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Chapter X: Social Institutions

Neither theory, nor dictionary definition, nor common usage provides for any absolute distinction between a society and an institution. An institution is a psychological, and not a merely physical, entity. It is not to be identified with the building which houses it — like the hospital, art gallery, or Capitol in Washington. This needs to be said because to the occupants of a sight-seeing bus an “institution” is often an architectural monstrosity pointed out by the barker. An institution is not a physical product, such as a book, a picture, or manufactured commodity. An institution, in short, is a relation of meanings, ideas, and interests residing in men's minds. It is an organization of persons, based on formal, non-interactive, and interactive relationships, culminating in agreement or coöperation. But all this can be said of any society. If the term is restricted to its accepted meaning in the literature of the social sciences, an institution is a kind of society, distinguished by several more or less explicit characteristics.

In the first place, an institution is a social structure organized by men for the sake of a purpose which it serves. In other words, an institution is instituted. Though it may have been anticipated by nature, it is reaffirmed and maintained by culture. Thus the political institution of government can be traced back to the fact that by virtue of their comparative power or self-assertiveness one or more individuals of a group possess a natural ascendancy over their fellows; but the institution begins when this control is recognized, accepted, and perpetuated as a social utility. Though it may have arisen, and may be perpetuated, by habit and instinct, an institution is endorsed by the wills of its members, who identify it with their interests.

So to conceive an institution is to identify an institution with its rationale, rather than with the accidents of its origin. It is a social organization which members of a society justify to themselves as useful and good. They say, in effect, that if they did not happily possess such an institution they would inaugurate one. And the purpose which is served by the exercise of its function provides the standard by which they reshape and seek to perfect it.

In the second place, an institution is a sub-society, embraced within a larger society. Thus a nation-state embraces several institutions, as a physical organism has several organs. And finally an institution is a system which can be abstracted from its members, thus enabling it to be repeated in several singular societies, and enabling the same individual to be a member of several institutions.

In principle, there is no limit to the number of possible institutions, even with the above restrictions. If an institution is a specific way in which the members of a society organize for the promotion of common interests, there can be as many institutions, in the broad sense, as there are interests which are thought to be promoted by organization. But there is a further restriction which is commonly recognized, namely, importance or eminence. While there is no list of institutions of which it can be said that they, and only they, are the institutions, there is a difference between those institutions which play the major, and those which play a minor, part in human life.


There are several principles by which institutions can be ranked as major and minor. The first of these principles is universality. Eligibility for participation in an institution is more or less general or restricted. Thus, the society of the Veterans of the Spanish War is restricted to those who have had a certain common military experience, and will lapse when such persons no longer exist. A society of philatelists admits only persons qualified by the special interest of a small number of persons. An antivivisection society embraces only persons who are governed by a certain particular sentiment, and desire to spread it and translate it into legislation. A social club is organized for the purpose of joint amusement or edification: and is limited to residents of a certain country, or city; or to persons who find one another congenial; or to persons of a certain caste.

The degree of an institution's generality is reduced when a constant is substituted for a variable; that is, when the requirement of eligibility contains a singular individual. A personal dictatorship, such as the dictatorship of Hitler, ceases to exist with the death of the dictator. A reigning house, that is, rule by a class of descendants, is more general than a personal dictatorship. One ruler may be replaced by another so long as the qualification of descent is satisfied; but this class of eligibles can be exhausted, and the institution then ceases to be. More general is the British monarchy, because there is a constitution which provides for succession under all circumstances. But British monarchy is still restricted in its membership, and it would cease to exist if the residents of the British Isles should perish. “There will always,” it may be hoped, “be an England,” but this is an expression of faith and resolution rather than a statement of theoretical possibilities. Monarchy in general is more general, and government in general is most general; the class of eligible persons is inexhaustible save by the annihilation of all persons.

All men have neighbors, but it does not follow that all men are my neighbors. All men are linguistic, but they do not speak my language. The institution of the family is universal because every man, by virtue of the fact that every man has parents, belongs to some family, or has the familial relationship; the institution of my family, on the other hand, is restricted to consanguinity with me. The term ‘mankind’ has, therefore, a double meaning. All men are members of mankind by virtue of being men; but when they are considered to be descendants of Adam and Eve, or to be the children of God, and therefore brothers or cousins, it is implied that they constitute a single family by common descent from a particular historic ancestor. Similarly, racism may refer to common ethnic characteristics or to common parentage.

There are institutions of which there always have been, always are, and always will be, eligible members. All men, by virtue of their conflicting interests, are eligible for membership in a moral system. All men are qualified to be either ruler or ruled, and therefore to fit into some political system; all men are subject to regulation, which they impose or to which they submit; are consumers or producers or both; are makers or beneficiaries of knowledge; are creators or enjoyers of beauty; have something to learn and something to teach; are finite creatures subject to ultimate cosmic forces. Hence all men are qualified to belong to some ethical, political, legal, scientific, aesthetic, educational, or religious institution. Of these institutions, to some variety of which all men belong because they are men, it may be said that they possess universality — universality restricted only by the qualification of human personality.

When it is claimed, as, for example, by Marxism, that economic institutions determine the form of political, legal, social, and cultural institutions, economic institutions are given causal priority. Certain sociologists, such as Max Weber, have claimed that religion (Protestant Christianity) has been causally prior to the economic institution of capitalism. This question is different from the question of which institution overrules other institutions. Thus even though it were conceded that economic institutions were prior causally, any given society might place its political institutions in the position of command, and subordinate all other institutions to its control. Each person living in such a society would give his first obedience to the state, regardless of his legal rights, his economic needs, his cultural preferences, or his religious faith, all of which would give way in case of disagreement. In a theocracy, on the other hand, prior allegiance would be given to religion. And an institution which possesses prior allegiance ordinarily claims such allegiance on the ground of its superiority of rank.

More important than any of these distinctions is that between moral and non-moral institutions which will presently be examined. Judged by these and other criteria, there are certain institutions which are by general consent regarded as the great or major institutions: conscience or custom, polity, law, economy, science, art, education, and religion. They are all universal; that is, rooted in the common characteristics of human nature and human life. They are comparatively basic, that is, they rank high in the order of causality; and they are comparatively eminent, in that some one of them is given priority, actual or ideal. These are the institutions by which societies are deemed more or less “advanced,” and which furnish the criteria of civilization and progress. It is in terms of these institutions that the rival claims of East and West, or of antiquity and the modern world, are disputed and judged.


The distinction between moral and non-moral and super-moral institutions has been anticipated in the distinction between moral good and the non-moral goods of truth and beauty. That difference lies in the fact that certain interests, commonly called “practical interests,” are preëmptive, whereas others, such as the cognitive or aesthetic interests, are relatively non-preëmptive. The consummatory dealings of practical interests, such as the appetites and worldly ambitions, operate causally on their occasions, and hence disturb the external environment which is common to them and to other interests. In appropriating, they at the same time expropriate. The moral institutions are those modes of social organization whose purpose it is to render interests of the several members of society mutually innocent and coöperative. Their ratio essendi is moral. The achievement of social harmony is their proper business — if there were no such business to be done they would be out of business. Such are the institutions of custom and conscience, polity, law and economy.

That the aesthetic and cognitive interests provide a retreat from the scene of practical conflict is a part of man's immemorial wisdom. All interests affect one another directly or indirectly, in the short run or in the long run. But the consummatory dealings of cognitive and aesthetic interests do not necessarily involve the preëmption of their objects. They are comparatively innocent, and do not require social organization in order to obtain harmony. Nor, to achieve their purposes, do they require coöperation.

Cognition invites its object to assert itself. To experiment with things for cognitive purposes is to evoke, and not to alter, their properties. If a hypothesis is to be verified one must not tamper with the verifying event, but merely note that it does or does not occur. Whether knowing be considered as an instrument of practical interest, or as an independent interest in its own right, the principle remains the same, for when practical interests seek to change their objects, they are effective only when their mediating cognition takes account of the objects’ independent natures. The satisfaction of curiosity, the agreeable sense of being fortified against surprise, the enjoyment of a familiar acquaintance with reality — these are interests which are capable of fulfillment without inducing causal changes in that aspect of the environment to which they are directed; in fact, their fulfillment is proportional to the extent to which this aspect is “brought to light” without being deformed in the process.

Aesthetic like cognitive interest abstains from causal action on its object. Insofar as it addresses itself to the realm of sense-perception, aesthetic attitude is one of voluntary exposure. It is delighted with what it finds, and would not have it different. This is true of the aesthetic interest when it is independent; and is wholly consistent with the fact that the dependent interest which it generates, namely, the creation of art, does alter the face of things so that they can then be enjoyed without alteration.

