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Social And Political Thought

Perhaps the most common expression of organicism on a global scale is the analogy between the living body (human or animal) and human community. The so-called metaphor of the body politic may be found in a number of ancient sources, including Asian works such as the Analects of Confucius (551–479 B.C.E.) and the Arthashastra of Kautilya (fl. 300 B.C.E.). In all cases, the aim of authors in deploying the analogy is to move beyond a strict hierarchical system of subordination and rule in social relations and to proclaim a principle of "reciprocity." A reciprocal relation connotes a natural self-regulating harmony or balance between the parts of the organism that aims at a higher goal such as justice within, or the material welfare of, the whole. Thus, the common tendency to equate organic theories of society with hierarchy per se is misinformed, although some conceptions of the body politic are stridently hierarchical.

In Western thought, the origins of the body politic can again be traced back to Greece and Rome in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and others. It was during the Latin Middle Ages, however, that the organic metaphor for society became commonplace. In its earliest expression, and perhaps under the influence of Plato's Timaeus, medieval society was divided into a three-fold yet unified functional order of those who fight, those who work, and those who pray. This was later replaced by a more self-consciously organic doctrine, the most influential exponent of which was John of Salisbury (1115 or 1120–1180). His Policraticus (completed 1159) contained an extensive account of how each of the organs and limbs of the human body—from the head to the toes—had a direct counterpart in society, from the king all the way down to the peasants and artisans. John's depiction of the organic community was widely disseminated and repeated by philosophers and political commentators, although many different implications (including surprisingly egalitarian ones) were drawn from it. In 1406, Christine de Pisan (1364–c. 1430) became the earliest author to construct an entire political treatise, Le Livre du corps de policie (The Book of the Body Politic), around the analogy. Christine made a special point of including advice even to the humblest of subjects—artisans and peasants—that explicitly demonstrated her respect for their contributions to the social whole.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Octadecanoate to OvenbirdsOrganicism - Logic And Metaphysics, Aesthetics, Theology And Cosmology, Social And Political Thought, Decline Of Organicism