Discussion of C.H. Cooley's "Social Consciousness"


I have been teaching sociology for so short a time, this being the middle of my third year in my present position, that, were I to follow my inclinations tonight, I should certainly give place to these masters in the science present who could do eminently better than I in discussing this most interesting and able paper presented by Dr. Cooley. In fact, I never felt so inclined as now to be a psychologist ; for, if I were, I should be in New York at this time, and not be called upon to discuss this paper, which is so largely of a psychological character.

If time permitted, a full discussion of this paper should be undertaken along three lines—namely, the psychological, the ethical, and the sociological. This topic of "Social Consciousness" is a very timely one. Last summer a year ago President Maxwell, of the National Educational Association, said, at a meeting in Ocean Grove Auditorium, that we needed to put more emphasis, in education today, upon the social side of the individual's equipment for life. In the past we have been emphasizing the fact of making the individual a breadwinner. Now we need to put the emphasis upon relating him to society.


The dean of our Teachers College the other day declared that the emphasis in pedagogy is now being placed upon the socializing of the individual. In other words, the individual, largely because of our methods of education, has often not scrupled to take another's bread in his efforts to win his own. What we need today in every phase of human life is more of the social consciousness that will enable us as individuals and as groups to respect the rights and seek the good of others.

We need social consciousness in legislation and in the administration of justice; for only as men come to see the truth of social relations will they be able to legislate for the good of all instead of for particular individuals, corporations, or classes.

The same is true of theology and religion. An adequate development of the social consciousness would result in greater toleration, and greater federation, co-operation, and union, among the great denominations of Christendom.

In his discussion of the social mind I do not think Dr. Cooley gives us a clear understanding of what the social mind really is. He says : "Mind is an organic whole made up of co-operating individualities ; social mind and the individual mind are but phases of the one mind. Every thought we have is linked with the thought of our ancestors and associates, and through them with that of society at large. The unity of the social mind consists, not in agreement, but in organization, in the fact of reciprocal influence or causation among its parts, by virtue of which everything that takes place in it is connected with everything else, and so is an outcome of the whole."

It seems to me that from these statements the moral implications that logically follow are important for society. If all mind is one, and every thought so linked with ancestors, associates, and society at large; if everything that takes place in it is the outcome of the whole, where are we to place moral responsibility? Where is the ground for justice in questions of administration of law? Who is debtor and who creditor? Who can claim patent-rights or copy-rights? Where is the ground for personal merit and demerit, rewards and punishments? Where will reform begin? What social advantage has the genius or master over the humblest member of the audience, or even the giggler in the "peanut" gallery? If Professor Cooley has in mind some future state of society like the millennium, then such views are appropriate, but for the present stages of social development it seems to me that moral implications are pertinent.

Concerning social consciousness the writer of the paper says that psychologists and sociologists are still infected with the idea that self-consciousness or individual consciousness is primary. I confess that I am still "infected." I believe the self-conscious being could never become such without society, or some form of association with other creatures of his kind. These must have their efficient influence before he, the individual self-conscious being, is able to realize the fact of self-consciousness. Had there been no objectivity for Descartes to doubt, he could never have come to the consciousness of himself as a thinking being.

We are told in this paper: "All consciousness, all vivid, wide-awake state of mind, is social consciousness, because a sense of our relation to other persons, or of other persons to one another, can hardly fail to be a part of it." Now

( 111) suppose a man cones in contact with his neighbor's bulldog, or falls over a wheelbarrow, or treads upon a tack at night, is this wide-awake state of mind, which he as an individual surely has in each case supposed, necessarily a part of social consciousness? It seems to me that we must distinguish between consciousness of persons or of society and "social consciousness." Are they necessarily the same psychologically? Self-consciousness involves self-determination, or the consciousness of ability to make use of ideas for self-advantage. Social consciousness is distinct from consciousness of persons or the group, in that it implies the ability of the individual or social group to make use of ideas for the advantage of society as well as for self. Both imply a moral element in consciousness, or obligation and utility. In fact, no idea, whether in the consciousness of the individual or in that of the group, can be properly called social until it can be measured in terms of social activity of some kind. To be aware of persons or of a social group does not prove that I have social consciousness, in the true sense of the term, any more than to be aware of a pack of wolves would prove the fact. The elements of self-initiative and of self-determination seem to be given no place in Professor Cooley's view of the social consciousness.

The emphasis today in education implies the priority in development of the "self or I-consciousness." So does the difference between religious denominations in history and the more recent federative movements. The same fact might be illustrated from a study of commerce and politics. In fact, if we take a survey of society, we shall discover that many of the conflicts between groups have been the result of the lack of social consciousness, or the primary development of, and the resultant actions growing out of, the individual or personal consciousness.

I wish to say just a word in reference to the last two divisions of the paper, namely, "public opinion" and "social will." In nearly everything in this part of the paper I am in agreement with Dr. Cooley.

With regard to public opinion: A distinguished missionary recently returned from the Philippine Islands said: "In the Philippines there is no public opinion, because there is no way of creating it. They have no newspapers. In this country you buy your public opinion for two cents in the morning and one cent at night." The point of importance for us as sociologists is to see that there is created in this country and for the world at large the proper means of communication that will make an enlightened and intelligent public opinion possible.

In the last part of the paper, which treats of the "social will," I cannot agree altogether with the writer when he says, "The wicked man is a fiction of denunciation," and that there is very little wrong-doing with ill intent. You will recall the words of a very prominent leader of a great organization who, when arraigned before an investigating committee, said he and his associates were working for their own pockets all the time. Recent investigations in various quarters have revealed the fact that in most instances of wrong-doing to society these were individuals who intentionally committed certain specific acts knowing all the time that they were breaking laws, statutory and moral.

I believe it is possible so to develop the social will that society by its obedience-compelling power may be able to bring all wrong-doers to justice, and

( 112) so modify legislation that the individual wrong-doer can no longer dodge behind the corporation, or the corporation dodge behind the law ; then we shall have social control that will result in the greatest good to all factors of human society.


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