Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development


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1. THE general position involved in the ' dialectic of personal growth,' to the effect that early consciousness is objective, and that it is by the distinction among objects, which gives persons as first projective, that

(564) subjective consciousness arises, would seem to have support from the argument made by Professor Hoffding in his Outlines of Psychology, pp. 2 f. He holds that the results of philology are safe in showing that names of subjective states of consciousness, mental conditions, attributes, etc., are from roots which originally designated objects and events in the objective world. He further uses this result from philology to disprove the older theory of personification, which held personification to be the original mould for the conception of the external world. He is not willing, however, to throw over the personification theory altogether in favour of the 'dream' theory of the origin of the belief in ghosts, spirits inhabiting objects, and spiritual agencies in nature ; for, he thinks, even if the notion of spirits did arise through dream-persons, yet unless there were a fundamental personifying tendency, the dream-persons would not be understood to be personal (p. 8), nor would there be any reason for the primitive man's reading of them into the phenomena of the objective world generally. This seems to me quite true;[1] and yet it is difficult to see whence this personifying tendency could arise in the primitive man's mental growth, especially if he began with a purely objective consciousness. The solution offered in my 'dialectic' (cf. the section on Religion) fulfils all the requirements thus laid down by Professor Hoffding; and more, the imitative method of growth explains the origin both of the subjective-personal and of the ejective-personifying consciousness. The subjective is an imitative interpretation of the objective in terms of internal feeling; and the ejective is an imitative interpretation of objective action in terms of the subjective. The truth of the dream theory would then seem to be somewhat this: that in dreams primitive man found actual concrete and quasi-social confirmation for the personifying or ejective interpretations which his own growth led him to make, at the same time joining with his actual social life to furnish materials for his personal subjective interpretations. Dreams, and ghosts, and spiritual portents thus led him on his way into the realm of mystery which filled so large a place in his religious development.[2]


2. I think there is evidence from philology, moreover, of the ejecting or personifying tendency ; to be found in our references to the more abstract and hidden processes of nature whose naming followed the first crude descriptions made in the objective period. For example, we speak of the chemicals as agents ; of drugs, as having virtue ; of natural forces, as being virile; of poisons and acids, as eating; of machines, boats, etc., as she or her; of putrid things, as strong; of colours, as gay, loud, etc. ; of weights and electric circuits as dead and 'live' - to enumerate a few of many instances at hand.

3. I have endeavoured to find evidence as to the place of personification in primitive language, by looking into the growth of gender distinctions, thinking that the distinctions of gender could not have been embodied in the names of natural objects (particularly as between the personal genders and the neuter) without some mental tendency to personification. But the authorities on comparative philology seem entirely at sea, both as to the history of gender distinctions and as to the linguistic purposes which gender (especially the neuter) really serves. In support of this I may refer to the résumé given by Professor Brugmann in his Princeton Lecture' on ' The Nature and Origin of the Noun Genders' (New York: Scribners, 1897).[3]

4. As illustrating the necessity for distinguishing the different forms of ejective personal thought which arise in the growth of the religious consciousness, so-called ' fetishism' and 'totemism' may be mentioned. I am not competent to go into the controversy as to the place of fetishism in early religion, whether it be a degraded or a primitive form ; but it may be noticed that the arguments urged pro and con by Max Muller and the followers of Waitz turn really upon the sort of mental readingin which so-called personification supposes. As a primitive form, antedating polytheism, it would represent only that beginning of ejective personal consciousness which we see in the child when personal suggestion with social rapport, but without distinguishing whose suggestion or rapport with whom, is the extent of his sense of society. It seems

(566) to me most likely that the fetish is a symbol, or terminus of reaction, for this sort of vague social community with an undifferentiated spirit world.

The totem, on the other hand, seems to stand for a much more advanced self, a self of some reflective generality ; and to be the embodiment of the 'socius' consciousness of the group — the family, the tribe, the race. As such, it would involve a certain distinction between what is private to the individual, and what is public to the group, which we have found so marked in the child's social development at the very beginning of his growth into real moral personality.

5. Does not Edward Caird's masterly exposition of the development from ' objective' to 'subjective,' and finally to ' absolute' religion, require essentially the psychological movement seen in Avenarius' ' introjection' when supplemented by the imitative motive, as in the ' dialectic of personal and social growth'? I may refer the reader especially to Caird's summary, pp. 188 ff., Vol. I. of The Evolution of Religion. His 'absolute' religion, representing the final result of reflection and embodying Mr. Caird's metaphysics, does not lend itself so readily to objective genetic interpretation. Without referring to that, therefore, I may yet call attention to the use his development makes of what Romanes, from a more psychological point of view, calls the 'world-eject,' considered in its objective and subjective religious embodiments.

6. Apropos of Sect. 140, the following passage may be quoted from Tylor : —
"There survives even now in the world a barbaric mode of bringing land under cultivation, which seems to show us man much as he was when he began to subdue the primeval forest, where till then he had only wandered, gathering wild roots and nuts and berries. This primitive agriculture was noticed by Columbus. When landing in the West Indies he found the natives clearing patches of soil by cutting the brushwood and burning it on the spot.... In Sweden this brandtillage, as it may be called, has lasted on into modern days, giving us an idea what the rough agriculture of the early tribes may have been like when they migrated into Europe. . . . In long-past ages much of Europe was brought under cultivation by village communities. The move upwards from the life of the hunter to that of the herdsman is well seen in the far north—the home of the reindeer. Among the Esquimaux the reindeer are only hunted. But Siberian tribes not only hunt them wild, but tame them. . . . Here is seen a specimen of pastoral life of a simple rude kind; and it is needless to go on describing

(567) at length the well-known life of higher nomad tribes, who shift their tents from place to place on the steppes of central Asia, or the deserts of Arabia, seeking pasture for their oxen and sheep, their camels and horses. There is a strong distinction between the life of the wandering hunter and the wandering herdsman. The hunter leads a life of fewer appliances or comforts, and, exposed at times to starvation, his place in civilization is below that of the settled tiller of the soil. But to the pastoral nomad the hunting, which is the subsistence of the rude wanderer, has come to be only an extra means of life. His flocks and herds provide him for the morrow; he has valuable cattle to exchange with the dwellers in towns for their weapons and stuffs. There are smiths in his caravan, and the wool is spun and woven by the women. What best marks the place in civilization which the higher pastoral life attains to, is that the patriarchal herdsmen may belong to one of the great religions of the world : thus the Kalmuks of the steppes are Buddhists ; the Arabs are Moslems. A yet higher stage of prosperity and comfort is reached where the agricultural and pastoral life combine as they already did among our forefathers in the village communities of old Europe just described." - TYLOR, Anthropology, 219 f.


  1. ndeed, Professor Hoffding's treatment of this, and also of the child's personal development (pp.5 f.), with the insistence on the truth of recapitulation, seems to be lacking only in that it stops short of the growth of the social self under social stimulation. Even the social dream by primitive man involves some social experience; and the child's social experience begins further back than his social dreams.
  2. Avenarius makes the dream consciousness an important factor in the historical process of 'introjection,' using the exposition of Tylor's 'Primitive Culture' (Mensch. Weltbegriff., pp. 32 f.).
  3. The tendency is to discount the 'psychologizing' explanation attempted in Grimm's law. Yet whether in primitive language there is a period in which inanimate objects have names either exclusively neuter, or lacking entirely in the marks which are used to denote sexual differences—this would seem to be a 'live' problem, and its answer, whatever it be, of great value to the anthropologist and psychologist.

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