Of Psychological Elements
The list of psychological elements that have been proposed within the last three centuries includes innate ideas which served to justify the doctrines of the church while rejecting the authority of the scholastics. Innate ideas were opposed by the empiricists as undemonstrable, a revolutionary epoch finding support in the doctrine of associated ideas, received through the senses. When this theory seemed to lead the skepticism, separate faculties were advocated, thus providing an innate form to human mental and moral life which was independent of experience. Faculty psychology became top-heavy and was abandoned, only to reappear in our day in the form of abilities, whether of "intelligence" or of other skills. The experimental period produced the notion of sensations and feelings as elements, but this could not meet the difficulties of the mind-body problem. Other proposed elements include separate instincts, specific reflexes, innate structures or Gestalten, and wishes or desires. The disagreement about the nature and number of the elements suggests that psychology has pursued a false analogy. Instead of describing the process of social life in terms of antecedent elements, the so-called elements could better be interpreted in terms of the process and as significant aspects of the process.
The history of reflective thinking on the subject of personality records a series of unsuccessful efforts to designate the elements into which it can be resolved. That mind and personality are complex is obvious, and that the ultimate and simple constituents may be discovered has long been assumed. A survey of some of the most influential of them should prove profitable to the student of social psychology and should aid in placing our current views in a certain perspective.
Two observations seem justified from an examination of the story. One is that formulations have been repeatedly rejected, not by those who found them unacceptable at the outset, but by those who ac-
( 160) -cepted them and later found them wanting. It seems impossible for the author of a theory ever to give it up, for the idols of the cave will not be denied their worship. Bacon exhorts us to be suspicious of any conclusion concerning which we find ourselves enthusiastic, but like Ephraim, joined to his idols, the only ear turned is the deaf ear.
It is not rare, however, for the disciples of a master to revise his teaching. If the product is overadvertised and fails to do what has been claimed for it, some young man will begin to tinker. Then he, in turn, presents a new finality to the world.
For our academic forefathers down to our own generation did aim high. Each one knew that his predecessors erred, but he fondly hoped to say the last final word. Yet each final word, once new and shining like a coin from the mint, becomes tarnished and of little worth. Antique thoughts do not rise in value like period furniture; at the most they are like fossils in a museum, revealing the past experiments of nature.
Is it admissible to boast that we live in a generation of scholars who make no pretention to finality? There are surely some who rejoice at the thought that our successors will change our doctrines, and are pleased with the prospect that our work will be made out of date by those who shall carry on the task of discovery. It was not so in former days. Hegel or Spencer thought they builded for the ages, but the successors of Hegel or Herbert Spencer could hardly wait for the architect to move out before they began the remodeling and wrecking.
But although the authors of theories felt confident of final and absolute truth, it is easy to see how relative they were, not only because they neglected essential facts, but also because social, political, and economic conditions always affect the abstractions of psychological theory. There is a compulsive nature of social thought, or at least social conditions always influence views about human nature.
It is sobering to our egotism to realize that we are the children of our time, even as psychologists. The theoretical psychology of a convinced slave-holder could hardly have been the same as that of a confirmed abolitionist. This need not make us cynical but it does enable us to understand why men in the past advocated views that we find impossible to take seriously.
If we begin with the era called modern we may first briefly mention the theory of innate ideas. It was in the period of the Thirty Years' War, when the foundations of certainty were threatened. Since men could no longer safely rely on authority and the conflicting sentences of the monks, and since the church, the state, and the vigorous new science were firmly established on something, men considered the ideas, beliefs, and axioms, both moral and scientific, to be as much an innate part of them as the color of their eyes. Ideas were the elements. Innate ideas, instinctive ideas, they were, never having been taught or learned. With this equipment it was possible to account for the activities and organization of the world.
Neglecting everything else but the elements, we may note that ideas were the possession of an existing soul. Ideas were not the soul—the soul had ideas. Ideas were innate. This was proved because they were certain, self-evident, and had no origin in remembered experience. The advocates were unable to overcome the handicap of cultural isolation. Everyone, everywhere, admitted a belief in God; therefore such a belief was born in everyone. It was centuries before the notion of the mores was advanced and the tendency to assume as universally human that which is culturally old and still current was to reappear many times, surviving in the belated reasoning of McDougall and Pareto.
