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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 a