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Gabriel Tarde

Monadology and So


and Sociology


Edited & translated by

Theo Lorenc

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PO Box 40

Prahran, 3181





Transmission denotes the

transfer of information,

objects or forces from one

place to another, from

one person to another.

Transmission implies

urgency, even emergency:

a line humming, an alarm

sounding, a messenger

bearing news. Through

Transmission interven-

tions are supported, and

opinions overturned.

Transmission republishes

classic works in philoso-

phy, as it publishes works

that re-examine classical

philosophical thought.

Transmission is the name

for what takes place.


Gabriel Tarde

edited & translated by Theo Lorenc Melbourne 2012

PO Box 40, Prahran, 3181, Melbourne, Australia

© 2012

The moral rights of the authors have been asserted

This work is ‘Open Access’, published under a creative commons license which means that you are free to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work as long as you clearly attribute the work to the authors, that you do not use this work for any commercial gain in any form whatsoever and that you in no way alter, transform or build on the work outside of its use in normal academic scholarship without express permission of the author (or their executors) and the publisher of this volume. For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. For more information see the details of the creative commons licence at this website:

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

Author: Tarde, Gabriel de, 1843-1904.

Title: Monadology and sociology / Gabriel Tarde ; translated by

Theo Lorenc with afterword and notes.

ISBN: 9780980819724 (pbk.)

ISBN: 9780980819731 (ebook : pdf)

Series: Transmission.

Subjects: Sociology--Philosophy.


Other Authors/Contributors:

Lorenc, Theo.

Dewey Number: 301.01

Designed and Typeset by A&R

This book is produced sustainably using plantation timber, and printed in the destination market reducing wastage and excess transport.


translator’s Preface


Monadology and Sociology


Afterword: tarde’s Pansocial Ontology



trANSLAtOr’S PrefACe

The text used for this translation is the 1895 edition of Monadologie et Sociologie, in Gabriel Tarde (1895) Essais et mélanges sociologiques, Lyon, A. Storck / Paris, G. Masson, pp. 309-389. This text is a re-worked and expanded version of an article published in 1893 as

‘Monads and Social Science’ (‘Les Monades et la Science Sociale’),

Revue Internationale de Sociologie, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 157-173 and vol.

1, no. 3, pp. 231-246. The earlier version corresponds to chapters I,

IV, V and VI of the 1895 text. A small amount of material is in the

earlier version of the text but not the later version; this is given in

the notes to this translation (minor stylistic variants between the

two are not noted).

Two modern editions of the original text are available: Éric

Alliez (ed.), Le Plessis, Institut Synthélabo, 1999; M. Bergeron

(ed.), Québec, Cégep, 2002, available at


These editions give no sources of Tarde’s citations; J. Sarnes and

M. Schillmeier’s German translation (Gabriel Tarde, M onadologie

und Soziologie, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 2009) gives a few but not

all. I have attempted to trace all the citations, without complete

success; however, it is likely that some passages marked as cita-

tions in the text are paraphrases rather than verbatim quotes.

References given are to English translations where available.

Tarde uses the masculine gender throughout when referring

to persons in general; the translation conforms to this usage.

I would like to thank Isaac Marrero-Guillamón and Dan Cryan

for their assistance.




Hypotheses fingo 1


The monads, children of Leibniz, have come a long way since their

birth. By several independent paths, unremarked by scientists

themselves, they slip into the heart of contemporary science. It

is a remarkable fact that all the secondary hypotheses implicit in

this great hypothesis, at least in its essentials if not in its strictly

Lebnizian form, are now being proved scientifically. The hypoth-

esis implies both the reduction of two entities, matter and mind,

to a single one, such that they are merged in the latter, and at the

same time a prodigious multiplication of purely mental agents in

the world. In other words, it implies both the discontinuity of the

elements and the homogeneity of their being. Moreover, it is only

on these two conditions that the universe is wholly transparent to

the gaze of the intellect. Now, on the one hand, as a result of hav-

ing been sounded a thousand times and judged unfathomable, the

abyss which separates movement and consciousness, object and

subject, the mechanical and the logical, has at length been called

once more into question, relegated to the status of an appearance,

and finally denied altogether by the bravest souls, who have been

echoed from every quarter. On the other hand, the progress of

chemistry leads us to affirm the atom and to deny the material

continuity which the continuous character of the physical and liv-

ing manifestations of matter, extension, movement and growth

1. [Trans. Note: The epigraph references Newton’s famous tag ‘ hypotheses non fingo’ (I make no hypotheses), in the General Scholium to the Principia Mathematica.]



Monadology and Sociology

seem superficially to reveal. There is nothing more profoundly

surprising than the combination of chemical substances in defi-

nite proportions, to the exclusion of any intermediate proportion.

Here there is no evolution and no transition: the dividing lines are

clear and stark; and yet hence arises everything which is supple

and harmoniously graduated in phenomena, almost as if the con-

tinuity of nuances were impossible without the discontinuity of

colours. The path of chemistry is not the only one which seems to

lead us in its progress to the monads; so too do physics, the natural

sciences, history, and even mathematics. As Lange says: ‘Of great

importance, not only for this demonstration, but also especially for

its far-reaching consequences, was Newton’s assumption that the

gravitation of a planet is only the sum of the gravitation of all its

individual portions. From this immediately flowed the inference

that the terrestrial bodies gravitate towards each other; and fur-

ther, that even the smallest particles of these masses attract each

other’.2 With this viewpoint, which was much more original than

it seems today, Newton broke, and indeed pulverized the individu-

ality of the celestial body, which had until then been regarded as a

superior unity whose internal relations bore no resemblance to its

relations with other bodies. Great strength of mind was required

to resolve this apparent unity into a multiplicity of distinct ele-

ments linked to each other in the same way as they are linked to

the elements of other aggregates. The beginning of the progress

of physics and astronomy can be dated to the day when this view-

point replaced the contrary prejudice.

In this respect the founders of cellular theory have shown

themselves to be Newton’s true heirs. In the same way they have

broken apart the unity of the living body, they have resolved it into

a prodigious number of elementary organisms, isolated and egois-

tic, eager ( avides) to develop themselves at the expense of the exterior, where the exterior includes their neighbouring brother cells

as well as the inorganic particles of air, water, and all other sub-

stances. Schwann’s3 position on this point has been no less fer-

tile than Newton’s. Thanks to his cellular theory, we know that

‘there is no vital force, as a principle distinct from matter, either

2. [Trans. Note: Ludwig Lange (1863-1936), History of Materialism: And Criticism of its Present Importance, vol. I, trans. E. C. Thomas, London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1925, p. 311.]

3. [Trans. Note: Theodor Schwann (1810-1882) was one of the key early proponents of the theory that all living organisms are made up of cells.]

Gabriel tarde


in the entirety of the organism, or in each cell. All phenomena of

vegetable or animal life must be explained by the properties of atoms

[let us say of the ultimate elements from which atoms are com-

posed], whether these be the known forces of inert nature or forc-

es hitherto unknown’.4 There is surely nothing more positivist or better conformed to a healthy and serious science than this radical negation of the vital principle, against which vulgar spiritual-

ism likes to protest. However, it is clear where this tendency will

lead us, if drawn to its logical conclusion: to the monads, which

fulfil the most daring promises of Leibnizian spiritualism. Like

the vital principle, illness, which was treated as a person by the

ancient medical writers, has been pulverized into a great number

of infinitesimal disorders of the histological elements. Moreover,

thanks primarily to the discoveries of Pasteur, the parasitic theo-

ry of illness, which explains these disorders by means of the in-

ternal conflicts of miniscule organisms, finds more general appli-

cation every day, and indeed excessively so, to the point where it

should provoke some reaction. But parasites, too, have their para-

sites. And so on. The infinitesimal again!

The new theories in chemistry have been formed along anal-

ogous lines. As Wurtz says: ‘This is the new and essential point.

The properties of the radicals are referred to the elements themselves.

Formerly they were considered as a whole. To the radical regarded

as a whole was attributed the power of combining with or of being

substituted for simple bodies. This was the fundamental point of

view of Gerhardt’s theory of types. We now go further. To discov-

er and define the properties of radicals we go back to the atoms of

which they are composed’.5 This eminent chemist’s thought goes

further than our remarks above. The examples which he cites

demonstrate that, among the atoms of a radical, there is one in

particular on whose atomicity and as yet unsatisfied avidity, out-

lasting the saturation of all the others, the combination which is

produced ultimately depends.

Like stars, like living things, like illnesses, like chemical radi-

cals, nations are nothing more than entities which have long been

4. [Trans. Note: These two sentences are marked as a citation in the text, but appear to be not a verbatim quote but a summary paraphrase of the final section (‘Theory of the Cells’) of T. Schwann, Microscopical researches into the accordance in the structure and growth of animals and plants, trans. H. Smith, London, Sydenham Society, 1847.]

5. [Trans. Note: A. Wurtz, The Atomic Theory, trans. E. Cleminshaw, London, Kegan Paul, 1880, pp. 265-266 (Tarde’s emphasis).]


Monadology and Sociology

taken for true beings in the ambitious and sterile theories of so-

called philosophical historians. Has it not, for example, been suf-

ficiently repeated that it is foolish to seek the cause of a political or social revolution in the influence of writers, of statesmen, or of any

kind of instigator, and that it rather springs spontaneously from

the genius of the race, from the bowels of the people, that anony-

mous and superhuman agent? But this convenient point of view,

which consists in mistakenly seeing the creation of a new being

in a phenomenon generated by the encounter of real beings (albe-

it a genuinely new and unforeseen phenomenon), can be upheld

only provisionally. Having been rapidly exhausted by the literary

abuses it has suffered, it is conducive to a serious return towards a

clearer and more positive form of explanation, which accounts for

a given historical event only by individual actions, and particularly

by the action of inventive men who served as a model for others

and reproduced thousands of copies of themselves, like mother-

cells of the social body.

This is not all: these ultimate elements which form the final

stage of every science, the social individual, the living cell, the

chemical atom, are ultimate only from the point of view of their

particular science. They themselves, as we know, are composite,

not excepting the atom itself which, according to Thomson’s hy-

pothesis of the ‘vortex atom’,6 the most plausible or the least un-

acceptable of the conjectures which have been attempted on this

subject, would be a whirling mass of simpler elements. Lockyer’s7

studies of solar and stellar spectra have led him to suppose—and

the conjecture seems probable—that certain weak lines observed

by him are due to the elements of which are composed certain sub-

stances that on our planet are regarded as incomposite.

Scientists who live in daily contact with the so-called elements

have no doubt of their complexity. While Wurtz shows himself to

be favourable to Thomson’s hypothesis, Berthelot says for his part:

‘The deeper study of the elementary masses which, on our cur-

rent understanding, constitute the simple bodies leads every day

more and more to an understanding of them not as indivisible at-

oms, homogenous and admitting of movement only as a whole,

6. [Trans. Note: J. J. Thomson’s ‘nebular’ or ‘vortex atom’ theory, prior to the discovery of the electron, posited that the atom consisted of nebular ‘vortices’ in the ether. As of the writing of Monadology and Sociology, little was known of the internal structure of the atom.]

7. [Trans. Note: Norman Lockyer (1836-1920), astronomer and pioneer of astronomical spectroscopy.]

Gabriel tarde


but as highly complex constructions, furnished with a specific ar-chitecture and animated by highly varied internal movements’.8

Physiologists, for their part, do not maintain that the protoplasm

is a homogenous substance, and judge only the solid part of the

cell to be active and truly living. The soluble part, almost in its en-

tirety, is nothing but a storehouse for fuel and nourishment (or a

mass of excrement). Moreover, a better understanding of the solid

part itself would doubtless lead us to eliminate almost everything

from it. And, where will this process of elimination finish if not

at a geometrical point, that is, at pure nothingness? Unless, as we

will explain below, this point is a centre. And, in fact, in the true

histological element (which is designated only improperly by the

word ‘cell’) what it is essential to take into account is not its limit

or envelope, but rather the central focus whence it seems to aspire

to radiate indefinitely until the day when the cruel experience of

external obstacles obliges it to close in on itself in order to preserve

its being; but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

There is no way to call a halt to this descent to the infinitesi-

mal, which, most unexpectedly, becomes the key to the entire uni-

verse. This may explain the growing importance of the infinitesi-

mal calculus; and, for the same reason, the stunning and rapid

success of the theory of evolution. In this theory, a specific form

is, as a geometer would say, the integral of innumerable differen-

tials called individual variations, which are themselves due to cel-

lular variations, whose basis consists of a myriad of elementary

changes. The source, reason, and ground of the finite and separate

is in the infinitely small, in the imperceptible: this is the profound

conviction which inspired Leibniz, and continues to inspire our


But why should such a transformation, which is incomprehen-

sible if presented as a sum of definite and discrete differences, be

readily understood if we consider it as a sum of infinitely small

differences? We must show first of all that this is a real contrast.

Suppose that, by some miracle, a body disappears and is annihilat-

ed from the place A where it was, then appears and comes back into

being at the place Z a metre away from A, without having traversed the intermediate positions: such a displacement is beyond the power of our mind to grasp, while we would never be astonished to see

this body move from A to Z along a line of juxtaposed positions.

8. [Trans. Note: Marcellin Berthelot (1827-1907), chemist. The citation has not been traced.]


Monadology and Sociology

However, note that in the first case, we would have been no less

amazed had we seen such an abrupt disappearance and reappear-

ance take place over a distance of half a metre, or of 30, of 20, of

10, of 2 centimetres, or of any perceptible fraction of a millime-

tre. Our reason, if not our imagination, would be just as struck

in the last case as in the original example. In the same way, if we

are presented with two distinct living species, be they very distant

or closely related, a fungus and a labiate herb, or two herbs of the

same genus, in neither case will it be comprehensible that one

could suddenly and with no transition turn into the other. But, if

we were to be told that by hybridization the fertilized ovule of the

one had undergone a deviation, extremely slight at first and then

gradually increasing, from its habitual pathway, we would have no

difficulty in accepting this. It will be argued that the inconceiv-

ability of the first hypothesis is due to a prejudice which has been

formed in us by the association of ideas. Nothing could be truer,

and precisely this proves that reality, the source of the experience

which gave birth to this prejudice, conforms to the explanation of

the finite by the infinitesimal. For pure reason, and still more rea-

son alone, would never have guessed at this hypothesis; it would

even, perhaps, be more inclined to see in the large the source of

the small than in the small the source of the large, and it would

gladly believe in divine forms which are complete ab initio, which could envelop a clod of earth all at once and penetrate it from the

outside to the inside. It would even willingly agree with Agassiz9

that, from the outset, trees have been forests, bees hives, men na-

tions. Science has been able to eliminate this point of view only by

the rebellion of contrary facts. To mention only the most obvious,

it is the case that an immense sphere of light spread through space

is due to the unique vibration, multiplied by contagion, of one cen-

tral atom of ether,10—that the entire population of a species origi-

nates from the prodigious multiplication of one unique first ovu-

lary cell, in a kind of generative radiation,—that the presence of

the correct astronomical theory in millions of human brains is

due to the multiplied repetition of an idea which appeared one day

in a cerebral cell of Newton’s brain. But, once more, what follows

9. [Trans. Note: Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), palaeontologist. Tarde’s reference is to Agassiz’ defence of special creation––the position that animal species and human ‘races’ were separately created by God––and of the fixity and unchangeabil-ity of the species thus created.]

10. [Trans. Note: The ether, in the physics of Tarde’s time, is the all-pervading substance which serves as the medium through which light propagates.]

Gabriel tarde


from this? If the infinitesimal differed from the finite only by degree, if at the basis of things as at their perceptible surface there existed only positions, distances, and displacements, why would a dis-

placement which is inconceivable in the finite realm change its

nature in becoming infinitesimal? The infinitesimal, therefore, is

qualitatively different from the finite; movement has a cause dis-

tinct from itself; being is not exhausted by what appears in phe-

nomena. Everything comes from the infinitesimal and everything

returns to it; nothing in the sphere of the finite and complex—a

surprising fact which nobody is surprised at—appears suddenly,

nor dies away. What should we conclude from this, if not that the

infinitely small, in other words the element, is the source and the

goal, the substance and the reason of all things?—While the prog-

ress of physics leads physicists to quantify nature in order to understand it, it is remarkable that the progress of mathematics leads

mathematicians, in order to understand quantity, to resolve it into

elements which are not at all quantitative.11

This growing importance which the growth of knowledge

grants to the concept of the infinitesimal is all the more curious

since the latter, in its ordinary form (leaving aside for a moment

the monadic hypothesis), is nothing but a mass of contradictions.

I will leave to Renouvier12 the task of pointing them out. By what

power could the absurd grant to the human mind the key to the

world? Is it not because, through this purely negative concept, we

aim at but do not reach, or look at but do not see, a much more

positive concept which we do not own, but which should nonethe-

less be inscribed as a reminder in the inventory of our intellectual assets? This absurdity could very well be only the outer covering

of a reality alien to everything we know, outside everything, space

and time, matter and mind … Outside mind? If so, the monadic

hypothesis should be rejected … but this must be examined fur-

ther. However this question is resolved, these tiny beings which

we call infinitesimal will be the real agents, and these tiny variations which we call infinitesimal will be the real actions.

Indeed, it seems to follow from the preceding that these agents

are autonomous, and that these variations clash and obstruct one

11. [Trans. Note: Tarde may be thinking here of the work of Georg Cantor and Richard Dedekind in the 1870s and 1880s on the set-theoretical foundations of natural number.]

12. [Trans. Note: Charles Renouvier (1815-1903), philosopher. Renouvier strongly criticized the concepts of infinite and infinitesimal magnitude as logically contradictory.]


