Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development


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WE have now come to a point in our study at which the varied lines of inquiry concerning the individual may be drawn together, and certain indications of a general kind made out for the main topic which concerns us; the relation of the individual's thoughts and actions to those which society adopts. We may call it, in a sense, a synthesis of the earlier chapters, in that the positions now to be developed include the points of view arrived at in the foregoing pages.

297. If we use the phrase 'social forces' to indicate the more broadly distinguished influences at work in society, when it is considered as a progressive organized whole, we may distinguish those influences which have their locus of origin in the individual, from those which seem to have their point of departure in the social organization. The presence of the individual —thinking, struggling, buying, selling, loving, hating, quarrelling, peacemaking—indicates a type of activity of which we have seen many illustrations in the foregoing chapters. This is a constant presence, and it constantly serves in many respects to interrupt and modify the social organization and its movement. The

(450) genius we have found to be such an influence; and so also is the criminal. These are exaggerated cases. But all individuals have some degree of social initiative; so we may put the individual on one side as representing a type of social force. Then over against him we find the social body existing as an organization, with a set of laws, conventions, institutions, customs, etc., all its own. The movement which it represents we may characterize briefly as a movement also actuated by a social force: that inherent in the existence of organized society itself.[1]

These two types of 'social force," the more exact definition of which is to follow, do not represent a dualism in the social body. All our conclusions have been in quite the opposite sense. No such dualism is possible in the philosophy of human life; if, indeed, such a philosophy be possible. On the contrary, the social body represents formulations which in some way aggregate or synthetize the progress made by individuals. On the other hand, the individuals, considered as embodying a social force, only give particular and variable statement to the social outcome, through the process of social heredity. This truth has become evident in the foregoing chapter, in which the oppositions between the individual and the social body have been seen to reduce themselves to two, representing the revolt of the individual's intelligence and sentiment

(451) against the social sanctions. This being admitted, it now becomes our task to see whether, in this very revolt, with the relative and partial dualism which it seems to create, we may still find any constant principle binding the two factors together.

§ 1. Distinction of Forces

298. There is a further line of distinctions which comes up to help us; also based upon fact. It will be remembered that it was the average man whose individual activities were found to equate so snugly with the social demands of his environment. And the reason was found to be that the demands of the social environment reflect historically just the social activities of the average man. The law of the majorities in political life and the need of 'campaigns of education' to effect even the most evident social reforms, show that society is on the side of the average, as we should expect from our theoretical considerations. The will of the majority is not an abstraction. It is a great fact, both from the point of view of what society has already effected, and in view of what it is still to accomplish. We never hear of society suddenly making up its mind, in a collective way, to do this or that; it is always individuals who work upon society through other individuals. The result is reflected in society through the growth of public opinion, and in those other forms of social outcome in which the exertions of individuals get themselves recorded and made vital for collective action. So it is safe, at the outset, to say that the force found operative in the collective social body corresponds to the average, conservative, less original, and more suggestible individual activities in the community.


Leaving this statement in its general form, and its further justification to follow, we find a corresponding fact on the side of the force represented by the individual person as such. Just in so far as he is a separate social force, in so far is he the exceptional individual; the man who by his personal endowment or attainment finds himself standing relatively alone, with the peculiar duties and satisfactions which such a position creates. If this be so, and if such men represent any general tendency in the social movement, —have any general meaning anywhere in the history of humanity,—then it is to them that we must look for the redemption of society from the conservatism and hard and fast solidification which would come from the law of the average, seen in the social outcome due to the activities of the majority. This again seems so evident that we may content ourselves with this general intimation of it; and now go on to make a closer formulation of the two general functions which have thus been assigned to the two sorts of social force.

