Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development


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335. IT has been shown already that there are two contrasted functions involved in the progress of the thoughts which are socially available, seen respectively in the 'particularizing' done by the individual, and the 'generalizing' done by society. Both of these go on together, and give rise to the conditions which social life in all its complexity presents. We have called the individual the particularising social force; he invents, constructs, interprets, on the basis of the matter already current in society and administered to him through 'social heredity.' And society, as already organized, has been called the generalising social force; it reduces or generalizes the inventions of the individual by integrating them in the public 'self-thought-situation ' now described. The further question then arises: how and in what direction is social progress determined under the interplay of these two types of social force?

§ 1. The Determination of Social Progress

336. The word 'determination' is used here after analogy with the use of the same word in recent biological discussions, iii which the phrases 'determinate variations,' 'determinate evolution,' etc., are of frequent occurrence. The analogy with the biological conception of 'deter-

(511) -mination,' in respect to the movement of development, is very close; indeed, when due regard is had to the difference of province in which the development occurs, we may say that the question set under this head in the two departments is the same. It is briefly this : do certain lines of growth, remaining consistently the same as respects characters, functions, or attributes, appear in the developing content? Is there consistency of direction from stage to stage in the whole movement? And then, after such determinateness is once discovered, the further question at once arises: what determines the movement in this direction or that ?

337. As soon as we look into the implications of the positions already taken, we find ourselves shut up, I think, to a very definite view of the determination of social progress. The positions which immediately concern us now are three : (I) Individuals can particularize only on the basis of earlier generalizations of society. This gives an initial trend to the thought-variations which are available for social use.[1] (2) Society is absolutely dependent, as to its new acquisitions, upon the new thoughts, particularizations, of individuals; and it again generalizes them. It can get material from no other source. (3) Only when both these conditions are fulfilled—when old social matter is particularized by an individual and then again generalized by society—can new accretions be normally made to the social content and progress be secured to the organization as a whole. Looking at these requirements together, and attempting to discover what sort of a general movement will result, we find what may be called the 'Dialectic of 

(512) Social Growth,' an expression which is intended to suggest an analogy with the ' Dialectic of Personal Growth,' already described.

§2. Dialectic of Social Growth

338. In the 'dialectic of personal growth' we saw the development of self-consciousness proceeding by a twofold relation of 'give-and-take' between the individual and his social fellows. Personal material, coming in the shape of suggestions from the environment, is first 'projective,' as we called it; then it is taken over into the private circle of the inner life by imitation, and so becomes personal or 'subjective,' as belonging to the ego; and then again by a return movement between the same two poles, also imitative in its nature, the characters of the subject are read into the alter personalities, so becoming 'ejective.'

The various stages into which consciousness grows —becoming social, ethical, etc., by this one method of social give-and-take—have already been treated in detail; but it is interesting to see that this way of growing on the part of the individual consciousness may be stated in terms which reproduce in a very precise analogy the three requirements which we just found it necessary to lay downs as characteristic of the growth of society. We may say (1) that the individual reaches new inventions, interpretations, particularizations, in his own personal growth, only on the basis of what he already understands of personality; that is, of what he has learned. Each step of his progress in understanding personality is a particularization in his own thought of old material, a personal interpretation, subjective in its character. And (2) only those particularizations,

(513) interpretations, inventions, thoughts of personality, are permanently available for his growth which he again ejects outward and finds to hold generally of others also; these are generalized as habits and stand as accretions to his growth. This last is also imitative, since only - the imitable elements of his subjective thought are thus true and available in his treatment of others. (3) His 'selfthought-situation ' grows only when both these phases are accomplished together. Here, then, is personal growth quite accurately stated in the same terms as those which give the outcome of our detailed examination of social organization. 

I am not willing to leap to metaphysical or even logical conclusions on the basis of this analogy, striking as it seems to be, especially from the point of view of the requirements of idealistic philosophy. But we may at least use it as an analogy, and see its further bearings in the matter of the determination of social progress.

339. Coming to make out the analogy in more detail, we see that society stands as a quasi-personality under a twofold relation of give-and-take to the individuals who make up the social group. It is related to these individuals in two ways: first, as having itself become what it is by the absorption of the thoughts, struggles, sentiments, cooperations, etc., of individuals; and second, as itself finding its new lessons in personal (now social) growth in the new achievements of individuals. If we take any lesson which society learns, —any one thought which it adopts and mikes a part of its organized content,—we can trace the passage of this thought or element through the two poles of the 'dialectic of social growth,' just as we can also trace the elements of personal suggestion, in the case

(514) of the analogous dialectic of the individual's growth. The new thought is ' projective' to society as long as it exists in the individual's mind only; it becomes 'subjective' to society when society has generalized it and embodied it in some one of the institutions which are a part of her intimate organization; and then finally society makes it 'ejective' by requiring, by all her pedagogical, civil, and other sanctions, that each individual, class, or subordinate group which claims a share in her corporate life, shall recognize it and live up to it.

Society, in other words, makes her particularization s, inventions, interpretations, through the individual man, just as the individual makes his through the alter individual who gives him his suggestions; and then society makes her generalizations by setting the results thus reached to work again for herself in the form of institutions, etc., just as the individual sets out for social confirmation and for conduct the interpretations which he has reached. The growth of society is therefore a growth in a sort of self-consciousness [3]an awareness of itself—expressed in

the general ways of thought, action, etc., embodied in its institutions; and the individual gets his growth in self-consciousness in a way which shows by a sort of recapitulation this two-fold movement of society. So the method of growth in the two cases—what has been called the 'dialectic'—is the same.

§3. The Direction of Social Progress

340. From these indications —which must in all cases be controlled by an appeal to fact—we see the direction in which social progress must move. The individual moves directly toward an ethical goal. His intellectual sanctions, it is true, tend toward a personal and egoistic use of his own forces and those of society ; but that cannot go far, since, in its extreme, it runs counter to the co-operations on the basis of which the dialectic of his personal growth as such must proceed. The very growth of intelligence in the individual is itself a generalizing process, and by this generalization, a measure of higher restraint is set on the elements which enter into the generalization. The growth of intelligence must itself issue in those ideal states of mind which are called social and ethical and which set the direction of growth as a whole. The ethical sanction comes to replace and limit the sphere of application of the sanctions of desire and impulse; and so the individual gets, in his private life, a bent toward social co-operation and ethical conduct.

So with social progress. The use of intelligence for the private manipulation of social agencies does actually represent a level of social institutional life; and in certain great departments of human intercourse —as especially

(516) the commercial —relatively selfish ends, as seen in personal competition of wits, seem to be the highest society has yet attained. But as with individual growth so here. As soon as the personal use of the individual's wit brings him into conflict with either of the two necessary movements by which society gradually grows, —or with the institutions which represent them, —so soon must the individual be restrained. And, further, the restraint is no more an artificial thing, an external thing, in society than it is in the individual.

The social or communal growth shows the same ethical tendency for the reason, altogether apart from analogy, that the actual conditions in society are the same as in the individual. Society is, as we have seen, the generalizing force. It reduces the thoughts which rise and claim recognition in its midst to forms of general acceptance and to working shape. The very institution therefore, which embodies the new idea and enforces it upon the individuals, is itself the work of the best individuals, and represents the restraint of the egoistic and personal sanctions in favour of social and ethical co-operation.

Further, all the pedagogical sanctions of society, in the family, the school, etc., are brought directly and positively to bear for the production of those social forms of habit which confirm and encourage the development of toleration, forbearance, and all the virtues which are of social value.

341. There is, however, another and more profound reason that the direction of social progress must be determined by ethical and religious sanctions, and toward the goal represented by a state of ethical co-operation. It is to be found in the fact of what was called above the

(517) 'publicity' of all ideal thought of personality. We saw that the individual cannot be a wicked or a good individual in his own opinion —that is, cannot get a full ethical judgment on his own acts—without, at the same time, making his thought include the similar judgment passed by his fellow-men. His private self-judgment is a judgment based on the sense of a prevalent public judgment. The sense of the opinion of the public is an ingredient or element in the very synthesis by which the ethical judgment is constituted. Therefore, so far as the growth of his personality involves a general or ideal thought of self, so far is this self a public self whose thought is ipso facto the birth of a sanction of a public kind. The man says to himself: "I think thus of myself; other men think thus of me; I think thus of them when they are in my place; and all for the reason that what we each and all judge with reference to, is that ideal self which each of us only partially realizes. I partially realize it in my own way, and each of the others does in his own way; and it is by these partial realizations in concrete instances alone that this ideal gets its reality."

Now, we have seen that social growth proceeds by just this same development. Objectively, and in fact, it is seen in the actual publicity of social institutions and interests. But the same result comes out if we take the point of view which we may call subjective to society itself. If we went so far with the analogy from the individual's growth as to speak of society as a quasi-personality, and asked what thought such a quasi-personality would have to think in order to grow and to go on developing by the method of personal dialectic seen in the individual, we should say that society would have to think in a manner

(518) which involves the publicity attaching to ideal and ethical personality. It would have to ask what institutions were good for its citizens as such, not what was good for this particular individual or that. Its thought of personality, all the way through, would be the form of general personality which is realized in the individuals at that stage; but which is not identical with any one of them. With this thought of general personality, there would go the thought, also, that the thought that it did thus think was the outcome of all the partial personality thoughts which the individuals thought, of all the judgments which they passed on one another; otherwise the social quasi-personality would have no content out of which to constitute its general thought of self.

All this is simply a realization in the community, in public opinion, of the ethical standards of judgment which the individual must have if he is to develop beyond the stage of concrete egoistic or altruistic intelligence or of impulsive action. That the individual does go further is a fact; and it is just the fact which we call ethical development. He has attained the form of general thinking about himself and others which carries with it sentiments of a social and ethical kind. This enables him to constitute society in a way which would be impossible if he had only reached the lower development of the animals, say, with the sanctions for action which go with this lower development.

342. So when we come to ask what the direction of social progress may be, we find that it cannot he a direction which violates the method and denies the meaning of those very states of mind—the ideal, social, and ethical states—which have enabled the individual to come into

(519) his social relationships. The ethical sanction in the individual comes to control the other sanctions, since it generalizes and so transcends them. Society represents the embodiment of these generalizations. Its institutions both represent and further the individual's growth. Its trend forward, then, must be in the line in which the individual's higher growth also proceeds.

This is the trend toward the complete regulation and use of the forces of the individual in the interests of social and ethical unity and co-operation.[4]

Two things are accordingly true of the determination of social progress. These two things are these: first, social progress is determined by the social generalisation already remarked upon working upon the thoughts of individuals; and second, this form of determination is necessarily in the direction of the realization of ethical standards and rules of conduct.

343. The example given above,[5] of Mr. A, who allowed barriers to be put up in his hay-field, also illustrates, when we come to consider Mr. A's psychological movements, the fact that social progress is essentially an ethical movement. The taking of the general point of view involved the direct suppression of Mr. A's personal sanctions, the securing of publicity of judgment, and the establishing of reciprocity of duties and rights between him and others, with respect to an ideal thought of personality —all of which characterizes the ethical sentiment.

To take away his responsiveness to ethical considerations is just to remove a man's ability to act the good citizen in the responsible matter which the illustration supposes.


It may be said that the insurance companies take the same point of view for the purpose of making money. And so they do. But that is only to say that social forces and situations may be used intelligently for other than directly ethical purposes, —a proposition fully maintained in the foregoing pages. The question as between the ethical value of a proceeding and its intellectual value arises only when there is a conflict between the sanctions on which they respectively proceed. For example, if it could be shown that the insurance companies were impairing the ethical or even the financial interests of the community or of its citizens, by making money in this way, then the question of the social suppression of the companies would at once arise naturally among us. Or if the man A put up barriers in the United States, where the duty of doing so has not yet been enforced upon the responsible parties, and exacted, let us say, such a toll from pedestrians as to yield him an income, then Mr. A's action would have the intellectual sanction of being a moneymaking scheme, and possibly also —in case he really took the social point of view, and did it primarily to save human life —the ethical and social sanction as well.

In short, society's sanction is always ethical to the individual, while it remains social; but individuals may take society's point of view from private and personal motives.

§ 4. Conclusion on the Biological Analogy

344. On the whole, then, we reach a theory of social determination which makes it only to a slight degree analogous to the determination reached in biology. Biological variations are determinate in the sense that their 

(521) mean is shifted in this direction or that in each generation from the fact that certain types of individuals are kept alive in the earlier generation, i.e., those which could adjust themselves to the requirements of the  environment in useful ways.[6] This gives determination to biological evolution. In the social life we find practically no determination in the social direction extending to the individuals considered as variations; and only the 'suppression of the unfit' after they are born. Yet in the primitive social conditions there must have been a positive progress of the mean in social variation analogous to that just described as operative in biology.