Monadology and Sociology

another as much as they compete. If everything comes from the

infinitesimal, it is because an element, a unique element, initiates

some change, movement, vital evolution, or mental or social trans-

formation. If all these changes are gradual and apparently con-

tinuous, this shows that the initiative undertaken by the element,

even if it receives some support, has also encountered some resis-

tance. Let us imagine that all the citizens of a State, without excep-

tion, are fully in favour of a programme of political reorganization

springing from the brain of one among their number, and more

particularly from one point within this brain; the complete over-

haul of the State according to this plan, rather than being progres-

sive and fragmentary, will then be abrupt and total, however radi-

cal the project. The slowness of social modifications is explained

only by the fact that the other plans for reform or ideals of the State

which all other members of a nation knowingly or unknowingly

entertain run contrary to this plan. In the same way, if matter were

as inert and passive as is generally believed, I do not see why move-

ment, in other words gradual displacement, should exist, nor why

the formation of an organism should be subject to the progress of

its embryonic phases, an obstacle opposed to the immediate real-

ization of its adult stage which was nonetheless from the begin-

ning the aim of the germ’s impulse.

The idea of the straight line, let it be noted, is not the exclusive

property of geometry. There is a biological rectilinearity and a logi-

cal rectilinearity. In the same way that, in passing from one point

to another, the abbreviation or diminution of the number of inter-

vening points cannot continue indefinitely and must stop at the

limit which we call the straight line, just so, in the passage from

one specific form to another, from an individual state to another,

there is a minimal, irreducible intervening series of forms or states which must be traversed, which alone may perhaps explain the abbreviated repetition by the embryo of some of the successive forms

of its ancestors; and similarly, in expounding a body of knowledge,

is there not a way to go straight from one thesis to the next, and does it not consist in linking them by a chain of logical positions

or positings which necessarily come in between the two? A tru-

ly surprising necessity. This rational, rectilinear order of exposi-

tion, much favoured by introductory books which summarize in

a few pages the labour of centuries (and the limit of the ambition

of such volumes), coincides frequently but not invariably, and in

many points but not in all, with the historical order of appearance

Gabriel tarde


of the successive discoveries which are synthesized in the science.

Perhaps this is the case with the famous recapitulation of phylog-

eny by ontogeny,13 which would then be the rectification and not only the prodigious acceleration of the more or less winding path

along which the ancestral forms, the accumulated biological inven-

tions which are bequeathed all together to the ovule, followed one another in previous eras.14

The real support which the theory of evolution gives to the

monadological hypotheses will be still more evident if we imagine

this great system in the new forms which it will soon take on, and

whose outline can already be seen. For evolutionary theory itself

evolves. It evolves not by a series or a competition of blind group-

ings, or of fortuitous and involuntary adaptations to the observed

facts, in conformity with the procedures of transformation which it

wrongly attributes to living nature, but by the accumulated efforts

of perfectly aware scientists and theoreticians, knowingly and vol-

untarily occupied in modifying the fundamental theory to fit it as

closely as possible to the scientific data known to them, and also to

the preconceived ideas they hold dear. This theory is for them a ge-

neric form which they are working to specify, each in his own way.

But, among these various products of the unprecedented fermen-

tation created by Darwin, there are only two which add to or sub-

stitute for the master’s own idea something truly new and fertile. I

refer firstly to the evolution by association of elementary organisms into more complex organisms formulated by Edmond Perrier,15

and secondly by the evolution by leaps or crises,16 which, suggest-ed and predicted some years ago by Cornet’s prescient writings,17

13. [Trans. Note: Reading ontogenèse with the 1893 text; the 1895 text has autogenèse (autogeny).]

14. [Trans. Note: The theory of ontogenetic recapitulation, most famously formulated by Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) as ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’, holds that the developing embryo ‘recapitulates’ in miniature the evolution of the species.]

15. [Trans. Note: Edmond Perrier (1844-1921), zoologist. As described by Tarde, Perrier propounded the theory that higher organisms evolved from colonies or associations of smaller organisms. See E. Perrier, Les Colonies animales et la formation des organismes, Paris, Masson, 1881. The 1893 text cites Perrier’s courses at the Museum (the National Museum of Natural History in Paris) and adds the following footnote: ‘This biological theory has the advantage that it agrees in every point with the linguistic theory of the formation of languages by the aggregation of several words into one’.]

16. [Trans. Note: The 1893 text adds the English phrase ‘saltatory evolution’.]

17. [Trans. Note: Antoine Augustin Cournot (1801-1877), mathematician, econ-omist and philosopher. See his Traité de l’enchaînement des idées fondamentales, 14

Monadology and Sociology

has spontaneously sprouted anew18 here and there in the minds of

several contemporary scientists. The specific transformation of a

pre-existing form in view of a new adaptation, according to one of

these theorists, must have come about at a given moment in a qua-

si-immediate manner (that is, I think, very short relative to the prodigious duration of species once they are formed, but perhaps very

long with respect to our brief existence) and, he adds, by a regular

process and not by groping its way forward. Similarly, for another transformist, the species, from its relatively rapid formation up to

its equally rapid decomposition, actually remains fixed within cer-

tain limits, because it is essentially in a state of stable organic equi-

librium. Deeply troubled in its own constitution by any excessive

change in its environment (or by any internal revolution due to the

contagious rebellion of an element) the organism goes beyond its

species only, as it were, to roll onto the slope of another species,

itself in stable equilibrium, and there remains for some period of

time which for us would be an eternity.

Of course, I need not here discuss these conjectures. It is suf-

ficient to note that they are growing, or rather advancing through

the undergrowth, still lowly but pervasive, while natural selection

loses ground every day, showing itself better at purifying forms

than perfecting them, and better at perfecting them than fun-

damentally modifying them. I would add that, by the one or the

other of the two ways mentioned above, we are necessarily led to

populate and fill living bodies with spiritual or quasi-spiritual at-

oms. To what may we ascribe the need for society which Perrier

sees as the soul of the organic world, if not to tiny persons? And what could this transformation be, this direct, regular, and rapid process imagined by other thinkers, if not the accomplishment

section III.8, Œuvres complètes, Vol. III, N. Bruyère (ed.), Paris, Vrin, 1982, pp.


