Human Nature and Conduct

Part 2: The Place of Impulse in Conduct:
V. Classification of Instincts

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We may sum up the discussion in a few generalized statements. In the first place, it is unscientific to try to restrict original activities to a definite number of sharply demarcated classes of instincts. And the practical result of this attempt is injurious. To classify is, indeed, as useful as it is natural. The indefinite multitude of particular and changing events is met by the mind with acts of defining, inventorying and listing, reducing to common heads and tying up in bunches. But these acts like other intelligent acts are performed for a purpose, and the accomplishment of purpose is their only justification. Speaking generally, the purpose is to facilitate our dealings with unique individuals and changing events. When we assume that our clefts and bunches represent fixed separations and collections in rerum natura, we obstruct rather than aid our transactions with things. We are guilty of a presumption which nature promptly punishes. We are rendered incompetent to deal effectively with the delicacies and novelties of nature and life. Our thought is hard where facts are mobile; bunched and chunky where events are fluid, dissolving.

The tendency to forget the office of distinctions and classifications, and to take them as marking things in themselves, is the current fallacy of scientific spe-

( 132) -cialism. It is one of the conspicuous traits of highbrowism, the essence of false abstractionism. This attitude which once flourished in physical science now governs theorizing about human nature. Man has been resolved into a definite collection of primary instincts which may be numbered, catalogued and exhaustively described one by one. Theorists differ only or chiefly as to their number and ranking. Some say one, self-love; some two, egoism and altruism; some three, greed, fear and glory; while today writers of a more empirical turn run the number up to fifty and sixty. But in fact there are as many specific reactions to differing stimulating conditions as there is time for, and our lists are only classifications for a purpose.

One of the great evils of this artificial simplification is its influence upon social science. Complicated provinces of life have been assigned to the jurisdiction of some special instinct or group of instincts, which has reigned despotically with the usual consequences of despotism. Politics has replaced religion as the set of phenomena based upon fear; or after having been the fruit of a special Aristotelian political faculty, has become the necessary condition of restraining man's self-seeking impulse. All sociological facts are disposed of in a few fat volumes as products of imitation and invention, or of cooperation and conflict. Ethics rest upon sympathy, pity, benevolence. Economics is the science of phenomena due to one love and one aversion — gain and labor. It is surprising that men can engage in these enterprises without being reminded of their ex-

(133) -act similarity to natural science before scientific method, was discovered in the seventeenth century. Just now, another simplification is current. All instincts go back to the sexual, so that cherchez la femme (under multitudinous symbolic disguises) is the last word of science with respect to the analysis of conduct.

Some sophisticated simplifications which once had great influence are now chiefly matters of historic moment. Even so they are instructive. They show how social conditions put a heavy load on certain tendencies, so that in the end an acquired disposition is treated as if it were an original, and almost the only original activity. Consider, for example, the burden of causal power placed by Hobbes upon the reaction of fear. To a man living with reasonable security and comfort to- day, Hobbes' pervasive consciousness of fear seems like the idiosyncrasy of an abnormally timid temperament. But a survey of the conditions of his own time, of the disorders which bred general distrust and antagonism, which led to brutal swashbuckling and disintegrating intrigue, puts the matter on a different footing. The social situation conduced to fearfulness. As an account of the psychology of the natural man his theory is unsound. As a report of contemporary social conditions there is much to he said for it.

Something of the same sort may be said regarding the emphasis of eighteenth century moralists upon benevolence as the inclusive moral spring to action, an emphasis represented in the nineteenth century by Comte's exaltation of altruism. The load was excessive,

(134) But it testifies to the growth of a new philanthropic spirit. With the breaking down of feudal barriers and consequent mingling of persons previously divided, a sense of responsibility for the happiness of others, for the mitigation of misery, grew up. Conditions were not ripe for its translation into political action. Hence the importance attached to the private disposition of voluntary benevolence.

