By the end of the nineteenth century, while Freud and his followers were developing a complex theory of individual development and pathology, other thinkers were focusing on the massive social disruptions of the Industrial Revolution. In doing so, they were compelled to look at the connection between individual maladjustment and social forces.
Emil Durkheim, considered the founder of scientific sociology, tried to understand the unconscious sources of social existence as Freud was trying to understand the unconscious sources of personal existence. For Durkheim, society is the source of morality, personality, and life itself at the human level. It is something on which we all depend, whether or not we know it. Durkheim saw modern societies as being sick, and a sign of the sickness was not only the rising suicide rate but also the appearance of what he termed "pessimistic philosophies” .
George Mead, another social philosopher of the late nineteenth century, saw human group life as an essential condition for the emergence of consciousness. He described the dialectical relationship between the individual and society, pointing out the development of individuality and the development of social institutions are both part of human evolutionary experience. Individuals change and are changed by social institutions . Another sociologist, Charles Cooley declared in 1909 that human nature cannot exist separately in an individual but is, in fact a "group-nature” a "social mind” and that wherever there is an individual aspect of human function there must also be a social fact .
In 1920, William McDougall asserted that "We can only understand the life of individuals and the life of societies, if we consider them always in relation to one another ... each man is an individual only in an incomplete sense" (p.6) . It was McDougall that wrote about the "groupmind".
John Dewey, one of America's most influential philosophers, saw the individual as so embedded in the social milieu, that mind "is capable of operating only by the continual stimulus of the social group". For Dewey, “we need to conceive individual mind as a function of social life” (p.39) . Alfred North Whitehead noted that philosophy has been haunted by a misconception throughout the centuries, the notion of independent existence: "There is no such mode of existence. Every entity is only to be understood in terms of the way it is interwoven with the rest of the universe"(p.3) .
1. Durkheim, E., Suicide. 1951, Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
2. Mead, G.H., Mind, Self and Society. 1934, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
3. Cooley, C.H., Primary groups, in Small Groups: Studies in Social Interaction,, P. Hare, E.F. Borgatta, and R.F. Bales, Editors. 1967, Knopf: New York.
4. McDougall, W., The Group Mind. 1920, London: Cambridge at the University Press.
5. Campbell, J., Understanding John Dewey: Nature and Cooperative Intelligence. 1995, Chicago: Open Court.
6. Douglas, T., Group Living: The Application of Group Dynamics in Residential Settings. 1986, London: Tavistock Publications.