Cognitive and aesthetic interests are similar in that the changes which they require are changes in the interested subject itself. Cognitive interest creates and alters expectations; aesthetic interest creates and alters states of attention and awareness. And since all changes in the existent world have their causal reverberations throughout that world, cognitive and aesthetic interests cannot be said to make no external differences. But such differences are indirect and incidental. Cognitive and aesthetic interests do not of themselves make a difference to the environment common to themselves and to other interests.

An orange as object of knowledge is an orange fulfilling my expectation of its color and sphericity; or begetting expectations of sweetness and juiciness which the future will confirm. So far as this attitude is concerned, nothing happens to the orange; it continues to exist, to be circular, sweet, and juicy, and to lead its own proper citrous life. As an object of aesthetic enjoyment the orange evokes an agreeable play of my perceptual faculties. My eye dwells caressingly on its color and texture, follows and relishes the lines of its shape. Again, the orange remains undisturbed. If, however, it is hunger rather than curiosity or the love of beauty that prompts me, the satisfaction of my interest requires that I shall grasp, rend, masticate and swallow it. The orange progressively loses its properties, and is eventually annihilated altogether. In short, the practical interest “consumes” its object in the full sense of the term — in the sense namely of “using it up” and thus depriving other interests of its use.

The social implications of this distinction are of the first importance. Since a given person's cognitive and aesthetic interests primarily concern himself, and are not matters of primary concern to other persons, they do not require coöperative organization in order to be realized, nor do they require control by, and in behalf of, society at large. They constitute a realm in which a high degree of tolerance is socially tolerable.


The difference which distinguishes practical from cognitive and aesthetic interests affects the necessity of agreement and the methods by which agreement is brought about. While cognitive and aesthetic disagreement is notorious, it differs from practical disagreement in being less violent, less grave in its consequences, and less disturbing in the means required for its removal. Two or more persons can think differently of the same object, or the one can find it beautiful and the other ugly, without mutual interference. The methods of cognitive and aesthetic agreement will be dictated by this fact. They will require communication, testimony, sympathy, assent, correction, changes of inner attitude, but they will not require physical alterations of the common environment or a rerouting of overt behavior.

Cognitive agreement consists, as has been pointed out, in a situation in which two or more persons, mutually aware, say “yes” or “no” to the same question. When both are governed by the cognitive interest they both desire truth, and their agreement consists in their being mutually aware of being for or against the same idea or hypothesis on the ground of its truth. In order to bring this about it is necessary that each should first organize his own judgments or expectations. Each must then consider the testimony of the other, and arrive at a more inclusive synthesis. When, proceeding in this manner, the two have arrived at the same acceptance or rejection, either may then express it in the first person plural. Either may then take it as a premise for further persuasion or as an assumption for any joint enterprise. In the course of the process each may insist on his own view until he is satisfied that the other has taken account of it. His testimony constitutes evidence which the other, if he desires the truth, and is to speak for both, is forbidden to neglect. The effort to persuade implies an openness to persuasion; in other words, cognition being what it is, two knowers ought to agree. This assumption is involved in the reference of cognition to common objective evidence.

The case of aesthetic agreement is less conclusive. One person enjoys the contemplation of a given object and at the same time acknowledges a second person's similar enjoyment of the same object, or his distaste for that object, or his enjoyment of another object which the first does not enjoy. Or the two persons may agree or disagree in their order of preference — addressed to the same, or different, objects. Where agreement does not exist it may be brought about by the first person's calling the second person's attention to the object's qualifying attributes. When two persons are agreed in advance as to the qualifying attribute, or definition of beauty, disagreement is cognitive; that is, it concerns the truth or falsity of judging that the object answers the definition. Where there is no such underlying agreement as to what makes an object beautiful aesthetic agreement can be reached only by each party's learning to enjoy what the other enjoys — “see in it” that which the other sees in it; or by yielding to the contagion of the other's manifest enjoyment; or by tolerating the other's difference, and “agreeing to disagree.” In short aesthetic agreement is brought about, when it is brought about, by an intercommunication of aesthetic appreciations, and the attempt of the part of each person to reconcile his original personal tastes with his imaginary adoption of the tastes of others. Only in this way can he feel for all, and substitute the plural for the singular pronoun. But the imperfect and wavering character of such agreement is reflected in the widespread doubt as to whether there is such a thing as public taste.

