Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development


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53. THE recent literature of the social life in which the imitative functions have had so much emphasis, has tended, in the minds of some, to obscure the great facts of invention; while the same tendency has prevented others from giving the facts of imitation due weight. In the pages above I have tried as far as may be to keep to the natural history standpoint, tracing what seemed to be clearly imitative and giving a genetic view of the rise of the notion of self without raising the question one way or the other as to the mind's initiation of what is new and inventive. This question cannot be put off permanently, however; and I now propose to take it up for direct discussion. How does the mind invent anything new ?

Or, put conversely: How far is what we call invention really the creation of something new? This question may be approached, I think, most profitably from the side of the child's early development. And this approach to it has the advantage of giving us results in direct relation to those already reached in the discussions of the imitative factor in the growth of the personal sense. If the child is inventive at all, he must show it in connection with the attainments which he makes everywhere; even

(91) in those attainments which we find reason for calling imitative. We cannot divide the child into two parts, two realities coming up to the facts of life with different capabilities, one fitted only to imitate, and the other fitted to invent. Of course it is the same child whatever he does ; and if he be gifted with the power of invention at all, this power should show itself in all that he does—even in his imitations.

This general claim may be enforced by the examination of the child's very imitations. Such a direct appeal to fact, if adequately carried out, should be worth any amount of abstract discussion of the merits of imitation and invention in the mental life generally, in which—as is so often the case—the two types of function are considered by definition at the start as far removed from each other as the letters 'vs.' put between them would suggest. In the opinion of many, an act is either imitative or inventive, and in performing it the child is either a creator or a slave. The phrases 'divine creation' and 'slavish imitation' are common enough.

I. The Process of Invention

54. Yet before we go to the child, our inquiry may be abbreviated by a little more definition of the term 'invention,' as the present state of psychological knowledge enables us to set its limitations from the outset. There is no question in psychological circles to-day of the absolute mental creation which was formerly assumed. The newer doctrine (I) of 'mental content,' on the one hand, which holds that no elements of representation can get into conscious-ness except as they have been already present in some form in presentation ; and, on the other hand, (2) the doctrine that the activities of consciousness are always conditioned

(92) on the content of presentation and representation present at the time—these positions make it impossible to hold that the agent or the mind can make anything for itself 'out of whole cloth,' so to speak. The former of these views, held now by everybody, leads us to look in all cases of imagination — even in all cases of invention —for elements of construction themselves more or less familiar beforehand to the thought of the person who makes the invention. The phrase 'imagination is constructive, not creative' has crept into all the text-books, even into those whose authors find some other ground for holding that absolute initiations may be possible to consciousness itself. We have the right, therefore, to draw our lines somewhere inside this view of current psychology.

The other doctrine referred to is, I think, equally well established, although not so generally known in popular statement as the former. Psychologists look upon the activities felt in consciousness as being in some way involved with the mechanism of movement — either the movements of the muscular system or with the phases of the attention —and then find these movements of both kinds expressions of the content then in consciousness. What we do is always a function of what we think.[1]

If these principles be true, there is a certain way in which consciousness might still be inventive. We might say that the activities of consciousness in some way give a new shape, form, synthesis, sifting, to the very contents out of which they themselves arise.

55. Even with this narrow limitation, there are again

(93) two directions in which we might look for novelties in the mind. These two ways differ, however, in the 'locus,' so to speak, of the effective novelty or invention in the train of processes involved in a complete section of consciousness. We might say (1) that the novel or original idea came into consciousness just from the mingling together in memory, imagination, etc., of the disjecta membra of earlier thoughts, perceptions, etc., in new and varied combinations: that on one hand. Or we might say (2) that the novelty was introduced among the forms into which the actions, the endeavours, the efforts, of the life of conduct tend to bring the earlier memories, imaginations, and thoughts.

1. In the former case, we should find all the various forms in which our fancies unite struggling to get place in our apperceptive systems and to discharge themselves in action ; and the valuable ones would get their value from their success in bringing about satisfactory results. The criteria of an invention, as opposed to a mere accidental and worthless fancy, would be its subsequent selection, and there would be no way of discounting beforehand the chances of any of them.[2] The great question would be

(94) left over : How do the real inventions get selected as permanent and valuable acquisitions ? This question it is which would force us to review the whole theory of the origin of thought and its utility in organic and mental evolution. This cannot be done here,[3] but we may assume the general result that it is by action that their value is to be tested. If it be said with some that consistency with earlier thought is the test, then we may say that it is by action that all this earlier thought has been tested, and it is through action that the thoughts already acquired as valuable are held together in a system. The very test of consistency means synergy, or unity of action. It is, then, a short step to the view that it is preferably from the basis of the active achievements already secured that the new combinations or interpretations which are real inventions arise. This leads us to the second possible view.

2. On this view the new combinations secured for the inventive life are not the chance outcome of the revived fragments of memory and fancy ; they are rather the new forms into which the materials of our thought are cast as the result of variations in our actions in the process of adaptation to the ends of utility. It is by adapted action that our mental life is held together in great consistent thought-systems ; and it is by new refinements upon these adapted and correlated actions that new variations are introduced into the systems of our coherent

(95) thought. The criteria of the value of these new elements of thought are again their issue in action; and they have to be actually tested : but that they issue from the platform of accomplished systems and accomplished accommodations renders their good quality the more likely from the start.

On this second view, which I give as the true one, the process of selection goes on from a level of earlier mental attainment,[4] while, on the other view, each invention is a casual outcome from among all the possible creations of fancy. The question of the actual operation of the selection, both in its objective tests and in the brain-processes involved, is left for a later page.[5] Both views, however, assume the existence of variations in brain-processes; one places them on the receptive or sensory side, and the other in the motor or active side. One says, we are liable to all sorts of imaginations ; some of these prove valuable and true. The other says, we are capable of thoughts which are valuable and true because they are held in a system by the processes of action and attention ; when these processes vary, some of the variations give better and truer thoughts.