18. [Trans. Note: The 1893 text adds: ‘… sprouted anew at once in the mind of two contemporary scientist, both avowed transformists. By one of those coincidences which often occur in the history of science, and which invariably denote the full maturity of an idea whose hour has come and which imperiously demands attention, the latter of the above-mentioned hypotheses, published in 1877

by the American naturalist Dall, was presented in 1879 at the scientific section of the Academy of Brussels by the Belgian scientist de Sélys Longchamps as his own discovery’. The idea in the next sentence is credited to de Sélys Longchamps (Michel-Edmond de Sélys Longchamps (1813-1900), naturalist) and in the sentence following (‘another transformist’) to Dall (William Healey Dall (1845-1927), naturalist). See W. H. Dall (1877) On a provisional hypothesis of saltatory evolution. American Naturalist, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 135-137.]

Gabriel tarde


of hidden workers who collaborate in realizing some specific plan

for reorganization previously conceived and willed by one among

their number?


This should, I think, suffice to demonstrate how science tends

to pulverize the universe and to multiply beings indefinitely.

However, as already noted, science tends no less distinctly to unify

the Cartesian duality of matter and mind. Hence it is inevitably led

to, let us say not anthropomorphism, but psychomorphism. Monism can effectively be conceived in three ways (I am of course aware

that this has been said many times before): either by seeing move-

ment and consciousness—for example the vibration of a cerebral

cell and the corresponding mental state—as two sides of a single

fact, in which case one misleads oneself by this reminder of the an-

cient Janus; or by not denying the heterogeneous nature of matter

and mind, but making them flow from a common source, from a

hidden and unknown mind, a position which gains nothing but a

trinity instead of, and in the place of, a duality: or, finally, by hold-

ing resolutely that matter is mind, nothing more. This last thesis

is the only comprehensible one, and the only one which truly leads

to the desired reduction. But there are two ways in which it may be

understood. We may say with the idealists that the material uni-

verse, other egos included, is mine, exclusively mine, and that it is composed of my states of mind or of their possibility to the extent

that it is affirmed by me, that is, to the extent that this possibility

is itself one of my states of mind. If this interpretation be rejected,

the only option is to admit with the monadologists that the whole

external universe is composed of souls distinct from my own but

fundamentally similar. In accepting this latter point of view, it so

happens that one removes from the former its best support. To rec-

ognize that one knows nothing of the being in itself of a stone or a plant, say, and at the same time to stubbornly persist in saying that

it is, is logically untenable; the idea which we have of it, as may easily be shown, has for its only content our states of mind; and as, ab-

stracting away our states of mind, nothing remains, either it is only

these states of mind which are affirmed when we affirm this sub-

stantial and unknowable X, or it must be admitted that in affirm-

ing some other thing, we affirm nothing. But if it is the case that

this being in itself is fundamentally similar to our own being, then

it will no longer be unknowable, and may consistently be affirmed.


Monadology and Sociology

Thus monism leads us to universal psychomorphism.

Hitherto, however, monism has been demonstrated less than it

has been affirmed. It is true that when one sees physicists like

Tyndall, naturalists like Haeckel, philosophical historians and art-

ists like Taine, and theorists of all schools,19 express the suspicion

or the conviction that the hiatus between inside and outside, be-

tween sensation and vibration, is an illusion, then even if their

arguments may not be convincing, the agreement of their con-

victions and presentiments has some importance. But, as soon as

they attempt to put their finger on the alleged identity, this pre-

sumption loses all force in the face of the evident discord of the

juxtaposed terms which they are trying to identify, namely move-

ment and sensation.

The reason is that at least one of these terms is an unfortunate

choice. The contrast between the purely quantitative variations of

movement, whose deviations are themselves measurable, and the

purely qualitative variations of sensation, whether they concern

colours, odors, tastes or sounds, is too shocking to our mind. But

if, among our internal states, distinct ex hypothesi from sensation, there were to be found some which vary quantitatively, as I have

attempted to show elsewhere,20 this singular character would per-

haps allow us to attempt to use them to spiritualize the universe. In my view, these two states of the soul, or rather these two forces of

the soul which are called belief and desire, whence derive affirma-

tion and will, present this character eminently and distinctly. By the universality of their presence in all psychological phenomena,

both human and animal, by the homogeneity of their nature from

19. [Trans. Note: John Tyndall (1820-1893), physicist; Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), biologist and naturalist; Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893), historian and literary critic. All argued for some form of dual-aspect monism, in which mind and matter are seen as two aspects of a single underlying reality. Tyndall, sometimes remembered as a thoroughgoing materialist, also seriously considered the idea of a ‘primeval union between spirit and matter’, such that they would be ‘two opposite faces of the self-same mystery’ (‘Scientific Use of the Imagination’ (1870), in Fragments of Science, London, Longmans, Green & Co., 1879, vol. II, pp. 101-136, on p. 133). Haeckel propounded a monism which ‘recognizes one sole substance in the universe, which is at once “God and nature”; body and spirit (or matter and energy) it holds to be inseparable’ ( The Riddle of the Universe, trans. J. McCabe, London, Watts & Co., 1929, p. 16). Taine, finally, describes mind and matter as

‘one and the same tongue, written in different characters’ ( On Intelligence, trans.

T. D. Haye, London, L. Reeve & Co., 1871, pp.297-8.)]

20. [Trans. Note: The theory of belief and desire as psychological quantities goes back to Tarde’s early (1880) essay ‘La Croyance et le désir’ (‘Belief and desire’, in Essais et mélanges sociologiques); see particularly section II.]

