Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development


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§1. The Genius a Variation

WITH the outcome of the preceding chapter in mind, the problem of the genius becomes somewhat easier. The first requirement is that we state the social man in the fewest terms, in order that we may then estimate the genius with reference to the sane social man. What he is, we have seen. He is a person who learns to judge by the judgments of society. What, then, shall we say of the genius from this point of view ? Can the hero-worshipper be right in saying that the genius teaches society to judge ; or shall we say that the genius, like other men, must learn to judge by the judgments of society ?

103. The most fruitful point of view, no doubt, is that which considers the genius a variation.[2] And unless we do this, it is evidently impossible to get any theory which will bring him into our general scheme. But how great a variation ? and in what direction ? —these are the questions. The great variations found in the criminal-by-heredity, the insane, the idiotic, etc., we have found excluded from society; so we may well ask why the genius is not ex-

(155) cluded also. If our determination is correct of the limits within which society decides who is not to be excluded, then the genius must come within these limits. He cannot escape them and live socially.

The directions in which the genius actually varies from the average man are evident, as matters of fact. He is, first of all, a man of great power of thought, of great constructive imagination, speaking as psychologist. So let us believe, first, that a genius is a man who has, occasionally, greater thoughts than other men have. Is that a reason for excluding him from society ? Certainly not ; for by great thoughts we mean true thoughts, —thoughts which will work, thoughts which bring in new eras in the discovery of principles, or in their application. This is just what all development depends upon, this attainment of novelty, which is yet consistent with older knowledge and supplementary to it. But suppose a man have thoughts which are not true, which are not 'fit' for the topic of their application, which contradict established knowledges, or which result in bizarre and fanciful combinations of them ; to that man we generally deny the name 'genius.' He is a visionary, a 'crank,' an agitator, or whatnot. The test, then, which we bring to bear on the intellectual variations shown by different men, is that of truth, practical workability—in short, to sum it up, 'fitness.' Any thought, to live and germinate, must be a socially fit thought. And the community's sense of the fitness of the thought is their rule of judgment.

Now the way the community got this sense—that is the result we have reached above. The sense of fitness is just what we called above their judgment. So far at least as it relates to matters of social import, it is of social 

(156) origin. It reflects the outcome of all social heredity, tradition, education. The sense of social truth is their criterion of social thoughts, and unless the reformer's thought be in some way fit to go into the setting thus made by earlier social development,—whether, indeed, the people of his generation see it or not, —he is not a genius, but a 'sport.'

104. I may best show the meaning of the claim that society makes upon the genius by asking in how far in actual life he manages to escape this account of himself to society. The facts are very plain, and this is the class of facts which writers like Mr. Spencer urge, as supplying an adequate rule for the application of the principles of their social philosophy. The simple fact is, say they, that without the consent of society, the thoughts of your hero, whether he be genius or fool, are practically valueless. The fulness of time must come; and the genius before his time, if judged by his works, cannot be a genius at all. His thought may be great, so great that, centuries after, society may attain to it as its richest outcome and its profoundest intuition ; but before that time, it is as bizarre as a madman's fancies and as useless. What would be thought, we might be asked by writers of this school, of a rat which developed upon its side the hand of a man, with all its mechanism of bone, muscle, tactile sensibility, and power of delicate manipulation, if the remainder of the creature were true to the pattern of a rat ? Would not the rest of the rat tribe be justified in leaving this anomaly behind to starve in the hole where his singular appendage held him fast ? Is such a rat any the less a monster because man finds use for his hands? 


To a certain extent this argument is forcible and true. If social utility be our rule of definition, then certainly the premature genius is no genius. And this rule of definition may be put in another way which renders it still more plausible. The variations which occur in intellectual endowment, in a community, vary about a mean; there is, theoretically, an average man. And the differences among men which can be taken account of in any philosophy of life must be in some way referable to this mean. Variations which do not find their niche at all in the social environment, but which strike all the social fellows with disapproval, getting no sympathy whatever, are thereby exposed to the charge of being 'sports' of nature and the fruit of chance. The lack of hearing which awaits such a man sets him in a form of isolation, and stamps him not only as the social crank, but also as the cosmic tramp.

Put in its positive and usual form, this view simply claims that man is always the outcome of the social movement. The reception he gets is a measure of the degree in which he adequately represents this movement. Certain variations are possible—men who are forward in the legitimate progress of society—and these men are the true and only geniuses. Other variations, which seem to discount the future too much, are 'sports'; for the only permanent discounting of the future is that which is projected from the elevation of the past.

105. The great defect of this view is found in its definitions. We exclaim at once: who made the past the measure of the future ? and who made social approval the measure of truth? What is there to eclipse the vision of the poet, the inventor, the seer, that he should not

(158) see over the heads of his generation, and raise his voice for that which, to all men else, lies behind the veil ? The social philosophy of the school of Spencer cannot answer these questions, I think; nor can it meet the appeal we all make to history when we cite the names of Aristotle, Pascal, and Newton, or of any of the men who single-handed and alone have set guide-posts to history, and given to the world large portions of its heritage of truth. What can set limit to the possible variations of fruitful intellectual power ? Rare such variations —that is their law the greater the variation, the more rare ! But so is genius: the greater, the more rare. And as to the rat with the human hand, he would not be left to starve and decay in his hole; he would be put in alcohol when he died, and kept in a museum! And the lesson which he would teach to the wise biologist would be that here, in this rat, nature had shown her genius by discounting in advance the slow processes of evolution !

It is, indeed, the force of such considerations as these which have led to many justifications of the position that the genius is quite out of connection with the social movement of his time. The genius brings his variations to society whether society will or no; and as to harmony between them, that is a matter of outcome rather than of expectation or theory. So the view held by William James, for instance, —to which we have already referred, —that the causes that enter into the production of variations in the heredity of the individual are altogether physiological, and so represent a complete `cycle' apart from the other ' cycle' of causes found in the social environment of the individual.

While not agreeing with the doctrine which makes the

(159) genius independent of the social movement,—least of all with the doctrine that physical heredity is uninfluenced by social conditions, —yet I think the hero-worshipper is right in saying that we cannot set the limitations of the genius on the side of variations in intellectual endowment. So if the general position be true that he is a variation of some kind, we must look elsewhere for the direction of those peculiar traits whose excess would be his condemnation. This we can only find in connection with the other demand that we make of the ordinary man—the demand that he be a man of good judgment. And to this we may now turn.

§2. The Judgment of the Genius

106. We should bear in mind, in approaching this topic, the result which follows from the reciprocal character of social relationships. No genius ever escapes the requirements laid down for his learning, his social heredity. Mentally he is a social outcome, as well as are the fellows who sit in judgment on him. He, therefore, must judge his own thoughts as they do. And his own proper estimate of things and thoughts, his relative sense of fitness, gets application, by a direct law of his own mental processes, to himself and to his own creations. The limitations which, in the judgment of society, his variations must not overstep, are set by his own judgment also. If the man in question have thoughts which are socially true, he will himself know that they are true. So we reach a conclusion regarding the selection of the particular thoughts which the genius may have: he and society must agree in regard to the fitness of them, although in particular cases this agreement ceases to be the emphatic thing. The essen-

(160) -tial thing comes to be the reflection of the social standard in the thinker's own judgment ; the thoughts thought must always be critically judged by the thinker himself; and for the most part, and genetically considered, his judgment once also the social judgment.[3] This may be illustrated further.

107. Suppose we take the man of striking thoughts and withal no sense of fitness—none of the judgment about them which society has. He will go through a mighty host of discoveries every hour. The very eccentricity of his imaginations will only appeal to him for the greater admiration. He will bring his most chimerical schemes out and air them with the same assurance with which the real inventor exhibits his. But such a man is not pronounced a genius. If his ravings about this and that are harmless, we smile and let him talk; but if his lack of judgment extend to things of grave import, or be accompanied by equal illusions regarding himself and society in other relationships, then we classify his case and put him into the proper ward for the insane. Two of the commonest forms of such impairment of judgment are seen in the victims of ' fixed ideas' on the one hand, and the exaltés on the other. These men have no true sense of values, no way of selecting the fit combinations of imagination from the unfit ; and even though some transcendently true and original thought were to flit through the diseased mind of such a one, it would go as it came, and the world would wait for a man with a sense of fitness to arise and rediscover it. Men of such perversions of

(161) judgment are common among us. We all know the man who seems to be full of rich and varied thought, who holds us sometimes by the power of his conceptions or the beauty of his creations ; but in whose thought we yet find some incongruity, some eminently unfit element, some grotesque application, some elevation or depression from the level of commonplace truth, some ugly strain in the aesthetic impression. The man himself does not know it, and that is the reason that he includes it. His sense of fitness is dwarfed or paralyzed. We in the community come to regret that he is so 'visionary,' with all his talent ; and so we accommodate ourselves to his unfruitfulness, and at the best only expect an occasional hour's entertainment under the spell of his presence. This certainly is not the man to produce a world movement.

Most of the men we call 'cranks' are of this type. They are essentially lacking in judgment, and the popular estimate of them is exactly right.

108. It is evident, therefore, from this last explanation, that there is a second direction of variation among men variation in their sense of the truth and value of their own thoughts, and with them of the thoughts of others. This is the great limitation which the man of genius shares with men generally—a limitation in the amount of variation which he may show in his social judgments, especially as these variations affect the claim which he makes upon society for recognition. It is evident that this must be an important factor in our estimate of the claims of the hero to our worship especially, since it is the more obscure side of his temperament—the side generally overlooked altogether. This we call in our further illustrations the 'social sanity' of the man of genius.


One of the evident indications of the kind of social variation in question may be seen in the varying effects which education has upon character. The discipline of social development is mainly conducive, as we have seen, to the reduction of eccentricities, to the levelling off of personal peculiarities. All who come into the social heritage learn the same great series of lessons derived from the past, and all get, in the formative years of their education from the common exercises of the home and school, the sort of judgment required in social life. So we should expect that the greater singularities of disposition, which represent insuperable difficulties in the process of social assimilation, would show themselves early. Here it is that the conflict actually comes —a struggle between impulse and social restraint. Many a genius owes the redemption of his intellectual gifts to legitimate social uses, to the victory gained by a teacher and the discipline learned through obedience. And thus it is, also, that so many who in early life give promise of great distinction fail to achieve it. They run off after a phantom, and society pronounces them mad. In their case the personal factor has overcome the social factor. They have failed in the lessons they should have learned, their own self-criticism is undisciplined, and they miss the mark.

109. These extremes, however, do not exhaust the case. In one of them we see the tendency of social life to obscure the light of genius; in the other the tendency of the potential genius to work himself out a crank, through his rejection of social restraint. The average man is the mean. But the greatest reach of human attainment, and with it the greatest influence ever exerted by man, is yet more than either of these. It is not

(163) enough, the hero-worshipper may still say, that the genius should have sane and healthy judgment, as society reckons sanity. The fact still remains that even in his social judgments he may instruct society. He may stand alone, and, by sheer might, lift his fellow-men up to his point of vantage, to their eternal gain and to his eternal praise. Even let it be that he must have self-criticism, the sense of fitness of which you speak, that very sense may transcend the vulgar judgment of his fellows. His judgment may be saner than theirs ; and as his intellectual creations are great and singular, so may his sense of their truth be full and unique. To be sure, this divine assurance of the man of genius may be counterfeited; the vulgar dreamer may have it, but nevertheless, when a genius has it, he is not a vulgar dreamer.

This is true, I think, and the explanation of it leads to the last fruitful application of the doctrine of variations. Just as the intellectual endowment of men may vary within very wide limits, so may also the social qualifications of men. There are men who find it their meat to do society service. There are men so naturally born to take the lead in social reform, in executive matters, in organization, in planning our social campaigns, that we turn to them as by instinct. They have a sort of insight to which we can only bow. They gain the confidence of men, win the support of women, and excite the acclamations of children. These people are social geniuses. They seem to anticipate the discipline of social education. They do not need to learn the lessons of the social environment. They discount the social future as men with great intellectual gifts may discount the future of knowledge and invention.

Such persons represent, I think, a variation toward sug-

(164) -gestibility of the most delicate and singular kind. They surpass the teachers from whom they learn. It is hard to say that they 'learn to judge by the judgments of society.' They so judge without seeming to learn, yet they differ from the man whose eccentricities forbid him to learn through the discipline of society. The two are opposite extremes of variation ; that seems to me the only possible construction of them. It is the difference between the ice-boat which travels faster than the wind, and the skater who braves the wind and battles up-current in it. The latter is soon beaten by the opposition ; the former outruns its ally. The crank, the eccentric, the enthusiast — all these run counter to sane social judgment ; but the genius leads society to his own point of view, and interprets the social movement so accurately, sympathetically, and with such profound insight, that his very singularity gives greater relief to his inspiration.

Now let a man combine with this insight —this extraordinary sanity of social judgment—the power of great inventive and constructive thought, and then, at last, we have our genius, our hero, and one that we well may worship! To great thought he adds balance; to originality, judgment. This is the man to start the world movements, if we want a single man to start them. For as he thinks profoundly, so he discriminates his thoughts justly, and assigns them values. His fellows judge with him, or learn to judge after him, and they lend to him the motive forces of success, — enthusiasm, reward. He may wait for recognition, he may suffer imprisonment, he may be muzzled for thinking his thoughts, he may die and with him the truth to which he gave but silent birth. But the world comes, by its slower progress, to traverse the path in

(165) which he wished to lead it; and if so be that his thought was recorded, posterity revives it in regretful sentences on his tomb.

The two things to be emphasized, therefore, on the rational side of the phenomenally great man— I mean on the side of our means of accounting for him in reasonable terms—are these : first, his intellectual originality ; and second, the sanity of his judgment. And it is the variations in this second sort of endowment which give the ground which various writers have for the one-sided views now current in popular literature.

110. We are told, on the one hand, that the genius is a 'degenerate' ; on another hand, that he is to be classed with those of 'insane' temper; and yet again, that his main characteristic is his readiness to outrage society by performing criminal acts. All these so-called theories rely upon facts—so far as they have any facts to rest upon—which, if space permitted, we might readily estimate from our present point of view. In so far as a really great man busies himself mainly with things that are objective, which are socially and morally neutral, —such as electricity, natural history, mechanical theory, with the applications of these,—of course, the mental capacity which he possesses is the main thing, and his absorption in these things may lead to a warped sense of the more ideal and refined relationships which are had in view by the writer in quest for degeneracy. It will still be admitted, however, by those who are conversant with the history of science, that the greatest scientific geniuses have been men of profound quietness of life and normal social development. It is to the literary and artistic genius that the seeker after abnormality has to turn ; and

(166) in this field, again, the facts serve to show their own meaning.

As a general rule, these artistic prodigies do not represent the union of variations which we find in the greatest genius. Such men are often distinctly lacking in power of sustained constructive thought. Their insight is largely what is called intuitive. They have flashes of emotional experience which crystallize into single creations of art. They depend upon 'inspiration' —a word which is responsible for much of the overrating of such men, and for a good many of their illusions. Not that they do not perform great feats in the several spheres in which their several 'inspirations' come; but with it all they often present the sort of unbalance and fragmentary intellectual endowment which allies them, in particular instances, to the classes of persons whom the theories I am discussing have in view. It is only to be expected that the sharp jutting variation in the emotional and aesthetic realm which the great artist often shows, should carry with it irregularities in heredity in other respects.[4] Moreover, the very habit of living by inspiration brings prominently into view any half-hidden peculiarities which he may have in the remark of his associates, and in the conduct of his own social duties. But mark you, I do not discredit the superb art of many examples of the artistic 'degenerate,'

(167) so called; that would be to brand some of the highest ministrations of genius, to us men, as random and illegitimate, and to consider impure some of our most exalting and intoxicating sources of inspiration. But I do still say that wherein such men move us and instruct us they are 1.n these spheres above all things sane with our own sanity, and wherein they are insane they do discredit to that highest of all offices to which their better gifts make legitimate claim —the instruction of mankind.

111. Does not any theory of man which loses sight of the supreme sanity of Darwin,[5] and with him of Aristotle, and Angelo, and Leonardo, and Newton, and Leibnitz, and Shakespeare, seem weak and paltry ? Beside the work of these men, do not the contributions of the talented special performer sink into something like apologies—something even like profanation of that name to conjure by, the name of genius? But, on the other hand, why run to the other extreme and make this most supremely human of all men an anomaly, a prodigy, a bolt from the blue, an element of disorder, born to further or distract the progress of humanity by a chance which no man can estimate ? The resources of psychological theory are adequate to the construction of a doctrine of society which is based upon the individual, in all the possibilities of variation which his heredity may bring forth, and which yet does not hide nor veil those heights of human greatness

(168) on which the halo of genius is wont to rest. Let us add knowledge to our surprise in the presence of such a man, and respect to our knowledge, and worship, if you please, to our respect; and with it all we then begin to see that because of him the world is the better place for us to live in and to work in.

So we find that, after all, we may be social philosophers and hero-worshippers as well. And by being philosophers we have made our worship more an act of tribute to human nature. Given a philosophy that brings the great into touch with the commonplace, that delineates the forces which arise to their greatest grandeur only in a man here and there, that enables us to contrast the best in us with the poverty of him, and then we may do intelligent homage. To know that the greatest men of earth are men who think as I do, but deeper, and see the real as I do, but clearer, who work to the goal that I do, but faster, and serve humanity as I do, but better, —that may be an incitement to my humility, but it is also an inspiration to my life.

§3. The Inventions of the Genius

With the foregoing description of the type of man to whom the appellation 'genius' may be properly applied, it is of further interest to look with closer scrutiny upon the inventions which he produces; with a view to finding something of their general character, and the grounds of their influence as factors in the progress of mankind. The mechanical arts owe their progress so evidently to the inventions which single men make, and the movements of masses of people turn so often upon the social effects

(169) which such contrivances bring about, that any light we may be able to get from this source on the motives of collective action should be turned to account. There are some considerations which give justification to the brief discussion of this topic.

112. The inventions of genius fall into two classes. First, there are the scientific inventions, which may be described as, in each case, either the discovery of some new truth, whether it be in science proper, in literature, or in social life; or in the new adaptation and application of some aspect of knowledge already more or less adequately understood. And second, there are the aesthetic inventions, which are new dispositions of the material of thought viewed as arousing emotion and sentiment. These two classes of inventive creations are not mutually exclusive; nor can they be said to have strict psychological justification as classes. For the new fact of science, or the new application of a scientific principle, arouses emotion ; and the aesthetic constructions of the artist serve to enlarge knowledge and refine human appreciation of truth. But, on the surface, these two traditional aspects of the novelties which the inventive mind puts forth are so clearly distinguished from each other, and the types of mind which represent them respectively are so disparate and so seldom found in the same individual, that we may well distinguish them with reference to their social meaning.

113. The so-called scientific inventions, removed as they seem to be from the progress of social life, have important bearings upon it nevertheless. We only need to be reminded of the printing-press, the cotton-gin, the loom, the threshing and reaping machines, the steam-engine,

(170) and the steamboat —to take only those specimens of mechanical invention which make our modern era great — to see that because of these contrivances our life is a very different thing from our fathers'. The social effects of the railway and the telegraph are enormous. The newspaper, with all its educating influence; the library in the home, the school, and the village building; these are the results of the printing-press. And almost all of the marked characteristics of our daily life, as far as they have a material side, will be found to have a direct dependence upon the inventive thought of some one man who first planned this or that mechanical innovation.

There are two great ways of looking at the function of these inventions, apart from merely descanting upon the wonder and magnitude of them. These two ways of considering them fall in with the earlier aspects of social life already emphasized. All inventions may be considered on the side of social heredity; and as such their significance becomes that of the other great incentives to the learner—the 'social aids to invention,' as we have had occasion to call the channels of tradition and acquisition. Inventions, from this point of view, remain a part of the social heritage which posterity shares, as riches common to society. They go to direct social habit.

The second aspect of discovery is what, on the other hand, I may call its accommodation function. Inventions are new elements brought into social life, new ways of doing things ; calling for new training, and requiring new ways of living; to which the people have to be accommodated or adapted. I shall take up these two points in turn.[6]


114. I. The psychological processes of the inventor, whose procedure has been discussed in the chapter on 'Invention,' show us that an effective invention is always rooted in the knowledge already possessed by society. No effective invention ever makes an absolute break with the culture,' tradition, fund of knowledge treasured up from the past. The education of the inventive genius makes him amenable to the judgments of society, and he himself reflects the same standards of judgment. To invent a social thing without using material current in his environment would be as impossible to a man as to think anything without using the materials of his own memory and past imagination. It is a commonplace in psychology that, however fanciful the combinations which arise in our imaginations, and however grotesque the form in which our fancies parade, they must contain elements which have occurred at some time in the experience or in the fancy of the individual. This is as true of the social imagination as it is of the individual's imagination. Nothing takes form in the usages and institutions of society absolutely per saltum.

Just as there is, on the one hand, in the individual, a drift of personal tendency and a set of selected and dominant images which make an 'apperceiving mass' to which all the novelties of his thought must conform and from which they take their origin; so also is there on the other hand, in society, the mass of traditions, con-

(172) -ventions, established usages, formal institutions, industrial and political customs, which set limits to the new.

The individual's creations are his only in the sense that it is through him that the elements of social tradition show themselves in their concrete variations; and if perchance the creations of the genius seem in a measure to violate tradition and to be judged more truly by the thinker than by society, nevertheless, even such real additions to possible human achievement do not become the social success which makes them additions to human culture, until society do come up to the standard of judgment which they require. So that while we may say, as we have, that the inventor himself may be a variation of such a kind as to seem far removed from the ordinary standards of society, the same cannot be said of his invention, if it is to be a factor of social progress.

It should be borne in mind, indeed, that the problem of the invention itself, considered as a factor in human progress, is quite different from the problem of the inventor, considered as a man. The invention cannot be an element in human progress unless it enter into the network of social relationships in some way. If it do not, it may be a thing of great ingenuity and originality; but that only makes it a part of the problem of the origin of the man. It then loses its interest as a thing of social value.

115. The reason that an invention or discovery gets importance in the social movement is that it arouses human attitudes of some kind. The adjustments already effected in society represent, as we have seen, the various and very complex conditions of human activity up to the present. Society is stable only because these relationships are, in the long run and on the average, constant. The attitudes

(173) of employer and employed, the holiday privileges, hours of work, scale of wages, kind of domestic life, —all of these things are the gradual outcome of an enormously complex system of personal attitudes and claims ; and the relative satisfaction with them represents the constant interaction of these attitudes and their discharge in actual and mutual service. Now this adjustment is usually contingent upon some more-or-less important invention, upon some thought or system of thoughts which represented some one's originality. The inventions, therefore, using the word in the widest sense, are the points of emphasis, the nuclei, so to speak, the centres, from which diverging interests radiate. The normal course of a man's life flows about some single idea, established scheme, institution, or even some single machine, which represents what to him is the outcome of the thought and personal effort of mankind in a particular direction. The inventions, then, may be taken as representing the advance guard of social progress. In them, as in centres, the fund of human mental and social capital is invested. The activities of men terminate on them and their support comes from them.

This tendency of the interests of social life to crystallize about the greater thoughts and inventions which are embodied in it, shows itself in many ways. It is a phenomenon of social habit, exhibited on a large scale. It is the habit of the race, which the individual has to acquire in his personal education. It then controls his personal habits, because it represents the persistent line of activities in the accomplishment of which his life is spent. It is his social heritage. The sorting of men out in professions, in trades, in colleges, in banks, etc., is but the solidifying of the lines of personal habit in forms suited to the more

(174) effective pursuit of certain common aims and activities of the members. So whenever a new thought comes, or a new invention, there is likely to be a great caving-in of the social crust, so to speak. And from this point there will again radiate a great number of vested interests. In fact, I find it impossible to think of a society, in any developed sense, in which this principle does not work to produce in every individual a certain prescribed range of special interests, at the centre of which lies an idea or thought, now a matter of accomplished social habit, which gives movement to his life and affords an outlet to his energies.

116. This is reflected in what is called the 'conservative' spirit in society. It is the voice of social habit. It is the law of social heredity proclaiming itself in the bosom of each member of society. It says to him "Guard well the heritage of the fathers ; listen not to the agitator, the innovator, the advocate of change. The established is the safe; it is acquired, it is tested; experience is the best, indeed the only, teacher that organized society may appeal to." This is even more true of society than it is of the individual; for when the individual makes the mistake of venturing beyond the teachings of his private experience, he simply suffers a penalty which in the future he can avoid —except in the cases mentioned below, in which his indiscretion costs him social place. But it is not so in the social realm. The very complexity of the interests involved in any social adjustment, and the variety of individuals who may have been brought by a happy combination into co-operation, makes a single innovation irrevocable. Political agitators realize this, and aim to carry measures by a wave of temporary enthusi-

(175) -asm against the dictates of sound social judgment. A detailed and complicated social arrangement may go to pieces through a single error of judgment.

And this applies, as has been intimated, to mistakes on the part of individuals also, acting in their social capacity. A single lapse from convention or social morality gives a man a name and reputation from which he never gets himself free. The tales of fiction-writers often turn upon this motive. A character appears in a community and gains a high place by his talents and social probity, until some rumour of an earlier crime comes to blast all the fruitage of his toil ; the outcome of a single act weighs more than all the record made under the new and more difficult circumstances. All this shows the extreme force of conservative sentiment in matters of social organization. It is the governor of the engine, and its loss is sufficient to wreck the train. Its presence is not an accident ; it is the safeguard which the evolution of society itself has produced as the necessary check upon precipitation and ill-judged change.

This principle of conservatism is one of the most important elements of what is meant by 'public opinion.'[8]

So far we have reached a view which teaches us that the definite social attainment of society, on the side of what is usually called its material life, —all the acquisition up to the present,—is embodied in the inventive thoughts, schemes, institutions, industrial arrangements, etc., actually existing ; these are the nuclei about which the entire social turmoil centres. And the effect of this growth of institutions about such great germinal ideas, or inventions, is that men come to invest all their interests in these ideas,

(176) and so become what we ordinarily call conservative. Carrying these two points along with us, we may now turn to the other side of the matter, still concerning ourselves mainly with the scientific, utilitarian, ' material' side of invention.

117. II. The second general consideration is by no means inferior to the first. It has to do with the actual growth of society, as the other has to do with the conserving of the attainments already made by society. As we have seen, society has to have habits, traditions, institutions , and with them the conservative attitude of mind which sees that these things are jealously guarded and conserved. But it is plain that if this were all, no progress would be made; indeed, the conservative is usually the hindering element in social progress.[9] Just as natural development has to see to it that the organism gets new accommodations which bring the creature constantly into adaptation to the newer and changing conditions of the environment, sometimes indeed working directly in opposition to the habits already acquired, so also is it with the social body. There must be a principle of social accommodation, analogous to the principle of organic accommodation recognized in theories of organic and mental development. The requirements of the case seem to be essentially the same, in the two spheres. In organic development, we find the two principles coming to unite in those critical reactions which at once illustrate habit and at the same time secure new adaptations. In the growth of the individual child we have seen that the reactions which are imitative in type accomplish this; by them the child expresses himself in the habitual ways

(177) which he has already learned, and also secures the new actions which serve to bring him into better relation to his social and physical environment. So also recent writers have found that the theory of race adaptations proceeded upon the assumption of the same type of activity in the species which is to live and grow. It must have reactions which constantly bring the exercise of habits into conflict with the environment, so that the principle of natural selection may come in to secure the survival of those which can so modify their habits, so accommodate themselves to the newer conditions of living, as to utilize them for the purposes of life and growth.

When we come to look at the progress of society from the point of view of this analogy, we find in part what has already been said in the pages immediately preceding. The law of social heredity with the conservative spirit is the law of social habit. By it, social reactions are made permanent and secure. And the kind of reactions, attitudes, institutions, which represent this law are those which are developed about the great germinal ideas or inventions of the past. The inventions of the genius are the nuclei of social habit.

118. But they are more. And what more?—this introduces the question of accommodation. They are the loci of social accommodation, as well as the nuclei of social habit. As the habits of the organism are the means of new organic adaptations, so the habits of the social body are at once also the means of its growth.

The way it works is this. The new invention comes to create disturbance. The kind of disturbance I mean is the kind which arises when the fixed ways of social activity of any kind are violently wrenched and altered. I

(178) have only to cite the social disturbances which arise around the introduction of new machines to make my meaning clear. Riots, bloodshed, labour disputes, boycotts, revolutions of the unemployed, persecutions of the employing classes, attempts at conservative legislation in the interests of classes,—these are the historical witnesses to the critical part which inventions play in the evolution of social life. The printing-press drove the illuminator and his art out of existence. The reaping machine made the scythe a wall ornament, and the human reaper an anachronism. The steam-engine relieves the posthorse of his burden and the driver of his employment. In fact, in this material realm, the science of archaeology is a record of the progress of humanity as it is recorded in its successive inventions ; and our museums are collections whose main lesson perhaps, to the student of human progress, is the superb one that intellect is alive in the world and that thought leads, even though it be by convulsions of the social body and by the strangulation of outgrown utilities.

