Review of The Laws of Social Psychology by F. Znaniecki.
The five-volume work The Polish Peasant, by Thomas and Znaniecki, which has been before the public for some five years, gave a powerful impetus to the study of social psychology, indicating as it did the possibilities of a new method and stimulating new formulations in theory. The "methodological note" in Volume I and the Introduction to Volume II, which sum up the theoretical findings, would together make a sizable book and well deserve the serious attention which they have received.
Not many people read all of a five-volume work, but those who have carefully read this one have, from the beginning, been impressed and at times puzzled by the lack of unity and by outright inconsistencies. The analysis of human mainsprings of action into "the four wishes" was stimulating, but the first volume gave a list of these, which was abandoned in Volume III, the "wish for mastery" dropping out to give place to the "desire for response," and this not a mere renaming, but an important difference in analysis. The abstract and involved style of the theoretical portions was in contrast to the lucid passages of the later volumes. The surface explanation was that the inconsistency and variety was the price paid for the very valuable results of a collaboration between an American scholar whose early training in literature gave him a flair for the concrete and the picturesque, and a Polish savant whose philosophical training caused him to write like a German metaphysician.
In Professor Znaniecki's new work, The Laws of .Social Psychology, the reader is provided with the means of analyzing out the separate contribution of each collaborator, particularly if the later work of Professor Thomas be familiar. For here are several important differences in formulation. Gone are the four wishes. Although the familiar phrases of which they were formulated are frequently used, yet they are not stated as elemental mainsprings of action, and important differences in theory are stated.
The "desire for new experience," as well as the "desire for stability," is treated in two of the laws. The "law of mobilization" reads: "If an in-
( 532) -dividual sees a possibility of obtaining a series of more and more desirable results by breaking away from some stable line of conduct into a new line he develops a desire for new experience." This means that the important aspect of life which gives rise to a wish for variety and stimulation is itself a complex and derived impulse with specific antecedent circumstances, and is always further analyzable. So also with the "desire for security": "An individual begins to wish for stability if his search for new experience seems to bring more and more undesirable consequences." Those familiar with the original formulation will notice in this statement a repudiation of the connection of security with fear, as well as of the assumption that security is a fundamental and elemental motive of life.
One of the most used formulations of The Polish Peasant was the doctrine of attitudes and values. Znaniecki uses the word "value" continually, but repudiates explicitly the concept "attitude," while Thomas, in his later work, has made large use of "attitude," but apparently dislikes the word "value." Obviously a collaboration involves mutual concessions and ends in a compromise.
Znaniecki in the present work makes some valuable contributions to the theory of human nature. In the first fifty pages there is discussion of the possibility of laws in social psychology and a discussion of the seven previous classes of attempts to formulate them. The static laws of Tarde do not touch the real problem of social action. The empirical uniformities of Ellwood and LeBon arrive at no principle and are merely the result of common-sense observations. The laws of evolution of Comte are too metaphysical. And even the laws of motivation are ruled out because to examine motives would be to get out of the closed system in which a social act must be conceived to occur, and therefore present an impossible problem. The concluding chapter contains a masterly analysis of the standpoint and problem of social psychology, with an estimate of the shortcomings of behaviorism and the laboratory method which is both revealing and convincing.
The central body of the work is an attempt to state the laws of social action as narrowly conceived and accurately defined. A social act is one performed toward a social object, and does not begin until the impulse becomes kinetic, ending when the impulse is satisfied. Inside this "closed system" several things appear. To be exact, thirteen different things may appear; and so we have the laws of stabilization, mobilization, social repression, sublimation, idealization, generalization, and the rest.
There is a discussion of hostility, but practically nothing is said of
( 533) fear or disgust, and no criterion is proposed which would enable the reader to know what claim the list of thirteen laws might have to being complete.
The central interest of social psychologists is, or should be, the search for a method of investigation which would compel assent to scientifically derived laws. It is here that the reader finds the book most at fault. The laws may be adequately stated, and perhaps their total number is the unlucky thirteen, but no method of investigation is even hinted at, and the formulations after all are the effort of a brilliant essayist who sets down his observations about life, illustrating them with examples composed for the purpose. Nevertheless the book is very valuable and genuinely important. The author spent some years in America after a European training, and wrote this book upon his return to his university chair in Poznan. No contemporary social psychologist has had comparable advantages of first-hand acquaintance with the trains of thought in Europe and America, and the formulations here set forth will undoubtedly be stimulating and provocative of further research.
There is one concept which occurs scores of times which seems to fill a long-felt want. Znaniecki uses the term "axiological" to denote an object which seems to be real to the person who experiences it. There are axiological obstacles, axiological companions, and so forth. It can be freely predicted that this word will be widely used in spite of its six syllables.
Social psychology is still groping, but its groping is energetic and active.
It is too much to hope that human behavior can be reduced to thirteen laws, but
it is not too much to hope that eventually we shall be able to formulate
whatever laws there be. When this formulation shall have been reached, part of
the credit for it will be due Professor Znaniecki.
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO