The Individual and Society
or Psychology and Sociology

Social Invention and Progress

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IN the foregoing pages we have laid emphasis upon the development of the collectivistic motive. We have shown how, at each stage of personal growth, the community of individual thought and action embodies itself in social solidarity and in social institutions. At the same time, it has appeared that the motive to singularity and individualism is not entirely lost or subverted in the social movement, but that it has its varied stages of manifestation in practice and theory alike. It now remains to ask how these motives are to result in a continuous and coherent social movement—how, that is, a movement sufficiently integral and

(146) continuous to be called "progress" can arise and go forward.


We are aided again here by the resort to the growth and progress of the individual in those aspects of his mental life which bring him into social relationships. We have already seen that he absorbs imitatively and obediently the matter of the social life and habit of his group. The questions then arise: Are imitation and obedience all? Is there no further process than that which conserves the social tradition through imitative reproduction? Is there no function of invention and discovery? If there is, where does it reside?

These questions are extremely important. They bring final emphasis to the point of view already adopted in these pages — the point of view which resorts, even for sociological interpretation, to

(147) the results of social psychology. For it is in those modes of social solidarity in which invention is present that social progress is to be discovered, and invention is a matter of individual psychology.

We have seen in the chapter on Solidarity that the earlier and simpler forms of solidarity and community do not admit of progressive change. There are no motives to change either in the collective life of animal instinct or in the spontaneous imitation and contagion of the life of the crowd and the mob. The instincts are stereotyped, fixed by physical heredity. The type of common action which results is relatively non-adaptable, inflexible. If the conditions are much changed the creatures perish. The gregariousness of mere imitation and emotional contagion is also unprogressive; the crowd is said to "lose its head": it becomes destructive and violent under the influence of suggestion. All this is the reverse of the continuous and pro-

(148) -gressive change by which a new and more complex type of social life is evolved. Accordingly, it is to the higher and more organized psychological processes that we must look for anything from which regular and progressive change could arise in the social body; that is, it is to the processes which result in what we have called above "reflective" solidarity and community. In other words, the laws by which biological progress and change are produced — resulting in the more perfect organism and the more adapted reactions to nature — are not the laws of social progress as such. There must be distinctive psychological processes at work.

Natural selection, for example, does not secure social progress, although it may preserve and extend the group in which a social type is present. The type that is worth selecting and extending arises within the group by processes of internal organization. Socialization within the

(149) group gives the raison d'Ítre for the natural selection of the group.

Further, the gains accruing to social life are not handed down by physical inheritance. We do not find that. the generations in order succeed to the achievements made from age to age through processes of heredity. The babe of today, for example, is probably about what the babe of prehistoric times was, apart from the instruments and means of civilization, such as speech, writing, etc. Each generation learns the same things over again, and so comes into the heritage by social transmission. The individual inherits these things by processes of instruction and imitative absorption, not by processes of physical descent.

It is our part, then, to inquire into the psychological processes by which social progress and personal development are together and continuously achieved.

In the individual, invention is as natural as imitation. Indeed normal imi-

(150) tation is rarely free from invention! The child has his imagination as well as his perception, his thought as well as his mere recognition, his reverence for the ideal as well as his sentiment for the actual; and in all these functions, imagination, thought, idealization, he shows himself inventive and original. The imagination goes ahead of the actual details of the given situation and projects its forms upon the actual. The new "scheme" of possible value is prepared in the imagination for the tests of actual life; and in the result the new idea may be finally established.

The processes of experimentation, characteristic of the deliberate research upon which science depends, are similar in type to this use of the imagination and continuous with it. The hypothesis or proposal is suggested by an act of the imagination based upon knowledge; and it is brought to the test in the laboratory of the experimenter or by

(151) the observation of the naturalist or explorer.

In the higher reaches of feeling, sentiment, and moral appreciation, the same procedure appears. The imagination idealizes the situation, in respect to beauty, goodness, utility; and the rules or norms of life and conduct arise according to which poetry and practice alike, the felt value and the explicit act, are brought into conformity to the ideal. So morality and religion are born.

In all this there is invention. It is a process of discovery, of achievement beyond the data of mere imitation and absorption of the current social tradition and custom. The child, the poet, the man of science, the religious prophet, all alike use the imagination; by it they suggest to nature and to society new forms of truth, beauty, value, which may be made available for the social store.

In all the processes of social absorption and imitation, therefore, we find that

(152) the individual thinks and imagines in his own way. He cannot give back unaltered what he gets, as the parrot does. He is not a repeating machine. His mental creations are much more vital and transforming. Try as he will he cannot exactly reproduce; and when he comes near to it his self-love protests and claims its right to do its own thinking. So the new form, the personal shading, the embodiment of individual interest, the exhibition of a special mode of feeling — all these go to make his result a new thing which is of possible value for the society in which it arises.

In consequence of this, the relation between individual and society takes on a new and interesting form. The individual becomes the source of the new ideas, the inventions, the formulas of legislation and reform. The individual is the only source of novelties of thought or practice; and it is from the individual that society learns them. They are "gen-

(153) -eralized," discussed, pared down, made available in form and content, by social processes, and then finally passed over to the domain of the accepted and socially selected.

The aeroplane, for example, is now passing through this process of social generalization; it is being made actually available for social utilities, the principles of successful flight having been thought out and demonstrated by single men. Socialistic theories in politics are in like manner having their testing and generalization, to make them available in national life. In morals, the laws of marriage and divorce, the legal procedure of criminality, the determination of sanctions and penalties, all show the processes of social assimilation of the ideas and proposals of single thinking men.

There are limits, of course, to this assimilation. In its nature society is conservative. Its form results from long racial processes of gradual adaptation and

(154) compromise. It represents a complex state of equilibrium, a balance of opposing and concurring interests. So every new idea, every project of reform or change, has to fight for its acceptance, to struggle for existence, to show itself adapted to social belief and use. Not all alike are available for social generalization. Those which do show themselves available must not be too antagonistic to the established, or too remote from it. They must be, as it were, children of the present, made of the same material and recognizing the same realities, physical and social, as the thought already adopted and sanctioned in society.

It is, in fact, the slight variations which are more usually fruitful. Seed-thoughts, epoch-making discoveries, are slow in making themselves felt. If they are too abrupt, too radical in the demands they make for change, they rest dead and fruitless, perhaps always — certainly un-

(155) -til some moderate thinker restates them in form more assimilable to the social store.

There is, therefore, a process of give and take between the individual and society by which what we may call the consciousness of the social body as a whole is built up. Society absorbs the thoughts and examples of individuals, and makes them socially available; then the individuals of successive generations receive them by social inheritance and reinforce them in turn. But in this process the individuals again produce variations, exceptional proposals of thought, action, and sentiment, and the social body again reacts to their suggestions. Society takes the "copy" from the individual, as the individual takes it from his fellows; makes it its own as the individual makes his own the lessons of self-consciousness; and then ejects it back into the individual as the person also has ejected it into his fellows about him. Thus the concurrent

(156) growth goes on: the individual feeds upon the current custom, science, morals of his time and group, and society feeds upon the thoughts, inventions, plans of social welfare excogitated by individuals.

This process, taken as a whole, is what we mean by social progress. It is the normal and continuous growth of social organization concurrently with the person's progress in individuality. Its direction is that of the growth of personal self-consciousness; its states are those of ascending self-realization; its ideal is that of the self of the socialized individual. It is progress in the concurrent development of the collectivistic and individualistic factors to which society owes its very existence. Whatever tends to disturb this concurrence, this oneness of ideal and aim, marks retrogression, since it tends to mutilate the individual by separating him from the social body, or to destroy society by depriving it of its original minds. Pure collectivism could

(157) not be progressive, since it would lack incentive and creativeness—new thoughts, ideas, plans. Pure individualism could not be progressive, since it would dissolve the achievements of social history, and leave the person a human atom, isolated and uninstructed.


This does not mean that different directions of progress are not possible; they are, since different motives of the whole human being may come into play predominately in this circumstance or that. One group may be conspicuous for its practical talent, another for its conquests in science, a third for its ingenuity of invention. These would show progress severally in industrial, scientific, and material lines. Another culture may be predominately sentimental, embodying its sensibility in remarkable products of art and literature, or in movements of refined and sympathetic social respon-

(158) -siveness; this again is true progress, since it represents one great aspect of human endowment working out to perfection. Again, we may find a people given to remarkable moral and religious striving, subordinating all the other great interests to the working out of problems of moral, political, and social life: this is certainly progress too. In short, each of the great activities of humanity demands and embodies a sort of one-sidedness in attaining its fullest development: a single-eyedness, so to speak, which accounts for the relative neglect of opportunities and responsibilities which to others seem all-important. But the essential movement of idealization, of completion, of the realization of the highest, must go on; and in each of these great aspects of human attainment it cannot go on without that essential union of collectivistic and individualistic interests and motives which keeps the self of the individual well within the larger self of the group.

(159) There can be no social progress that is permanently and progressively destructive of true individuality; and there can be no proper individual development that is, in the long run and on the whole, destructive of the interests and welfare of the group.

It would be an interesting task to describe in some detail the characteristics of the leading nations of to-day, with reference to their type of culture, to the direction, that is, of the progress of each within the limitations of our definition. Admitting that they are all progressive and making no comparisons that would serve to arouse disputation, I think it would be safe to say that Anglo-Saxon civilization is characterized by great moral earnestness and the genius for self-government that goes with it; while it lacks a correspondingly high development of artistic sensibility and creativeness. The Latin mind, on the contrary, notably as illustrated by French culture,

(160) shows remarkable superiority on the side of sentiment, and all that sentiment creates — literature, fine art, personal taste and refinement. But on the other hand, the Latin peoples do not seem to produce the great men of action, the statesmen and explorers, that have made Great Britain famous; although in this respect, of the Latin peoples, France seems to be in no real sense second class. In the domain of scientific thought these two types of culture seem to be well balanced. We find in France and England alike the highest flowering of genius of this sort, in each a galaxy of great mathematicians, naturalists, physicists, philosophers.

No doubt this question is too complicated for more than casual illustration here, but the comparison does illustrate the conditions both of unity and variety in human progress. The moral qualities of the British, exercised in practical conditions, beget the inventiveness and

(161) knack for success of the Americans; and the artistic greatness of the French make Paris the centre of instruction and inspiration for all the world. While in German culture we find a speculative impulse and a touch of mystical idealism which serve to ennoble life and achievement, at the same time that they somewhat impair the results in departments of thought which require exactness, sobriety, and moderation. To the English the problems most worth while are practical problems; to the French they are aesthetic problems; to the Germans nothing short of world problems, problems of universal synthesis, long occupy the attention: to them we owe the great systems of speculative thought.

In each of these cases, it need not be said, we have the background of an ordered civilization, a traditional culture, in which the motives of the essential concurrence of individual and society are worked out on lines largely the same.

(162) The differences show themselves in special achievements, due to special racial gifts, summed up in what we know popularly as the genius of the people.

Apart from such differences, however, we may expect that the fixed factors of progress will be operative in the future as in the past; factors which in their larger bearings are at present before the world, in a greater or lesser degree, for discussion. The vital question of war and the substitutes for it; that of the elimination of disease; and that of the regulation and welfare of population; these and other great questions are reflections of the fundamental problem of progress.

War is a fact of group struggle and selection; disease mental and moral is a sign of maladjustment or lack of adaptation; and the supply of population and its quality are functions of marriage and heredity. The one inclusive question upon which all these problems turn

(163) is this: Is it possible to substitute reflective and intentional, conscious and deliberate, control of human interests for the more biological and brutal processes which still remain in force? In other words, is it possible to assist and hasten the social movement out of its bondage to the physical — physical force, hereditary weakness, sexual incontinence — by plans in which well-chosen social means will take the place of the destructive processes of natural selection?

I say "assist and hasten" nature, since it is not in any sense to come into conflict with nature. We have seen that the course of development has been already in this direction. Collectivism, reflective solidarity, the pursuit of moral and social ends —this is the direction that nature itself pursues in social evolution. We may, therefore, lend a helping hand to the car of progress by utilizing the resources of thought, invention, and

(164) morality, and bring in a period of better things.

In fact it does not take a prophet to see that these measures belong to the future. The growth of international law has been rapid, and arbitration as a measure of adjustment of national controversies without resort to force is not so remote an ideal as it once was. Even if not actually abolished, still group competition, in the form of appeal to arms, is being more and more restricted and limited.

In the warfare against disease and against the forces of nature in general, mind and science are showing their extraordinary power. The advances in medicine and practical invention, both serving to extend the immunity of man from the perils of his environment, are the amazement of the new century.

In the other field, that of improving the population by control of heredity through preferential pairing, the future

(165) has, in my opinion, even greater results in store for society. An artificial humanitarianism and a sentimental respect for the so-called rights of life and reproduction, has so softened the heart of the civilized peoples, and dulled their reflection, that in this matter of capital importance a laissez faire policy has been universal.

What is more important to a race or group than the sort of children produced by it? Yet both in the pairing that supplies the new generation and in the treatment of the young thus produced, no adequate regulation or control has ever been devised by society—not to say enforced. Weaklings, diseased persons, mental and moral incapables are not only freely produced, but they are allowed in turn to perpetuate themselves by further reproduction. Surely it is high time for society, as it becomes conscious of the principles of its own development and of its resources of control, to address itself directly to the pro-

(166) -blems of eugenics.[1] A movement in this direction is upon us which is destined to do more for humanity, both in its radical provisions and in its beneficent results, than possibly any other that society has seen.

The parent must support his children, educate them, have physicians for them, leave his fortune to them; all these things we expect of a true father or mother. But these things are all done for the child only after he is born: only after the parent, perhaps by the grossest carelessness or neglect, or by a wilful and criminal self-indulgence or indifference, has endowed the child with an incurable disease or crippled him for life with a heritage of insanity, idiocy, or crime. We do not allow an individual to infect his neighbor with his disease; why should he be allowed to infect his infant? We do all in our power to prevent a man

(167) from poisoning himself; why should he be allowed to poison the next generation? It is the duty of society who owns the young generation, even when unborn, in a sense that is not possible of any individual, to determine the sort of generation it shall be; and it is no less its duty to make it the best it can be.

I have no space to discuss the theoretical grounds of eugenics. I can only suggest certain practical directions in which the present lack of control on the part of society may be remedied.

A distinction must be made and maintained between mere sexual intercourse as such and effective reproduction. Society is itself drawing this distinction more and more explicitly, as the diminishing birthrate shows. There is no reason that an adequate control of effective reproduction should extend to the attempt to eradicate or suppress the sexual function. It is useless to attempt this. It is only necessary to limit and direct the re-

(168) -sults by making the function ineffective in certain cases. Conditions may be imposed for the control of fertilization in such a way as to regulate births, but not to prevent the gratification of the legitimate and imperative sexual instinct.

Nature, too, makes this distinction. Most cases of sexual connection are unproductive in any case; it is quite natural and feasible to regulate this disparity and make it sure that certain special cases shall always be unproductive — cases determined by society and not left, as now, to mere chance or to the caprice and selfishness of individuals. The cause of each new birth does not reside in the normal function of one parent alone, but requires that of both. Any measure which will render either parent incapable will serve the ends of limiting and selecting the newborn.

Of practical measures for preventing the birth of the unfit, those which regulate the conditions of marriage are quite in

(169) effective,[2] since they place a premium on unmarried unions — a resort that needs no encouragement. The only course that would be actually and permanently effective is some process of sterilization of the persons of undesirable heredity which would not, however, destroy the sexual function itself. With the progress of medical and surgical science, and the corresponding recognition of this social need, no doubt eugenic progress will be in this direction. Once the method of restriction and elimination is discovered, society will adopt standards and procedures for securing the rapid and wholesome improvement of its members. And no doubt with this will come moral and social conditions in which the troublesome and difficult problems of marriage, divorce, sexual relations, etc., will be more reasonably treated than is possible

(170) at present. For there is no other department of life in which the motives and immediate interests of the individual seem so often to be at variance with those of society.

In this matter of progress, it should be added, we find confirmation of our principal thesis. Society and the individual are not two entities, two forces acting separately, two enemies making forced and grudging concessions each to the other. On the contrary, they are the two sides of a growing organic whole, in which the welfare and advance of the one minister to the welfare and progress of the other. There is but one human interest, when all is said, and this is both individual and social at once.


  1. The name given to this new science by its founder, Sir Francis Galton.
  2. As in certain states of the American Union, In one of the states, however, Indiana, there is "surgical sterilization of certain classes of the unfit." (From a private letter of Prof. W. M. Daniels.)

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