Ideas caused motion and action. It is easy to see the favorable soil for such a notion. Institutions were challenged and defended, and it was the hope of men that by opposing reason to tradition and to passion it would be possible to think a way out of the difficulties.
Innate ideas were accepted, but they did not endure. The English scholars of the Enlightenment had no doubt of the value of reasoning, and if right ideas could only be spread, it seemed possible to reform and reconstruct a troubled world. It would be difficult for a revolutionist in an age when men were challenging the divine right of kings to accept the doctrine of innate ideas, and Locke and his followers were revolutionists. Ideas were still the "elements," but not innate. It was a blank tablet on which the ideas were imprinted and whereon they were marvellously combined according to the fixed laws of association. This view prevailed for a long time, ending within the memory of men now living, though greatly modified in detail as
( 162) successive expounders tried to patch it up. It is today only a museum-piece.
This theory was a valuable tool for the defense of the democracy of that day. Reason produces action and consists of combinations of ideas which can be associated in obedience to fixed laws. At the hands of the Herbartians the ideas were endowed with force and power, struggling and surging to get over the threshold of consciousness, lending a hand to a friend or pushing off from the narrow standing room all unwelcome companions. Elaborate mathematical formulas were developed to describe what would happen in the seething company.
Two things happened to lead to the revision and ultimate rejection of this formulation. One was the difficulty of accounting for the connection of ideas, defined as immaterial, with the brawn and sinews of the body, through the brain, which were admittedly material and grossly so. The keenest minds of the age were racked as they strove to find a plausible answer. And many answers were given, of which none has survived. Like so many other problems, it was not solved; it was simply outgrown. How a spiritual force coming from outside could touch a ponderable nerve-mass was insoluble because it didn't happen. At least so later thinkers concluded. William James exercised his genius wrestling with this puzzle, but his views have only a historical interest. If, on the other hand, ideas are assumed to occur within the course of experience and not as its cause and source, a more satisfactory statement of the relation is possible.
Another influence affecting the associationist psychology was the waning enthusiasm for the equalitarian theory. It is a paradox of democracy that in breaking up hereditary inequalities and privileges it stimulates competition and struggle and thus encourages individual differences. The modern vocational guidance advisers, with their "batteries" of tests aiming to reveal the important I.Q.'s were anticipated in aim nearly a century and a half ago by a "faculty psychology" that sought to describe our elements as specific capacities, varying in individuals, governed by separate organs of the brain, and discoverable by observing the external contours of the skull.
Phrenology is gone, surviving only as a form of charleton sooth-
( 163) saying, and its list of faculties has disappeared with it, but the keen-eyed student may at times see it thinly disguised in current notions about abilities or capacities or even instincts. There is, however, no attempt at present to formulate a list of elemental faculties. The failure of the phrenological system of elements was due in part to the top-heavy growth of the list of faculties and the growing list of inconsistencies and exceptions. Its death-blow was received when brain physiologists succeeded in localizing the functions of various parts of the brain. The organ of the faculty of reverence, which every good preacher needs to have well developed, turned out to be the motor center controlling the muscles that move the toes. Rarely has a widely accepted theory received such a conclusive refutation.
But faculty psychology survived in various ways, and the division into intellect, feeling, and will has in it the same basic logic. Books have been written not so long since on the training of the will, as though it were a race horse to be trotted around a track.
The great experimental movement in psychology moved a step closer in the relating of mind and body. This work, begun in Germany, soon spread abroad and led to the founding of laboratories and to the present independence and isolation of psychology from philosophy. The tragedy of King Lear foretold the ingratitude of this lusty daughter and her distress when her orphaned state was realized. Physiological psychology owes its existence to physiologists who wished to know what correlations could be discovered between eye and color, tongue and taste, and all the rest of our equipment. Its most brilliant achievements were obtained in the effort to follow the model of chemistry where the elements have yielded to patient inquiry following a sound method.
The element of physiology is the cell. Perfected microscopic technique had made it possible to see them in their isolation. To what extent was it possible to find conscious experiences as simple and unitary as the neurone? Reasoning had already been broken up into judgments, judgments into terms, terms traced back to perceptions, and these in turn broken up into "sensations." To find the elementary sensations gifted men labored for many years and with brilliant results. They had started with five senses but they ended with dozens of specific ones, and hundreds of degrees. It was proved
( 164) in the laboratory that the human consciousness can distinguish hundreds of shades of gray. Touch is not one sense but five; taste is four; and smell is many more. Sense organs were even discovered in ambush in unsuspected places in muscles, tendons, and joints, else we could not know when we move.