If we venture into more ancient history, Plato's threefold division of the human soul into a rational element, a spirited active one, and an appetitive one, aiming at increase or gain, is immensely illuminating. As is well known, Plato said that society is the human soul writ large. In society he found three classes: the philosophic and scientific, the soldier-citizenry, and the traders and artisans. Hence the generalization as to the three dominating forces in human nature. Read the other way around, we perceive that trade in his days appealed especially to concupiscence, citizenship to a generous élan of self-forgetting loyalty, and scientific study to a disinterested love of wisdom that seemed to be monopolized by a small isolated group. The distinctions were not in truth projected from the breast of the natural individual into society, but they were cultivated in classes of individuals by force of social custom and expectation.

Now the prestige that once attached to the " instinct " of self-love has not wholly vanished. The case is still worth examination. In its " scientific " form, `start was taken from an alleged instinct of self-

(135) -preservation, characteristic of man as well as of other animals. From this seemingly innocuous assumption, to mythological psychology burgeoned. Animals, including man, certainly perform many acts whose consequence is to protect and preserve life. If their acts did not upon the whole have this tendency, neither the individual or the species would long endure. The acts that spring from life also in the main conserve life. Such is the undoubted fact. What does the statement amount to? Simply the truism that life is life, that life is a continuing activity as long as it is life at all. But the self-love school converted the fact that life tends to maintain life into a separate and special force which somehow lies back of life and accounts for its various acts. An animal exhibits in its life-activity a multitude of acts of breathing, digesting, secreting, excreting, attack, defense, search for food, etc., a multitude of specific responses to specific stimulations of the environment. But mythology comes in and attributes them all to a nisus for self-preservation. Thence it is but a step to the idea that all conscious acts are prompted by self-love. This premiss is then elaborate(] in ingenious schemes, often amusing when animated by a cynical knowledge of the " world," tedious when of a would be logical nature, to prove flint every act of man including his apparent generosities is a variation played on the theme of self-interest.

The fallacy is obvious. Because an animal cannot live except as it is alive, except that is as its acts have the result of sustaining life, it is concluded that all its

(136) acts are instigated by an impulse to self-preservation. Since all acts affect the well-being of their agent in one way or another, and since when a person becomes reflective he prefers consequences in the way of weal to those of woe, therefore all his acts are due to self-love. In actual substance, one statement says that life is life; and the other says that a self is a self. One says that special acts are acts of a living creature and the other that they are acts of a self. In the biological statement the concrete diversity between the acts of say a clam and of a dog are covered up by pointing out that the acts of each tend to self-preservation, ignoring the somewhat important fact that in one case it is the life of a clam and in the other the life of a dog which is continued. In morals, the concrete differences between a Jesus, a Peter, a John and a Judas are covered up by the wise remark that after all they are all selves and all act as selves. In every case, a result or " end" is treated as an actuating cause.

The fallacy consists in transforming the (truistic) fact of acting as a self into the fiction of acting always for self. Every act, truistically again, tends to a certain fulfilment or satisfaction of some habit which is an undoubted element in the structure of character. Each satisfaction is qualitatively what it is because of the disposition fulfilled in the object attained, treachery or loyalty, mercy or cruelty. But theory comes in and blankets the tremendous diversity in the quality of the satisfactions which are experienced by pointing out that they are all satisfactions. The harm done is then com-

(137) -pleted by transforming this artificial unity of result into an original love of satisfaction as the force that generates all acts alike. Because a Nero and a Peabody both get satisfaction in acting as they do it is inferred that the satisfaction of each is the same in quality, and that both were actuated by love of the same objective. In reality the more we concretely dwell upon the common fact of fulfilment, the more we realize the difference in the kinds of selves fulfilled. In pointing out that both the north and the south poles are poles we do not abolish the difference of north from south; we accentuate it.

The explanation of the fallacy is however too easy to be convincing. There must have been some material, empirical reason why intelligent men were so easily entrapped by a fairly obvious fallacy. That material error was a belief in the fixity and simplicity of the self, a belief which had been fostered by a school far removed from the one in question, the theologians with their dogma of the unity and ready-made completeness of the soul. We arrive at true conceptions of motivation and interest only by the recognition that selfhood (except as it has encased itself in a shell of routine) is in process of making, and that any self is capable of including within itself a number of inconsistent selves, of unharmonized dispositions. Even a Nero may be capable upon occasion of acts of kindness. It is even conceivable that under certain circumstances he may be appalled by the consequences of cruelty, and turn to the fostering of kindlier impulses. A sympathetic person is

(138) not immune to harsh arrogances, and he may find himself involved in so much trouble as a consequence of a kindly act, that he allows his generous impulses to shrivel and henceforth governs his conduct by the dictates of the strictest worldly prudence. Inconsistencies and shiftings in character are the commonest things in experience. Only the hold of a traditional conception of the singleness and simplicity of soul and self blinds us to perceiving what they mean: the relative fluidity and diversity of the constituents of selfhood. There is no one ready-made self behind activities. There are complex, unstable, opposing attitudes, habits, impulses which gradually come to terms with one another, and assume a certain consistency of configuration, even though only by means of a distribution of inconsistencies which keeps them in water-tight compartments, giving them separate turns or tricks in action.

Many good words get spoiled when the word self is prefixed to them: Words like pity, confidence, sacrifice, control, love. The reason is not far to seek. The word self infects them with a fixed introversion and isolation. It implies that the act of love or trust or control is turned back upon a self which already is in full existence and in whose behalf the act operates. Pity fulfils and creates a self when it is directed outward, opening the mind to new contacts and receptions. Pity for self withdraws the mind back into itself, rendering its subject unable to learn from the buffetings of fortune. Sacrifice may enlarge a self by bringing about surrender of acquired possessions to requirements of new

(139) growth. Self-sacrifice means a self-maiming which asks for compensatory pay in some later possession or indulgence. Confidence as an outgoing act is directness and courage in meeting the facts of life, trusting them to bring instruction and support to a developing self. Confidence which terminates in the self means a smug complacency that renders a person obtuse to instruction by events. Control means a command of resources that enlarges the self; self-control denotes a self which is contracting, concentrating itself upon its own achievements, hugging them tight, and thereby estopping the growth that comes when the self is generously released; a self-conscious moral athleticism that ends in a disproportionate enlargement of some organ.

What makes the difference in each of these cases is the difference between a self taken as something already made and a self still making through action. In the former case, action has to contribute profit or security or consolation to a self. In the latter, impulsive action becomes an adventure in discovery of a self which is possible but as yet unrealized, an experiment in creating a self which shall be more inclusive than the one which exists. The idea that only those impulses have moral validity which aim at the welfare of others, or are altruistic, is almost a, one-sided a doctrine as the dogma of self-love. Yet altruism has one marked superiority; it at least suggests a generosity of outgoing action, a liberation of power as against the close, pent in, protected atmosphere of a ready-made ego.

The reduction of all impulses to forms of self-love

( 140) is worth investigation because it gives an opportunity to say something about self as an ongoing process. The doctrine itself is faded, its advocates are belated. The notion is too tame to appeal to a generation that has experienced romanticism and has been intoxicated by imbibing from the streams of power released by the industrial revolution. The fashionable unification of today goes by the name of the will to power.

In the beginning, this is hardly more than a name for a quality of all activity. Every fulfilled activity terminates in added control of conditions, in an art of administering objects. Execution, satisfaction, realization, fulfilment are all names for the fact that an activity implies an accomplishment which is possible only by subduing circumstance to serve as an accomplice of achievement. Each impulse or habit is thus a will to its own power. To say this is to clothe a truism in a figure. It says that anger or fear or love or hate is successful when it effects some change outside the organism which measures its force and registers its efficiency. The achieved outcome marks the difference between action and a cooped-up sentiment which is expended upon itself. The eye hungers for light, the ear for sound, the hand for surfaces, the arm for things to reach, throw anal lift, the leg for distance, anger for an enemy to destroy, curiosity for something to shiver and cower before, love for a mate. Each impulse is a demand for an object which will enable it to function. Denied an object in reality it tends to create one in fancy, as pathology shows.