Gabriel tarde


one end of their immense gamut to the other, from the slightest

inclination to believe or to want up to certainty and passion, and

finally by their mutual penetration and by other no less striking

signs of similarity, belief and desire play exactly the same role in

the ego, with respect to sensations, as do space and time in the ex-

ternal world with respect to material elements. It remains to be

examined whether this analogy does not conceal an identity, and

whether, rather than being simply forms of our sensory experi-

ence, as their most profound analyst believed,21 space and time are

not perhaps primitive concepts or continuous and original quasi-

sensations by which, thanks to our two faculties of belief and de-

sire, which are the common source of all judgements and hence

of all concepts, the degrees and modes of belief and of desire of

psychic agents other than ourselves are translated to us. On this

hypothesis, the movement of bodies would be nothing other than

types of judgements or objectives formulated by the monads.22

It will be seen that if this were the case, the universe would

become perfectly transparent, and the open conflict between two

opposing currents of contemporary science would be resolved. For

if, on the one hand, science leads us towards vegetal psychology,

to ‘cellular psychology’, and soon to atomic psychology, in a word

to an entirely spiritual interpretation of the mechanical and mate-

rial world, on the other hand its tendency to explain everything,

including thought, in mechanical terms is no less evident. In

Haeckel’s ‘cellular psychology’,23 it is curious to see the alternation

21. [Trans. Note: The reference is to Kant’s theory of space and time as ‘pure forms of intuition’ in the Transcendental Aesthetic of the Critique of Pure Reason.

Tarde speaks slightly loosely here, as Kant regards time as a form of inner as well as outer (sensory) intuition.]

22. According to Lotze, if there is anything spiritual in the atom, this must be pleasure and pain, rather than a concept; I maintain exactly the contrary. [Trans.

Note: ‘If there is anything spiritual in an atom of material mass, we need not suppose that it has any concept ( Vorstellung) of its position in the world, or that the powers it exercises are accompanied by any effort ( Strebung); but we may affirm that it inwardly perceives the pressure or shock, the dilation or contraction which it undergoes in the form of a feeling of pleasure or pain’. (H. Lotze, Medicinische Psychologie oder Physiologie der Seele, Leipzig, Weidmann’sche Buchhandlung, 1852, p. 134 = Principes généraux de psychologie physiologique, trans. A Penjon, Paris, G. Baillière & Cie, 1881, p. 133.]

23. [Trans. Note: For a brief statement of Haeckel’s ‘cellular psychology’, see his The Riddle of the Universe (1899), trans. J. McCabe, London, Watts & Co., 1929, p. 145: ‘Just as we take the living cell to be the “elementary organism” in anato-my and physiology, and derive the multicellular animal or plant from it, so, with equal right, we may consider the “cell-soul” to be the psychological unit, and the 18

Monadology and Sociology

of these two contradictory viewpoints between one line and the

next. But the contradiction is resolved by the hypothesis set out

above, and can only be resolved thus.

Moreover, this hypothesis is in no way anthropomorphic.

Belief and desire have the unique privilege of including un-

conscious states. There certainly exist unconscious desires and

judgements. These include, for example, the desires implicit in

our pleasures and pains, and the judgements of localization and

so on which are incorporated in our sensations. By contrast, un-

conscious and unfelt sensations are a manifest impossibility; if a

few minds have thought to posit them, it is either because they

have used this phrase mistakenly to refer to sensations which are

not affirmed or discerned, or because, while understanding that

it is really necessary to admit unconscious states of mind, they

have wrongly understood sensations as capable of being such

states. In addition, the facts which have been used to support the

hypothesis of unconscious sensibility, already striking enough

in themselves, also serve to prove general conclusions consider-

ably beyond this. They show that our own consciousness (that is,

the directing monads or leading elements of the brain) has as its

constant and indispensable collaborators innumerable other con-

sciousnesses whose modifications, external with respect to us,

are for them internal states. Ball says: ‘Certain physiologists who

take an interest in psychology have proved that we cannot forget

anything. Traces of our previously received impressions accumu-

late in the cells of our brains, where they remain latent indefi-

nitely, until one day a superior influence awakens them from the

tomb where they were buried in sleep … When in the course of a

conversation one tries to remember a name, a date, or a fact, the

information sought often escapes us, and only several hours lat-

er, when we are thinking of something else entirely, does it come

spontaneously to offer itself to us. How can we explain this un-

expected revelation? It is because a mysterious secretary, a skilful automaton has been working for us while the intellect [he should have said our own intellect, the directing monad] neglects these

trivial details’.24

complex psychic activity of the higher organism to be the result of the psychic activity of the cells which compose it’. For a more in-depth exposition, see Zellseelen und Seelenzellen, Leipzig, Alfred Kröner Verlag, 1909.]

24. [Trans. Note: Probably Benjamin Ball (1833-1893), psychologist. The citation has not been traced.]

Gabriel tarde


That psychiatrists find it necessary to have recourse to the

metaphors of a secretary or an interior librarian to explain the phenomena of memory, constitutes a strong presumption in favour

of the monadic hypothesis. The monadological theory can there-

fore readily appropriate for itself the arguments of the English and

German psychologists on this subject. But since, after all, it seems

to be necessary to see as unconscious in some cases some states of

mind, let it be noted that in truth, a desire or an act of faith not only can exist without being felt, but actually cannot be felt as such, any

more than a sensation can be active by itself. Now, by this remark-

able characteristic, the two internal forces I have named are dis-

tinguished for us by being objectifiable ( objectivable) to the highest degree. Since they may apply to any sensation whatsoever, however radically different these sensations may be from each other, to

the colour red as to the note C or D, to the smell of a rose as to the

feeling of cold or warmth, why may they not apply just as much

to unknown and, I submit, unknowable phenomena, ex hypothesi

different from sensations, but no more or less distinct from sensa-

tions than the latter are from each other? Why may sensation not

be seen simply as a species of the genus quality, and may not one admit that there exist outside us non-sensory qualifying signs which, just like our sensations, may serve as the point of application for

the psychic forces par excellence, namely the static force called belief and the dynamic force called desire? It is perhaps from an in-

stinctive and confused feeling of this truth that the idea of force

has been built on the model of desire, and the key to the univer-

sal enigma sought in this idea. Schopenhauer lifted the mask of

this concept by calling it almost by its true name, will. But will

is a combination of faith and desire, and the master’s disciples,

Hartmann among them, had to add the idea to the will.25 They

would have done better to break apart the will and distinguish in it

the two elements. We may rightly be amazed that, among so many

philosophical conjectures, it has occurred to nobody, at least ex-

plicitly, to seek in the objectification of belief rather than of desire the solution to the problems of physics and of life. At least explicitly; for without knowing it, we conceive of matter—coherent and

solid substance, satisfied and at rest—not only with the help of,

but in the image and likeness of our convictions, as we conceive of 25. [Trans. Note: Eduard von Hartmann (1842-1906), philosopher. Where Schopenhauer based his thought on a strict separation of will and idea, Hartmann identified the two as dimensions of the unconscious.]