The analysis of sensation into the hundreds of elements and the correlating of these elements with the cells of the sense organs, and the successful blazing of the trail along the sensory nerves to the outer bark (cortex) of the brain along an association fiber to a motor center, then down to the muscle cell till the baby grasps the ball—all this was accomplished with gratifying unanimity. Another class of elements was also discovered—the feelings of pleasure and pain—though there was not quite the same unanimity, some authorities wishing to add other feelings. But the work of thirty years of patient seeking resulted in the agreement that only two classes of elements exist in human experience, sensations and feelings, the feelings resulting from the way in which the sensation is mediated. Any sensation can be either pleasant or unpleasant; thus a too-bright light will be unpleasant, as will one too dim.
Having taken the machine apart, it was not so easy to put it together again. Just how the self is constituted was not easy to state, and the mechanism of desire and aversion was capable of a statement only approximately satisfactory. This was of little concern to many of the workers who were so interested in the analysis of experience into elements and the correlation with physiology that the larger problems were put aside against a day of reckoning. And the clay of reckoning came. By the second decade of the century, Gestaltists, Behaviorists, and Freudians were advancing to the attack against different sectors of the position.
In relating sensation and movement the experimentalists had gone a step beyond the early associationists. It was no longer a mystery how a sensory impulse could get into connection with a motor mechanism. The connection can actually be seen with the eye on a well-stained slide. In the twentieth century it was not necessary to interpolate an idea or a conscious process between sensory receptor and motor effector, for the sensation is defined as a stimulus and generates a current, and when this current runs over
( 165) the path the movement is complete. But what of consciousness? Various answers were given to this question, one of which was that consciousness indeed takes place, an "epiphenomenon" and not essential to behavior. Consciousness was compared to the sound of a gun, an invariable accompaniment under certain circumstances of certain connections but not necessary to the accurate work of the gun. The behaviorists simply put a silencer on the gun and claimed that it worked just as well. If behavior is the organization of the nervous system and is accomplished by synaptic connections, why appeal to consciousness?
American Behaviorism may be thought of as an outgrowth of the physiological psychology, with its gadgets for the study of the body and its methods of introspection for explaining the mind; but in the meantime, another formulation of elemental constituents claimed attention and received wide approval. This was the doctrine of instincts.
Two weaknesses in classic associationism help to make intelligible the rise of the instinct psychology. The first is the extreme rationalism of the older view against which instinctivism is a reaction. It does not require a study of mob psychology to cast doubt on the doctrine that reasoned ideas are the cause of human conduct. Rationalism was the effective polemic weapon for bringing to book the claims of ancient and outworn institutions. The associationists are not to be blamed for asserting the right to reason about such matters, nor is it strange that they should come to believe that rational thought was the prime mover in conduct. Whatever the steps by which it came about, there grew up a new recognition of impulse and emotional urge for which reasons are, indeed, sometimes given but which seem to have other sources than cold, passionless thought.
But the most important influence in the new formulation was, of course, the new biology and the widespread attempt to apply its conclusions to every department of scientific inquiry from astronomy to child psychology. In medieval thought man was created with a dual nature, body and soul joined in a somewhat inharmonious union, with the task of making the best of it till the soul could be released from its dangerous partner. The teaching that man is, without reservation, animal, was new, exciting, and for good reason
( 166) unwelcome. At length it came to be accepted, and William James in 1890 presented man with a greater number of instincts than any other animal. Most of them, however, he found in the animals also, and the tendency became general to assign their origin to a pre-human period, or at latest, to a mythical age when "primitive man" was acquiring habits, useful enough for him, but of doubtful value, some of them, to us who were doomed to inherit them.
For some thirty years instincts were unquestioned as the serviceable and adequately known elements of personality. For a time psychologists retained the machinery of associated ideas, but these were later abandoned and the picturesque repertoire was the chief reliance of all social scientists. It is true that the instincts were most useful for retrospective explanations. They served chiefly to "explain" the past acts of men by appealing to the more remote acts of beasts. The alibi it offered to man was a bit unheroic. The acts and thoughts of a man were, it is true, due to experience, but never to his own experience. One writer traced the satisfaction of baseball to the savages whose clubs were necessary to survival, as was their skill in running and throwing.
The decline of instinctivism was rapid, once it began. Several difficulties began to appear in the thought of those who had accepted the doctrine with enthusiasm and had proceeded to try to carry it out as a method. One of these difficulties was the impossibility of determining the number of these elements or of any certainty as to their nature. Various lists were proposed, many lists eventually appearing, but hardly any two lists agreed, nor was it possible to bring the problem to a crucial test or to any test. It presently appeared that there was no method. The "primitive man" appealed to was placed so far back in time that no facts were available and resort was had to imaginary accounts, interesting little stories of fanciful events which might explain had they been true but of which there was no evidence. Once psychologists became critical of the notion it was easy to see, by a comparison of peoples and epochs, that what had been assumed to be a universal human instinct was in fact only the acquired attitude taken over from a social custom.
The instincts failed to meet the needs of students of human nature because evidence was lacking that the complicated inherited habits
( 167) which are so characteristic of birds, beasts, and insects have their counterpart in the human organism. The number of instincts appears to be in inverse ratio to educability, and of all animals man is the most educable and plastic of living creatures. If we seek the elements we shall look for them in vain in the instincts.
When the Behaviorists appeared on the scene, physiological psychology had finished the inventory of sensations and feelings and was occupied in attacking other problems by the method of introspection under controlled laboratory conditions. Eventually Behavorism offered, as the elements we are seeking, a list of inherited reflexes, which by conditioning permit the development of a personality.
We may note circumstances that led to the appearance of this formulation: the controversy about imageless thought, the rise of reflexology in Russia, the experimental work on animals, and the collapse of the instinct doctrine, already mentioned.
The controversy about imageless thought began in Germany, but was taken up in the learned journals in America and elsewhere. A very brief account will suffice. The orthodox theory of mental elements required sensations, which were bundled up into perceptions, and could be revived as images. When some experiments. were published declaring that in reasoning out certain problems some of the subjects reported that no imagery was present, violent disputes arose, Wundt claiming that the introspection could not have been accurate. His opponents insisted that they were correct and that they had introspected correctly since they were "trained" introspectionists.
Sides were taken freely on the issue, but one unexpected position was that of the Behaviorists, who felt that if the high priests of introspection could not agree it was justifiable to pronounce a plague on both their houses. Accordingly this was done, and since introspection involves conscious memory and since the introspectionist method was to be discarded, the concept of consciousness was discarded as unnecessary and even redundant.
The brilliant experiments on animals had shown what surprisingly interesting results can be obtained by setting a problem for an animal, observing him carefully, varying the conditions, and recording
( 168) the results. Here, of course, there was no introspection, and if there was consciousness it was irrelevant.
The familiar Russian experiments on animals showed how animals and even man can, by simultaneous presentation of stimuli, acquire an automatic response to what was originally wholly ineffective. This gave hope of stating the complicated behavior of adults as the effect of such simultaneous association of cues.
Finally, the decline of the vogue of instinctivism resulted in the formulation of a list of inherited movements that could be observed and recorded in careful observations on children so controlled as to admit of verification by other investigators. Thus the specious appeal to a fictitious archeology of human behavior was made unnecessary.
The experiments were carefully done and the enthusiasm with which the results were received by many of the younger men resulted in the announcement of a whole system instead of a valuable contribution to the old. The reflex was regarded as the key to the interpretation of human life and the conditioning of the reflexes was presented in a manner analogous to the doctrine of association of ideas a hundred years older. Since the reflexes are simple and universal in children, it was thought to be possible, by skilful conditioning, to produce any desired type of behavior and thus offer to education a new and sovereign method.
But difficulties appeared. The reflexes are indeed present and exist in large number. On the other hand, they arc relatively invariable and can be modified or suppressed with the utmost difficulty. Conditioning, as revealed by the experiments and the observations, did not alter the course of the reflex; it only changed the occasion of the reflex response. That the salivating dog should come to react to a musical note was interesting and significant, but it did not allow for the teaching of the old dog any new tricks. The Behaviorists in discussing the acquisition of language by a child could make a plausible statement about how a child comes to understand the meaning of words said to him, or, in their terminology, how he comes to respond to words which are used to condition the original unconditioned reflex. But when it is desired to tell about the child talking, the only contribution is: "In course of time the child comes to say: `open
( 169) box' etc." But the drooling dog did not come, in the course of time, to play the violin. The conditioning of a reflex is the arousal of an inherited movement by a stimulus not originally capable of such an effect; conditioning offers no interpretation of the growth and development of new and complicated habits and attitudes. The reflexes and other less definite movements must enter into combinations for which conditioning is an inadequate explanation.
