Review of Studies in the Evolutionary Psychology of Feeling by H.M. Stanley

Mr. Stanley has given us a book of about four hundred solidly thought out and solidly written octavo pages; and he has done his work so conscientiously that a reviewer who wishes to give an account of its contents cannot have recourse to compression by means of squeezing out padding and useless repetitions. It is quite out of the question, therefore, that the account should be adequate as to extent. The recourse must be to give, if possible, some representative samples; premising that, from the point of view of method and general scope as well as of specific content (especially in the way of frequent shrewd and apt observations, in no wise trite or shop-worn, about feeling and feelings), the book demands the attention of every psychologist interested in this intricate and obscure side of his work.

The pure psychology of feeling, as Mr. Stanley remarks, is advanced but little. Is there any way out of the confusion and darkness? "If the study of feeling is to become scientific, we must, I think, assume that all feeling is a biological function, governed by the general laws of life and

(359) subject in origin and development to the law of struggle for existence" (p. 3). The difficulty of applying the biological method is not, however, underrated. "No amount of objective physiological research can tell us anything about the real nature of feeling" (p. 6) , and again, "Mind can be for us only what mind is in us" (p. 5). With the assurance, then, that Mr. Stanley recognizes to the full the difficulties inherent in his subject-matter,[1] let us see what the biological point of view can tell us.

Assuming consciousness as a purely biological function, as a mode for securing favorable reactions, we are brought to the point of view of self-conservation. Mental function must have originated in some very simple form, as demanded for self-conservation at a critical point in the organism's career. Hence an origin in cognitive consciousness may fairly be ruled out. "Mere apprehension would not serve the being any more than the property of reflection the mirror." The organism reacts through pain. This pain, at the outset, must have been bare, undifferentiated pain without particular quality. With this primitive act of blind, formless pain is associated the will act of struggle and effort. "The first consciousness was a flash of pain, of small intensity, yet sufficient to awaken struggle and preserve life" (p. 14). Pleasure is not an accompaniment of pain; it does not follow from it at first. Pleasure, perhaps, came after two modes of pain had differentiated, pain of lack and pain of excess, and came in as intermediary between them (p. 16) . Mr. Stanley endeavors to reinforce this view of feeling as primitive from certain considerations derived from the present mature consciousness, and also by rebuttals of certain ideas of 'Ward and Höffding. The general line taken is that "centrality of response" (identified with feeling) is the initial element still, even in every developed psychosis, preceding cognitive discrimination and purposive action. "A bright color gives pleasure before we see it, and this pleasure

(360) incites to the seeing it" (p. 19) . "It is pain-pleasure which forces all action" (p. 29). [2]

Personally, I have not found Mr. Stanley's argument convincing. If we are to have any ideas at all upon such hypothetic matters as the character of primitive consciousness, I remain of the belief that the simplest possible consciousness always shows itself to reflection to possess the threefold phases; and that, on a priori grounds, every consciousness which is to be serviceable in the struggle for self-conservation must possess something corresponding to these phases. I utterly fail to see how pure, bare pain can be (i) a stimulus at all, or (z) a stimulus to any serviceable action. Pain, as it approaches sheer pain, seems to me always paralyzing, inhibitory as to action. It marks loss of some sort; and the sense of loss, taken per se, is anything but stimulating. The doctrine that pain has some specially useful function is due, I think, to the ascetic phases of Christian teaching, and remains as a harmful survival of the Puritanic consciousness,—a sort of offset to the hedonistic phases of Christianity. When pain is stimulating to action, it is so, I think, not immediately, but through the medium of thought or some sensory quale. Loss may stop a man in full flood of action, and by causing him to readjust his mental perspective, his sense of values, affect his subsequent action—but not as direct stimulus.

