Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development


Table of Contents | Next | Previous 

PROFESSOR G. A. TAWNEY, of Beloit College, in a review of my work On Mental Development, in the International Journal of Ethics, July, 1897, pp.520 f., gives what in his view would be the derivation of sociality in the animal consciousness, provided we assume only the tendency to 'circular' or 'imitative' reaction in creatures which actually live together. He says: "Let us imagine two primitive organisms, A and B, existing in the immediate vicinity of each other. A is approached by some hostile object X, with which B also at some time or other has had to do. X approaches A, and B's glimpse of him revives his own past experiences with him. There is revival of pain, fear, and movements of flight on B's part. [These movements would be substantially the same as those also being executed by A.] [1] Suppose, however, that this flight does not suffice to relieve B Of the sight of X approaching, and, let us say, attacking A, so that no movement puts an end to the revival experiences of B. Excitement, which means heightened discharge, gives rise to variations of movement, and all the time the movements of A are setting copies from without for the reactions of B. The law of imitation implies that B's conduct under such circumstances will resemble A's ultimately. Let us again suppose that together they succeed in driving off X, and enjoy together the feelings of relief, i.e., pleasure, which follow. Here is a copy in the direction of co-operative conduct set for future imitation. Perhaps such copies would in time grow numerous, and through tradition become the social habit."

This illustration makes, I think, the true suppositions, and with some differences of detail, I am able to accept Professor Tawney's use of it. I should say — speaking of the unreflective sociality of the animals — that if A and B live together and react imitatively to common experiences, that in itself produces sociality. For (1) B, seeing A act as he also has acted in the presence of X, has reinstated in him thus the memory-copy-system, however simple, of his own earlier action, and reacts imitatively on this. This is just the objective reaction of sympathy, and becomes subjective sympathy, as different from real experience of the same kind, in so far as A comes to realize a distinction between this case and that in which he is himself threatened by X.(2). The

(556) actual sameness of conduct, whether produced as above by B's sight of A's action, or directly by the same X-experience in both A and B, produces results in a measure co-operative. This, I take it, is sufficient for the operation of natural selection, which on this basis produces 'colonies' of similar creatures. But in such experiences it would be quite artificial to suppose that no memory of the struggles, cries, endeavours, of A would linger in the consciousness of B as a part of his copy-system of the situation for future action. Yet if such elements do enter into his memory-system, then on future occasions it would be only to reinstate his requisite imitative copy for him to enter actively into similar co-operations. This again would be a great gain in the actual possibilities of united action, and would again survive in the struggle for existence. (3) Whenever the situation depicted by Adam Smith's illustrations was realized,—cases involving the sight of both an aggressor and an aggressee, with their respective claims upon the onlooker, B, for sympathy,—the creature whose shape, movements, postures, cries, etc., were like those of B would be the one which would supply B's copy-system, and the one with which his co-operations would arise; that is, the animal of the same kind. So subjective sympathy would be at once a ' consciousness of kind,' and the objective reactions would be indications of 'kind.'

So I hold that actual life together, of creatures having the tendency to circular or imitative reaction, results inevitably in sympathy, co-operation, sociality of the sort found in animals apart from fixed instincts;[2] and it is actually carried on by tradition.[3] Moreover, all the while, the species is accumulating variations by the aid of organic selection, and so special co-operations gradually take on the instinctive forms found in gregarious animal ' companies.'


In man, who goes on to organize experience in the form of a self, the ' dialectic of personal growth' produces the distinction between ego and alter; and reflective sociality takes the place of the spontaneous and instinctive forms. As Dr. Tawney says in the same notice: " The sense of subjectivity develops as the reflex of those established habits of social co-operation and organization which have already been formed; the social consciousness is the sense of self in relation with other selves."

The attribute of ' publicity,'[4] which has its genesis as the crowning social outcome of the I dialectic of personal growth,' is also summed up so neatly by Dr. Tawney in the same place, that I may quote it, at the same time not taking space to make the qualifications under which the developments of the earlier pages would support just the formula which he attributes to me. He says: " The law of Kant, ' So act that the principle of your conduct may be fit for universal law,' is to the individual, subjectively speaking: ' So act that all the members of the social group to which you belong, i.e., all your other selves, may know your conduct without pain to yourself."'


  1. Added by the present writer.
  2. The biological necessity for the full organization of the sexual instinct at a very early period makes it unlikely that that is to be looked to for the germ of the social tendency, in the sense that in sexual sociality the animal formed his lessons in tolerance and co-operation. The evidence collected by Topinard, already referred to (Sect. 139, note), goes to show the widest variation as between family life, springing from sexual needs, and general sociality. Yet a distinction may be made between sexual sociality in general and the restricted and more exclusive form of it found in family life. This Topinard recognizes in saying that polygamous animals are more ' social' than monogamous (The Monist, January, 1897, P. 25o).
  3. Darwin notes that after the acquisition of a fortunate co-operation by certain individuals, imitation could be counted on to spread it abroad and keep it going (Descent of Man, I., pp. 157-159).
  4. Sects. 198 ff. and 325 ff.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2