But though there is this degree of analogy between the two determinations, there is the difference arising from the different sorts of heredity appearing in the two instances. In social organization the fruitful variation is not the individual as such, but his thoughts. This lifts the problem into the sphere of social heredity. Physical heredity generalizes or regresses toward a mean of all the individuals; while in the sphere of social heredity, the generalization made by society is of each new thought, invention, or sentiment considered for itself; and a single such social variation may revolutionize society and give a new bent to the social movement. 

345. On the whole, then, it follows from our study that the progress of society is, in its method, in its direction, and in its impelling motives, analogous to the growth of consciousness rather than to that of the biological organism. The current phrase 'social organism' is a defective one.

(522) If we mean 'organization' when we use the term 'organism,' —leaving to further consideration the sort of organization, — well and good. But to speak of the social ' organism,' as the biologist speaks of the organisms with which he deals, is misleading in the extreme. The organization which is effected in social life is, in all its forms, a psychological organization. Its materials are psychological materials: thoughts, with all their issue in desires, impulses, sanctions, consciences, sentiments. These things are incapable of any organization but that which finds its analogy in the actual growth of living minds. To speak with Mr. Spencer of social atoms and organs, of organic processes and centres, of nerves of primary and secondary order, etc., after analogy with the physiological organism, is nothing short of violence to the nature of the material of social science. What can be done with such critical phenomena in social theory as imitation, generalization, invention, tradition, social and pedagogical sanction, on such a crude analogy as that ? To force them into biological moulds is simply to deform them.[7]

And where in the analogy from an organism shall we place the influence of ethical and religious sentiment, which is really, in a detailed analysis, the determining factor in social progress ?

There are, on the contrary, two great compelling reasons for saying that the sort of organization which is effected in social progress is psychological. First, all organization is a function of the material organized. The biologist is the first man to admit this, now that he has given up the forms of vitalism which saw in vitality a force from

(523) outside, coming in to bend the life-processes this way or that. And a school of psychologists claim, as one of their greatest modern generalizations, the idea that mental activity is just the movement of mental elements toward organization; not a force from outside working these elements up. To treat social organization after analogy with the growth of the physical organism, is to set to psychological materials a certain force of impulsion, over and above the movement which they show in their own natural theatre and in their own natural forms of growth.

Second, the actual growth of social organization shows principles and methods which have a meaning to us only because we have minds. Such are those just mentioned —suggestion, imitation, sentiment, etc. We get at the meaning of these things in our own personal growth. We build up our understanding of character, both our own and that which we think our neighbour to have, just by these principles. So when we see social organization going on, we say: "This is a phenomenon of imitation, that of suggestion, this again of invention, and the other of sentiment." Indeed, the outcome of all our study has led us to the view that social progress is essentially, in its method, a reproduction of the growth of the individual; and the individual grows up in the social circle just because it is so akin to him that he is able to reproduce it in himself.


  1. Cf. the section on ' Selective Thinking,' Chap. III., Sect. 3, for the justification of this.
  2. Sect. 337.
  3. Whether we hold that there is a ' real' general or social self seems to me to depend very much upon our metaphysical presuppositions. If we mean by a ' real' self a something back of the processes of growth and not expressed in the content of thought, then there is no reason for saying that there is a ' real' social self. If, however, our meaning in speaking of a self be exhausted by just the thought-content with its organization and growth, then society may have a 'real' self just as the individual has. Indeed, if a metaphysician should find it well to say on the strength of the analogous 'dialectic' that there must be hovering over society an ' I' consciousness which integrates all the ' me' consciousnesses of the individuals, I think the contrast between the ideal 'I' and the habitual 'me,' in the individual, would be in so far an available analogy. M. Novikow (Conscience et Volunté sociales) thinks collective consciousness and will are realized in the socially élite, who are the learned and (as a class) wealthy individuals; in them social experience is organized, just as physiological processes have their organic centre in the brain.
  4. This is the socialistic ideal; but it can be attained only by the actual rise of individuals who erect such an ideal first in its personal form.
  5. Chap. X11., § 3 (Sect. 326).
  6. Illustrating ° Organic Selection' ; see Appendix A. Whether there be actual determination of variations as such in definite directions is a disputed point; the evidence at hand is against the view that there is.
  7. Cf. the excellent remarks in M. Simiand's article, pp. 497-498.

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