So far we have no generalized will to power, but only the inherent pressure of every activity for an adequate manifestation. It is not so much a demand for power as search for an opportunity to use a power already existing. If opportunities corresponded to the need, a desire for power would hardly arise: power would be used and satisfaction would accrue. But impulse is balked. If conditions arc right for an educative growth, the snubbed impulse will be " sublimated." That is, it will become a contributory factor in some more inclusive and complex activity, in which it is reduced to a subordinate yet effectual place. Sometimes however frustration dams activity up, and intensifies it. A longing for satisfaction at any cost is engendered. And when social conditions are such that the path of least resistance lies through subjugation of the energies of others, the will to power bursts into flower.

This explains why we attribute a will to power to others but not to ourselves, except in the complimentary sense that being strong we naturally wish to exercise our strength. Otherwise for ourselves we only want what we want when we want it, not being overscrupulous about the means we take to get it. This psychology is naive but it is truer to facts thin the supposition that there exists by itself as a separate and original thing a will to power. For it indicates that the real fact is some existing power which demands outlet, and which becomes self-conscious only when it is too weak to overcome obstacles. Conventionally the

(142) will to power is imputed only to a comparatively small number of ambitious and ruthless men. They are probably upon the whole quite unconscious of any such will, being mastered by specific intense impulses that find their realization most readily by bending others to serve as tools of their aims. Self-conscious will to power is found mainly in those who have a so-called inferiority complex, and who would compensate for a sense of personal disadvantage (acquired early in childhood) by making a striking impression upon others, in the reflex of which they feel their strength appreciated. The literateur who has to take his action out in imagination is much more likely to evince a will to power than a Napoleon who sees definite objects with extraordinary clearness and who makes directly for them. Explosive irritations, naggings, the obstinacy of weak persons, dreams of grandeur, the violence of those usually submissive are the ordinary marks of a will to power.

Discussion of the false simplification involved in this doctrine suggests another unduly fixed and limited classification. Critics of the existing economic regime have divided instincts into the creative and the acquisitive, and have condemned the present order because it embodies the latter at the expense of the former. The division is convenient, yet mistaken. Convenient because it sums up certain facts of the present system, mistaken because it takes social products for psychological originals. Speaking roughly we may say that native activity is both creative and acquisitive, creative as a process, acquisitive in that it terminates as a rule

(143) in some tangible product which brings the process to consciousness of itself.

Activity is creative in so far as it moves to its own enrichment as activity, that is, bringing along with itself a release of further activities. Scientific inquiry, artistic production, social companionship possess this trait to a marked degree; some amount of it is a normal accompaniment of all successfully coordinated action, While from the standpoint of what precedes it is a fulfilment, it is a liberative expansion with respect to what comes after. There is here: no antagonism between creative expression and the production of results which endure and which give a sense of accomplishment. Architecture at its best, for example, would probably appear to most persons to be more creative, not less, than dancing at its best. There is nothing in industrial production which of necessity excludes creative activity. The fact that it terminates in tangible utilities no more lowers its status than the uses of a bridge exclude creative art from a share in its design and construction. What requires explanation is why process is so definitely subservient to product in so much of modern industry:— that is, why later use rather than present achieving is the emphatic thing. The answer seems to he twofold.

An increasingly large portion of economic work is done with machines. As a rule, these machines are not under the personal control of those who operate them. The machines are operated for ends which the worker has no share in forming and in which as such, or apart

(144) from his wage, he has no interest. He neither understands the machines nor cares for their purpose. He is engaged in an activity in which means are cut off from ends, instruments from what they achieve. Highly mechanized activity tends as Emerson said to turn men into spiders and needles. But if men understand what they are about, if they see the whole process of which their special work is a necessary part, and if they have concern, care, for the whole, then the mechanizing effect is counteracted. But when a man is only the tender of a machine, he can have no insight and no affection; creative activity is out of the question.

What remains to the workman is however not so much acquisitive desires as love of security and a wish for a good time. An excessive premium on security springs from the precarious conditions of the workman ; desire for a good time, so far as it needs any explanation, from demand for relief from drudgery, due to the absence of culturing factors in the work done. Instead of acquisition being a primary end, the net effect of the process is rather to destroy sober care for materials and products; to induce careless wastefulness, so far as that can be indulged in without lessening the weekly wage. From the standpoint of orthodox economic theory, the most surprising thing—  about modern industry is the small number of persons who have any effective interest in acquisition of wealth. This disregard for acquisition makes it easier for a few who do want to have things their own way, and who monopolize what is amassed. If an acquisitive impulse were only

(145) more evenly developed, more of a real fact, than it is, it it quite possible that things would be better than they are.

