Review of Man, Mutable and Immutable by Kurt Riezler
Man, Mutable and Immutable: The Fundamental Structure of Social Life. By KURT RIEZLER. Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1951. Pp.x+359. $5.00.
Professor Riezler has written a work of profound significance. He addresses himself to the problem of the constant and the variable in the life of human beings—a basic problem to disciplines which propose to study human beings in either a generic or a historical way. In handling this problem, he has had to analyze the nature of human group life, the nature of human beings, and the nature of the relations between human beings and their world. He is admirably qualified for this task. He is an eminent philosopher, deeply schooled in the classical knowledge of human nature, he is familiar with the thinking in contemporary psychological and social science, and he has a rich practical experience with the ways of man. This breadth of knowledge and experience, sharpened intellectually by long and studious preoccupation with the natureof man, has led him to state and clarify basic questions in the study of human conduct which psychologists and social scientists are unaware of, ignore, or gloss over. His original and incisive treatment of these questions makes the present book a social psychological contribution of the highest order, worthy of ranking with George H. Mead's Mind, Self, and Society and C. H. Cooley's Human Nature and the Social Order.
Riezler gets at the basic character of human society by showing that it is a relation between human beings instead of between organisms. This fundamental distinction is developed in an original and penetrating manner by an analysis of the relations implied by the personal pro-nouns which are universal to human groups—"I," "you," "they," "we," "he," and "she." The human being, as actor, is an "I"—a subject who in taking others into account endows them with a being relative to himself. Another human being toward whom he acts is a "you," a "you" who, however, exists in his own right as an "I." Thus, the natural relation between one human being and another is not that of object and object, or even that of subject and object, but that of subject and subject. In this relation each is required to recognize the other in the role of an"I" and thus has to catch in some degree the other's subjective orientation. The sensitivity of each to the other, as each takes the other into account as one who similarly takes him into ac-count, constitutes a responsiveness very different from the formal responsiveness between objects and likewise different from the responsiveness of a subject to an object which is not conceived as taking the subject into account. This relation of subject to subject is the original, the generic, and the basic relation in human society. Out of this relation, and only out of this relation, come the distinctive features of the human act and of human society: taking the role of others to get their perspectives and to divine their intensions; the formation of social feelings such as care, concern, trust, love, hatred, and respect; sensitivity to such feelings; and establishing claims and obligations, thus giving rise to a moral order. Such features do not arise in a relation of object to object or in a relation of subject to object. In turn, they are imperative and unavoidable in the relation of subject to subject.
Riezler shows that this basic relation of an "I" and a "you" presupposes a structure of other relations between subjects, represented again by other personal pronouns present in all human groups. The human being is not an isolated individual. He and others assert them-selves at various points as a "we." Others who judge or who must be taken into account exist as a "they," a "he," or a "she." The sense of a "we" and a "they" pervades the act of an "I." Indeed, the act of the "I" implicates a society of others, structured in terms of a "you," a "we," and a "they," all existing as subjects. The human act arises in such a context and in character and being reflects that context. These relations represented by the personal pronouns constitute the universal structure of human societies.
One may well ponder this analysis of human society as a structure of relations between subjects. Under it human beings are restored to society, from which, paradoxically, they are re-moved by the general run of prevailing schemes — schemes which, respectively, view human so-
(599) -ciety as made up of culture-bearers, role-players, status-occupiers, biological organisms, psychological composites, or statistical units. Human relations are not between abstract entities, as most of current views would have it, but between acting subjects who are required to take each other into account as such. A recognition of this fact, which seems to this reviewer as indisputable, points directly to the mutable nature of human action—subjects who are themselves shifting "I" Is developing and organizing acts with regard to shifting "you" 's, "we"'s, and "they" Is in varying and variable situations. With concrete human action stemming from and reflecting such an ever shifting juxtaposition of the individual actors, there is little likelihood of reaching the "immutable" by an abstraction of the general or the common from the array of concrete human acts. The immutable must be sought not in the ever variable human act but, instead, in the framework of relationship between subjects.
Riezler has made a penetrating study of this framework, finding it to consist of what he terms the human passions—patience and impatience, fear and hope, care and carefreeness, love and hate, envy, pride and humility, shame and awe. These passions should not be viewed as distinct feelings lodged in independent and separate psyches. Instead, they are ways in which human beings as subjects become related when they take one another into account as subjects. They are ways in which subjects are motivated to each other, approach each other, protect themselves from one another, and organize themselves with respect to one another. The passions are universal to human groups. Amid all the diverse and mutable roles of people and amid all their diverse and changeable ways of acting toward one another, the passions constitute an enduring and immutable framework. If one takes seriously a premise that human nature arises from and exists in the generic relations between human beings, then the human passions as identified by Riezler must be recognized as the stuff of human nature.
