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Leslie Stephen

  • Leslie Stephen (1832-1903) conceived the society as an organism of which the individuals were interdependent members. The individuals cannot live apart from society.
  • The connection between the individual and the society is not something external and mechanical, but internal and organic.
  • Bentham and Mill regarded the society as a mere aggregate of independent individuals, though they spoke of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, but they were individualists.
  • Spencer was also an, individualist; he regarded the individual as the unit of the society. To him the individuals were independent units, and thus the supreme end of life was directly self-preservation, and only indirectly race-preservation.
  • According to Leslie Stephen, the supreme end of life is not the greatest happiness of the greatest number, as Bentham and Mill suppose, nor the length and breadth of life, as Spencer holds, but health or efficiency of the social organism.  LESLIE STEPHEN
  • That action is good which is conducive to social health. However, health and happiness are not really divergent, they tend to coincide. Conscience is an echo of the voice of the public in the individual. Sympathy is an innate social instinct.

Stephen repudiates the Absolute Ethics of Spencer. Stephen does not recognize an ultimate end of a society, but health or equilibrium is the moral end.


  1. Critics argue that ‘Social organism’ is only a metaphor and it should not be pushed too far. It is not the social organism, but the individual that lives and feels pleasure and pain.
  2. The individuals are centres of consciousness; the society does not have its own center of consciousness, it lives in the individuals as social or rational self.  LESLIE STEPHEN
  3. Likewise, ‘health of the social organism’ is also a metaphorical expression. Health of the social organism means the conditions of society, which are conducive to the happiness of its individual members.
  4. The greater is the co­operation among them, the greater is the health of the social organism. Thus, society is not an organism but an aggregate of individuals. The metaphor of ‘social organism’ can be misleading.  LESLIE STEPHEN



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