Practical agreement, on the other hand, requires more drastic measures. The following example will illustrate the difference. Two persons disagree cognitively as to a certain church building: one judges it to be built of stone, the other judges it to be built of concrete. They may reach agreement by discussion, that is, by an interchange of ideas or perceptions, continued until each has fitted the other's ideas or observations to his own. They differ aesthetically: one finds the building ugly, the other finds it beautiful. They may reach agreement through such an understanding and adoption of one another's appreciations as leads to a more comprehensive identity of taste, or to a common hierarchy embracing their differences, or to a mutual respect for one another's incurable idiosyncrasies. But if they do not reach cognitive or aesthetic agreement by these methods, and the disagreement stops at that point, “no great harm is done” — they do not “come to blows.”

But now suppose that one is a park commissioner who proposes to raze the building, while the other is a good churchman who proposes to retain it and use it as a house of worship. The two interests are incompatible: if one has his way, the other cannot have his. The train of causes and effects by which the one fulfills his secular desire collides with that by which the other fulfills his piety. Each, following the path of his interest, sooner or later encounters the other moving in an opposite direction, so that he finds the defeat of the other's interest to be a condition of the fulfillment of his own. The only way by which this mutual destructiveness can be avoided, is, let us say, to provide facilities for worship or for recreation elsewhere. In any case, “something has to be done about it.” The problem requires a moral solution.


Society is moralized through its moral institutions — conscience, polity, law, and economy. It is to these same institutions that men look for the moralization of international relations, or of a total, global society. These institutions do not exist to serve special interests, but to harmonize all the interests of a society. This they do in their different ways, and with their appropriate functions or instrumentalities.

To classify conscience as an institution is a departure from existing usage; but it is often so classified under the name of ‘custom.’ It consists of a community and agreement of approbation and disapprobation, together with the correlative of being approved or disapproved. These complementary roles, active and passive, are not separately embodied — every man exercises them both. He is both approver and approved, disapprover and disapproved. It is true that certain persons such as parents, reformers, or preachers sometimes arrogate to themselves the role of approver and disapprover; but they do not preoccupy this role, and when they do exercise it they appeal to the consciences of those to whom they address themselves, every man at some stage of his personal development being assumed to have a conscience of his own. There is no recognized keeper of another's conscience. It is because it is distributed among all persons that its claim to be recognized as an institution may be disputed.

There is no doubt, however, that conscience speaks in behalf of the general social good. A person's conscience approves with the expectation that others will share, confirm, and reinforce his approbation; and it approves disinterestedly, that is, for all interests concerned. It is this disinterestedness which distinguishes “righteous indignation” from mere anger; as when non-Jews are righteously indignant toward Nazis in behalf of Jews. It is this which distinguishes shame and remorse from mere regret.

Conscience is also a social control, and has its own peculiar weapons of enforcement which it employs when its control is insecure. Men fear the disapproval of others because it cuts them off from friendly and coöperative relations and carries a hint of overt hostility. For converse reasons men seek and enjoy the approval of others. Men also fear their self-disapproval, that is, they suffer from “pangs of conscience” and seek to avoid them; and are induced to earn self-approval by the hope of enjoying a “good conscience.”

Among social institutions conscience is the most direct expression of the requirements of morality, and it is through conscience that the general principles of moral organization, such as justice and humanity, ordinarily reach the other moral institutions of polity, law, and economy.

Polity differs from custom or conscience in that the function of control is assigned to special functionaries, called “rulers,” who constitute a government. It is frequently defined in terms of the employment of penalties to compel obedience. The need of such compulsion arises from the requirement of reciprocity. If any measure for preventing conflict is to be effective it must be participated in jointly by both parties. If one person executes his part, and others fail to execute theirs, he has not achieved harmony but has only submitted to exploitation. If the purpose of a coöperative enterprise is to be realized, the partial performance of one must be supplemented by the corresponding performance of his partners. If they “let him down,” he has been guilty of folly. Government can provide the surest guarantee of reciprocity because it alone draws upon the power of the total group and employs this power to deprive an offender of that which his interests require. Its penalties and rewards are effective upon all persons because it has the power to inflict pain, which all men avoid; and to grant or withhold the basic conditions of all interests, such as property, liberty, and even life itself.