A new invention, thought, idea, in whatever realm of our interests it may be, is like an electric spark in a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen. An explosion is the immediate result. But, as in chemistry, the explosion is the incident merely. The result of the explosion in chemistry is the production of the world's drinking-water. The new thought is an electric spark in human affairs ; it does lead to the explosions. Yet they are but the sign of the new adjustments which society goes on to effect. The new supersedes the old by using it, remoulding it, refining it ; and after such a fight with the conservatives, to whom the old is too dear, the thinkers who bring in the new see

(179) that by it humanity has gained and the millennium is nearer. There is a precipitation about a new nucleus. That is the method of social accommodation. And just in so far as the new idea is new, revolutionary, unheard of, so far will the struggle be bitter and the chance of its working its way less.

119. The attitude which this law of accommodation tends to bring about in men is that of opposition to conservatism ; we call it ` liberalism.' It is a tendency which is very real and powerful in society. It marks a temperament in particular men, as the conservative tendency does in others. And any account of the impulses which play in social life has to do in part with these great antithetic attitudes, arising conspicuously about the thoughts and inventions of great men, but present always in the slower movements as well.

To get the real force of the two principles now set forth, we should be well aware that the word 'invention' is not confined in its application to machines ; it applies to original conceptions of every kind. The man who proposes a new banking law, or a new scheme of taxation; the theorist who writes a persuasive book on the methods of city administration or on the ways and means of public education, —these men are inventors, and their proposals come directly before the people for social assimilation. The socialists of to-day are a set of more or less original men, who seek to commend innovations in the actual adjustments of social forces to one another. The secretary of the navy who submits a new scheme of coast defence, and the continental statesman who has an idea on the subject of the disturbances in Armenia, are inventors, and candidates each for the honour of being a social electric spark

(180) which is to produce an explosion and set a permanent nucleus of progress—equally so with the man who invents duplex telegraphy or a type-setting machine. The idea is the thing—and the man who is able to have the idea. It then remains to see what society can do with the idea, and what the idea can do with society.

When we come to put the two aspects of the inventor's work together, we find that it is not so much the particular invention or discovery that our theory values, chosen out to illustrate the principle, as the general fact that society proceeds by inventive increments to its store, both of truth first and of adaptation to truth afterwards. Not the great genius alone illustrates it, but every man, so far as he thinks out novelties which society finds it possible to embrace and assimilate. The inventor of the selfclasping collar-button is an original social force, in the same sense that the Howes and the Hoes and the Edisons are ; but to a different degree. We can better dispense with the collar-button than we can with the sewing-machine; but I doubt whether we could dispense with all the smaller inventions and adaptations of our lives as well as we could with all the larger ones. This is of course an artificial comparison and a needless one; but I write it out to illustrate the fact that the theory which we have now worked out concerns itself with the smaller as well as with the larger phenomena, and reaches results which set the smaller in their place beside the larger. It is a commonplace that all great inventions are at first roughhewn, to a degree angular and unassimilable, until the smaller and more painstaking men have modified them into better conformity to the actual demand which society makes. The patent office is full of secondary patents fol-

(181) -lowing the few main ones which embody really great and novel ideas.[10]

§4. Social and Imitative Selection

120. It may be useful at this point to gather together the various meanings which we have found it possible to give to the term 'selection' when used in its social reference ; especially in view of the confused conceptions to which its uncritical use may lead. In an earlier place[11] certain of the meanings of selection were pointed out with especial reference to natural selection. In addition to what was said there, we find it well to suggest that the phrase 'social selection' be employed when, and only when, there is a real operation of natural selection working upon some form of social variations. This is realized in two cases.

First, we have the form of social selection which results from the competitions of individuals with one another in society. There is a social survival, and even often a physical survival, of the socially fittest individuals. The man with the 'pull' gets the political place because he has the social qualifications which his 'pull' represents; and the man who passes the best competitive examination also gets the place because his qualifications are also specially fit ; in this case fit for the service, as in the other the fitness was for the 'pull.' The man of social gifts is employed as floor-walker in the business house ; and the man who writes a good hand and so saves the eyes of his employer, succeeds as book-keeper. All these are cases of 'social selection.'


Second, there is the fact of 'group selection' which illustrates natural selection operative upon social groups. Here there is the survival of the group as such. The fitness is fitness for the requirements set by the collective conditions of the life of the group. Historically this principle, which is strictly a case of natural selection, has many important illustrations in tribal and national competitions due to migration, colonization, rival occupation of territory, etc.[12]

It is, I think, with reference to these sorts of selection that the analogy between social and biological progress gets its force. Here we find both natural selection and physical heredity, with congenital variations, in operation. These sorts of selection, with the analogy in question, should be distinguished with all the more care from those in which one or other of these principles is not operative. Especially should they be distinguished from the different forms of selection, so important in social life, which operate by conscious choice and imitation. The social selection of individuals merges into conscious selection by individuals when the criterion is no longer the social variation of the one selected, but the choice of the one selecting. This distinction comes out in the illustrations given above; the choice of the candidate by his friend may be contrasted with his success in the examination.

12 I. In so-called 'imitative selection,'[13] with which we have more to do later on, —the imitative propagation of ideas in society, —we have a phenomenon for which biology

(183) shows us no analogies. What survives in this case is not individuals, but ideas; and these do not survive in the form in which the first thinker conceives them, but in the form in which society applies them. Again, their fitness is not in any sense fitness for struggle ; it is fitness for imitative reproduction and application. And finally, they are not physically inherited, but handed down by 'social heredity ' as accretions to the store of tradition.

These essential differences may be summed up in a way which connects this sort of selection—so-called 'imitative selection' —with what has been said of public opinion, as representing the conservative spirit in society. Public opinion may be called the organ of imitative selection. It sets the standards with reference to which the idea selected shows its fitness. It represents the set forms of tradition into which the new idea is to be absorbed. It brings to bear the judgment which society cherishes; and which, when reflected into the thinker himself, constitutes the measure of his social sanity. It applies the idea, when once it is selected and embodied in this institution or that, to each individual in turn in the way which in its broader aspects we have called 'social heredity.' [14]

It remains only to say that we have now reached a sort of resting-place in our discussion, from which certain main facts of social development appear in view. The essential meaning of the imitative and inventive principles have been discussed both on the side of the individ-

(184) ual's personal growth —whether he be genius or drone— and of the movement of society to higher levels of common accomplishment. The outcome so far may be embodied, on the part of the individual, in the view that every man is a socius ; and on the side of the social body, in the view that every society reveals the socius. It follows, from this, that there are two fundamental inquiries at the bottom of any adequate theory of society. The first is this : How far a complete knowledge of the individual man in society would also be a complete revelation of the society which he is in ? And the second question is this (the reverse of the other) : How far is it necessary to understand society, as it actually exists, in order to constrict an adequate view of the man's actual nature and social possibilities ?

We now find it possible to go on to the discussion of these questions with some hope of reaching results. It will have been observed that the consideration of the ' aesthetic' inventions has been left over for the chapter on 'Sentiment.'


  1. Cf. Popular Science Monthly, August, 1896.
  2. See the notable treatment of the genius from this point of view in James' Will to Believe, pp. 216 ff., which first appeared as an article in the Atlantic Monthly, October, 1880.
  3. This is another way of saying what was said above (Chap. III., § 3) that the individual's private 'selective thinking' proceeds under the social tests involved in his personal growth.
  4. Just as also with the criminal ; both he and such geniuses may have physical defects, various so-called `stigmata'; but it is evident that it is incompetent logic which finds in these stigmata the 'signs' or invariable accompaniments either of genius or of criminality And it is, a fortiori, worse logic to reverse the proposition and say that a man with so-and-so-shaped ears, a trembling palate, or a prognathous jaw, has either the one or the other. Possibly the best refutation of Nordau, Lombroso, and the rest, on pathological grounds, is Hirsch's book, Genius and Degeneration.
  5. In the original publication of this chapter (Pop. Sci. Monthly, August, 1896), I used Darwin's formulation of the principle of variations (with natural selection) as an appropriate illustration of the 'judgment' of the genius; the more appropriate as being itself the explaining principle applied in the text. I am interested to find Professor Poulton (Charles Darwin, p. 12 f.) emphasizing the same characteristic of Darwin's genius. I reprint my remarks on the subject, together with a quotation from Professor Poulton, in Appendix G.
  6. It is also largely through his inventions that man is able to work the changes in his environment which we often sum up by the phrase 'conquering nature.' Certain writers have correctly insisted that this is an important factor in social progress: for if nature were not `conquered' men would remain in many respects isolated and their social capabilities would be in so _far undeveloped.
  7. Of course the nearest approach to this would be the scientific discovery of something absolutely unrelated to earlier knowledge; or something contradictory to current beliefs, as the Copernican theory (which, however, drew upon the data of common knowledge).
  8. See below Chap. X., § 2.
  9. See Chap. X., § 2, below.
  10. See the discussion of the 'generalization' worked by society, below, Chap. XL, § 3.
  11. Sect. 40, note. See also Sects. 306 f.
  12. It gives rise to what may be called the law of `the widening unit,' i.e. that as the circle of co-operation widens the unit of survival, the group, taken as a whole, becomes larger. The role of Group-Selection in Social Evolution is discussed in Appendix H, V.
  13. See above, Sect. 40, note. In order to keep it quite clear from biological misrepresentations, as well as to designate its essential character, it is called below ' social generalization' (Chap. XI., Sects. 309 f.).
  14. The distinction between 'social selection' and `social suppression' (mentioned above, Chap. II., § 3), will be evident. It is interesting to note that the law is the administrative organ of the latter, public opinion being incompetent to suppress individuals. Cf. Appendix B for a classification of the various `selections.'

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