Monadology and Sociology

force in the image of our efforts. Only Hegel glimpsed this truth,

to judge by his conceit of composing the world from sequences

of affirmations and negations. Hence perhaps, despite certain ab-

errations and strange subtleties, comes the air of architectural

and magisterial grandeur which pervades his ruined work, and

which marks, in general, the superiority of substantialist systems

throughout history, from Democritus to Descartes, over the liveli-

est of dynamistic doctrines. Have we not seen monism, beneath

the brilliant light of the currently prevailing evolutionism, which

pushes to its limit the Leibnizian idea of force, attempting the re-

newal of the Spinozan concept of substance? For, as will moves

towards certitude, as the movement of stars and atoms moves to-

wards their definitive agglomeration, the idea of force leads natu-

rally to the idea of substance, where, weary of the agitations of an

illusory phenomenalism, grasping finally realities which are taken

for immutable, idealist and materialist thought each in turn take

refuge. But, of these two ascriptions to the mysterious external

noumena of our two interior quantities, which is legitimate? Why

may we not dare to say that both are?

It will perhaps be objected that this psychomorphism is a very

easy solution, and all the more illusory for that, and that it is a

delusion to pretend that one can explain vital, physical or chemi-

cal phenomena by psychological facts, since the latter are always

more complex than the former. But, though I admit the complex-

ity of sensations and the complete legitimacy of explaining them

by physiological facts, I cannot admit this of desire nor of belief. I

maintain that analysis cannot get its teeth into these irreducible

concepts. There is an unnoticed contradiction in the position that,

on the one hand, an organism is a mechanism constructed in con-

formity to purely mechanical laws, and, on the other, that all the

phenomena of mental life, including the two mentioned above, are

purely products of the organization created by this life, and do not

exist prior to it. If, in fact, the organized being is only an admi-

rably constructed machine, it should function like any other ma-

chine, in which not only no new force but not even any radically

new product can possibly be created by the most marvellous ar-

rangements of wheels and cogs. A machine is nothing but a spe-

cial distribution and direction of pre-existing forces which traverse

it without essentially altering it. It is nothing but a change of form

of raw materials which it receives from outside and whose essence

does not change. If then, once more, living bodies are machines,

Gabriel tarde


the essential nature of those products and those forces which re-

sult from their functioning which are known to us fundamentally

(sensations, thoughts, volitions) attests that the substances which

nourish them (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen etc.) contain

hidden psychic elements. In particular, among these superior re-

sults of the vital functions, there are two which are forces, and

which, springing forth from the brain, could not have been creat-

ed there by the mechanical play of cellular vibrations. Can it be de-

nied that desire and belief are forces? Is it not clear that with their

reciprocal combinations, passions and intentions, they are the per-

petual winds of history’s tempests, and the waterfalls which turn

the mills of politics? What leads the world on and drives it in its

course, if not beliefs religious or otherwise, ambitions and cupid-

ities? These so-called products are forces to such an extent that

they alone can produce societies, which many contemporary phi-

losophers still maintain are true organisms. The products of an in-

ferior organism would then be factors of a superior organization!

Thus, in admitting the dynamical character of these two states of

mind, the conclusion (which in any case cannot be escaped by re-

garding them as products) acquires a higher degree of rigour. For

we know that the forces employed by machines always emerge

from them considerably less denatured than their raw materials. It

follows that, if belief and desire are forces, it is probable that when

they emerge from the body in our mental manifestations, they do

not differ noticeably from how they were when they entered, in the form of molecular cohesions or affinities. The ultimate foundation

of material substance would then be open to us; and it is worth

the trouble of examining whether, in following through the con-

sequences of this point of view, we remain in agreement with the

facts established by science. And here I have the advantage of being

able to rely on the accumulated work of Schopenhauer, Hartmann

and their school, who have, I believe, succeeded in showing the

primordial and universal character, not of will, but of desire.

To cite only one example, consider a small mass of protoplasm,

in which no sign of organization has been discovered, ‘a clear jel-

ly like the white of an egg’, as Perrier says. This jelly nonetheless,

he adds, executes movements, captures animalcules, digests them,

etc. It evidently has appetite, and consequently must have a more

or less clear perception of what its appetite is for. If desire and be-

lief are nothing but products of organization, whence comes this

perception and this appetite of an admittedly heterogeneous, but


Monadology and Sociology

not yet organized, mass? Almann, of the Royal Society of London,

says: ‘The movements of spores seem frequently to obey a real vo-

lition; if the spore encounters an obstacle, it changes direction and moves back by changing the movement of its cilia’.26 A railway mechanic could do no better. Nonetheless, this spore is only a cell de-

tached from an immobile and insensible plant, to which we grant

no will and no intelligence. But, lo and behold, intelligence and

will all of a sudden appear in the daughter cell, even though they

exist not at all, even virtually, in the mother cell! Let us rather say

that, when it judges best to do so, when it is useful to its goal, to its particular cosmic plan whence proceed all its movements, the vital element reveals and unfolds its hidden resources. At first mixed

with an infinity of others in an indivisible lump of protoplasm,

at the desired moment it calls a halt to its indivision, it encloses

and sequesters itself with a compact group of vassals, it throws up

defensive ramparts of calcium; or else it stretches out its flagella

like a rower extending his oars, and moves towards its prey. Every

body of water contains myriads of these unicellular living beings which ‘construct for themselves a skeleton … of concentric spheres

as transparent as crystal, and of a perfect symmetry and beauty’.