But enforcement is not the essential function of polity. If men were constitutionally trustworthy, that is, reliably disposed to make and keep promises, being moved by good will, or controlled by reason and conscience, there would still be need of polity because there would still be need of policy. The essential function of polity is to provide a comprehesive plan by which the interests of all members of a society can live and work together. Government decides upon, decrees, commands, executes, and administers such a plan in behalf of all and for the benefit of all — by force if necessary, but if without force so much the better.

Law is closely related to polity. It ordinarily operates through a judicial system which is a branch of government. But the role of lawmaker and judge could be assumed by another institution, such as religion. Law like polity is often identified with enforcement by government. Law is enforced by government, but if it were not enforced, or were enforced, as has presumably happened in the course of human history, only by the milder sanction of custom, it would still be law.

For the essential function of law is regulation. The law creates assurance regarding certain classes of human relationships, and thus defines a broad frame within which particular human enterprises can be confidently undertaken. The binding force of the particular is derived from the binding force of the general. Thus persons can know in advance that a particular promise will be kept because it belongs to the category of contract. By the subsumption of the particular under the general it is possible to deal all at once with an infinitude of hypothetical situations.

Beyond its immediate purpose of regularizing social life, the law has its ulterior moral purpose, which is to be found in the content of its regularities. Its regularities are not for the sake of regularity, but for the sake of adjusting human interests, and thereby achieving the good life of harmonious happiness. The ideal content of the law is justice and welfare.

The ulterior purpose of economy, like that of conscience, polity, and law, is essentially moral. It is a coöperative organization which provides for the needs of all at the least cost “all around.” It arises from the fact that needs are preëmptive; that is, in taking for themselves they take away from others. Where rivalry for possession and use is unorganized it takes the form of plunder, which, since it deprives the plundered interest altogether of its object, is highly costly, that is, uneconomical. The most obvious method of avoiding plunder is the substitution of equivalent goods. When, owing to scarcity, there are no equivalent goods, then rivals unite their forces to increase the supply. Or, each supplies the other's deficiency out of his own superabundance. Or, the first party, having no superabundance of what the other needs, gives his services instead. Thus production, exchange, and labor develop as methods of escaping a situation in which one interest can secure satisfaction only at the expense of another.

These basic devices have undergone so great an elaboration, and have become so rooted in habit and tradition, that their moral purpose is obscured. But the idea of their harmonizing effect and general utility — their usefulness to all concerned — is never wholly obliterated. It is acknowledged whenever an economic system is justified or condemned.


Science and art satisfy the criteria of major institutions. The interests which they serve are universal, take a prior place in the causal order, and frequently serve as the supreme or ruling end. Their claims of science and art to be included among social institutions rests on their major importance in society, on their communicative character, on their ideal of agreement, on the social character of their products, and on their tendency to coöperative organization.

The universality of the cognitive and aesthetic interests is unquestionable. Taken as special interests they are to be found in all men and in all societies, and actually or potentially in all interests. This is due to the fact that all interests are mediated. Every interest embraces a content which is “before the mind.” The cognitive interest develops when this content is believed, questioned, supported by evidence, proved true, and related to other beliefs. The aesthetic interest develops when this content is contemplated and enjoyed for its own sake. Thus the cognitive and aesthetic interests are perpetually generated from practical interests by a shift of direction.

Because of their mediating function they exercise a profound influence upon human action — so great a function that they are sometimes taken to be the most basic causes of human history. The values which they generate are often taken to rank highest among cultural achievements.

The cognitive and aesthetic interests derive their social character primarily from the fact that they assume the form of communication. They convey meanings by expressing themselves externally. The cognitive interest employs speech or some other outward medium, and addresses itself to the sensory capacities and the understanding of a second party. And, similarly, the aesthetic activity embraces the creative part and the appreciative part. These may fall within the same person, as when the painter looks at his own work; or the composer hears his own music, in the course of its composition; or they may be divided between two persons, the artist and his spectator or audience.

The cognitive and aesthetic interests are further socialized in their ideal of agreement. The knower expects his judgments to be shared by others; their proof is confirmed by the findings of other knowers. The analogy of the aesthetic is imperfect. While a belief, owing to the “objectivity” of its evidence, is disproved, or at least rendered questionable, by dissent, the object of contemplative enjoyment would still possess its aesthetic value when not enjoyed or even when disliked by persons of different taste. Nevertheless the aesthetic interest asks for agreement, and endeavors to bring it about.