About the same time that the Behaviorists began to publish in America, there arose another revolt against the traditional psychology with its elements of sensation and feeling. They began with some brilliant work in the psychology of perception and might have had more influence had they not yielded to the temptation, so common in a commercial age, to build up a whole rival system. The details of their criticisms cannot be given here, but mention may be made of their insistence that the sensations that were investigated in the laboratory were not the experiences that are constituents of normal experience. In distinguishing the many shades of gray, the observer is not only abstracting what is usually a marginal constituent of experience: he is placing himself in a comparing attitude, according to instructions, and this attitude is necessary for the judgment to be made. The connection of attitude and perception compels a revision of the notion that sensations result from the mere excitation of an end-organ by external energy. Indeed, the criticism goes farther and insists that the reception of a sensation, far from being a primary or elementary experience, is the result of abstraction and sophistication, and these points are defended by means of ingenious experiments and careful logic. A perception is held to be always an organization with a form, or Gestalt, and the group has adopted the name of the Gestalt school. The "bundle hypothesis" is successfully refuted, since the exact stimulus may be made to produce a variety of effects.
Some of the conditioning experiments which were accepted as conclusive consisted in training an animal to go to a food-box that was the lighter of two. It was assumed that the sense organs were associated as to the tract used. The Gestalt psychologists repeated the experiment, then substituted a still lighter one and took the darker one away. The animal went to the new one which had not been
( 170) "conditioned" at all. This was held to show that the animal was responding to a figure and was, in reality, choosing the "lighter of two." Confirmatory results were obtained with children.
The Gestalt seemed at first to be about ready to give up the concept of elements altogether and to derive their categories from the phenomena of interaction, but they were prevented from doing so by the difficulty encountered in accounting for the particular form or configuration. The assumption is made, therefore, that some of the Gestalten exist in the soul to correspond with those found in nature. While this doctrine is not prominent, it seems to be clearly held. But any accurate or experimentally determined number of these forms awaits demonstration.
It is in the voluminous writings of the psychoanalytics that the sharpest break with psychology is made, for the nervous system is completely ignored and attention is largely confined to conflicts in the "soul" whose incestuous and selfish desires are assumed to be primary and elemental and therefore in tragic and perpetual conflict with social requirements. How the "movement" split promptly into a number of rival schools each with a leader claiming to be the only true prophet, how it was skilfully commercialized, how its proponents entered unhesitatingly into every specialized field of social science pontifically pronouncing conclusions in anthropology, sociology, history, biography, mythology, and religion, reaching at a bound the solution of problems for which patient scholars are still industriously laboring—all these are familiar to every reader.
It has all the elements of a cult, for men "believe in" psychoanalysis as they believe in the gospel, or rather instead of believing in the gospel, not from scientific evidence but from emotional conviction or from some personal emotional experience, as men adopt Christian Science because they have been healed of their worries.
To account for the rapid rise and popularity of these views will be easier for our successors than for us. It came on the scene when orthodox psychology was facing confusion. It emphasized sex at a time of world-wide post-war disorganization and subtly insinuated if it did not openly advocate a form of indulgence which every period of disorganization has witnessed but which had never before claimed a "scientific" justification. Its proponents are masters of
( 171) publicity and have characterized as "rationalization" all arguments and reasons that do not agree with their own. Dealing with mental abnormality, they have been of little assistance to legitimate psychiatry, since they cannot reveal, as physicians do, the details of their treatment to their medical colleagues. Their patients consist chiefly of the more affluent unfortunates who gladly pay for the comforting assurance that their disorders are not serious since they have been present from earliest infancy. The doctrine is at present decidedly popular with a certain class of social workers who should know, if anyone does, what sex repression means.