56. It is true, the latter would also say, that we do imagine all sorts of things, but it is not to these imaginings that we often look for the valuable inventions.[6]

(96) This last position is proved from the comparison of the two fields of fancy and thought respectively. We rarely come upon a valuable combination in our revery, or in our dreaming, or in our rumination in subjects which we have not studiously explored. The inventions come from hard thinking, steady application, casting about of attention, trained and conscious direction of the operations of mind. The valuable variations, therefore, are already more or less determined, as a whole, in their direction, by reason of the particular system in which they occur. These systems have arisen under the rule of certain objective marks or coefficients of belief in the different spheres of truth.[7]

57. This general view, I may also add, is consistent with the psychological requirements already laid down. We saw that a new invention must be made out of old material, and must come just through the activity which it is the function of this old material to arouse. The view presented fulfils both these requirements. It makes the new thought in each instance one of the possible syntheses of earlier thoughts ; and then it has just the advantage over the other view spoken of, that it makes the variation which issues in the invention, a variation in the legitimate active processes arising from approximately similar thoughts. The whole process is a circular one. Here, let us say, are thoughts which issue in movements adapted to these thoughts. Variations in these movements react to 

(97) produce variations in the thoughts. Some of these thought variations are selected.[8] These are the inventions. So with the formula : what we do is a function of what we think ; we have this other: what we shall think is a function of what we have done.

2. The Child's Inventions [9]

58. This latter view, then, —if it be true and if, as was said, both the content and the activity are conditioned upon

(98) the growth of experience, —ought to get some support from the careful examination of the growth of the child's experience at the very time when he seems to be most clearly illustrating both of the limitations imposed by psychology upon his originality. In childhood he is most clearly subject to these limitations, because then he is mainly a learner. He does not turn out many startling inventions then ; at least, they are not startling to others, however they may seem so to him. As a matter of fact, we can usually see whence he has derived most of the material of his thought, and by what kinds of reaction upon his material he has come to get it into the forms which his little inventions present. The task, therefore, to which we bring ourselves is a very plain and simple one: to detect in the inventions, —the games, sand-piles, toy-houses, statements, beliefs, etc., —of the child, any contributions he has himself made to the examples, situations, events, shapes of tool or thing, or what not, which stand ready at his hand and which he comes to perceive, think about, or act upon. In short, what does he as an individual contribute to the complexion of his own thought ?

59. There are two general principles apparently involved in all a child's originalities; these two principles have grown up in my own mind as necessary interpretations of the observations which I have made of children in the last few years, and in the course of the meditating which I have done on the varied doings of childhood. I shall venture to state one of these principles at a time, in the form of a somewhat dogmatic-sounding opinion, and then go on to cite the evidence and give the illustrations upon which it is based, as far as space may permit.


1. The child's originalities are in great part the new ways in which he finds his knowledges falling together in consequence of his attempts to act to advantage on what he already knows.

Or, made more brief, his originalities arise through his action, struggle, trial of things for himself in an imitative way.

2. The child's originalities, further, are in great measure the combinations of his knowledges which he feels justified in expecting to hold for others to act on also.

60. These two statements I do not mean to make as two distinct principles operative apart or in opposition to each other, nor are they the expression of a chronological order in the child's development ; they rather present phases of the one fact of invention, and for convenience for reference we may call them respectively the 'personal phase' and the 'social phase.'

There is a further statement, also, which I may make of both of them before going on to consider them separately; a statement which it is well to make in advance of its clearer formulation from the evidence, since it brings the topic well into connection with our earlier distinctions in the child's development. This statement is to the effect that the child's inventions are, in these two phases, reflections of the twofold aspects of his own personal growth. It will be remembered that we found the child growing by the imitative absorption of material from the persons about him, in the first instance ; and then, in the second instance, by legislating his own personal growth — the facts which he has found out about himself as a personal being —back into the persons around him again. Now the first phase of his inventive activity is shown in connection with the first of these personal movements : he is

(100) original in the way he learns from others by taking in personal elements from them. And the second phase of his originality is a function of the other process of his personal growth, he is original in the way he treats others, the way he disports himself in his intercourse with them. And the latter is a sort of test or proof of the value of the former to the child himself.

61. I. We may now take up for fuller treatment the 'personal' phase of the child's inventions. In order to avoid repetition, use may be made of the results of the earlier pages devoted to the development of the child's sense of his ego or personal self ; and we may draw from the details the great fact that all his personal absorption from his immediate associates is through his tendency to imitate. The interesting character which draws him to this element or that in the man, woman, or child from whom he learns, is itself due to imitation ; for his interests are really only the intellectual reflection of his habits, and his habits are the motor phenomena which have resulted from his earlier activities of the same imitative type. But quite apart from theory, we are constrained by the facts to say that the method of his personal progress is imitation. For if we say that he cannot do anything without some approximate ability to apprehend what he is to do—that is, without a content of revival of something already apprehended on an earlier occasion ; and if we go on to enforce the other psychological truth put in evidence just above—that no action can take place which is not, in greater or less degree, the proper outcome of the motor energies of the revived content : admitting these two points, then the action which the child performs in any case must have an imitative character just in so far as

(101) the habit which it tends to stimulate is true to the situation outside him which the child observes ; that is, in so far as he succeeds in learning.

For example, say a child sees me finger a ring. He has certain habits of action. The content of his consciousness —my fingers —tends to start the one of his habits of action which is attached to other contents most nearly like this one, i.e., his own fingers. But this movement of his fingers thus brought about is imitative ; and the fact that it is imitative, that is, that it is the motor expression of a presentation like the one set before him — his finger substituted for mine — this is the reason, and the only reason, that a movement takes place by which he learns. In other words, he can only learn by imitating; for if he only acts strictly on the revived elements of content which come up in his own consciousness from within, then he is acting strictly as he has acted before, and that teaches him nothing. On the other hand, he cannot act in ways absolutely new, for they come into his consciousness with no tendency to stir up any appropriate kinds of action. He cannot act suitably upon them at all. Hence it is only new presentations which are assimilable to old ones that can get the benefit of the habits already attached to the old ones, and so lead to actions more or less suited to the new. But this is imitation. 