299. I may first state the formulations which I shall maintain, and then attempt to justify them:—

1. The individual is the particularizing social force.
2. Society is the generalizing social force.

300. The best way to get a broad general view of the activity of these social forces, in their operation together, is by using a biological analogy. Biological progress is, as is now believed, the result of two co-operating agencies, both of which come to view in the phenomena of heredity. Galton and Weismann have shown that there is a law of 'regression,' called by various names, by which in the case of the cessation of the process of natural selection together with the continued free intermarriage of individuals having

(453) all sorts of characters, — as in human society, — the further perfection[2] of any specific line of characters is rendered impossible. There is a tendency to the recurrence of what Galton has called the 'mid-parent,' a fictitious quantity or individual, who represents the average or mean between the two parents, in each case of offspring. When this state of things is continued through many generations, and with many pairs in each generation, there is a certain settling or establishing of values, in respect to each function or character, about a constant mean. In human society to-day this is true of our physical characteristics; since the artificial preservation of the unfit of all kinds—the diseased, halt, and weak—gives approximately a case of free intermarriage of all degrees of perfection and imperfection.

In animal companies, however, in which there is still the struggle for existence weeding out the inferior cases, a chance is given to another, and second factor. It is the principle of variations, which has already been cited above. Nature produces both fit and unfit, and all degrees of each. Reproduction, moreover, is the source of countless individuals, among whom are some which would represent a higher type, in this direction or that, if they could escape indiscriminate intermarriage, and with it the law of regression. Among the animals nature secures just this. The weaker and more unfit do not live to intermarry at all; there are no hospitals nor physicians in the animal kingdom to keep the diseased alive ; no free dispensaries to supply the hungry. So the stronger which survive intermarry only with the stronger which survive, and a stronger race

(454) is the result, since the next generation tends now to a higher mid-parent represented by the mean between two representative individuals, each of whom is more excellent.

Progress in biology, therefore, hangs upon two things: (1) the regression of the whole body of characters in a species to the mean or mid-parent value, and (2) the survival of the best individuals. Without the regression factor, there would be no central mass of relatively fixed characters representing the species as such, and establishing the mean about which the individuals might vary within safe limits in the given environment arid conditions of life. Without the variation factor, on the other hand, there would be no individuals of unusual excellence to set higher up, by their intermarriage, the value of the mid-parent or collective mean. The assumptions, moreover, are at least two: physical heredity, to give regression its opportunity, and natural selection, to give the variation its opportunity.

301. In the biological sphere, therefore, we see the two sorts of influence at work which I have called, in the formulations above, the 'particularizing' force and the 'generalizing' force. The tendency to the mean or mid value is the generalizing force in biology. It is accomplished by physical heredity. The new values introduced by variation show the particularizing force. It gets its value through natural selection. The generalizing force, in the progress of a species or character, is represented by the mean or average values of the individuals or characters taken generally or collectively; the particularizing force is seen at first only in the particular individual. 

This is not the place to go into a discussion of the relation of social progress to biological progress, or the possible identity of the two. Yet I do not see how, as long as

(455) we have bodies, the laws of biology and of heredity should cease to be operative. But it is equally plain that in human society certain other influences, springing from intelligent and social life, come to modify the outcome. We may simply say, therefore, that biological laws do hold all through human life, but that we sometimes find reason for saying that they are interfered with by other devices or laws. Taking the biological analogy, therefore, in this case under these limitations, we may apply it to the social factors as such; finding later on in the sequel that we can formulate a more exact estimation of it.

§2. The Particularizing Social Force

302. In the first place, the individual produces the new variations, the new thing -s in social matter. As a thinker, he gives birth to the new thoughts by which the conventions, beliefs, opinions, institutions, of society are modified, if perchance they come to be modified at all. The individual makes the inventions which overthrow the older devices of labour, establish communication, commerce, and intercourse, and introduce new eras in all the spheres of human attainment. The individual feels and protests against the inadequate and the socially worn-out, and teaches other individuals so to do, thus producing the wide spread revolutions of sentiment by which the slave is freed, woman given her social place, and all men made free and equal before civil law. The individual makes the moulds of legislation into which the soft materiels of popular reform are finally cast. The individual rises to the emergency when the social tide of suggestion and the waves of passion are about to break in popular frenzy, and leads society

(456) into a place of broader outlook and quiet content in its social heritage. All this the individual does, and by so doing he fills a place in social progress which is vital to its life and indispensable to its growth.