The central doctrine of the Unconscious (impressively capitalized) appears to be a hypostatization of the notion of the subliminal which is at least three hundred years old and has received recognition ever since. But t. Unconscious is presented in the books of these men as the most important aspect of human life, a rather repulsive dungeon where evil spirits are confined, to be exorcised by letting the cat out of the bag. If proof of the existence of this limbo is demanded reference is made to the maturation of problems, a phenomenon long familiar. Men have awakened from sleep to find a difficult solution all clearly apprehended, but it can also be said that a skater has suddenly found his performance improved, though this would not mean that the Unconscious had been exercising on the ice.
Wishes or desires appear to be the limit of analysis here, and, under the influence of this formulation, certain sociologists and psychologists have attempted to erect a structure on the same foundations. But all the desires of men on which data can be gathered turn out to be strivings or tendencies toward more or less specific goals, and to erect desires as units involves serious logical difficulties. A desire is transitory, a stage in activity, an impulse seeking a more or less definite satisfaction, a craving which disappears and dies when the goal is reached. Desires are phases of action but are not involved in all acts. There is also impulsive behavior and there are stabilized "sets" which are related to past satisfactions and may be the occasion of future desires but are hardly to be identified with desires as such.
Moreover, there are vague cravings which are capable of numerous
( 172) alternative directions. Social experience, moral norms, and collective aims cannot be neglected in understanding the origin of desires and their complex nature. The attempt to make wishes the atoms or elements of personality results either in a rough classification of them or in a list of instinctive wishes which present all the logical difficulties of any instinct doctrine. Activity, movement, behavior, conduct, striving—these are all indubitably to be asserted of human nature but to isolate one form of the activity as elemental would seem to be inadequate and indefensible.
For wishes or desires include a striving for a definite goal of satisfaction, and this goal appears in experience as an image of what would satisfy the desire. The image, in turn, is derived from social experience and cannot, as far as we know, be unrelated to remembered or promised satisfactions. Desires, then, come from the culture and not from the solitary soul.
The list of elements could have been longer. We have seen that innate ideas have been proposed as fundamental elements; later on, acquired ideas, imprinted by sensations. The account has included the faculties variously enumerated, the sensations and feelings of the experimentalists, the instincts of the evolutionists, the reflexes of the Behaviorists, the forms of the Gestaltists, and the desires of various groups. What are the elements into which it is possible to analyze this unity? Or may it not be possible that the long and incongruous list reveals a search for the elements of something which is a unity of such a sort that it cannot be divided into elements?
The question is not without importance, but the problem of personality is not only in a very unsatisfactory state; we still are without a sound and agreed method by means of which it may be studied. It is surely not beyond the power of the human intellect. Personality is complex, but so is every object of study in every field of science. We need time, and patient men, able to search diligently and weigh their evidence impartially, not hugging doctrines as darling possessions, and concerned chiefly with sound procedures of testing their results.
It would appear that the human personality always grows up in association and communication. The very word comes from the language of the stage and is a sort of metaphor signifying that we
( 173) play a part or assume a rôle in the drama of life when we achieve a personality. For personality is an achievement and man is not born human, since to be a self is to be a subject which is its own object. It may be that, since personality is the sequel to a series of events that the elements are to be found, if we must have them, in the surrounding milieu.
This is obviously true of the language one speaks. The vocabulary, the syntax, and the meaning of phrases, are incorporated into experience with whatever increment of distortion or of enrichment. One might attempt to analyze a language, and, if it be reduced to writing, it would appear that all our vast literature can be inscribed by using just over a couple of dozen characters. But are they elements? Do they have existence and meaning and function, considered separately? Here _s the letter s. Let us write the words "nail," "now," "pear," "care," "peak," "pill." If to each of these words we incorporate the s we have "snail," "snow," "spear," "scare," "speak," "spill." Is it possible to speak of the function of the s? No analysis of meanings will reveal any elementary quality in the s. Each word is a whole, a picture, a form, a Gestalt. It is not made up of elements. Each letter taken alone may be the object of attention, but in combination there is formed that which resists analysis. This analogy is not, of course, exact but may help to clarify the point.
The attitudes are sometimes spoken of as elemental. But in what sense may we say so? The word attitude is here used to denote a tendency toward a mode of action, usually highly generalized, and resulting from the actions that have left their effect on the whole. The prejudices, biases, interests, preferences, loves, hates, and such like are words we use to denote attitudes. Now if a man has a violent prejudice toward Mussolini, is an ardent admirer of Ghandi, is very much opposed to the tariff, is interested in the Boy Scout movement, prefers beef rather than pork, loves his child, and hates Fascism, we may speak of all these as attitudes. We may think of these tendencies present in him continually, ready to be evoked, perhaps even seeking to find some expression, though clearly they would have to take their turn. In one sense, perhaps, we may call them elements.