However, it may be said that pain is notoriously associated with writhing movements to relieve it, to escape the painful object, etc. I do not think we are in position to say whether these movements follow pain naturally; or whether pain is naturally associated with certain forms of dis-coordinated movements; or whether, again, we have simply found in experience that pain is more bearable as we effect alterations in its quality, and have also found that we can effect this alteration through change of position. A combination of the two latter hypotheses seems to me more likely, but I would not dogmatize. But in any case, where is the evidence that such movements as are "stimulated" by pain are

( 361) serviceable? Blind, formless pain (admitting that it gives rise to action at all) would be bound, we must say, to give rise to blind, formless movements, which, if useful, would be so purely by chance. To rule out all discriminative character from the feeling, while allowing it to the consequent action, is certainly illegitimate. An animal, I should say, had much better trust to the sheer mechanism of his organization in a crisis than have the additional problem of pain to wrestle with; if his actions are to be a matter of chance anyway, I think the chances are more in his favor if h does not have a pain seizure. Introduce differential features into the pain, and the case undoubtedly changes; one pan may be one kind of a signal, and another pain, another kind. But the introduction of this differential quale means, of course, something of the same nature as that which in our developed consciousness we call knowledge; differentia falling within content of feeling being the closest analogue we can imagine to our "objective" consciousness. But in this case, the primitive character of mere feeling goes.

It must be remembered that the one phase which has the floor at any or all periods of development, is action corresponding to present volitional consciousness. The organism which can have a "flash of pain" is an organism which already seeks and assimilates food and reproduces its kind. There is not even a question of whether pleasure-pain determines function or vice versa; some functional activity, that of the food process, must be predicated at the outset, or there is no organism to feel, and no biological point of view to take. It appears much more natural, then, to build up our hypothetic consciousness by reference of feeling to actions performed with reference to food and reproduction, than vice versa, especially as this method requires a correlative and contemporaneous "intellectual" development. This, moreover, is quite consonant with what Mr. Stanley says (pp. 62—72) regarding sensations being not original and simple elements of mind, but rather developed forms of some general undifferentiated cognitive state, as apprehension of bodily disturbance. This point of view is one certainly reinforced by all biological considerations, and is fatal to the tendency recently decadent but now very prominent in the

(366) Wundtian school, to build up mind out of sensations as elements.

The type of reaction first discussed by Mr. Stanley deals with feeling due to injury actually experienced. It marks a distinct advance in the evolutionary scale, when the animal can act from feeling which anticipates actual injury. When this stage arrives, there is emotion. Its essential rationale is, therefore, its anticipatory function. I remarked before that it is possible to object to Mr. Stanley, not by any means on the ground of his too great use of the evolutionary method, and of biological data, but because he uses them too little. The account of the rationale of the origin of emotion just given is obviously biological in type; the account which follows of the mental mechanism involved in this anticipatory function seems to me based wholly on the analysis of a complex and mature human experience. It not only does not grow out of any consideration of biological data, but, for myself, I confess inability to make it square with any image of any type of animal consciousness, unless possibly the just sub-human.

The account runs as follows. Anticipation involves representation. This is something more than mere revival of past experience. It is not simple re-presentation, for that is only presentation over again. It involves sense of return. It must be appreciated as revival. This would not avail as anticipation, unless there were also sense of value for future experience. It is an experience of (past) experience and for (future) experience. That is, the objectifying of the past experience is not self-contained, but conveys a meaning for experience. Besides, there must be not simply representation of object, but re-feeling of some previous feeling; the representation of object is only subsidiary. But we have not the complete analysis of emotion yet. It is not the revival of feeling, but a new feeling, sui generis, created by this complex of revivals, which constitutes emotion. "However we may be puzzled to see how mere cognition of experienceable pain develops a peculiar pain which is the essence of fear, yet we must acknowledge its production to be a fact" (p. 102) . An emotion, in fine, is a "feeling reaction from the representation of the feeling potency of the object" (p. 107) .