The products of the cognitive interest, assembled, revised and supplemented from age to age, and interchanged by different human societies, constitute a corpus of truth; the products of the aesthetic interest constitute a gallery of monuments which through their translation, reproduction, and exhibition, minister to the enjoyment of all mankind. Taken together, science and art create a public treasury and inheritance, and a lasting environment into which successive generations of men are born.

The cognitive and aesthetic interests need not, but may, assume the form of coöperative undertaking. A solitary person may know truly, that is, test his belief by evidence. But as time goes on there is increasing collaboration and division of labor in research. Scholars profit by the work of other scholars. Laboratories are constructed and manned by a varied personnel, and their results are promptly reported for the benefit of other laboratories. Scientists organize themselves into learned societies and publish journals. The aesthetic interest may occur and may realize its object in personal solitude. But some of the arts, such as the dance, the drama, pageants, orchestral and choral music, are essentially and originally coöperative; and artists tend to organize themselves in studios, museums, festivals, and societies.

While cognitive and aesthetic pursuits are not intrinsically coöperative, nevertheless, because they are parts of personal and social lives they fall within the domain of moral organization. They must be harmonized with other interests. This follows from the fact that they employ physical means and embodiments. In order to exercise them a person makes use of the same body for which he has other uses. When his cognitive and aesthetic interests are personally harmonized he may still be brought into practical collision with other persons.

A man's curiosity may prompt him to invade another person's privacy, or he may dispute the occupation of some place of observation. In order to devote himself to knowledge he may be compelled to withhold certain services which are required by the interests of others. In order to consummate his scientific inquiry he needs certain physical appliances, which are then withdrawn from uses to which other persons might like to put them. Similar practical incompatibilities arise in the course of the fulfillment of a person's aesthetic interests. There is a practical difficulty when the family breadwinner spends too much time enjoying movies or admiring the scenery; or when a visitor to an art museum obscures the view of others. Such practical implications of the aesthetic interest lead those who can afford it to own works of art or natural landscapes which they can enjoy without interference.

Only in the light of such considerations is it possible to understand the relation between moral and non-moral institutions. The cognitive and aesthetic interests are comparatively innocent, but they do not exist in a world of their own. They lead indirectly, if not directly, to effects in that common external world in which conflict implies frustration and destruction. They need to be protected from practical interests, and practical interests need to be protected from them. Their comparative innocence and invulnerability creates the delicate problems of liberty, control, tolerance, and censorship; which must find their solution through the moral institutions, whose business it is to create harmony among all interests, none excepted.

If human life be likened to a garden, then morality and its institutions represent the fencings, spacings, and arrangements by which the plants, such as truth and beauty, and divers special and personal interests, are enabled to flower most abundantly. Morality does not germinate the plants, but makes room for them — for each according to its peculiar requirements. This would have no meaning were there not interests demanding room. To consider morality as the supreme end in and of itself reflects a profound misunderstanding of its role. Its values are compounded of other and prior values; its claim to control rests on its provision for these values, and for their several forms of perfection.


As there are institutions which are non-moral or only secondarily moral, so there are institutions which are supermoral. They are at the same time moral and more than moral. The prime examples of such mixed institutions are education and religion.

Education concerns itself with learning, whether by experience, by hearsay, by book reading, by the now multiplied and far-flung channels of mass communication, or by formal instruction. Education is an institution insofar as any of these kinds of learning are socially organized for an educational purpose, as in the school, college, or university. But what is one to learn? In the first place, one must learn how to live with oneself and with others; that is, one must learn morality. But this, even though it be of first importance, is only a part. One may learn anything “there is to learn,” directly or indirectly, and within the limits of time and space: art and science, health and play, vocation and avocation.

Religion, likewise, is an institution insofar as piety and worship are socially organized. Religion, like education, both embraces and transcends morallty. It overlaps morality in its affirmation of the good of harmonious happiness, and of the rights and duties which this good defines. It exceeds morality in its ideal of perfection. Whether in its conception of God or in its standard of human saintliness, it sums up and carries to their maximum all of the values of life. And, to this sum and all-embracing hierarchy of values, religion adds a recognition of cosmic forces, or relates the total realm of value to the existent universe at large.

