superorganic

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superorganic

(of human social evolution) superimposed upon, and surpassing, merely organic evolution. The term was introduced by Herbert SPENCER, and his choice of this term reflects his view that evolution must be viewed as a transformation that has taken place in three realms: the inorganic, organic, and superorganic. For Spencer, the superorganic is not a feature only of human evolution; it applies also to some social insects as well as many animals. But superorganic evolution is a central aspect particularly in human evolution.

Use of the term 'superorganic’ (rather than the terms ‘cultural’ or CULTURE) reflects a commitment by Spencer that human social development can only be understood in evolutionary terms, in which, while different from biological evolution, human social evolution retains a basic continuity with biological evolution.

This leaves open the question of how different is social evolution. While for Spencer there were definite continuities between the three types of evolution – inorganic, organic, superorganic – other sociologists have not always agreed and have tended instead to emphasize a sharp break between human culture and all previous forms of evolution. See also EVOLUTIONARY SOCIOLOGY, SOCIOCULTURAL EVOLUTION.