Chapter 8: The Philosophical and Psychological Presuppositions
Benjamin McAlester Anderson Jr.
THE connection between social philosophy, on the one hand, and metaphysics and epistemology on the other hand, has always been a close one, - a fact not always adequately recognized by writers in the field of social science, in economics, especially. Scientists often " ignore " philosophy, holding that their concern is simply with the world of phenomenal "facts," and that the injection of philosophic considerations is illicit and unscientific. And this is often well enough in the field of the physical, chemical, and biological sciences, where the procedure is primarily inductive, and the data are got from sense observation. But in the social sciences, where the procedure is so largely deductive, and where the data are often principles of mind, whose truth is assumed as a starting point for investigation, and especially in economic theory, such an attitude cannot be justified. For philosophical assumptions will creep in, and the scientist has no option about it. The only thing he can do is to be critical, and know definitely what philosophical assumptions he is making, - and most of our treatises on economic theory do not bear evidence that this critical work has been done.
There may be traced in the history of philosophy, in the ancient world, and also in the modern era, three main stages in philosophic thought, each accompanied by a distinctive set of ideas concerning the nature of society. In distinguishing these three stages, in showing the relation of each to social philosophy, and especially in tracing a parallel between the philosophy of the ancients and that of modem times, I recognize the grave dangers of giving a superficial treatment, and of distorting facts to make them fit a schematism. I recognize, further, that a host of details and a multitude of differences must be ignored in tracing the parallel I propose. Considerations of space, moreover, prevent such a detailed justification of the views here presented as would be required were this more than a minor phase of my subject. The need for this is lessened, however, by the fact that much of what follows is part of the commonplaces of the history of philosophy, - albeit a repetition of it seems needed in a criticism of economic theory. The three stages are: the dogmatic stage; the skeptical stage; and the critical stage. In Greek philosophy, the first stage is represented by the cosmological philosophers, as Thales, Anaximenes, and Anaximander, who, with perfect confidence in the power of their minds to solve the riddles of the universe, or rather, without questioning that point at all, proceeded to spin out poetical accounts of the origin and nature of things. The second stage is represented by the Sophists, who, struck by the manifold diver-
(61) -gences in the philosophies of the earlier schools, and by the lack of harmony between the god-given laws and rules of morality which earlier tradition had handed down, and the needs of the social conditions among which they lived, found themselves unable to find truth readily, and reached the conclusion that each man is the measure of truth, that there are no universal criteria, or valid standards. The third stage begins with Socrates, who sought for a common principle of truth and justice in the midst of divergences, and this critical movement, continued by Plato and Aristotle, led to conceptions of unity once more.
Now the social philosophy which goes with the first stage is relatively undefined. It is for the most part content with the existing order, recognizes a supernatural basis for it, and raises few questions. The social philosophy of the second period is intensely individualistic. In the third stage, the emphasis upon social solidarity and upon a unified, organic conception of society, a society which is paramount to individual interests and rights, comes to the fore again. The extreme poles of thought are, on the one hand, an individualism which leaves scant room for any very significant social relations whatsoever, and, on the other hand, a socialism - like that of the Republic -which swallows up the individual. The compromise view, expressed in the Aristotelian doctrine of the relation between "form" and "matter," applied to the social problem, finds the individual
(62) very real, to be sure, but still real only in his SO cial relationships. Individual activities are facts, but social activity is more than a mere sum of individual activities. Society and the individual are alike abstractions, if viewed separately.
The mediaeval conflict over realism and nominalism really derives its interest from the practical social issues involved, for the reality of the Church, as more than a mere aggregate of its members, and the validity of Christian doctrine, as more than the sum of individual beliefs, are at stake
The cycle began again in modern times. As representatives of the dogmatic period in modern philosophy, DesCartes and Spinoza may be chosen. They were not, of course, naively dogmatic, for philosophy had learned much from its many disappointments, and DesCartes, especially, starts out with reflections which would seem to make him very much a skeptic. And yet each believed in the power of the mind to draw absolute truth from itself, and each proceeded in a highly rationalistic way to build up his system. The very title of Spinoza's great work indicates this attitude of mind: "Ethica more geometrico demonstrata." The conception of society which characterizes this period is, again, not naive, but still has a supernatural, or at least a superhuman, basis, for it is in a Law of Nature (capitalized and personified) that social institutions find their origin and justification. Critical reflections, starting with Locke, and passing through Berkeley to the absolute skepticism of Hume, bring in
(63) the second, or skeptical, period, in which the rationalistic-dogmatic certitude of Spinoza and DesCartes is banished. And going with this movement in philosophic thought comes the extreme individualism of Rousseau in politics, and Adam Smith in economics. The movement away from skepticism, beginning with Kant, puts the world, and especially society, back into organic connections again, and we have, in Hegel, especially, society to the fore, and the individual real only as a part of society. The organic conception, revived by Hegel, and vitalized by the positivistic studies which applied the Darwinian doctrine to social phenomena, has characterized the greater part of the social philosophy of the last half hundred years - of course, not without protest and highly necessary criticism.
Now all of this is, of course, commonplace. And yet a failure to recognize it has vitiated very much thinking in the field of economic theory. Economic thought is to-day very largely based on the philosophic conceptions which characterize the period in which economics began to be a differentiated science, - the skeptical doctrines of David Hume, the close friend of Adam Smith. The individual is all - important; his world of thought and feeling is shut off from that of every other man; social relationships are largely mechanical, and grow out of calculating self-interest on the part of the individual; social
(64) laws are conceived after the analogy of physical laws. Ethics and politics, however, have been far more influenced by later thinking, and the organic conception of society has largely dominated these sciences of late, while the new science, sociology, free to base itself more largely upon present-day epistemological, philosophical, and psychological notions, has gone further than any other in accepting the doctrine of the unity and pervasiveness of social relations, organically conceived. I think there are few things more strikingly in contrast than the conception of society which the student meets in most works on economic theory, and that which he meets in studying the other social sciences. That this is so is due precisely to the fact that the economists have too largely neglected philosophy and psychology, and have accepted uncritically the assumptions of the founders of the science. Doctrines accepted then have become crystallized, and still form part of the current stock in trade of economic science, even though rejected by philosophy itself.
To one of these faulty doctrines from the earlier time, attention has already been called. It is that the intensities of wants and aversions in the mind of one man stand in no relation to the same phenomena in the mind of another man, and that there can be no comparison instituted between them. The individual is an isolated monad, mechanically connected with his fellows,
(65) who are to him "a part of the non-ego," but spiritually self-sufficient and inaccessible. The doctrine appears in Marshall's statement: "No one can compare and measure accurately against one another even his own mental states at different times, and no one can measure the mental states of another at all, except indirectly and conjecturally, by their effects." Pareto I have quoted, as also Jevons, in chapter iv. The doctrine appears in Professor Veblen's recent article in criticism of Professor Clark: 
It is evident, and admitted, that there can be no balance, and no commensurability, between the laborer's disutility (pain) in producing the goods and the consumer's utility (pleasure) in consuming them, inasmuch as these two hedonistic phenomena lie each within the consciousness of a distinct person. There is, in fact, no continuity of nervous
(66) tissue [italics mine] over the interval between consumer and producer, and a direct comparison, equilibrium, equality, or discrepancy in respect of pleasure and pain can, of course, not be sought except within each self-balanced individual complex of nervous tissue.
In the recent elaborate study, Value and Distribution, by Professor H. J. Davenport, the theories based on the conception of the individual as an isolated monad, a self-complete whole, with purely mechanical relationships with other men, find their fullest and most self-conscious expression, and the philosophical presuppositions are explicitly premised. The following quotation from Thackeray's Pendennis is given as a footnote, in which Professor Davenport's own conception is expressed:
Ah, sir, a distinct universe walks about under your hat and under mine - all things in nature are different to each - the woman we look at has not the same features, the dish we eat has not the same taste, to the one and to the other; you and I are but a pair of infinite isolations, with some fellow islands a little more or less near us.
This is, of course, manifestly the theme of the old subjectivistic analysis, by which all things are reduced to thoughts, sensations, and desires within the individual soul, and in accordance with which we have none save conjectural know-
(67)-ledge of anything outside of our own souls. Now a general answer might be given that this is an epistemological principle which holds true only for what Kant calls the "Ding an sich, " - if such a thing there be -and that there is no more reason why it should apply to human emotions, considered purely as phenomena, than to any other of the phenomena with which science busies itself. If this principle be adhered to, its effect will be simply to cast doubt on the conclusions of all sciences, physical as well as psychical. Certainly psychology would be impossible on this assumption, except in so far as the psychologist claims only to be working out a science of his individual soul, which, so far as he knows, is not true of any other individual. But it is precisely not this that psychology attempts. It is concerned with the laws and behavior of minds in general, with the "typisch und allgemeingultig," and not with the mental idiosyncrasies of the particular individual.
But the doctrine can be met from the standpoint -of epistemology itself. The writers who are responsible for this subjective analysis, have held that mind is more nearly capable of being known by mind than is anything else, since we can interpret things only in terms of our own experiences. The real nature of a purely physical thing is far more deeply hidden from our view than is the real nature of a mental fact, even though it be in the mind of another. And especially would they grant a degree, at least, of objective currency to clearly phrased conceptual
(68) thought. Now I base myself upon the present day pragmatic philosophy, which is, essentially, concerned with the problem of knowledge. Its principle is that we believe things to be true, not because of any knowledge we have of some mystical, absolute truth, but because of our experiences of utilitarian sort. That is true which works. That is true which we find will satisfy our desires and needs. In a word, desire, volition, values, lie at the basis of intellect. Whence it follows, that if our minds are so constituted that we understand each other on the intellectual side, then there must be a still deeper and more underlying similarity on the desire, feeling, volitional side. Consequently, if there be anything at all., outside of our own mind, which we can understand, it must be the feelings and emotions of other men.
Considerations of a practical nature give us the strongest possible grounds for a belief that human desires., feelings, etc., are homogeneous and communicable. The fact is that we all have back of us many millions of years of evolutionary history in the same general environment. In the past, with relatively minor variations, the same influences have played upon our ancestors from
(69) the beginnings of life on our planet. And then, we are born into the same society, and it has given us, not, to be sure, the power of reaction, but certainly all of our most important stimuli. Further, we do get along in -society. We laugh together, we play together, we share each other's sorrows, we love and hate each other, in a way that would be wholly impossible if we did not in practice assume the correctness of our "inferences " about one another's motives and desires. And the fact that these "inferences" are in the main correct is the one thing that makes social life possible. We can, and do, understand one another's motives, desires, wants, emotions. We can, and do, constantly communicate our feelings to one another.
It is only on the basis, further-, -of an intellectualistic psychology that such a subjectivistic conception is possible. If the voluntaristic psychology and the doctrine of "the unconscious " be accepted - and certainly the psychological facts on which the latter is based must be accepted, whether the metaphysical conclusions are or not  - we have no basis whatever for this doctrine that clearness holds within the mind, but that without all is uncertain. Really, only a little part of our mental life is in consciousness at any given moment. The "stream of consciousness" is but a narrow thing, and the unity of the individual
(70) mind is a unity, not of consciousness, but of function. As Goethe somewhere says, we know ourselves never by reflection, but by action. And often does it happen that a sympathetic friend, or even an observant enemy, may interpret more accurately our actions than we ourselves can do, and may measure more accurately the strength of a given motive for us than we can ourselves. In a certain sense, our knowledge of other minds is inference. We see other men's actions, or hear their voices, or watch the muscles of their faces, and so, indirectly, get at their thoughts and feelings. But, in much the same sense, our knowledge of their actions, or of their voices, is inference too. For we must interpret the image on the retina, or the sense excitation in the ear. But practically, neither is inference, if by inference be meant a consciously made judgment from premises of which we are conscious. In a casual walk with a friend, where conversation flows smoothly on easy topics, one is as immediately conscious of his friend's thoughts and feelings, expressed in the conversation, as he is of the scenes that present themselves by the way, or even of the thoughts that arise within himself.
The significance of this conclusion is not quite the same as that which might be expected from the context from which I have taken the doctrine under criticism. The feelings of men with reference to economic goods are facts of definite,
tangible nature, and subject-matter of social knowledge. But we have not yet reached a standard or source of social value. No homogeneous "labor jelly," or "pain jelly," or "utility jelly," made up by averaging arithmetically, or adding arithmetically, individual efforts or pains or pleasures, will solve our problem for us - as indeed I have been at pains to show in what has gone before. The purpose of the foregoing criticism is primarily to clear the ground for a conception of social organization which is more than mechanical, and in which the individual is both less and more than a self-sufficient monad.