Section V: critical rationalism and the evolution of society

It is understandable that the critical rationalist theory of social change leads to a new analysis of social evolution offering a different theoretical perspective. Parsons, for example, defines social evolution as an expansion of society’s long-term capacity for adapting to its environment. According to Parsons (1967: 494-495),

A set of ‘normative expectations' pertaining to man's relation to his environment delineates the ways in which adaptation should be developed and extended. Within the relevant range, cultural innovations, especially definitions of what man's life ought to be, thus replace Darwinian variations in genetic constitution.

As Savage (1981: 212) reminds us. Parsons contends,

History is not simply a process of differentiation and increasing complexity, but of advancing stages of humanity. Human action is distinguished by theintervention of values in behavior - the more those values dominate and the more explicitly and consistently they operate, the more "human” that action is.

In Parsons’ social evolutionary theory, history is the system of humanity’s further development. Nevertheless, the role of human reason in a cultural change for social evolution is not the subject of attention in Parsons’s theory of social evolution.

Habermas (1979) provides a different theory of social evolution using his theory of communicative action to address the question of social evolution. In brief, Habermas (1979: xxii) argues,

... it is only socialized individuals who learn; but the learning ability of individuals provides a "resource” that can be drawn upon in the formation of new social structures. The results of learning processes find their way into the cultural tradition; they comprise a kind of cognitive potential that can be drawn upon in social movements when unsolvable system problems require a transformation of the basis forms of social integration.

Habermas's theory of communicative rationality suggests an analogy between the stages of the individual's moral consciousness and the stages of social evolution:

Cognitive developmental psychology has shown that in ontogenesis there are different stages of moral consciousness, stages that can be described in particular as preconventional. and postconventional patterns of problemsolving. The same patterns turn up again in the social evolution of moral and legal representations.

(1979: 99)

As Habermas argues,

. . . the initial state of archaic societies - characterized by a conventional kinship organization, a preconventional stage of law, and an egocentric interpretation system - could itself be changed only by constructive learning on the part of socialized individuals. It is only in a derivative sense that societies “learn”.

(1979: 121)

Nevertheless, Habermas does not speak of an independent actor who applies communicative reason to become an agent of social evolution via the creation of a value system.

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