We have just been giving, as may have been evident, the basis of what is usually called the 'instinct of imitation.' The instinct to imitate operates by the use of the movements required to do the thing imitated. But unless the child has a sense of what movements will do it, he cannot produce them. This sense of the proper movements can only have come from the earlier performance of those movements 

(102) in connection with some other mental content. And the movements associated with another mental content can be available for this content only if this new content can take the place of the old one in the motor scheme.[10]

62. Now the reader asks at once: Does the child learn anything by such imitations ? Is he not simply acting out his habits just the same whether it be the thought of his own fingers directly, or only the thought of them indirectly as suggested by the sight of some one else's fingers, which brings out the movement ?

To this last question we may answer, yes, at once. The child may not learn anything important simply by the movement, since it is very largely a movement which he has made before. But let us put the question more broadly and ask whether he learns anything by the situation as a whole ; that requires a very different answer. The question put by the reader may then be stated in general terms : How can the imitative situation operate to instruct the child ?

63. We must at once see that his own movements, his imitative actions, bring new elements into the situation. He has, just after he acts, three things in his mind-let us say in the case of the imitation of the movements of the fingers. First, he sees the movements of the other person ; then he has the memory of his own finger-movements (probably indeed both of his fingers as they look and of the movements of them as felt) ; then finally, the sight of his own finger-movements. Now two different things may happen, and which of the two it is to be will

(103) depend largely on the age of the child. He may learn something, and he may not. If he have already attained what is called 'persistent imitation' —the try-try-again tendency—or the more developed exercise of volition which comes through the exercise of persistent imitation, then he will learn. Indeed, then he cannot help learning.

For he will see the inadequacy of his attempt in the first instance and then rally his forces to do better. This means that he will act again ; but not as before simply upon the old sense of his own earlier finger-movements, but upon the whole threefold complex content which is now surging in his consciousness for expression. And added to it all, will be certain extraneous elements resulting from his action : strains due to his attention, twitchings from his other limbs, rushings of blood to the head, pleasant emotional excitement, fatigue presently in the muscles used, etc. Now let us say he acts a second time. Here is again a new complexity of content, more varied, and as strange as the former one. Let him go on trying till he 'hits it'—succeeds in making my finger-movements after me—and then ask whether this movement is all that the child has learned!

64. Apart from the acquisition of the finger-combination which is his immediate object, he has learned a variety of things. Only the principal features of his learning may be mentioned here : the essentials of the fact of learning itself apart from the details of this particular finger-exercise. He learns we may say, first, a great number of combinations which me not those he is after. Each of the single efforts which he makes is a novelty to him, and each has its interesting features. Indeed, if we watch him, and especially if we withdraw the 'copy' which our finger-

(104) combination sets before him, we may find his becoming so absorbed in the single efforts which he makes, the partial successes which crown his efforts, that he forgets to go on trying. He begins to reproduce his own combinations again and again, and so to learn them. So in each of his efforts, no matter how far removed it may be from the copy he sets out to imitate, in each of them he finds a possible combination of fruitful pursuit for his training and in many cases also fruitful for his utilities of movement.

Then, again, another very valuable lesson; he learns the method of all learning. He begins to see that it is he who varies the copy by trying to reproduce it; that he turns out interesting combinations which are his own peculiar property. He stops in wonder before his own doings, and runs again to his elders or to his companions saying, 'See what I can do.' He thus grows to recognize himself as more than a mere imitator. He begins to see that it is just by this method of exercising themselves that the other persons from whom he is accustomed to learn get their facility in giving him new things to learn ; and so he gradually apprehends that after all he is not entirely dependent upon them for the setting of new lessons to himself. He begins to be in a measure self-regulative in the tasks of his daily life.

These are the two great aspects of his learning —both much more important than the mere acquisition of the single action which he sets out to do. In regard to that latter he is imitative, he is constrained by the copy, he is in a sense a slave, so far as it is legitimate to look at him as in any wise merely learning that one thing. The weak-minded are, in this sense, merely imitators; they learn only one thing at a time, and learn it by the direct com-

(105) -pelling force of the copy set up before them and driven into them. For them alone is it a sign of slavery to imitate. And to them it is so, merely because they have no capacity to be anything but slaves. Remove the bonds of their limitation —the bonds to imitation—and far from becoming free, they would perish. But the normal child—the child of restless attention, absorbing interests, the dawning sense of an agency of his own which is destined to set law in its turn to the world as well as to himself—he is never a slave even in his most strenuous imitations. And the further examination of his learning will show us as much.

65. First, we may say that each of the situations which arises from his effort to reproduce the copy is an invention of the child's. It is so because he works it out ; no one else in the world knows it nor can reproduce it. He aims, it is true, not at doing anything new; he aims at the thing the copy sets for him to imitate. But what he does differs both from this and from anything he has ever done before. It is a new synthesis of old material, of his old pictures of finger-movements, in this case, with the new picture presented to his eye, and his old strains of muscle, shortness of breath, rushing of blood, setting of glottis, bending of joints, etc. But the outcome—that is new, both in the new picture of finger-movements and in the setting together of the strains, organic sensations, and all. He has a new thing to contemplate and he is withal a new person to contemplate it. The plane of his being and contemplation is now a grade higher.