By calling the individual considered as performing this function the 'particularizing' force, however, certain more exact things are meant; for there is a difference between pointing out that he does these things, and giving valid reasons for his doing them.

303. First, the individual particularizes on the basis of the generalizations which society has already effected. The individual is a variation just because there is a mean from which to vary. If he varies too far from this mean, he must perish; so sometimes the genius, and so oftener the badly defective. So with his thoughts; his attainments, as well as his endowment, cannot be out of connection with those of other men. We have already seen that he must learn the lessons of society first, and produce his inventions afterwards. Further, he must judge his own thoughts, feelings, reforms, first by the judgment which is itself amenable to the law of the mean, before he can bring them out for the instruction or for the revolution of society. His very good sense of the value of his thought-variations is itself a variation, and must not be too great a one, from a mean of social judgment. In short, he must use old materials; he must appeal to current judgments; he must particularize a new form or degree of the old. He does not create; he particularizes with reference to the social material which is already present to his hand.

Every individual who is not in all respects the veriest reproduction of the mean does this in some degree. He

(457) must perforce think his thoughts in his own way, no matter how commonplace a way it may be. His special particularization may, from its very dulness and soddenness, represent a backward tendency. He may be a victim to prejudice, to a narrow set of social influences, to a bad education, and so do his particularizing from the platform of a false social generalization; just as, on the other hand, he may be caught for the time in an eddy or cross-current of sentiment and suggestion, and so particularize at a tangent to his own normal social curve. In short, all sorts of variations may occur, as we have abundantly seen in considering the sanctions under which the individual's current actions are performed. But with it all, there he stands, the one particularizing agency; the hope of social progress; the only avenue through which the social temper may flow and still emerge in forms new and particular, for the weal or woe of the community in which he lives, and possibly of the world.

304. Second, the individual particularizes with reference to his own mental store. This also we have seen in considering the genius; but it is true of all men. Each individual must take out certain of his thoughts as particular secrets, special treasures, gems of his collection; cling to them and forget the rest. And inasmuch as each individual is also social, this choice of his must, to a degree, come to affect the particularizing which he does of the current social material, and also that done by others, just as we have seen that the social judgment, by a reverse relation, affects his private selection. His private preferences make him more open to this social suggestion than to that, since it assimi-

(458) -lates one and fails to assimilate the other. This appears again most conspicuously in the genius. His own true thoughts become a sort of social measuring-rod, a net of a given size and shape, in which the details of the social life in general take on special form. He effects a constant give-and-take between his own and society's thoughts, and so gets a richer particularization on the basis of them all.

Then, as the individual particularizes, so he acts; thus getting the various forms of personal sanction which arouse him. Thus his actions become" at once of social value. They contribute to the mass of social 'copy,' on which the run of men react; and his example dominates the Gesammtproduct of the circle in which he moves. Taken alone, he may be of course of little moment; and in speaking of the individual who is commonplace enough not to have much individual value, we are speaking just of the great mass of persons in society; but when we consider all of them together, here is just the most important progressive factor in everyday social life. It is the commonplace men who lead to the good or to the bad-ahead or astray-the commonplace men. Indeed, the man of greatest personal influence has very often to make himself commonplace in order to wield the influence actually due to his thought or character. This is, therefore, the most general and, on the whole, —apart from the world-moving crises when the great men play their part, —the most important sort of particularizing done by, the individual: the settling with himself of the value of his own thoughts, and with them of the actions proper to embrace and impose upon his fellows.


305. Third, and more objectively, he particularizes for the future and for society. It is here that the biological analogy becomes most helpful. We saw that the simple presence of variations does not suffice for progress ; for variations are in all directions. So the individual particularizes thoughts good and bad. In the high ethical sphere his conduct sometimes gets particularized in ways which his own ethical sanction—which is nearest to the voice of society—does not ratify. So, if there are variations both in the products of the individual's mind and also in the sorts of minds possessed by different individuals, then biology shows the result. We should expect an evening-up in endowment from generation to generation, and a regression to a set and average social life. Not only should the physical and intellectual capacities of mankind remain about stationary, but a certain conservative conventionalism should characterize the social life. In biology we find, however, that only the fittest variations come to fruition in posterity by the law of survival with the ruthless 'struggle for existence.' So the mean is raised and the species makes progress, except in the case of man, where the effect of indiscriminate intermarriage and the prevalence of 'artificial selection' do seem to realize the stationary result which we should expect.[3]

Indeed, as regards physical and mental capacities, we find that the law of 'survival of the fittest' does not apply as among the animals, because in many spheres the com-

(460) -petition of organisms is greatly reduced through certain methods of intelligent and social preservation of the inferior members. In human life we keep the inferior bodies alive and also let them marry; and we also keep the lower intelligences alive and active. The only people against whom society wages war, and against whom she must wage war in order to her own life, are the anti-social, represented most prominently in the criminal class.

We should expect, therefore, since the safeguard of progress in the biological world —the law of survival of the fittest, with its negative application to the unfit — is removed, to find the sort of regression that comes on in the biological world when this principle ceases its operation.

Yet this is not the case in the social life. As a fact, society is making what we call progress-the sort of progress represented by civilization, material comfort, ethical sensitiveness, culture, etc. —all the while.[4] We are forced to conclude, therefore, that this sort of progress is not dependent on any law which can get statement in analogy with the law of survival of the fittest. And, as the facts show, the reason is to be found just in this process of the particularizing of material by the individual of which we are now speaking; taken in connection with the corresponding fact of social propagation or 'generalization,' yet to be spoken of.

The particularizing by the individual supplies tire essential material of all human and social progress. This takes the place of the survival of the fittest in the organic sphere. It means that individuals may, from the nature of the special particularization s which they make in

(461) thought, feeling, or action, have influence out of all proportion to their number and social status. It is of the essence of a true thought to live, although, at first, its point of origin be a single human head. It gets itself spread by social suggestion, education, imitation, etc., and then gets itself handed down by social heredity to subsequent generations. The individual may thus become, perhaps in his life, perhaps even before he himself realizes it, the centre of a great social movement. His invention may revolutionize industry; his discovery may add to the resources of commerce ; his verse or scientific writing may set the aspiration of a nation, or mark an era in the knowledge of mankind.

306. Not only is this the great difference between social and biological progress; the reason of it is also not far to seek. The limitation set in biology to the influence which an individual may work on his species is the necessary limitation set by physical heredity. This we saw to be a necessary assumption to the law of regression. The individual cannot make the next generation; he can only make one-half of a single family in the next generation. And even that family is subject to the law of variations. If the genius has only one son, that son may be an idiot, and is likely to be little better than the average man. Further; the mate which the genius chooses is equally responsible with himself for the next generation, and he does not always exercise the highest judgment of genius in choosing his mate! All these things, which might be carried out in many points of interesting detail, show the reason of the necessary limitation of the individual's influence in biology. The 'sport,' however valuable he may be, even to the point of supreme adapta-

(462) -tion, is always in biology a caprice, never a permanent possession. He is of no more value, from the purely biological point of view, than any other individual whatever; for he is averaged up with all the others in the long run, and the special strain which his gifts represent is finally measured by that and not by him.

But it is of the essence of the sort of organization which intelligent and reflective social co-operation have ushered in, that it banishes once for all this paralyzing limitation, due to physical heredity. The genius as a biological specimen has, of course, to submit to it, and to impose it upon those who follow him; but the thought of the genius does not have to, nor do the institutions and enactments in which his thought and sentiment take social form. The genius himself has to be made over each time we want him, and the making of him a second time is the problem which no man can solve. But his thought and sentiment are made once for all. His thought rings down the ages in human ears when his natural sons have gone back to their dust, and when a hundred generations have exercised themselves to develop the lines of his magnificent achievement. Who can trace the line of physical heredity from Aristotle to us ? And what its value if we could ? But who cannot trace the strain in our social heredity which comes from him ? And so I say that this is the great essential thing about social truth, as opposed to biological fact: it leas the bounds of physical heredity.