Evidently the single cell under consideration could not accomplish these prodigious feats alone, and we must rather conclude that it

was only the soul of a whole people of workers. But what expendi-

ture of psychic acts is required by such a task!

In truth, one might justifiably wonder, when one compares to

cellular inventions, cellular industries, and cellular arts, as a spring

day exhibits them to us, our arts, our industries, and our little human discoveries displayed in our periodical exhibitions, whether it

is really certain that our own intelligence and will, those great egos disposing of the vast resources of a gigantic cerebral state, are superior to those of the tiny egos confined in the miniscule city of an

animal or even plant cell. Surely, if we were not blinded by the prej-

udice of always considering ourselves superior to everything, such

comparisons would not be to our advantage. At root, it is this prej-

udice which prevents us from believing in the monads. In its age-

long effort to interpret everything outside us in terms of mecha-

nism, even those things which most break forth with accumulated

signs of genius, namely living beings, our mind as it were blows

out all the lights of the world for the sole benefit of its own little

26. [Trans. Note: George James Almann (1812-1898), botanist and zoologist.

The citation has not been traced.]

Gabriel tarde


spark. Certainly Espinas27 is right to say that a small amount of in-

telligence suffices to explain the social work of bees and ants. But if one grants this small amount and judges it necessary to account for the products of these insects—which are in any case very simple,

like the products of our industries—it must be admitted that to

produce their organization, so infinitely superior in complexity, in

richness, and in adaptive flexibility to all their works, a great deal of intelligence and many intelligences were necessary.—A remark

naturally suggests itself at this point: Since the accomplishment of

the simplest and most banal social function, which has persisted

unchanged over centuries (for example, the reasonably regular co-

ordinated movement of a procession or a regiment) demands, as

we know, so much preparatory training, so many words, so much

effort, and so much mental force spent almost all in vain—then

what torrents of mental or quasi-mental energy must be necessary

to produce these complex manoeuvres of simultaneously accom-

plished vital functions, by not thousands but billions of different

actors, all of them, we have reason to think, essentially egotistical,

and all as different from each other as the citizens of a vast empire!

It would doubtless be necessary to reject this conclusion if it

were proven, or had even a modicum of probability, that beyond a

certain degree of corporeal smallness, intelligence (I do not mean

sensory intelligence as we know it, but psyche, the genus of which all intelligence known to us is only a species) was impossible. If

this impossibility were established, we could deduce that all psy-

chological phenomena are results radically different from their

conditions, even though all intelligent beings observed by us, or

more generally all beings which have a psyche, proceed from par-

ents or ancestors who equally have a psyche, and even though the

spontaneous generation of intelligence is a hypothesis even less

acceptable, if such a thing be possible, than the spontaneous gen-

eration of life. But however far we penetrate into the microscopic

and even ultra-microscopic depths of the infinitely small, we will

always discover living seeds and complete organisms, in which ob-

servation or induction will lead us to recognize the characteristics

of animality as much as of vegetation, since the two kingdoms are

indistinguishable in minimis. As Spottiswoode says: ‘A diameter

27. [Trans. Note: Alfred Espinas (1844-1922), sociologist. The reference is to his work Des Sociétés animales [ Animal Societies], Paris, G. Baillière, 1877. In fact, Espinas’ own view of the scope of intelligence in social insects is closer to Tarde’s than the text may suggest.]


Monadology and Sociology

of 1/3000 millimetres is approximately the smallest that a micro-

scope allows us to see distinctly. But solar rays and electric light

reveal to us the presence of bodies infinitely beneath these dimensions. Tyndall had the idea of measuring them as a function of

light waves … by observing a mass of them and noting the hues

they reflected … These infinitely small bodies are not just gaseous

molecules; they include moreover complete organisms, and the il-

lustrious scientist just cited has made a thorough study of the con-

siderable influence which these miniscule organisms exercise in

the economy of life’.28

But, it will be objected, even if we cannot thus attain the lim-

its of the psychic, nonetheless common sense affirms that, by and

large, beings much smaller than ourselves are much less intel-

ligent; and, following this progression, we are sure to arrive, on

the path of increasing smallness, at the absolute absence of intel-

ligence. Common sense indeed! Common sense also tells us that

intelligence is incompatible with excessive size and in this, it must

be admitted, experience proves it right. But if we juxtapose these

two commonsensical affirmations, the one unmotivated, the other

likely, it is clear that they emerge from the prejudice of anthropo-

centrism. In reality, we judge beings to be less intelligent the less

we understand them, and the error of thinking the unknown to be

unintelligent goes hand in hand with the error, which we will ex-

amine below,29 of thinking the unknown to be indistinct, undif-

ferentiated, and homogenous.

The foregoing should on no account be seen as a disguised plea

in favour of the teleological principle ( principe de finalité), which is now so rightly discredited in its ordinary form. Perhaps, in fact,

from a methodological point of view, it would be preferable to deny

nature any goal and any idea than to claim, as many do, that all her

goals and all her ideas can be linked to a single thought and will.

This would be a curious way to explain a world where beings are

constantly devouring each other; where, in each being, the agree-

ment of functions, to the extent that it exists at all, is nothing but a

transaction of contrary interests and claims; where in the normal

state, and in the most balanced individual, useless functions and

organs can be seen, in the same way as in the best-governed State

dissident sects will always spring up, and provincial particularities

28. [Trans. Note: William Spottiswoode (1825-1883), mathematician and physicist. The citation has not been traced.]

29. [Trans. Note: See chapter VI below.]

Gabriel tarde


will be religiously perpetuated by the citizens and of necessity re-

spected by the rulers, even though they disrupt the unity which

is their dream! However infinite one may suppose thought or di-

vine will to be, if it is to be one thing, it will ipso facto become inadequate as an explanation of reality. Between its infinity, which

supposes the coexistence of contradictories, and its unity, which

demands perfect agreement, we must choose,—or else make, in a

marvellous fashion, the one proceed from the other, each in turn,

the latter from the former, then the former from the latter … But

let us not become involved with such mysteries. Either there is no

intelligence at all in matter, or matter is wholly saturated with in-