There is a human tendency which might be described as a flight from social morality. Because men's personal lives can be distinguished from their public affairs, men have sought to retreat into themselves, purify their own personal characters, and ignore the social conscience, polity, law, and economy. But they have invariably found that the threads of their personal lives intertwine with those of others, and that life cannot be moralized within merely personal limits. Men have sought to escape moral responsibility by absorption in the non-moral vocations of science and art; but have found that the exercise of these vocations are subject to conditions which can be provided only by moral institutions. Similarly men have sought to rise above morality into the higher regions of education and religion — devoting themselves to the cultivation of their personal talents, or to communion with God, or to association with the elect; but they have discovered that these activities, while they may rise above morality, must rise from and through it; since whatever men do they must do it among men, and however exalted their vocations these must first achieve a working harmony with the interests, however humble, of their neighbors.

It cannot be too strongly stated that there is, in principle, no limit to the number of institutions. Apart from the need of brevity in a study of general scope, there are two grounds on which institutions may be excluded without serious objection. Many, such as sport or war, may be excluded on the ground that they are minor rather than major institutions, judged by the criteria defined above. Other institutions such as property, capital punishment, monasticism, and medicine may be excluded on the ground that they are branches of major institutions.

There are two institutions which cannot be excluded on these grounds — namely, marriage and language. One can only offer excuses and apologies for omitting them. The most justifiable excuse is the fact that these institutions derive their universality from nature rather than culture. The family is a system of biological relationships, derived from bisexual reproduction and the comparatively long period of human infancy. Marriage, on the other hand, is clearly an institution; but though of wide generality it is not strictly universal. Language is also a product of instinct and habit. Neither language in general, nor any particular native language, is instituted by men. Literature, as a product of language, is more clearly institutional, but it may be divided between the major institutions of science and art.

These considerations are by no means decisive, but the general principles involved in social institutional organizations can be sufficiently demonstrated by an examination of the seven major institutions of conscience, polity, law, economy, science, art, education, and religion.


Although social institutions can and must be distinguished, they are not, in actual life, separate. They interweave and interact within one continuous medium. Since the same persons are members of all the major institutions here enumerated, their requirements meet and interact internally, within each personal life. A person's economic activities are affected by his political and legal activities; his artistic or scientific activities affect, and are affected by, his economic or religious activities; and so throughout all the multiple roles which the same individual plays. In the second place, the institutions themselves, as organizations, interact with one another. The economy of any given society reflects its polity or its religion; its art reflects its conscience, its education, and its science. These interrelations will be all-pervasive, reciprocal, and multilateral. The influence of science is especially widespread, since it determines the mediating judgments of all interests. At the same time the several institutions are jointly influenced by forces which impinge on society as a whole, such as race, climate, population, and public health.

Each institutional organization contains other institutions within itself, and will even contain itself within itself. A university or a church has its internal economy and polity, an industrial corporation has its own constitution and by-laws, and its corporate consciousness; a judicial system has its regularized procedures, its own hierarchy of control, and requires salaries and supplies; a political system will have its internal polities, determining the relations of its official personnel, or of members party machine, or of branches of government.

Moral institutions define the limits of all other institutions. There is also a reverse influence. When men try to moralize international relations they create a UNESCO, in order that cultural agreement may reinforce political, legal, and economic agreement. The deeper interrelations among the moral institutions themselves spring from their common moral purpose. This purpose may be voiced by any one of them, and be thus indirectly applied to the rest. Because the moral institutions are engaged in promoting the same end they are brought into relations of collaboration. Conscience, whether in the form of public opinion and sentiment, or in the form of the more reflective judgments of officials and leaders, is summoned to the aid of politics, law, and economy. The state enacts, interprets, administers, and enforces law; gives to economy the form of public policy, and through public education, debate, and popular appeal, contributes to the making of conscience. Law defines the regular processes through which governments are instituted, sets limits to their constitutional prerogatives, and defines the fundamental human rights which they respect; it regularizes and sanctions economic procedure; and through judicial decisions applies and enriches the judgments of conscience. Economy provides the national wealth and taxable resources which government employs; creates major groupings of agricultural or industrial enterprise which polity and law are obliged to reconcile; and constitutes a large part of that social experience through which conscience is formed and reshaped. No one of these institutions works alone; each is allied with the rest.

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