We saw that 'social heredity' is substituted for it. First, man had to become intelligent — in the widest sense of that term—in order to think and to subdue nature; and ethical, in order not to kill off, but to utilize, the thinker. With these two requisites, together with

(463) the forms of sanction to which they give rise, and with the institutions in which all these things have been embodied, he becomes the lord of nature that he is -and of himself. But the first conquest of nature that man had to make, in order to start his history in the line which we call social, was the conquest over the limitations of physical heredity. His first revolt—and the one in which all his subsequent protests were included—was his revolt against this biological law.[5]

307. It is hardly necessary to say again that this is true not only of the man of great power, but also of all men, and of many animals which have considerable social tradition as well as social instincts. This form of revolt has become instinctive, itself fixed by the law of variations first, and by the law of social heredity afterwards. The social man is the most natural man; the social institutions are the avenues of his most normal life. So every man of us is thinking, feeling, acting, — particularizing, for all time. We are acting up to our capacity to make the social heritage of our descendants; and the great man, the statesman, the poet, the scientific genius, does no more. His influence, indeed, is what it is only as we

(464) common men maintain the level from which he acts. He must have us, as we hope to have him. And besides this reciprocal influence between him and us, we are, besides, ourselves acting the genius, the hero, the great lawgiver, to our children, our pupils, our comrades, who are less privileged or less gifted than we are.

308. Fourth, this particularizing tendency explains the oppositions between the personal and the social sanctions. The general fact of social organization involves two great tendencies, represented in the individual by the sanctions called intelligent and ethical. The ,intelligent sanction very quickly runs, as we have seen in the child,—and in very glaring social examples, such as the professional criminal,—to an extreme, giving results which are unsocial or anti-social. But we saw that the very growth of the intelligence in the way of general knowledge, with its sentiments of social, ethical, and religious value, gives rise to a new set of sanctions. And it is with these latter, especially, that the social sanctions as such (as voiced by the community and its institutions) are identified. So there arises the conflict among the man's own sanctions, which shows itself as an intellectual revolt of the individual against society. It simply means that his particularizations cannot be assimilated to the generalizations which society has made; and either he must be suppressed, or society must be in so far reformed in those respects which his thought represents. The cases cited of the development of extravagant intelligent claims, as against the prevalent judgment of the community, —the case of the criminal, and often of the child, —illustrate particularizations in respect of a certain sort of thinking more or less free from ethical restraint.


Moreover, there is the variation on the other side—individuals who, from conscientious scruples, will not obey law; or who rebel against the ethical standards of the community in favour possibly of a higher and purer morality than that which society has yet attained. These conflicts, so far from being a sign of disorder and a retreat of dualism in social theory, are really incidents in that larger interplay of forces which constitutes social progress. No psychologist needs to be told that the particular is a particular only by reason of its partial conflict with the general; and the more the conflict, while yet it is a particular and not a disparate case, the greater its value from the point of view no less of the possibilities of the general, than from that of the realities of single fact. This fact of conflict will be considered, however, a little more in detail when we have looked closely at the second of our social forces, —the generalization made by society itself.

§3. The Generalizing Force

309. Coming to the exposition of the so-called force which society represents as over against the individual, the caution against falling into a dualism of view is perhaps unnecessary; the development in the preceding chapter is against it. The only dualism which is in any way justified is the dualism of fact seen in the opposition of sanctions now indicated; and that, we are going on to see, is only an incident of a more profound unity pervading the entire Social movement. The tendencies seen in the outcome of social evolution, as embodied in institutions, are, however, in such contrast with the achievements of the particular individuals, that further remarks

(466) may first be made upon the contrast. Bearing in mind the characteristics of what has been called the 'particularizing' function of the individual, certain truths come into view on the side of society. These are covered by the phrase 'generalization.'

310. First, society generalizes what the individual has already particularized. This is simply to say that society is not an original thinker, feeler, or doer. It would be going too far, as is so often done, to say that society is only an aggregate of individuals, and so can originate nothing; for, as we have seen, the Bloodiest scenes of history, to say nothing of less exceptional things, have been the immediate work of certain social wholes; work for which no individual in the group would have found sanction, if he had acted alone. The works of the writers on collective psychology in recent years have made this plain. The social agent is not the aggregate of the individuals in the group.

But it is true, nevertheless, that the thought on which the whole group acts is present in the minds of the individuals, as far as it is thought at all; and it is generally true, also, that the crowd does not think thoughts nor do deeds which the individuals might not have done when acting under the influence of strong suggestion, had the suggestion been otherwise administered. There are really several cases of this relation between the individual's thoughts and society's; but I can only dwell upon the one general case which is normal and of special interest to us, now seeing that it includes in the rest.

The things which are taken up by society and incorporated in permanent form, as its acquisitions, are usually the outcome of the severest thinking. of the ablest indi-

(467) -viduals. In all the spheres of human activity and knowledge, new ideas come from those most capable, through endowment and education in the normal resources which society already offers, of making real advances in the understanding of nature, in the application of their knowledge in useful ways, and in the achievement of the highest and most ideal forms of poetic, artistic, and sentimental insight. These are society's normal teachers.

What society then does is to generalize the particular thought or value. A new scheme of legislation —let us say of taxation — is thought out by one man. It must be made a general thought in the group of fellow-citizens or fellow-legislators. This is one form of generalization of the thought. It does not retain just the form in each mind that it originally had. The essence of the thought is its general, workable part. Then, in order that it may be made effective for the good of society, only what is thus found general is actually carried out. So the form in which such a thought is realized in law—or, in other cases, in institution, ceremony, or custom—is seldom just that which the originator conceived. The idea or essential contrivance remains the same; but it is given a form which fits it to the thought of many thinkers and to the practical needs which they bring to it.

Then, after such a first generalization, new particularizations follow in the minds of other able men; as note the 'improvements' through which each practical invention goes, after its first clumsy embodiment in a machine.

Of course, different inventions, and different thoughts of all kinds, differ greatly, both in their nature and in their social fate; and I do not mean to say that the thought of each thinker necessarily undergoes improve-

(468) -ment before it will work socially. But what seems to be true is that, when looked at from the side of the final institution which is established in consequence of the thought of a great thinker, the thought is such that the average man can take it in, cling to it, and act on it. In political life principles have to be put concretely and with many illustrations, in order to get convincing force with the voters. Social measures which present least complication and the widest generality of application have most chance of adoption. The art work which strikes some general sentiment, or has so general a meaning that the average man may understand and feel its beauty, has most popular appreciation. All this seems to show that the pinnacle of singularity on which the original thinker stands cannot be scaled by the members of the community to which his thought appeals. But, on the contrary, his thought has to be assimilated to the great stock of established truths which society already understands and values. The result is that the new thought is 'pared' down, so to speak; its boldest and most novel outlines are obscured; and its form of final embodiment is that general form in which it can be most widely appreciated and applied.

311 Second, it is also to be noted that it is only as this generalizing process is adequately done that the permanence of the new elements in the social life is secured; for the matters of new sanction secured by the thought and struggle of one generation have to be assimilated by the next; hay-a to come under the pedagogical sanction enforced upon the sons and daughters. And only the general conceptions which underlie institutions can thus be made matter of pedagogical sanction.

(469) The singularities of thought, the particularities as such, which belong to a single thinker, and even those which such a thinker may succeed in imposing on his own generation, cannot live on in succeeding generations if these succeeding generations are to exercise the same prerogatives of thought. The later generations can only build on those general principles or ideas which the earlier thought out and wrought into the structure of the social fabric.

Illustrations of this are plentiful. For example, the growth of the democratic idea in modern times shows all the vicissitudes to be expected from the varying degrees of thoroughness with which this people or that have done their generalizing. In France the attempt was made to apply at once, in all its naked particularity, the democratic philosophy of one man and one school of academic thinkers. The result showed the absolute impossibility of building all at once a new social fabric whose foundation should be the thought of 'freedom, equality, and fraternity'; a thought having little connection with the earlier development of French national life. Both the difficulties which are pointed out above appeared, and each was insurmountable. First, there was no adequate framework, in law or social convention, for the new idea; no precedents, no safeguards, no standards to which to appeal. In this state of things, the particularity of the thought saves it only so long as it is not in the ascendant, or so long as no new particularity of a new thinker comes to make a stronger social appeal to the suggestiveness of the people. And, second, the other defect appeared most glaringly, — the lack of adequate pedagogical sanctions for the new generations of democratic France. One-man institutions cannot live, simply because one man cannot secure the suc-

(470) -cession of his thought, as he can that of his family. In all the vicissitudes of republican life in France, we see a nation seeking here and there for something to teach its sons.

To this, the growth of the democratic idea in England presents the most instructive contrast. Successive advances in the idea of popular constitutional government have been successfully realized, just by the process of social generalization of which we are speaking. Piece by piece, the stones from the quarry of republican government and manhood suffrage have been-set into the fabric of monarchy; but in so apt and gradual a way that the whole stands a monument at once to the great thoughts of great men — as great as Rousseau and Voltaire — and to genuine social progress.

France has reached stable democratic government at the cost of dear-bought experience of revolution, anarchy, and misrule; England has attained the same, but by growth.

In art also, and even in mechanical invention, the same is seen. A school of painting is dominated by the style of a great man; his is the original thought, or manner, or style. But imitators of him do not constitute his school. Each artist who learns from him must generalize the thought or manner of the master, by assimilation to the whole tradition of art and to what is original and great in himself. So in the school there still arise new masters. The rest are copyists. And in the perpetuity of the original artist's contribution to the art movement of the world, there must be that general core of method or idea which may be made the matter of pedagogical discipline from generation to generation. Here, as elsewhere, the purely particular is the eccentric and the temporary; and although advance is at first through some one thinker's

(471) particularization, still only that part of his particularization which may be generalized becomes the real gain of society and of the world.

312. Third, the real progress of society is measured, not by the individual's particularizations directly, but by society's generalizations. Here, again, the analogy drawn from biology may help us. The real measure of a species' attainment is the position of the species as such in the scale of life, in respect to this character or that. The individual is judged with reference to his degree of conformity to the average attainment of the species. If he be too great a departure from the type, he is a 'sport'; and this, because he is less likely to perpetuate his endowment, by reason of the general tendency of physical heredity to regress to the mean. Now we have seen, it is true, that social progress is not under the limitation of physical heredity in this respect; but yet it is true also that the form of heredity under which it does proceed —social heredity, the handing down through pedagogical agencies, etc. —has a limitation analogous to this in its own sphere.[6] For just as a physical variation which is too far from the mean tends to be swamped in the retrograde outcome of heredity, so the thought which is too wide a departure from tradition, custom, convention, fails of assimilation in the popular mind, and so gets swamped despite its value. The great thinkers are themselves a better measure of the possibilities of a given social group than are the particular thoughts which this or that one of them may think. For given the thinkers, there is always the chance of thoughts: they cannot help thinking. But

(472) given a thought, its final failure is its death. Interesting questions, in this connection, to be answered possibly by statistics, are: How many really great men does this or that nation or community produce in each generation ? and is there any connection between the number of the great men and the advance in the general level of culture which we call social progress ? Both are very complicated questions, and capable only of relative solution, from the ambiguity of the phrase 'really great.'

The point of interest now is this: that an idea or thought —a particularization of one mind—may fail of the necessary generalization on the social side. It frequently so happens. This means that there is a limit in the matter of the perpetuation of a social influence through social heredity, as there is also the limit mentioned in natural heredity. Too original a thought is a social 'sport.' It is often still-born. So the test of the real elements of national or social life is to be found on the side of its generalizations,—its established institutions, its customs, its creeds, its conventions, — and not on the side of the special monuments to the geniuses which it has produced. It is quite a mistake, for example, to reconstruct Greek national life from Greek heroic poetry; or to take the 'Thoughts' of Epictetus or Pascal as a measure of the moral intuitions of the Romans or French. As was said above, the Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, was ideal enough as a motto for democracy for all time; but the events immediately succeeding the triumph of its enthusiasts did not reflect the ideality of life which one should expect from its realization. And does the world generalize this motto yet anywhere ? — as much as our individual pulses are stirred when we hear it pronounced!


313. Fourth, the advance on the social side, thus tested and measured, must result in a constant suppression of the individual's sanctions, as far as they remain in conflict with those of society. If the individual's thoughts, sentiments, protests, recommendations, —having his own personal sanction, — fail of the sort of social generalization which we see to be necessary to their perpetuity, then, ipso facto, they are not fruitful, and they go on to be eliminated. They are not factors of worth in the body social, however they may recur in individuals and seek a social outlet. This suppression of thought arises even when the individuals themselves are not suppressed. We boycott books, refute 'silver fallacies,' suppress popular illusions by 'campaigns of education.' The general drift of social evolution is from the past, and has been set by the prevailing contributions of innumerable thinkers, all assimilated or generalized in a great body of accepted truth and tradition. A new idea may modify it very essentially, as we saw; and this is the measure of the greatness of an idea, the extent to which it does modify tradition. But by so doing, by being thus generalized and made of social value, such an idea secures the social sanction and so ceases to derive its influence over the individuals of the social group solely through the personal presence or authority of the single thinker. He may die, but his thought lives in the institutions which all men possess. So the sanction passes from the personal to the social sphere; and then, by the education of the children, it passes again from the social to the personal sphere. All other thoughts or courses of action which the individual originates lapse and are lost.

It is true, of course, that the social rise of an idea may

(474) be very gradual; it may have its ebb and flow; its sup. porters may increase and decrease; and yet it may finally prevail, and secure social confirmation. Indeed, this is the history of most social reforms and of many institutions. Yet this does not affect the general truth that the individual is the waning factor, and the social the waxing factor, all the way through. The idea rises and gets a social chance, just in proportion as it takes on the generalized form which makes it socially available. All manner of vicissitudes may mark its passage from the purely personal to the accomplished social forms But when it does get social embodiment, then it is permanent and effective in human life, not because this or that individual gives it his private sanction, but because it is the property of the community as such.

The thought of this section gets its main interest from the fact that from it inferences may be drawn regarding the direction of social progress. These inferences are brought forward in the discussions of the concluding chapters.[7]


  1. As ordinarily used the expression 'social forces' denotes a great congeries of agencies of different orders, physical, mental, industrial, military, etc. I see no hope of results in this field while such use of terms prevails. The two 'forces' which I speak of are both psychological; and inasmuch as only psychological functions can he intrinsic to a psychological movement, there can be no further social forces. The geographical environment, for example, may limit or hinder social life, but it cannot be a force or moment in that life; only its representation in somebody's mind can be that. See further note (Sect. 297 a) given in Appendix H, V.
  2. I do not accept Weismann's view, however, that positive decay of established characters arises from this state of things, called by him 'panmixia.'
  3. This is a much-debated point whether the level of intellectual capacity has grown higher with higher culture. It is not our problem now,—real social progress being in question, —so we need not reach an argued conclusion; but there seems to be little or no evidence that it has.
  4. The questions as to its continuity and direction are discussed in Chap. XIII.
  5. The question often asked whether the other assumption which biological evolution makes—the assumption of a struggle for existence with the survival of the fittest—does not hold of ideas as such; i.e., of the particularizations made by individuals, has already been answered (Chap. V., § 4). We saw that the use of such an analogy for the construction of a social theory analogous to the biological theory, is not legitimate, seeing that the correlative principle, that of physical heredity, which is necessary in biology to the operation of the struggle with survival, does not hold. Ideas are propagated socially by the imitative ' generalization' described next below (§ 3). The failure to recognize that the two principles must go together in biology, and that at least one of them fails in social evolution, is responsible for much of the loose employment of the biological analogy in the literature of sociology. On various sorts of selection, see Sects. 40, note, 120 f., and Appendix B.
  6. Yet it is only analogous. The real process is akin to mental 'generalization.'
  7. See § 4 (Sect. 313 a) on ' Extra-Social Conditions,' printed in Appendix H, V.

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