Review of Instinct by L.L. Bernard.
A few years ago, the instinct conception held undisputed sway in psychology, social psychology, and the social sciences. The last five years have witnessed a rapidly spreading revolt against this condition, and Professor Bernard has produced the most exhaustive critical study that has so far appeared. It is an example of patient effort and careful and critical method which will force students to reckon with it and inspire further researches as the investigation continues.
There are several problems to which Professor Bernard set himself, the first of which concerns the biological mechanism of heredity. This is obviously a highly technical subject, and the author has not hesitated to enter into the problems and methods involved, though this makes of him for the time being a biologist. Assuming the standpoint of biological evolution, in two chapters on "The Heredity and the Instincts" and "Conditional Development" it is shown that instinct as an inheritance must be thought of in very small units and with disconnected elements. The theory of heredity is obviously beyond the province of the sociologist as such, but to the reviewer, whose knowledge of biology is merely that of a layman, the argument seems unassailable. Whether anyone not a biologist is capable of going to the root of this problem is a question which we may leave open. It will probably be decided by the biologists themselves. Of particular interest is the elaborate and convincing argument that the new-born infant has been the recipient of many influences which are not hereditary.
A second problem, which occupies a hundred pages, is the most elaborate display of the current inconsistency in the use of the term which has ever been written. This is obviously destructive in intent, and certainly in outcome. In a single table is presented the record of the result of readings in more than 2,000 books by 1,700 authors, in which 15,789 cases of instinct are cited, which are classified into 6,131 types. The result, of course, is to show how inconsistent and uncritical is the use of the term, and amounts to a reductio ad absurdum which ought to give the coup de
( 601) grace to the belated manufacturers of homemade instincts. In the same chapters are twenty-two other tables, with elaborate classifications indicating the looseness with which terms like self-assertion, gregariousness, and sex are used as descriptive of instincts.
Pursuing relentlessly the revelation of the inconsistency and lack of clearness in the use of the word, there is a chapter on "Some False Instincts Exposed," in which play, fighting, and constructiveness, etc., are set forth with an elaborateness of citation which makes the point utterly indisputable.
The author does not deny the systems of instincts, but shows conclusively and repeatedly that most of the activities in human beings which have formerly borne this label are better understood if spoken of as habits. There is one distinction which does not appear, or at least which the reviewer in a single but careful reading has failed to note. There is a stage before the organization of habit which should perhaps receive very definite emphasis. Moreover, habits break up and new habits form, and in this transition stage it is possible to find many or perhaps most of the psychological problems. There is nothing inconsistent with the author's thesis in this statement, but on the face of it, it seems that human behavior is thought of as being divisible into habits and instincts.
There is an excellent chapter on emotions, in which the theory of John Dewey is very dearly presented and defended. Emotion is not the result of instinct, but arises in conflict where instincts or habits simultaneously appear and interrupt the continuity of behavior. This is presented in explicit opposition to the formulation of McDougall, now so rapidly being discarded.
The book is very valuable and will for a long time be an authoritative monograph on the points covered, more important perhaps for its destructive contribution than for any alternative consideration, which it was not primarily the author's intention, apparently, to set forth.
The chief point of tension which the reviewer found lies in a rather fundamental and important direction. Professor Bernard is able to classify social psychologists into two groups which he calls the "instinctivists" and the "environmentalists." Now, no one can be farther from a desire to introduce metaphysical considerations into our field than this author, but such a classification not only leads uncritical followers into metaphysical absolutes, but is at times capable of being interpreted in just this way. The reviewer is certainly not an instinctivist, nor would he like to he called an environmentalist, and not because it is obvious that both inheritance and environment exist, for if one is to speak rigorously,
( 602) neither of them exists in opposition to or apart ,from the other. Both heredity and environment are valuable notions which we all use very frequently to explain and interpret phenomena of human life, but both are always employed in practice as abstractions to analyze and identify specific types of behavior which interest or puzzle us. When life marches smoothly, we make no distinction between heredity and environment. We recognize that all heredity is influenced by social impacts and that all environmental stimulations are modified by inherited bent. Life goes on in a series of concrete events, and in human experience this life is never lived in abstraction from the influence of our fellows. The environment can be said to be a temporal happening, because it is an explanation which we cannot at times avoid. But so also is heredity, in a literal sense of the word, a specific and definite interpretation of those aspects of human life which we feel cannot be understood as the result of social pressure. Heredity and environment are really negative concepts. Heredity is what cannot be accounted for by social experience. Environment explains behavior which heredity leaves unexplained. But both are abstractions—neither has any independent or separate existence. They are tools of analysis, not data, but hypotheses.
This is not to say that Professor Bernard's views are not capable of being thus formulated, but the language is the language of absolute and separate types of forces, and the individual is thought of as the result of the interplay of two forces, the heredity and the environment, with the environmental forces predominating. ft seems there is great need for careful thinking and careful writing just here.
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO