Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development


Table of Contents | Next | Previous

IT is my aim, in the present essay, to inquire to what extent the principles of the development of the individual mind apply also to the evolution of society.[1] This thesis being the main one, it naturally falls into two main inquiries:[2] what are the principles which the individual shows in his mental life, — principles of organization, growth, and conduct? —and what additional principles, if any, does society exhibit in its forms of organization, progress, and activity?

There are three more or less `scientific'[3] methods by which this general problem might be investigated, which I may name in order.

FIRST, the Anthropological or Historical method, which aims to discover in the history of society the same principles as those which individual mental growth shows. Its question is: Does the individual in his progress recapitulate, in any sense, the progress of society as shown in its history from the earliest forms of organization to the latest?

SECOND, the Sociological or Statistical method, which aims, by analytical and inductive examinations of society,

(2) to find out the principles of its organization and the method of its growth; the results to be compared with those of descriptive psychology.

THIRD, the Genetic method, which has application in two fields of investigation

I. The psychological development of the individual examined for light upon the social elements and movements of his nature, whereby he is able to enter into social organization with his fellows. This may be called the Psychogenetic method.

2. The biological forces and their results in animal life, together with the psychological phenomena of animal life, examined for light upon the antecedents of the social forces and institutions which are human. This may be called the Biogenetic method.

These three methods are not strictly distinct, nor are their fields of application entirely separate; but the description of them may serve to indicate certain converging paths by which the general problem may be approached. A complete scientific research should include them all.

The method of the present essay is the Genetic: the form of that method which inquires into the psychological development of the human individual in the earlier stages of his growth for light upon his social nature, and also upon the social organization iii which be bears a part. The evidence presented in this study is therefore, in the main, Psychogenetic; it is drawn largely from direct observation of children. The main thought which runs through it is the conception of the growth of the child's sense of personality. This gives its title to Book 1. The justification of this way of treating the problem must appear, if anywhere, in the results.


At the same time, the other methods are not without evident connection with the one here adopted. The anthropological bearings of the genetic data which I employ are frequently indicated in the text. The analytical method is considered, and in a measure employed, in Part VI. The value of the other aspect of the genetic problem, the Biogenetic, is not so great, in my opinion, as is customarily supposed; this may be seen in the discussions, in locis, of certain biological principles. Two of the short Appendices (A and B) also deal with biological conceptions.

The advantage of the psychological genetic method is that it is constantly based upon observed facts and may be controlled by them. Psychological observations of the child fall within the range of positive science; and their value consists in the possibility of their repeated corroboration. The theoretical inferences of the work are thus made more secure; and they may be supported, moreover, by a corresponding appeal to the facts of social life for confirmation.


  1. Compare the personal remarks (apropos of the contents of the work) in the Preface.
  2. Books I. and II. respectively.
  3. That is, in contrast with deductive, speculative, and philosophical inquiries about society

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2