?
  • What are the origins of social order?
  • What is the foundation of law?
  • What are the basic forces that organize the political process?
  • How should states and governments be constructed?

This website brings together some interesting texts that address the social dimensions of human life. They outline the basic ideas behind social theories and various political philosophies.

The website was created to summarize ideas, raise questions, and offer discussion points for classes in political philosophy.

The relationship between the individual and society is not static. It has changed over time, and is shaped by a political process. A good example for this process that creates order and empowers the individual is the history of human rights.

The development of social theory became a necessity when societies began to change with the beginnings of modernity in the 17th century. Enlightenment philosophies in the 18th century elevate the individual above unreasonable or authoritarian government: Reason should rule, but it requires that individuals think for themselves.

History and the change in human civilization are driven by scientific and technological innovations. Below is a timeline of some breakthroughs in the last 500 years; the list could be a lot longer, and the pace of innovation has increased dramatically in recent years. One of the reasons for this acceleration is synergy: we can use one innovation to leverage others, for instance: computers allow us to simulate tests, so we can invent smarter things even faster and revolutionize every area of life.

Technological progress does not translate into real progress for humanity.

Political Changes in the last 100 Years

    • Two world wars: WWI, 1914-1918, est 40 million dead people.
    • World War II: Est. 75-80 million dead people. It ends with two atomic explosions in Japan.
    • Many other wars, thread of atomic weapons defines military standoff, Cold War.
    • East/West and North/South conflicts, rapid economic development everywhere.
    • "Pax Americana?" The Soviet Union dissolves in the 1980s, but state-run modern totalitarian systems rise in Russia, China, and the Middle East.
    • Rise of the machines: Internet, robots, AI, autonomous cars, etc.
    • Population explosion: Between 1800 and 2000, the world population grows from 1 billion to 6 billion people.
    • It currently stands at 7.7 billion, and will reach around 10.5 billion people in 2100. The growth rate, however, is sinking rapidly as well.
    • Population growth is unevenly distributed in different regions: Sub-saharan Africa and South-East Asia are the area with the steepest increases.
    • World-wide Urbanisation trend: In From 1900 to 2020 the global urbanization rate rises from 16% to an estimate 55 percent as of 2020.
    • The rise of mega-cities (over 10 million people), mostly in China and India, to about 35 centers.
    • Extreme poverty is getting eradicated. In 1990, an estimated 1.9 billion people lived in extreme poverty, equal to 35.9% of the world’s population. By 2015, the number had dropped to 736 million, or just 10% of the world’s population.

Technological Innovations in Modern Times

  • Mid-13th Century: Gunpowder. It is discovered in the West, probably introduced to the Islamic world by the Mongols who got it from China. The invention revolutionized warfare. Castles become obsolete after the introduction of gunpowder.
  • 1453 Gutenberg invents the Printing Press.
  • 1769 Steam engine, around 1769. This drives the industrial revolution.
  • 1821 Michael Faraday invents the first electric motor.
  • 1876 Alexander Bell makes worlds first long distance telephone call.
  • 1903 First airplane flight, Wright brothers.
  • 1910. Haber - Bosch Process: Fertilizer Revolution. This is a chemical nitrogen fixation process and enabled the industrial production of ammonia.
  • 1945 Atomic bombs were invented, and the United States used two of them to end the war with Japan.
  • 1969 First man lands on the moon.
  • 1977 The first personal computers come on the market.
  • 1991 CERN publicizes the new World Wide Web project.
  • 2003 Decoding of the human genome complete.
  • 2015 Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes mainstream. It is based on machine learning and increased sensor capabilities and data collection.
  • 2019 We are approaching “quantum supremacy,” the point when a quantum computer can beat a classical one in useful applications. The convergence of AI and quantum computing will introduce a new technological period with unforeseeable technological opportunities.

What is Sociology?

Sociology studies human social behavior as well as its origins and development. It is not limited to individual human behavior; it also examines social units like families, classes, states, organizations, and other institutions. As a social science it uses a combination of methods from empirical investigation to critical analysis in order to develop a body of knowledge about human social actions, social structure and functions. Sociological insights can be applied to the creation of social policies and the advancement of social welfare. Its goal is to refine the theoretical understanding of social processes, from the micro level of individual agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and the social structure.

Traditionally, sociology focuses on the dynamics that create and maintain social classes, issues of social mobility, or social institutions like religions, law enforcement, and social deviance. Today, everything social is fair game for sociologists: the health care system, diseases, medical, educational, military or penal institutions, the Internet and everything that is related to it, environmental sociology, political economy, or the role of social organization in the development of scientific knowledge.

Accordingly, the methods are rich. Sociologists use qualitative and quantitative techniques; they employ interpretative, hermeneutic, or philosophical approaches to the analysis of society. new technologies create new opportunities for the discipline. Computers and the increasing availability of data allows new analytic and computational techniques, such as agent-based modelling or social network analysis.

Quotes about Sociology

  • "Our main goal is to extend scientific rationalism to human conduct... What has been called our positivism is but a consequence of this rationalism." — Émile Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method (1895)
  • The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
  • Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes. — Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels The Communist Manifesto 1848,
  • [Sociology is ] ... the science whose object is to interpret the meaning of social action and thereby give a causal explanation of the way in which the action proceeds and the effects which it produces. By 'action' in this definition is meant the human behavior when and to the extent that the agent or agents see it as subjectively meaningful ... the meaning to which we refer may be either (a) the meaning actually intended either by an individual agent on a particular historical occasion or by a number of agents on an approximate average in a given set of cases, or (b) the meaning attributed to the agent or agents, as types, in a pure type constructed in the abstract. In neither case is the 'meaning' to be thought of as somehow objectively 'correct' or 'true' by some metaphysical criterion. This is the difference between the empirical sciences of action, such as sociology and history, and any kind of prior discipline, such as jurisprudence, logic, ethics, or aesthetics whose aim is to extract from their subject-matter 'correct' or 'valid' meaning. — Max Weber The Nature of Social Action 1922
  • The deepest problems of modern life flow from the attempt of the individual to maintain the independence and individuality of his existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of the historical heritage and the external culture and technique of life. The antagonism represents the most modern form of the conflict which primitive man must carry on with nature for his own bodily existence. The eighteenth century may have called for liberation from all the ties which grew up historically in politics, in religion, in morality and in economics in order to permit the original natural virtue of man, which is equal in everyone, to develop without inhibition; the nineteenth century may have sought to promote, in addition to man's freedom, his individuality (which is connected with the division of labor) and his achievements which make him unique and indispensable but which at the same time make him so much the more dependent on the complementary activity of others; Nietzsche may have seen the relentless struggle of the individual as the prerequisite for his full development, while socialism found the same thing in the suppression of all competition – but in each of these the same fundamental motive was at work, namely the resistance of the individual to being leveled, swallowed up in the social-technological mechanism. — Georg Simmel The Metropolis and Mental Life 1903,
  • Marx and Engels associated the emergence of modern society above all with the development of capitalism; for Durkheim it was connected in particular with industrialization and the new social division of labor which this brought about; for Weber it had to do with the emergence of a distinctive way of thinking, the rational calculation which he associated with the Protestant Ethic (more or less what Marx and Engels speak of in terms of those 'icy waves of egotistical calculation'). Together the works of these great classical sociologists suggest what Giddens has recently described as 'a multidimensional view of institutions of modernity' and which emphasizes not only capitalism and industrialism as key institutions of modernity, but also 'surveillance' (meaning 'control of information and social supervision') and 'military power' (control of the means of violence in the context of the industrialization of war). — John Harriss: The Second Great Transformation? Capitalism at the End of the Twentieth Century 1992.

What is Political Philosophy?

Political philosophy exists at the intersection of ethics, history, sociology, anthropology, and psychology. It tries to integrate all of these disciplines and it examines the philosophical foundations of human society: What is the relationship between the human being and society, what are the basic values that we should strive to implement in communal life, or what creates cohesiveness and order in a society? Is it religion, a shared political ideology, or history, culture and language? How should the decision-making process and the leadership be organized? What is the nature of the political? What determines the social links that connect and disconnect us?

In order to answer some of these questions, political philosophy examines and defines basic concepts like freedom, equality, democracy, power, justice, and the State.

Political philosophy does not just describe how politics functions (which is a task for political science), but it also reflects on the deeper needs and expectations we have for the political process: justice and peace.

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