Newell Sims

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In existographies, Newell LeRoy Sims (1878-1965) (CR:3) (LH:9) (TC:12) was or “Newel Le Roy Sims”, was an American sociologist, noted for []


In 1924, Sims, in his Society and Surplus, argues that society is a physical system and that surplus is a form of energy.


Sims, in respect to influences behind his Society and Surplus, cites Auguste Comte, who he calls the “grandfather”, and Herbert Spencer, labeled the “father” of “sociology attempted physical interpretations of society”, aka physical sociology; moreover: [1]

“The inspiration of this book, in so far as it can be traced to any direct sources at all outside of the author’s own mind, came in a direct measure from the writings of the Simon Patten, especially from certain chapters of The Theory of Social Forces and the New Basis of Civilization. It also came from a germinal idea found in an essay of Alvan Tenney [1976-1936] on ‘The Genesis of Individual and Social Surplus’.”
— Newell Sims (1924), Society and Surplus (pg. ix) [2]

Sims, in addition to these, cites: Frederick Soddy (pg. 4), Lester Ward (pg. 14), Henry Buckle (pg. 21), and Thomas Carver (pg. 21), to name a few.


In 1900, Sims studied history, with interest in theology, at Tri-State College, Indiana, where he took a sociology course which used C. Henderson’s and D.D. Richmond’s 1898 Social Elements [1] as the class text, where at in 1901 he completed an A.B. He then entered the seminary school at Transylvania University, where he absorbed medieval orthodoxy, and over the next fifteen years served as minister and preaching at churches at a number of places from Kentucky to Southern Ohio. Sometime thereafter he became a sociologist. [3]

He completed a second A.B. at the University of Kentucky (1905), an an M.A. (1910) and a Ph.D. degree (1912) in Sociology at Columbia University and also studied at Union Theological Seminary (1908-1913). He became professor and head of the Sociology and Political Science Department of the University of Florida,1915-1920, and at Massachusetts Agricultural College, 1920-1924. He taught summer sessions at Simmons College School of Social Work (1923), at Amherst College (1922), and at Smith College (1923). By the time he came to Oberlin in 1924, Sims was already recognized as a pioneer in American Sociology, highly regarded for his substantial work in rural sociology and social change. He was a professor in the Oberlin College Sociology Department from 1924 to 1944 (emeritus, 1944-1965). [1]


Quotes | Employed

The following are quotes employed by Sims:

“Every physical and psychical change is generated by certain antecedent forces, and that from given amounts of such forces neither more nor less of such physical and psychical changes can result.”
Herbert Spencer (1860), First Principles (pg. 192); cited by Newell Sims (1924) in Society and Surplus (pg. 4)
Desire is the social force, and where there is no desire, no will, there is no force, no social energy. Civilization is the product of active social energy. Or, to use Ratzenhofer's [2] terminology, there must be a lively interest or there can be no achievement. It is this innate interest (angeborenes Interesse) that makes men fight and conquer and struggle. It is the same that makes them undertake voyages of discovery in search of golden fleeces, or El Dorados, or Northwest Passages. Interest impels mankind to explore, to migrate, to invent, to labor, to produce wealth, to seek knowledge, to discover truth, to create objects both of use and beauty — in a word, to achieve.”
Lester Ward (1903), Pure Sociology (pgs. 33-34); cited by Newell Sims (1924) in Society and Surplus (pg. 14) [2]

Quotes | On

The following are quotes on Sims:

“Society, according to Sims, is essentially a physical phenomenon. The people, economic goods, culture and tradition, and social organization are the potential energy of society, while all kinds of activity — work, play, worship, etc. — constitute the kinetic energy; and these two — potential energy and kinetic energy — combine to make up the sum total of social energy, as the two combine in the physical realm.”
— Howard W. Odum (1929), An Introduction to Social Research (pg. 112) [4]

Quotes | By

The following are quotes by Sims:

“The basic notion in our thinking is that society is essentially a ‘physical’ phenomenon.”
— Newell Sims (1924), Society and its Surplus (pg. vii) [2]
“It was the philosopher Lotze, I believe, who held that a thing is known by its activities. To determine how it acts through and through is, he declared, to arrive at a complete understanding of what it is. It would seem, however, that, contrary to the Lotzean point of view, the energies of a thing, provided they can be separately determined, furnish a better criterion of its nature than do its mere activities. If, for instance, we could thoroughly test and fully measure its ‘energies’, our understanding of society would be comparatively thorough. But this we cannot do as of yet with entire satisfaction, and, desirable though a sociology written in terms of energy might be, its complete realization lies largely beyond the horizon of the present realm of future effort.”
— Newell Sims (1924), Society and Surplus (pg. 3) [2]
“Our study deals with social surplus on the assumption that ‘surplus’ is the most significant thing with respect to group energy.”
— Newell Sims (1924), Society and Surplus (pg. ix) [2]
“If social energy is not to be distinguished from physical energy in general, the law of the transformation of energy is obviously applicable. Herbert Spencer (First Principles (§8)) dwelt much upon this law, and tried to show how the transformation takes place from one medium to another takes place in exact equivalences.”
— Newell Sims (1924), Society and Surplus (pg. 4) [2]
Social energy, presently, cannot be measured in exact physical quantities. The physicists’ terms, potential and kinetic energy, however, may be conveniently employed in describing social energy. By potential energy is meant that which is stored up, and in society this includes the people themselves, economic goods, culture or tradition, social structure and organization. Kinetic signifies motion or action, and in society which embodies all endeavor, activity, and effort or whatever sort such as work, play, worship, etc. Instead of using the terms potential and kinetic, we might more properly speak of social energy as capital and current.”
— Newell Sims (1924), Society and Surplus (pg. 6) [2]
“As a general principle, it may be laid down as true that social power is proportionate to numbers, since each unit represents a bundle of more or less available energy, and the greater the number of units the more the energy.”
— Newell Sims (1924), Society and Surplus (pg. 7) [2]
“Social selection through war is another means of depleting group energy. A case in point was France of the Napoleonic era. Her official recruiting statistics give the data. The males born during the twenty-year period of war were found when called up as conscripts to be shorter in stature than the youth of former periods or of subsequent years. The average height of those born during the wars was 1.625 mm. compared with 1.655 mm. for those born after that time. With decrease in height went deterioration in size also.”
— Newell Sims (1924), Society and Surplus (pgs. 11-12) [2]

End matter


  1. 1.0 1.1 Newell L. Sims (about) –
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Sims, Newell L. (1924). Society and its Surplus: a Study in Social Evolution. Appleton and Co.
  3. Baker, Paul J. (1974). “The Making of a Sociologist: Newell Leroy Sims (1878-1965)” (abs), Sociological Focus, 7(3):134-45.
  4. (a) Sims, Newell L. (1924). Society and its Surplus: a Study in Social Evolution (§1:Social Energy; kinetic energy, 9+ pgs). D. Appleton and Co.
    (b) Odum, Howard W. and Jocher, Katharine C. (1929). An Introduction to Social Research (pg. 112). H. Holt and Co.

External links

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