The picture of the skeletal though basic relations between human beings developed by Riezler allows him to make a penetrating analysis of the relations of human beings to things or objects—to an "it" of experience. A human being confronts a thing as a subject facing an object. Again, the true relationship is not that of an external linkage of two separate, self-contained entities. Instead, the human being as a subject bestows a character on the thing and weaves around it a body of meanings and values that make it the kind of object that it is for him. The thing ceases to be part of an environment set over against the human being but becomes, in-stead, apart of the individual's world. However, just as the human being, as an "I," is implicated in the "you," "we," and "they" relations, so similarly the thing is given a character which reflects the perspectives of these others; its meaning embodies the common perspective of a "we," asserts itself against a "you," and is sensitive to a supporting or oppositional "they." Thus, things or objects arise and exist in the context of a human society and constitute, together, the world of that society. To study and understand a human being, one must view him as acting in a "world" which is his—a world which is sustained for him as he is sustained by others; a world which may be built up or torn down; a world which he may grip tightly or which may slip away from him or may collapse as he, as an "I," changes relations with a "we," a "you," or a "they." The setting of human life is a world—not an independent and self-constituted environment set over against separate human organisms, such as presupposed by the "man-environment" scheme which largely dominates present-day psychology and social science.
The above résumé, while not portraying adequately the acuteness of insight in Riezler's analysis, will serve to indicate some serious considerations of fundamental import to psychologists and social scientists.
One consideration is whether the pictures of man which underlie and guide current research and thought are true. As Riezler appropriately points out, no study of man can hope to be successful if based on a false picture of man. In the light of the view of man presented by him (a concrete subject living in an I-you-we-they association with other concrete subjects in a world of things whose character arises out of that association), current psychology and social science appear to be largely under the guidance of false images of man. For example, much of the re-search and thought in these disciplines is organized on the premise of man being a responding organism lodged in a separate and independently constituted environment. Riezler shows that under this "man-environment" scheme both the environmental object and man are necessarily given a character that represents the way in which they appear to a generalized neutral observer. Actually, as Riezler points out,
(600) human beings do not act on the basis of the perspective of such a hypothetical neutral observer but act, instead, on the basis of their own perspectives as subjects. The "man-environment" imagery which pervades so much of present-day research and thought needs to be re-examined in the light of the fallacy intrinsic to it. Also widely current today are guiding images which in their respective ways convert men into abstract entities and thus ignore the character that is empirically given by their I-you-we-they relations. Such images are familiar to us in the views of men as culture-bearers, role-players, status-holders, class representatives, as general psychological composites, as biological structures, or as mere statistical units. Logically, such views treat human relations as being between abstract entities instead of being subjects who take each other into account as subjects. Such views incur the grave danger of either distorting or losing sight of the character of human action that comes from the organizing of such action to fit the actual I-you-we-they setting in which the action takes place. Students of the human sciences who have care for the realistic character of their discipline should ponder Riezler's analysis and in its light assess the picture of man implicit in their own thought and research.
Another challenging consideration refers to how man should be studied in view of his mu-table and immutable character. Psychology and social science seek, commendably, to develop generic and universal knowledge. However, it seems that they are actually studying the mu-table without being aware, or fully aware, of doing so. Their initial concern is with human acts that arise from concrete "I"'s in relation to concrete "you" 's, "we" 's, and "they" 's, relative to mutable things in a given particular world. These acts are taken as the "data" which when subjected to the application of "scientific" procedure are expected to yield scientific knowledge or universal propositions. The fact that such data are, following Riezler's analysis, in the realm of the mutable probably explains such interesting questions as why psychology and social science show a paucity of the generic knowledge which they ostensibly seek; why generality in the meaning of research findings is gained so frequently only by applying to the re-search findings some imported doctrine or scheme that is not derived from them; or why at the present time there is emerging so much talk of "middle-level" generalizations.
If the data with which psychology and the social sciences are chiefly concerned are mutable in the fundamental sense indicated by Riezler's analysis, then the important question arises as to how these data are to be profitably studied. Should they be studied through a procedure which is already organized to yield a generic result? This seems to be the nature of most cur-rent psychological and social research. Or should such mutable data be approached through a procedure which accepts their mutability and which seeks to understand and interpret them in terms of their mutability? The latter approach, as contrasted with the former approach, implies a pro-found difference in the form of observation, form of inquiry, and form of explanation. Much can be gained from Riezler's discussion of these matters.
It should not be judged from this review that Riezler's book is written specifically as an attack on present-day psychology and social science. That is not his task. He merely seeks, as he modestly declares, to outline the skeleton of the immutable framework of man. However, his treatment of the nature of man and of human society is so trenchant, so realistically grounded, and so challenging in implication that, in the reviewer's judgment, every conscientious student in psychology and the social sciences should read and face his analysis.
HERBERT BLUMER University of Chicago