66. We have already seen how it is that his sense of himself grows by these accretions from the elements Of personality taken in by imitation. It is thus that the projective in the personal life of father, mother, etc., are

(106) incorporated in his thought of his own subjective self. This new self, at each new plane, is also a real invention. The child not only becomes a self, not only acquires the sense of higher power, mastery, goodness, or whatever aspect of his personal growth the particular instance may illustrate ; he does more. He makes it; he gets it for himself by his own action ; he achieves, invents it. And the same is true of all his knowledges. He never simply takes the knowledge of some one else. This it would be impossible for him to do. Even the weak-minded of whom I have spoken must have enough self-control to imitate, and enough assimilative capacity to hold together, in a new form, the elements which surge into his consciousness through and with his imitative act. But the active healthy child brings a new self up to a new object every time he acts in a way not entirely dictated by habit; and the result ensuing, the second construction which then again follows his new act, is another invention for him to take delight in. The growth of self is seen in the growth of his demand that his results shall show constantly more independence of the external copy. The growing complexity and utility of the invention which he turns out is a new premium put in his thought upon the need of considering himself more than an imitator. So he comes to view himself as a free man who, in an ever-increasing degree, bends nature and his fellow-man to his will, and to view what he does as a contribution to the arrangements and utilities of things.

67. To illustrate how this works practically, we may take this instance from my child's use of her building blocks. She sits on the floor and I ask her to make a church like the one she sees pictured in her book.

(107) She begins, lays the foundation of the church: a long line of blocks laid straight, with another line crossing the first about two-thirds of its length. Then suddenly her face lights up and she quickly takes more blocks and lays a third line parallel with the second and crossing the long line at one-third of its length. " What are you doing that for, I ask ; I never taught you to make a church with two cross lines." " Oh, no; I am making an animal," says she, "with a head and a tail and four legs." She has, to my knowledge, never made an animal like this before. And she certainly did not set out to make an animal. It had come to her in her progress with the church that the arrangement might be altered so as to make an animal. That is, her mental picture had come, in her action upon it, especially in laying the cross-line of blocks, to be assimilated with her old mental picture of an animal ; and forthwith, by the addition of another line like the former, the church turned into an animal.

Now this is an invention in the strictest sense. It is peculiar to the child. Who ever before made an animal out of a church? What external influence suggested to the child the similarity between the essential lines of the two objects ? What former single mental picture of her own adequately explains this sudden outcome ? If none of these, then all the sources are exhausted, and we must say that she is an inventor as much as any historical genius is who has enriched the world by his thought.

68. But now the child does something further; she calls on everybody in the room to come and see the animal which she has made; she, no less than the first Maker of whom we are told, looks upon the thing that she hath made and, to ! it is very good. And then she

(108) amuses herself by making the animal again and again, and saying also "it is not a church, for a church doesn't have these two ends" (the third line across). "I have made it into an animal!" So —and this is her second invention—she has changed her thought of herself. To herself she is now a person who can make animals out of churches. She is in a new sense — or at least from a new point of view—an agent; her growing sense of her own originality, power over things, freedom to depart from the thraldom of imitation, has received an impulse. The next time she comes to play with the blocks, the splendid invention of this occasion is full in her mind, and the blocks, together with the suggestions which I make for their use, are to her things for her domineering ego to trifle with, despise, and utilize as never before. She has, therefore, come to a new thought of herself, and this is also a discovery, an invention.

69. So numerous instances might be cited from the lives of my children, many more complex than this one, but all the same in the essential elements of the situation. And the great fact to be remarked is that which we formulated in the beginning: that the result is the outcome of the child's action, of his personal struggle, in the first instance; and then, second, that the nature of his struggle is seen to be that of strenuous exercise of the habitual imitative activities which he has already acquired. The child's originalities are not bolts from the blue, nor earthquakes from below; they are simply his own interpretations, through his own action, of the situation which spreads its elements about him in the matter-of-fact doings of the life of habit. By exercising his habits in the new and original ways which strenuous imitation 

(109) allows, he finds out more both about himself and about the world. Then we observers find ourselves inquiring, from the point of view of our ignorance of the processes going on in his consciousness, how such a beautiful, true, useful thing could have come to be his discovery.

So much may be said of the facts of the child's originalities from the point of view of their origin ; it remains to consider the second aspect of the case already pointed out above under the phrase 'social phase' of invention. It will be remembered that the aspect now put in evidence in some detail was described as the 'personal phase' of invention.

70. II. Coming to take up the so-called 'social' aspect of this question, we may again state the general principle which the following pages are to illustrate : the principle that the child now, after having made his discovery, does not treat it as an individual possession, but considers it common property, for others as for himself, and then, withal, considers others subject to the same need of finding it true that he is.

The first phase of originality we have found to have its mental motive in the child's absorption of new elements of the personal and generally projective environment ; he imitates, as has been made clear, and proves himself an inventor in the very midst of his imitations. The process is that of the first movement described in the theory of what was called in the earlier chapter a 'dialectic of personal growth.' The projective becomes subjective, and by so doing it becomes in each event an invention. But it will be remembered that the child understands others better by coming to better knowledge of himself. He reads out of himself the facts learned of himself; and so 

(110) lodges the richer thought of self also in the persons of others. This has been enlarged upon sufficiently in the earlier connection.

Now this second aspect of his treatment of the material of his personal thought adds an interesting phase also to the meaning of his originalities. Whatever his constructions are, he reads them into the appropriate escort, connection, setting, in the world of persons and things around him. And the degree of success in this process, the degree of what we call truth which he finds his new syntheses attaining under this exaction, this is the measure of his learning.

71. As to the method which the child pursues here, perhaps an example of what we call 'inventive lies' may serve us best. H. was guilty of the first lie of this kind, which I discovered, in her twenty-first month. On May 27, 1891, I was busying myself with some students' examination papers which were tied up in bundles of a size to weigh about one to two pounds each. A number of these bundles had been piled up in the passage-way out of sight from where I sat; and as H. came in at the door I told her that she might help me by bringing them into the room. To this she gladly assented and began bringing them in one by one to the floor before my chair. Presently she tired of the task, and I could see that she wished to leave off ; her step grew slow and her countenance grave. Then, after bringing one of the bundles, she stopped before me, hesitated a moment, and then said no moi' ('no more,' meaning, 'there are no more'). Knowing the real number of the packages, I suspected a certain kind of obliquity and so looked somewhat severe as I asked 'are there really no more ?' She was evidently discomforted

(111) by the question and perhaps also by the manner of it ; and after hesitating a moment or two looked out in the direction of the remaining packages and said 'moi' (' there are more'), and ran out to bring in another to show me. This is an instance of what I have called an inventive lie; and it will throw light on the point which I wish to make.

72. When we come to ask how it was that H. resorted to this device to avoid further work, we see that it is necessary to make certain presuppositions of what was going on in her consciousness.

In the first place, there was in her mind a thought which went farther than the facts; she had to picture a situation in which the essential element was the absence of more of the packages in the original pile. This is at the outset an invention of the ' personal' sort already described and explained in the fore going passages. It has been through her action in bringing some of the bundles in from the passage that she has got what reason she has for the imagination that there are no more ; that is, that she has brought them all. This we may suppose becomes a very familiar thought to her as she begins to grow fatigued ; the thought of the situation when all should be done and she should be relieved. But now, in addition to this thought, there is of course the continued thought of the presence of the father, myself, as the director, the inciter, the one whose commendation is to be gained; and with this there is the further invention, arising also through her activities in social situations preceding this, the thought of the situation when, the bundles all gone, her new self receives commendation from the parent whose work has been done for him. So far, clearly, we are proceeding on the

(112) rules of construction by action given in the first principle stated above.

What is necessary, besides, to explain the child's lie ? This, I think: the thought that her construction of the situation is also my construction of the situation, or would be if my thought went forth to the end of the task as hers does. All that is needed to effect this in my mind is the information that the bundles are all gone. That would make the invention true —just as true as if she went on with the work and finished it. The essence of the lie is just the adoption of this social device to produce conviction as a substitute for the ordinary actual facts. And this mental movement, on the part of the child, apart from its use in deceiving others as in this case, —which is taken only as a case of the broader phenomenon, not as the only or the most frequent case of children's lies, — is an element in all originality viewed as truth. As I have said above, it is the need which the child feels that others as well as himself think his original thoughts and act upon them as he does. In this case the child adopts a conscious social method — and adults do in their lies — to get this second element artificially attached to mental constructions which really lack it. Without it both her invention of the new situation and her thought of her new self, as having wrought the situation, are not true.

73. Let me explain a little further what I conceive this second factor in invention to be. We may get at it possibly better by looking at the child's mental constructions negatively. Let us ask what distinguishes his inventions, his originalities, the things of some dignity and worth and truth, from mere imaginations or fancies as such ? Certainly he has vain imaginations, no less than

(113) we adults; and the real originalities, the truthful ones, must have some distinguishing mark.

This question presents itself in a very broad way to general psychology; and I may at once assume the result that in the criterion established by our first principle —i.e., that it is by action and thought upon real things, copies, events, that the true inventions arise—we have confirmed the conclusion reached theoretically above, which rules out the vagaries of mere fancy, or so-called 'passive' imagination. The outcome of fancy, or in general of imagination uncontrolled by present reality or by the attitude of strenuous thinking and action upon a real situation, is generally worthless. So when I ask how the ordinary creations of the mind, in its normal pursuit of truth, and in the midst of its full struggles for consistent and enlightened conduct, fall short of being true inventions, it is a closer question, the very necessity for which is often overlooked. It is this, in the terms of my child's lie : what is the value, to the child's construction, of the further acceptance of it by me which she tells the 'lie' to secure ? Is it a true invention before this, or does the child's sense that I must accept it illustrate a real and necessary requirement ?

I think it does represent a real requirement, and this because this factor, when it is secured, brings into the very construction itself new elements, the assimilation of which revises and purifies the construction itself. It will be remembered that we found the child constantly reading his subjective experiences into others, trying to make all his thought of himself 'ejective.' He constantly practises upon his little brother, seeing how he will act, planning situations based on what he thinks the little fellow will do

(114) in this circumstance or that ; in it all putting to the test of experiment the features of himself that he now entertains in his thought ; seeing, by the unconscious tests of action, whether he be not like others. This we have seen to be an insatiable demand of the child, and no less an essential movement in his personal growth. By this series of tests he learns what is really true of personality in general, and so has his 'socius' consciousness built up. just in so far as the alter responds differently from his expectation, that is something new in the alter; and he then shifts about again to the learning pole of the dialectic, takes up the imitative attitude, and so aims to realize in himself a larger revised thought both of himself and of the other.

It is a part of his constructive tendency that his inventions should be tested in just the same way. It is impossible for the child to rest in them as mere thoughts of his subjective self. His very confidence in them is contingent upon the successful imposition of them upon the alter. "He is like me," we can fancy the child saying, " he will think as I do ; this result that I get by my action is fit for his action too. I, an ego, do this; if he be any thing of an ego, let him do it also." So he sets this trap for the alter, by asking that he act also upon the invention. And just in so far as his thought does not stand this test, so far as other persons do not accept it and act on it, just so far does it become impossible for the original thinker to adhere to it; for the action of the other in departing from expectation is now a reacting factor upon the thought of self. "My sense of attraction — he might go on to say — toward what he does act on, conflicts with my very thought of my former invention ; I must forth-

(115) -with invent a new thought of myself in the light of his action, and then to this new self the former invention is only a half-truth, to be supplemented by new lessons, and then, in turn, to be again tested by the same social test."

74. To deny this would be to surrender, it seems to me, one of the main lessons which we seemed to learn from the growth of the personal and social sense ; the lesson that the suggestions constantly received from the persons around us are elements in the thought of self, and through the thought of self, elements also in the valuation passed on all persons and things. In the case of the child's invention of an animal out of the outline plan of the church, as narrated above, her exhibition of it to others and her sense of their acceptance of the figure for an animal, is a real and necessary part of the true invention. Suppose those to whom she appealed had told her " No, that will not do for an animal; it has no head, but only a neck," she would have accepted the amendment and scouted the construction in which she before took pride. So when we do accept it for an animal, agreeing with her that she has made a happy thing, that is the confirmation which it is a necessary movement of her personal development to require. It is in the same sense a part of the invention as the other materials of it were in the first instance. The child's sense of reality or material truth, when she has once departed from the purely mechanical facts which her native reactions guarantee for her, involves this very element of social confirmation.

While we cannot say that the construction which the child makes, considered simply for himself, is not in a sense an invention, still we can say that it is not a complete invention. The very attempt to put the question in 

(116) that way is mistaken. The child himself never attempts to make this artificial distinction between what he is and what he does, and again between what he does altogether alone and what he does with the help of others. His world of reality is one, and he is there in the midst of it. He knows only the one personal experience in which the two phases are united in one superb series of progressive advances. To stop him off short without the social confirmation for his constructions is to leave him in that condition of permanent hesitation, doubt, and anxiety, which produces, when forced, all sorts of personal isolations and often, as a matter of fact in the cases of adult patients, ends in certain forms of mania known as the ' insanities of doubt.'[11]

75. The relative importance of the two factors now described — that called ' personal ' and that called ' social ' — differs greatly in different children, and also at different periods in the life of the same child. We find the one child at times—some children constitutionally—developing very fast in the direction of an exaggerated sense of personal agency, independence, self-confidence, trust in the outcome of his own processes of thought with a minimum of social confirmation. This tendency is seen in the phenomenon which has been lately called 'contrary suggestion.'[12] The child seems to rebel against instruction, to insist upon his own understanding and use of things, and to try to impose his individual thought, whether

(117) or no, upon the persons who touch his life. This is, when not too insistent, a healthy sign. It betokens the rapid progress of the assimilation of elements to his nucleus of subject,' which carries with it the sense of agency, power, and freedom.[13] The 'contrary' boy is a very promising boy, provided he be not allowed to domineer when he should be made to obey. But this spirit should be confined within very strait limits ; for it is evident that the indulgence, in the boy or girl, of the sense of self-sufficiency, will itself tend to dwarf and impoverish that very sense of self on which it is based. For the stopping up of the avenues of imitation which it involves, cuts off the supply of higher personal suggestion upon which the growth of the self-sense depends. For instance, how can the ethical sense, which is essentially a subordination of all private thoughts of self, grow more competent, when the suggestions which stand for law are not humbly received, nor obediently ?

On the other hand, also, there are many—and periods again in the life of all—in whom the second aspect of the whole process of invention takes on an exaggerated importance. The need of social confirmation becomes so great to the child that his distrust of his single-handed performances becomes excessive and abnormal. He meets so often the overriding lessons of the alter, finds his small need of understanding so insufficient for his life, grows so accustomed to see the larger wisdom of his adults victorious over the objects and events of nature by which, when alone, he is piteously overcome, that he dare not stand up without a social arm about him. This period of timidity in most children follows that of aggression.


In my two little girls both periods have been well marked, and the order has been the same despite very great differences in general disposition. They both had the period of aggression, or of exaggerated personality with contrariness in the third-to-fifth half-year; and this we should expect from the fact that it is then that the period of organic bashfulness[14] is coming to an end. The child is losing his constitutional fear of persons, and the bond of restraint to the rapid development of his sense of his own subjective importance is being released. But then followed in each of these children —though much more marked in the one, E., than in the other — a period of extreme social dependence. In the child E. this was still very marked in the fourth year. She was never comfortable in any thought of her own until she found some one to agree with her in entertaining it. And in her case this went to such an interesting extreme that she invented persons out of inanimate objects, if need be, in order to convince these imaginary beings of the truth of her thought or to try upon them the working of a fancied situation. In this latter fact, indeed, we come upon a tendency which is found fully developed in the play-instinct, so called, to which I shall return later for additional illustrations both of the general growth of the social sense and also of the varied aspects of the child's invention.[15]

76. Further, as between the two general types of mind which psychology nowadays finds it safe to distinguish, the 'sensory' and the ' motor,' I think the balance between the two phases of invention is pretty well divided.

(119) The motor child is impulsive, imitative, self-confident ; his self-sense takes the lead in the progress of his invention, and he is apt to be unsafe in the practical working out of his thought. This tendency, if uncorrected in the educative stages of his growth, is likely to issue in the forms of idiosyncrasy which we find in the men whom we find 'opinionated,' intolerant, hasty, and unreliable in matters requiring careful reflection. These are the persons, however, who ' show up' best in emergencies ; they arrive at decisions quickly, and enforce them promptly.

The other type, the sensory individual, is likely to be inventive in the more profound and finished sense required by the second principle put in evidence above. His habit of getting social confirmation becomes really a sort of second deliberation to him, which issues in a revised and more mature thought of the situation before him. His constant question is: 'What will my fellow-men think of this?' and 'Will this work in society or in the mechanical sphere of its intended application ?' This brings a further mass of content back upon his first construction, and so leads to a further grouping or apperception of the situation as a whole. He thus gets beyond the mere primary dependence, characteristic of the child, upon the actual pronouncement of society, and finds in himself the means of anticipating the voice of his social fellows. His final confidence thus reached, although always more slow in coming and less defiant in its bearing, is still better grounded than that of the other type, and is, in so far, more prophetic of a truthful outcome.

77. We may sum up the descriptive account of the child's originalities under a term which is sufficiently general on the one hand, and on the other hand suffi-

(120) -ciently popular, by calling them in all cases the child's 'interpretations.' The imitative copy within himself or out in the world is what he interprets; and into his interpretation goes all the wealth of his earlier informations, his habits, and his anticipations. The first interpretation is the synthesis which he effects, by his own action, of the new data with his personal growth. But with this first interpretation, as we have seen, he does not rest satisfied. He makes a second interpretation through an appeal to his social fellows, or to his own social judgment. On the basis of the response which he gets, a new synthesis arises constituting his present invention. This is held until the whole mass of elements going to make it up is again precipitated for another interpretation by some new suggestion from the sources of his knowledge. So he never rests, never ceases to invent.

3. Selective Thinking

78. The question which still remained over after our theoretical determinations was that of the actual ground of the selection of the valuable variations which remain as truthful thoughts in the mind of the child and the man. This was deferred until we should have examined the actual inventions of the child. I think the result of our examination justifies in a measure the expectation that some light would come to us. For we have found the child making his selections of the things which he will finally think to be true under certain leading rules.

I. In the realm of social suggestion we find that the new thoughts are functions of the personal self. Only those things which the child can assimilate, by imitation, in his own personal growth become true to him; he can

(121) hold true of others, and of persons generally, only those things which he might master by his own imitative action, and make true of himself.

2. Of other truths, whether directly attributable to persons or not, only those come to be real and valid to him which hold for others also. This means that in all his thinking, if his thoughts are to be of value, and to be selected as true, his thought of self is so far implicated that it is a personal achievement; it must stand liable to incur the inspection of the alter whose existence is ejectively guaranteed by the thought of self. This demand for social confirmation is what we should expect from the dialectic of personal growth in all cases in which the conviction involved is in any sense an expression of a personal attitude.

3. These results fall in with the analyses of belief and judgment made by recent writers. In an earlier work the outcome of such an analysis has been expressed in these words: "Belief is the personal endorsement of reality";[16] and belief and judgment are there considered different phases of the going-out of the motor processes of impulse and 'need' upon their objects.[17] Without assuming this view with reference to all judgments,—although I think it is true,—we may yet say: in so far as a personal attitude is involved in a judgment, in so far the organization of the personal self is the ground of the selection of the particular thought as true.[18] And, further,

(122) when the self-thought is thus the nucleus of organization, there the social criterion of truth must also be in force.

The general conclusion is, therefore, that there is a great sphere of truth, of selective thinking, of inventions judged true, of mental constructions believed, in which the criterion of selection is all along availability for imitative social assimilation in the growth of the thought of self ; and unless in some spheres we be able to find other compelling criteria of truth, we shall have to say the same of all selective thinking.[19]


4. Private Judgment

79. In the earlier chapter we had reason, from an objective point of view, for finding a certain 'social judgment' current in each society, represented by public opinion, and coming out in the attitudes of individuals in situations of social moment. We called its exercise in the individual 'judgment' by a certain license, and in deference to popular usage. It seemed to us well to say that the socially eligible and competent person was a man of 'good judgment' in the relations and circumstances of his social life.

In what has gone before in this chapter we have now seen something of the rise of selective thinking in the mind of the individual. It has seemed to proceed, at least in those cases which involve the implication, to however slight an extent, of the personal thought and interest of the man or child, by imitation. And this examination, conducted from the point of view of the conditions of the rise of selective thinking in the person himself, led us to see that his criterion all the way along is necessarily —in so far as he reaches mature convictions of truth —a social criterion. Further, this sense of personal security in a 

(124) thought, of personal endorsement of it, is what is called in psychology 'judgment.'

80. It is now a simple matter to let these two points of view give to each other a certain mutual confirmation. The 'social judgment' is, when looked at from the side of its currency in society,—and named therefor, —one and the same with the private judgment of the individuals which make the society up. The social criterion of selection in private judgment is just the bridge between the two sets of values, public and private. The social judgment gets its competence from the common absorption of the same imitative copies by all the individuals ; and the individual's private judgment gets its social validity from the conditions of its social origin.

It is only then in a relative sense that the private judgment is private ; and it is only in a relative sense that the public judgment is public; for in the main they are the same.[20]

81. But it may be asked: Is it true that our private judgments have the social ingredient attributed to them ? Are we not competent to solve problems by sheer private thinking, and then to know that the solution is true by sheer private conviction ? —both with no reference to anybody else ? The fuller answer to this question will appear as our development proceeds ; but it may be well to make two general statements in reference to this possibility.

1. However independent one's private judgment may be, and however strenuously in opposition it may seem to the views current in society, yet he who thus judges assumes, all the way through, the common standards of 

(125) truth and error which society also assumes. The position taken above does not result in detracting in the least from the competency of the individual's judgments. It only seeks to state the influences which have worked to enable him to build up his competent judgments. Here as else where habit comes to rule. Good habits of judgment tell in individuals. Hereditary differences are great. And it is no argument against the position taken above, to cite cases of private judgment which seem competent. That I shall myself do later on.

2. I have admitted the possibility of the establishing of other criteria of truth in other fields of knowledge. At least we do not need to pass on that question now. An a priori philosopher may say that mathematical knowledge is not at all subject to social confirmation. Let him believe it. What is essential for our position is that, so far as the individual's knowledge is subject to a process of selective development in experience, so far that knowledge is not reached exclusively by private tests. The development is guided in part by social tests ; and the judgments of truth which arise in the individual in the progress of it are, in so far, social judgments


  1. See The Power of Thought, by J. D. Sterrett, for a detailed popular statement of this. Guyau, Education and Heredity, Chap. I., also draws impressive lessons from it.
  2. This would seem to be the position of W. James in his admirable Chapter XXVIII. in Vol. II. of Principles of Psychology. His main contention is that in their origin the forms of thinking are variations 'independent of experience.' I do not find that he takes up in detail the question as to how these variations are subsequently selected, although he admits that for natural scientific knowledge they must be (loc. cit., Il., p. 636). If it be by experience that this selecting is done—as it must be—and if the individual's selected variations are reproduced in subsequent generations through natural and organic selection (see Appendix A) as well as by social transmission, then we have mental evolution directed by experience after all —even as regards the pure and 'elementary' categories—in a way which escapes the criticisms cogently urged by James against the 'race-experience' hypothesis of Spencer: and this even on James' suppositions. There would thus be a progressive coincidence between what is a priori to the individual (arising as variation, then selected and inherited) and what is true to experience in the evolution of the race.
  3. I have already considered this topic in detail in my earlier volume on Mental Development.
  4. This, it is evident, makes the determination of mental evolution in the lines of experience—as indicated in the note on page 93—still more direct, seeing that the variations from which the selections are made are themselves distributed about the mean of earlier adaptations. This gives what I have called in a later discussion the 'systematic determination' of thought (Pysch. Rev., January, 1898).
  5. 3 of this chapter, on 'Selective Thinking.'
  6. Since this was written, the article of W. M. Urban (Psych. Rev., July, 1897) has appeared, with an interesting discussion. Dr. Urban agrees with the position taken here to the extent of holding that new thoughts arise from the platform of the earlier apperceptive ( his ' imaginative') processes, which he likewise makes imitative. His views are noticed again below, where the selecting processes are discussed (Sect. 78).
  7. For the discussion of these criteria of belief see the psychologies. In my Handbook, II., Chap. V IL, they are classified under the term 'coefficients.'
  8. The view has been current (Bain, James) that thought is clue genetically to the obstruction, or clamming back of movement, the energies which would otherwise have discharged in movements being thus used in building up the mechanism of thought. I have never seen this position adequately defended on psychological grounds. It seems to me to offer insurmountable difficulties. The question may be asked: How do the existing correspondences arise between the thoughts about the external world, let us say, and the actual conditions existing in the world as discovered by movement ? In other words, how can thoughts be true? It is quite natural to suppose that the existing adapted or fact-revealing movements have gone before, and that thought is in some way a form of inner re-establishing, without constant dependence on real objects, of the system of values first revealed by such movements. On this view the growth of thought would be by a series of brain-variations which produced in the mind a 'copy-system' of the actual relations of the world first reported, or at least contributed to, by movement. The movement-variations would go ahead of the thought-variations, and the growth of thought would depend upon successful movement, rather than upon its obstruction and damming up. On the 'obstruction' view, on the contrary, the thought-variations could prove their value, or get to be judged true, only through their issue in movement; and besides the difficulty of doing this under the conditions of obstruction (whatever that means), there would have to be the same selecting process acting upon movements, which would have been invoked in case the simple movement-variations went ahead. It seems to me to involve, when we reflect upon it, a sort of cart-before-the-horse all through the evolution of mind. It is much truer to the facts to say that simple motor adaptations—in thinking they are adaptations of attention—go before thought, and that the brain-variations which perpetuate and stand for these adaptations are ipso facto selected in the selection of the movements; with them come the true thoughts.
  9. Most of this paragraph has appeared in The Inland Educator, July, Aug., 1897,
  10. The mechanism of imitation is described in detail in my Mental Development, Chap. X., 1, and Chap. XIII., 2.
  11. This position brings to mind that of Royce (Philos. Rev., September to November, 1895), who finds a social ingredient ill the knowledge of external nature. My conclusion would support this, provided we mean judgments of nature in distinction from the mere brute contacts with it which do not implicate the sense of the personal self. Cf. Appendix E.
  12. Mental Development, Chap. VI., 6.
  13. Cf. Sects. 148 f. on ' Social Opposition.'
  14. Ment. Devel., Chap. VI., 6, and below, Chap. VI., 2.
  15. See below, Chap. IV., 2.
  16. Baldwin, Handbook of Psychology, Feeling and Will, p. 158. See Ormond, 'The Negative in Logic' (Psych. Rev,, May, 1897); also the newer logicians, Brentano, Sigwart, who tend to identify judgment with the belief attitude of mind.
  17. Ibid., p. 171 ; also Bain and Stout.
  18. This is intimated in the treatment of my Handbook in these words: "Amid the variations of composite and varying reality, the most fixed point of reference is the feeling of self. All reality is given us through our own experience, and the centre of experience is self and its needs." (Loc. cit., p. 170.)
  19. This last clause expresses the probability, in my personal view. The further interesting question arises (and would demand discussion but for our limitation to social interpretations), what relation such a principle of selection in the realm of thought bears to the ordinary utility-selection as operative in organic accommodation. Dr. Urban's paper already referred to (Psych. Review, July, 1897) discusses the question of utility briefly. Without going into details, I may say that the criterion of utility is preserved in both of the aspects of selective thinking pointed out in the text. In thinking, the agent of accommodation is the attention, which has its own pleasure and pain tone, and in the production of the variations from which the true thoughts are selected, the attention represents the motor habits in which—according to the general point of view developed above ( 55) —the variations primarily take place. Cf. my Mental Development, pp. 312 f., 331 f., for evidence of variations in the attention complex. Accommodation of the attention is necessary to all thinking. It is by restless and energetic attention upon old knowledges that the new thoughts come. The variety of attention modes dictates the variety of new thoughts. It is this accommodation which constitutes the child's reception and absorption of relatively abstract and theoretical new material. It is the more formal utility element, which we might conceive to be still present in case further social ratification were not available. But, 2, the social criterion is also a direct utility requirement. His need of learning is to the child his most strenuous need; and social sources are his first and last, in learning the lessons of his life. I should say, therefore, that selective thinking does fall under the law of utility-selection.—The selection of true thoughts of the external world is made by the accommodation of organic movement, which proceeds by the ' functional selection of overproduced movements' (Ment. Devel., p. 179). This, then, has its identical principle in the accommodation of the attention in thinking; and in thinking, in so far at least as it proceeds by social stimulations, we find the further selective function of judgment, in the way we have described. Dr. Urban thinks that the utility principle gets no application to the theoretical relationships discovered inside a whole of knowledge, although the whole, as a concrete whole, is selected on the utility principle. But it would seem that the parts are themselves possible wholes, and could not have been established otherwise, and the relations have already been ' selected.' I see no other possible natural history account of theoretical knowledge. The subject of 'Selective Thinking' has now been reviewed and the positions here taken expanded and explained in my 'President's Address,' Amer. Psych. Association, Pyschological Review, Jan., 1898. 
  20. This might be called in a sense a 'social deduction of the category of universality,' to speak in a Kantian phrase borrowed from Professor Royce.

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