But if attitudes be considered elements, they perform no such logical function as the elements of chemistry or of physiology. For
( 174) attitudes are demonstrably the result of action and may be most helpfully conceived as residual propensities or predispositions left over from social experience. The attitudes that are significant from the standpoint of a theory of personality are those incorporations into the individual self of habits and beliefs in the mores of a society.
Neither ideas, faculties, instincts, nor attitudes exist as elements out of which personality is constituted. Rather do all of these, or what were supposed to be these, result from the particular selection and variation made by each individual person on the folkways and mores that he encounters.
Perhaps the disagreements of the past three hundred years may be explained by assuming that the differences were due to the impossibility of the problem. Men could not agree on the elements because they do not exist. The assumption in all of them was that individuals constitute society. But if we assume that society produces personalities, then the elements of personality will be found not in the individual self at all but in the collective life of his people.
The history of the thought of the last three hundred years could almost be written as the passage in one realm of life and another from fixity and absoluteness to change and relativity. An immovable world gave place to a revolving sphere; a fixed peasantry cruelly repressed in the fourteenth century in England and in France, and in the seventeenth in Germany and who had long remained bound to the soil, found freedom of movement and began to people the new world. Religious faith, once delivered as unchangeable, has become a developing experience, a matter permitting choice and freedom to individual men. Momentous changes came when the divine right of kings received its challenge with the execution of Charles I and its deathblow with the condemnation of Louis XVI. And if the American Declaration of Independence, which asserted that the consent of the governed was the source of the just power of the ruler, was disturbing to the later eighteenth century, it was blasphemous to the medieval mind and to all who held unrevised the medieval view of man. It was Woodrow Wilson in the twentieth century who, voicing what was in the minds of his people, expressed the ultimate consequence of this long movement when he declared that the reign of law, based on the consent of the governed, was to be sustained by
( 175) the "organized opinion of mankind." In this statement opinion, with its tides and currents, was changed from an object of scorn to the final court of appeal in political life.
It was not alone in ecclesiastical and political life that change and the relative replaced the fixed and absolute. The biology of the nineteenth century transformed the unchanging types, created by a thought of God, into slowly developing species still growing from form to form. Wide knowledge of a vaster world led to a study of comparative moral codes and folkways were seen to evolve into mores and into crescive institutions each with its life and history. In logic, reasoning, which had begun with a major premise and proceeded up syllogistic stairs to a fixed conclusion, became an activity which begins with a difficulty and a problem and ends with a hypothesis whose life is uncertain, destined, like the ox-cart, to be discarded for something better when discovered.
The theory of human nature which we call "psychology" did not assimilate this conception readily. Although political and social reforms as well as theological movements were based on psychological arguments, yet these are seen in retrospect as consequences and corollaries of programs of action. Rousseau and Hobbes did not differ in their political views on account of their views of the original nature of man; their theories of human nature were arguments in support of their programs of action. And in the later controversies between rationalists and empiricists, no less than the more recent disputes between instinctivists and Behaviorists, both sides of the controversy agree in a common premise that there is a list of stable elements that can be discovered. The rebellious youth who defiantly appeals to his right to express his instinctive urges is a brother under the skin to the aged conservative who insists that the institutions of society are authoritative because they are founded on the immutable instincts of the race. It is only since the rise of recent social psychology that the conception of human nature as the result of action has been formulated. This view might be termed histrionic or dramatic, for it conceives the personality as a rôle, a part to be played, and the rôle of an actor depends on the play that is being enacted. Institutions and customs precede individuals and personality results from participation in these ongoing social processes.
Human personality, arising in communication, is the result of conduct which takes place in the presence of others and in contacts with friends and enemies, allies and opponents. Personality is mobile, self-developing, self-organizing. Groups precede babies and children are born into communities with customs. To assume fixed points of origin or stable elements which are combined into a personality is to reverse the order of development. Ideas, sensations, and wishes occur but they are events and consequences, not elements. They must be defined in terms of the social process, not the process in terms of them.
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO