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


On account of the unavoidable absence of Professor Giddings, I should like to present a thought which, it seems to me, he would have emphasized at this time. If, in spite of four years' work with him, I misinterpret his point of view, I hope that those of you who have a more accurate knowledge of his ideas will make the necessary corrections.

The speaker of the evening has apparently assumed that his subject, "Social Consciousness," is equivalent to the phrase "social self-consciousness." It is, of course, true that progress is likely to be more and more harmonious, the greater the amount of rational and purposive effort attained by a society which is capable of appreciating the results of its own action—is sufficiently self-conscious to exercise rational control over itself. It is also true, however, that social consciousness includes mental phenomena that are in large measure the result of feeling, and not of any such process of thought concerning the content of the social mind as the term "self-consciousness" implies. If any of you have been present at a negro revival meeting, you will realize what I mean. You will doubtless remember certain phenomena which may accurately be considered phases of a certain form of social consciousness, but which could hardly be described as phenomena of social self-consciousness. Certain things were going on which could not have taken place had there not been a number of persons associated. No one of the participants would have acted as he did had he been alone. It is hardly conceivable, however, that there was any rational attempt on the part of those exhibiting these phenomena to understand their significance. Of social self-consciousness there was none; of social consciousness, much.

The suggestion, then, that I wish to make is that feeling is an extremely important element in social consciousness. The members of a society like this, accustomed to rational reflection, are perhaps likely to overestimate the importance of social self-consciousness as an explanation of existing social conditions. It may be that the forces of the physical environment, the influence of which Professor Lindsay has emphasized, register themselves in social feeling far more potently than we imagine, and that social feeling plays a greater part in the social process than has yet been suspected.


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