Even with respect to men who succeed in accumulating wealth it is a mistake to suppose that acquisitiveness plays with most of them a large role, beyond getting control of the tools of the game. Acquisition is necessary as an outcome, but it arises not from love of accumulation but from the fact that without a large stock of possessions one cannot engage effectively in modern business. It is an incident of love of power, of desire to impress fellows, to obtain prestige, to secure influence, to manifest ability, to " succeed " in short under the conditions of the given regime. And if we are to shove a mythological psychology of instincts behind modern economics, we should do better to invent instincts for security, a good time, power and success than to rely upon an acquisitive instinct. We should have also to give much weight to a peculiar sporting instinct. Not acquiring dollars, but chasing them, hunting them is the important thing. Acquisition has its part in the big game, for even the most devoted sportsman prefers, other things being equal, to bring home the fog's brush. A tangible result is the mark to one's self and to others of success in sport.

Instead of dividing sharply an acquisitive impulse manifested in business and a creative instinct displayed in science, art and social fellowship, we should rather first inquire why it is that so much of creative activity is in our day diverted into business, and then ask why

(146) it is that opportunity for exercise of the creative capacity in business is now restricted to such a small class, those who have to do with banking, finding a market, and manipulating investments; and finally ask why creative activity is perverted into an over-specialized and frequently inhumane operation. For after all it is not the bare fact of creation but its quality which counts.

That captains of industry are creative artists of a sort, and that industry absorbs an undue share of the creative activity of the present time cannot be denied. To impute to the leaders of industry and commerce simply an acquisitive motive is not merely to lack insight into their conduct, but it is to lose the clew to bettering conditions. For a more proportionate distribution of creative power between business and other occupations, and a more humane, wider use of it in business depend upon grasping aright the forces actually at work. Industrial leaders combine interest in making far-reaching plans, large syntheses of conditions based upon study, mastery of refined and complex technical skill, control over natural forces and events, with love of adventure, excitement and mastery of fellowmen. When these interests are reinforced with actual command of all the means of luxury, of display and procuring admiration from the less fortunate, it is not surprising that creative force is drafted largely into business channels, and that competition for an opportunity to display power becomes brutal.

The strategic question, as was said, is to understand

(147) how and why political, legal, scientific and educational conditions of society for the last centuries have stimulated and nourished such a one-sided development of creative activities. To approach the problem from this point of view is much more hopeful, though infinitely more complex intellectually, than the approach which sets out with a fixed dualism between acquisitive and creative impulses. The latter assumes a complete split of higher and lower in the original constitution of man. Were this the case, there would be no organic remedy. The sole appeal would be to sentimental exhortation to men to wean themselves from devotion to the things which are beloved by their lower and material nature. And if the appeal were moderately successful the social result would be a fixed class division. There would remain a lower class, superciliously looked down upon by the higher, consisting of those in whom the acquisitive instinct remains stronger and who do the necessary work of life, while the higher " creative " class devotes itself to social intercourse, .science and art.

Since the underlying psychology is wrong, the problem and its solution assumes in fact a radically different form. There are an indefinite number of original or instinctive activities, which are organized into interests and dispositions according to the situations to which they respond. To increase the creative phase and the humane quality of these activities is an affair of modifying the social conditions which stimulate, select, intensify, weaken and coordinate native activities.

(148) The first step in dealing with it is to increase oar detailed scientific knowledge. We need to know exactly the selective and directive force of each social situation; exactly how—  each tendency is promoted and retarded. Command of the physical environment on a large and deliberate scale did not begin until belief in gross forces and entities was abandoned. Control of physical energies is due to inquiry which establishes specific correlations between minute elements. It will not be other-wise with social control and adjustment. Having the knowledge we may set hopefully at work upon a course of social invention and experimental engineering. A study of the educative effect, the influence upon habit, of each definite form of human intercourse, is prerequisite to effective reform.


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