Review of The Basis of Social Theory 

Floyd Henry Allport

The interpretation of human nature as the basis of social life is an ever recurring theme in modern social psychology. The contribution of Professors Balz and Pott, though admittedly an analytic, approach rather than a solution, is therefore timely and valuable. The concept of progress, according to these writers, is a part of the spirit of the age. It is based upon a twofold faith that continuous progress is possible, and that the human mind can define what changes will represent progress and discover means by which these ends may be achieved. Control over physical forces brings the need of wisdom in the use of this power. Material and spiritual progress ire not necessarily incompatible, the distinction between them having received a false emphasis.

Knowledge of human nature is the first requisite of social science. Modern psychology has dealt with isolated functions rather than social motivation, hence it is unfitted for the tasks of social theory. An historical survey shows that mental science has split upon the rock of dualism, and is forced either to adopt an unexplained parallelism, or a one-sided materialistic or spiritualistic basis. The authors propose to go behind this issue and employ the terms "mind" or "consciousness" as names for "problems" in Social Psychology "and not as categories constitutive of its subject matter" (p. 22). In order to do this it is boldly asserted that all psychology is fundamentally social psychology, a view deduced from the fact that all. human life is social life. The body-mind problem and physiological and mechanistic psychology are distinctions subsequent rather than prior to the fundamentally social character of the data considered.

The vagueness of this conception is not greatly relieved by the explanation which follows. "The kind of situation with which the psychologist must deal is one that obviously involves at least two agents. Somehow it is a joint affair. It is not the agents in their discreteness, however, that arc primary, but; file situation in its totality" (p. 24). In order to account for the activity of one of the agents it is necessary to take into account the behavior of the other. This fact, which has wide implications in group life is known as "co-implication" (p. 26). The distinction between individual and social in the usual sense is, from this viewpoint of the data, a secondary distinction which arises within the subject matter, that is (presumably) within a field consisting of the elementary social situation. The group is thus prior to the individual and to the distinction between the individual and the group. The conclusion is that "individual psychology is an abstraction ; to correct it we need to emphasize how the inherited endowment of each human being is conditioned in its development by the group system" (p. 44). And further (p. 45) "the data of psychology in its basic form (and the basic form of psychology is social psychology) are social facts".

From the reviewer's standpoint the pretension is quite unwarranted

(306) that all psychology is social psychology. It is assumed that because the social environment is largely present in the modification of original nature, there are no psychological situations which are not essentially social situations. This is obviously false. It must not be overlooked also that in many cases where the behavior lies within the social sphere, the correct emphasis of psychology is upon the individual and his internal neuromuscular processes and consciousness. It is true that human beings are by habit-formation socialized beings; but the facts of bodily structure and original nature, and the laws of learning are still the fundamental basis, from a causal viewpoint, not only of the science of individual psychology but of social explanation as well. Not the "social situation" but the socialized individual is the true datum and starting point of social psychology. "Co-implication" is a vague descriptive term for social stimulation and response. Whatever causal significance exists here arises not from a social situation (which is a purely descriptive fact) but from the social behavior of individuals. The logical fact of the group when introduced as a premise of explanation becomes merely a variety of the multiform "group fallacy".

The same criticism may be applied to other writers, who, like Professor Dewey, place the social (cultural) resultant of individual behavior (which of course becomes through education a derived causal factor) as the primary agency behind social action. This procedure ignores completely the biological and dynamic factor without which human life, whether collective or individual, would be unthinkable. It must be borne in mind that in all social phenomena, the individual is genetically and vitally causal under two aspects: (1) his psychological nature prior to and independent of social conditioning must be understood before we can account for his becoming a socialized being; and (2) no explanation of social phenomena is possible except through a study of the manner in which the individual stimulates others and responds to stimulations given by others.

It is to be noted moreover that the formulation of social psychology given by the authors does not obviate through the remainder of the volume the duality between subjective and objective which was stated in Chapter I as a reason for the position taken. This formulation in fact is left behind, slight reference being made to it throughout the later discussion. Human nature is considered from the viewpoint of the usual psychology of the individual.

In the chapter dealing with "Human Nature and Social Forces" there are considered by way of definition the two factors underlying conduct, namely, original human nature and the social environment. A close agreement is shown with the modern trend of sociologists and psychologists toward rejecting the view of pure and unmodified instincts as distinguishable in the motivation of the grown man. Native and learned components of behavior fuse inextricably. Both elements arc present in all conduct. There is, however, no attempt made to analyze the strands of habit formation developed upon innate foundations in social behavior. A further

(307) general agreement lies in the contrast between the rate of cultural and biological changes in society within historic times. The social environment exists not only in persons but in physical objects that carry social significance. It must be remembered that the organism selects its environment to a large degree by its own capacities for being stimulated. Hence there are as many kinds or environment as there are forms of life, and indeed types of individuals. But "no conditions lying outside human nature itself can be taken as affording the explanatory ground of conduct and society" (p. 75).

The chief emphasis of the book falls upon the chapters dealing with "Inherited Tendencies and Action", "The Function of Instinctive Tendencies", and "The Function of Capacities". It is to be regretted that the selection of authorities in regard to instincts is limited to a few writers committed to the older and uncritical acceptance of instinctive factors , to such men, for example, as Drever, Wallas, and McDougall. Sociologists nowadays can ill afford to overlook work on this subject by Bernard, Dunlap, Kuo, Stone, Kantor, Hunter, Ayers, and the students of infant behavior.

Maturation is accepted by the authors and the relation of drive and mechanism discussed. As development proceeds the response becomes capable of being evoked by ever finer discriminations of stimuli, and less by their "physical properties" than by their sign value or their implication that has been learned by the organism (conditioned response) (Holt's recession of the stimulus). "Reaction" and "response" are discriminated by the authors, the former meaning immediate reflex behavior, the latter the more complex and delayed behavior resulting from the functioning of "intelligence". Various views of instinct are explained without final decision as to the most satisfactory. These views relate to such questions as degree of generality or specificity of the instinct tendency. Assuming a number of simple undirected reflex tendencies as the innate basis of behavior, must we not also grant some innate principle for their integration into definite systems serving the ends familiarly described as "instinctive"? This question seems a good challenge to theories of a large number of random reflex movements (cf. Kuo's "action system") with no particular significance for adaptation in themselves. A number of purely teleological instinct classifications are given, though. the circularity of thought involved in such schemes is also suggested.

A defect of the latter portion of the book is the reiteration, as a kind of fetish, of a phrase used by Graham Wallas. Wallas advocates the reduction of various kinds of consciousness and behavior to "the same terminological plane". We can thus cover the native basis of such diverse forms of activity as sensing, feeling, reasoning, and emotion by the structural term "dispositions". The common terminological plane produces, in the reviewer's Opinion, only such misconceptions as the ''instinct of thought,", and such shallowness of explanation as was inherent in the antiquated

( 308) "faculty psychology". Its application in the present work has contributed little but obscurity.

Left to the guidance of their own thought Professors Balz and Pott achieve much that. is original and worth while. They rightly qualify the "inherited dispositions" theory by saying that if such functions as habit and attention are to be considered as inherited tendencies, they must be treated as very general and non-specific, having intricate connections with the other inherited endowments. Inherited tendencies are classified as reflexes, instinctive tendencies, and capacities. The treatment of capacities is not entirely free from the influence of faculty psychology. Nevertheless, including them as part of the socially significant inherited equipment, and in showing their intimate and vital relation to the modification of instinctive tendencies, the writers have made a distinct contribution.

Emotion is treated as the result of the blocking of instinctive tendencies. "Human life [being more highly socialized and inhibited] will therefore be more emotional than that of any other animal" (p. 129). The choice of authorities for the classification of instinctive tendencies leaves much to be desired (pp. 1.29-133). Rational social selection is said to be replacing the biological emphasis (natural selection) in the human trends of conduct which underlie social action. Klan's constitution in relation to social needs is not to be described in terms of utility or non-utility of instinctive propensities, but through the fact that "his instincts may be made useful". With the rapid alteration of the physical environment there arises the problem of the lack of adaptation of man's stable and primitive instinctive equipment. Original nature has lagged behind changes in the environment. The discussion of this important problem, though rather general, is essentially sound. No mention is made of Professor Ogburn's work in this connection. The modification of instinct is appropriately discussed here, and the fallacy of regarding instinctive tendencies as either good or evil is clearly exposed.

The chapter upon capacities brings to light useful conceptions of the manner in which native abilities determine the direction of the operation of instinctive tendencies. It is rightly insisted that specific abilities are not inherited, but only generalized capacities or the. plasticity of the nervous tissue for acquiring this or that type of skill. Varying degrees of specialization are, however, distinguished in capacities. There may also be a number of discriminable components of such a talent, for example, as that for music. A good definition of intelligence as the integrated working of the organism as a whole is given (pp. 180-181). Woodworth's view of the drive or interest inherent in each mechanism (special capacity) is examined critically. The importance of intelligence as a supreme capacity in the guidance of instinctive tendencies is stressed as a. palliative to those who object to basing human life upon anything so crude as instinct. In making this point, however, the reviewer feels that the authors have betrayed their cause; for the sovereignty of instinctive requirements is tacitly overthrown by a personified intelligence which picks and chooses

(309) for itself concerning the things it would have instinct accomplish. Here and there such obscurities of faculty psychology mar this otherwise excellent chapter. Formal logical analysis is sometimes placed ahead of adherence to neurological conception. The following quotation (pp. 181-182) will illustrate: "Plasticity is sometimes looked upon as an inherited tendency. Put. on the other hand, plasticity might as well be regarded as a natural conditioning for the functioning of every tendency rather than as a tendency in itself. Or finally, inherited tendencies might be regarded as differentiations of the basic fact of Plasticity, the latter furnishing the common denominator of the tendencies." Again on p. 201: "It is the instinctive tendency itself which is generalized; there is a genuine organic union of instinct and capacity".

The final chapter upon "The Problem of Control." acutely discusses the laws of change in a dynamic society, the problem of socializing the individual, and the wise control of the variant or nonconformist elements in society. Faith in intelligence as the guide of progress, a faith which is the keynote of the book, is again espoused. To the cynical objection that mind itself has been subject to errors and superstitions through the ages it is significantly replied that "the cultural tradition, and accordingly mind itself, are continually subjected to processes of criticism and revision by mind". Thus do the authors reassert through the notion of progress the identity of mental and social fact and bring the discussion back into unity with the opening thesis.

There is much, on the whole, which the psychologist might criticize; yet there is much also which he might learn from this little volume. The point of view, being in many respects novel, is a welcome contribution in these days of struggle for a sound attitude in the theory of social explanation. One may reject it on the whole, but there is much that will remain valid; and the portions rejected will serve perhaps a greater purpose in stimulating constructively critical thought. Owing to its highly abstract and formal manner of expression the book is very difficult to read. This unfortunately will prevent its use as a text, except in classes composed of advanced students.



No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2