As an analysis of emotion in the human consciousness, this seems to me not only a painstaking, but—barring a criticism now to be made—a fairly successful one. As regards emotion in its present developed state, Mr. Stanley seems to me to fall into the psychologist's fallacy,—he introduces into the emotional experiencing, as its own distinctions, different elements which come out only in the psychologist's reflection. "Object," "feeling of object," and "feeling of this feeling" are differences which we mark out when we look at the emotion critically, not distinctions falling in any sense within its own content. Object is always an ambiguous term; it may mean either the total psychical object, i.e , the content of the entire experience, or it may mean the intellectual, or knowledge-giving, phase of this experience discriminated in afterthought. Surely the real psychical object is not object, cognitive function, plus feeling, but is sensory quale felt as having such and such a worth, the marking off of subjective and objective sides coming in only as one looks back and retrospectively analyzes the experiencing previously had. The problem of "how cognition of experienceable pain develops a peculiar pain," fear, is, if not settled, at least much simplified by recognizing the difference of these two points of view. It now becomes simply one case of the general problem of the emotional setting attaching to any quale of experience.

Taking the problem in this way, and considering the matter not from the standpoint of full-fledged emotion in an adult human being, but from that of early stages of development, Mr. Stanley fails to recognize that the James-Lange theory, taken together with Darwin's theory, affords a complete account of what, on the basis of his own theory, remains an ultimate and inexplicable pure fact. If fear, as feeling, is subsequent to action, the problem is simply to discover the particular differentia of the type of activity under which fear arises.[3] The emotion is accounted for by being placed. But if one feeling arouses another directly, and not through the mediation of action, the genesis of the

(364) particular qualitative experience of fear remains a mystery. We can only bow to the fact. The ultimate contradiction in Mr. Stanley's method, here as elsewhere, is giving a teleological function to psychical values having only a purely blind origin. The feelings continually become more and more important, on one side, as affording the whole evolutionary nisus, while, on the other side (that of origin) they become more and more meaningless. The emotion, after it is there, has great evolutionary significance; but it has no evolutionary origin.

More in detail, what ground is there for assimilating the animal type of emotional experience to the human? Is not Mr. Stanley's account unduly anthropomorphic? If we are to define emotion as distinctly representative in character, must we not ascribe emotion to all the lower animal forms only by heteronomy? That animals are afraid and angry, etc., in the practical sense of those terms, admits of no doubt: i.e., they act afraid, etc. But to insist that the lower animals have not only a revival of a previous object, but in addition a sense of revival, and a sense of value for future experience in the revival, seems to me to break down all distinctions, in the evolutionary process, between lower and higher stages. Of course an animal which can recognize a representation as representation is capable of discriminating image from reality, psychical event from objective function. How an animal can make this conscious distinction between appearance and reality here, and not make it elsewhere and thus build up the whole critical apparatus of science for accurately discriminating between the two, I do not see. In other words, I see no reason whatever (and a good many reasons to the contrary) for supposing any of the animal's revivals are of another type than those which Mr. Stanley calls "hallucinatory." A revival of a past experience can function as a directive or monitory stimulus for the future, simply as a psychical event. All we need is the principle of habit. That this principle sometimes means getting cheated, and is not economical to the fullest degree, is, no doubt, a fact. But certainly the emergence of the human animal has some evolutionary significance, marks some great gain in economy, and the reasonable supposition is that it marks the ability to

(365) discriminate between image as psychical occurrence and the reality which that image indicates. I should not dwell upon this point at such length were it not for its connection with the matter of the evolutionary significance of feeling. It is by no means simply a matter of individual preference that Mr. Stanley ascribes this complex character to comparatively primitive emotion. Holding, as he does, the evolutionary nisus to be always in feeling, he must find a great change in type of feeling for every great evolutionary advance. That he is compelled to give a representative or consciously ideal character to feeling so far down in development, seems to me perilously near a reductio ad absurdum of the part attributed to feeling. Leaving the lower animals out of account, we know enough of emotion in child and savage life to say that all primitive emotion is based on what Mr. Stanley calls the hallucinatory type of revival, and that this type is tremendously effective in action even in relatively complex human societies.

I have covered only a little over one-third of Mr. Stanley's work. The rest of the book discusses desire, attention, self-feeling, feeling and the logical development, the æsthetic and ethical emotions. I need hardly say that one finds careful observation and thoughtful analysis throughout. When one fails to agree, he still receives a valuable service: he is forced to think out reasons for differing, and to define his own position.

I have tried to fulfill the pleasant task of giving a sample of the method and of the conclusions reached, and the less pleasant one of indicating why both seem to me suggestive of the need of another view. I may resume by saying that, as to method, Mr. Stanley appears to me to have attempted to defend, upon the basis of an analysis of a complex adult consciousness, a certain view of the part played by feeling in evolution, rather than an evolutionary discussion of feeling as such; while, as to conclusion, the origin of the different types of feeling is left inexplicable, a teleological function being ascribed to them which it is quite impossible they should possess, severed from connection with discriminative quality and from relation to habits of life. The book suffers throughout, it also appears to me

( 366) (though I freely admit I may be led astray here by my own special interests and attempted investigations), by failure to recognize the meaning, to say nothing of the claims, of the James-Lange theory taken in connection with Darwin's. This theory, it may be recalled, accounts for the evolution of feelings by reference to habits of use in maintaining life, whether getting food, attack and defense in relation to enemies, or reproduction; and holds that the emotional stress of feeling emerges, when formed habits conflict with the line of action demanded by a changed situation,—when, accordingly, it is necessary to readjust the habit.

In conclusion, I may point out that Mr. Stanley's position pushes the tension, already urgent enough, between the biologist and the psychologist to the breaking point. That pain-pleasure determines function (p. 47) ; that an animal is not fierce because he possesses claws, but possesses claws, etc., because he is fierce (p. 128) ; that feeling, indirectly if not directly, produces nerve-structure (p. 376),—these and similar statements, in their present unmediated form, seem to me to make impossible any understanding between the psychologist and the biologist, no matter how open-minded the latter may be. The problem of the place of consciousness in evolution is a hard enough one at best; to assume that mere feeling, as feeling, has been the primal, persistent, and essential factor of evolution, on the biological as well as the psychological side, introduces simplicity only at the expense of an irreconcilable quarrel between the sciences. It is not simply that the individual biologist will not be inclined to accept the doctrine: it means that, as a biologist, he cannot. It is simply to say that the biological process cannot be stated in biological terms. Start with the priority of action, not feeling, and ultimate agreement is at least conceivable. Life-preserving actions being objectively teleological (i.e., in result) it is at least conceivable that consciousness of this teleological element should be a distinct advantage. The difficulties in this view are those of detail, not of principle; i.e., it is theoretically possible to state it in biological as well as in psychological terms. Moreover, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that there is an ambiguity in Mr. Stanley's own treatment. At times we have such state-

( 367) -ments as the following: "Evolutionary psychology bases itself on the idea that mental development originates and is continued through struggle, or will-effort." First, this is ambiguous, because it is not easy to tell in what relation it stands to the doctrine of the primitive character of feeling. It is one thing to say that will-effort comes first and is painful, and another to say that pain initiates will-activity. Second, it is not possible to tell what is meant by will-effort, when the term is used in this unanalyzed way. If it is set up as a faculty by itself, the statement needs very close scrutiny. If it means that the nodal points of psychical development come when life habits which are objectively useful have to be readjusted, and are thus differentiated or mediated, the doctrine appears to be identical with that which I have already positively stated; but such a doctrine demands a large reconstruction of many other positions taken in the book.


  1. As we shall see, the objection which may be brought against Mr. Stanley is not that he has unduly magnified the biological region as against that of introspection, but rather that he has not, his problem granted, utilized the biological data enough. There is practically no discussion of biological detail in the book.
  2. Mr. Stanley's views are the absolute, or generalized, opposite of the James-Lange theory. The latter, however, hardly receives the attention it would seem to require.
  3. See, for example, my article in the Psychological Review, January, 1895.

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