American Social Psychology
III. John Dewey (1859)
Fay Berger Karpf
Dewey could have been considered almost at any point in this survey of American social-psychological thought, for he has been a very prominent factor in the situation throughout the period of American social-psychological development. It will be recalled that in the opening chapter of this part of our survey, Dewey's Psychology was mentioned along with James' Principles as the two outstanding psychological works on the horizon of early American social-psychological thought. We did not consider his psychological theory at that point, in order to leave the ground clear for the consideration of James' Principles in that connection and also because Dewey has since concerned himself with social psychology more directly, and we naturally wished to direct our attention chiefly to this special aspect of his work in due order from the standpoint of related developments. Thus it is that detailed consideration of Dewey's position has been postponed to this point, when his theory is directly of importance in connection with the social-psychological positions of Cooley, Mead, Thomas, Faris, and other writers who came under his immediate influence.
It should, however, be borne in mind that Dewey's social-psychological significance extends back to the first publication of his Psychology (1886) and that all along he has been a central figure in the American social-psychological movement. After his first important work, which, in introducing into American psychology the synthetic and activistic approach of contemporary German and English thought, was not unlike James' Principles in its general effect, Dewey continued, as Brett says, "to make history" in American psychological thought. Especially notable here among Dewey's earlier psychological writings are his articles on "The Theory of Emotion," on "The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology," the preliminary articles dealing with the subject matter later incorporated in How We Think (1910), and his article on the "Interpretation of Savage Mind." As thus formulated in his earlier writings, Dewey's psychology became the nucleus for the more systematic elaboration of "functional" psychology by J. R. Angell and other members of the Dewey group immediately associated with him at Chicago. And functional psychology, with its emphasis on mental activity and the functional and genetic aspects of mind, was prominently before American social-psychological thought during its early period of development alongside of some of the other background developments which have been considered here, especially James' psychology. Being organic and behavioristic in the sense of Mead's and Cooley's social-psychological theory and directed, at least by implication, to the consideration of the environment as well as the organism, as an essential part of the functional situation, it naturally ran closer to the interests of social psychology than more traditional formulations of psychological theory. This was more especially the case since Dewey himself was from the first concerned with the social implications of his thought, though it was not until consider-ably later that he actually turned his attention to the formulation of a definite social psychology. But in any event functional psychology, especially as associated with Dewey's own early writings, is clearly in evidence as an important influence not only in the case of the writers
( 329) mentioned above but also in most of the formulations still to be considered in this part of our survey. In the case of some writers, it served as a direct basis of approach into the field of social and social-psychological thought. Among these, we may mention C. A. Ellwood, whose approach to social psychology, which to him was psychological sociology, was in the first place definitely through an attempt to develop the social implications of Dewey's psychology. In connection with his conception of social-psychological procedure, Ellwood has summarized Dewey's psychology as reflected in his earlier writings in reference to its social bearings, and the following passages are quoted from his summary by way of introduction to our consideration of Dewey's own later formulation of his social-psychological position.
Professor Dewey's psychological point of view may be put somewhat schematically as follows: The fundamental fact in the psychical life, according to him, is not the sensation, but the coordination of the living organism in some activity—the act. We cannot get back of the coordination in psychology. Wherever we begin, we must begin with a living organism doing something. The unit of psychical activity, therefore, is the act or coordination. In reality there is only one large coordination—the act of living or the life-process. But within this supreme coordination there arise minor coordinations in the adapting of one part of the organism to another, or of one portion of the life-process to another portion. Or, looking at the process from the opposite standpoint, we may say particular acts are coordinated, unified, into larger coordinations which control the smaller acts; and all are finally unified into, and controlled by, the general life-process of the organism. Thus the psychical life is to be regarded and interpreted as a function of the general life-process. Function, then, rather than organism or environment, is the thing to be considered in psychology. From this point of view all forms of psychical activity can be reduced to two types: coordination and adaptation. All the phenomena of psychical life group themselves about these two fundamental forms—are the outgrowth of them, and are functionally explained by their reference to them. Thus a coordination which has once been successfully established tends to persist, or becomes a habit. The necessity of adjustment, however, arising from some variation in the organism or environment, causes the old coordination or habit to break up, and sensation results. Sensation, then, is the sign of the interruption of a habit, and represents the point at which an activity is reconstructed. The old coordination in breaking up, however, must yield the material for the new coordination; that is, it must be used as means for the construction of a new coordination. The processes of discrimination, attention, and association come in to build up the new coordination. They are all processes which arise only through the transition from one coordination to another. The discriminative process, for example, represents the breakdown of the old coordination, and what we call association represents the building up of the new coordination. Attention represents the conflict of two or more activities involved in the building up of the new coordination; it is the attempt, on the part of the organism, to discover, select, the adequate stimulus for the construction of the new coordination. These illustrations will
( 330) suffice for our purposes. In the same manner all psychical processes may be interpreted—as referring either to the coordination or to the transition from one coordination to another. The coordination is, therefore, the fundamental and central fact of the psychical life. All other psychical facts are functional expressions of the coordination, or of the relation of one coordination to another within the life-process. Thus the psychical life presents itself as a system of means and ends, whose unity finds expression in the general end of control over the means of existence, that is, over the conditions of survival. Summarizing, then, we may say that Professor Dewey's psychological point of view is that of a life-process, or life-activity, functioning to secure control over its own life-conditions, and thereby its own development. The resulting interpretation of the facts of the psychical life yields a psychology whose chief categories are coordination, adaptation, habit, instinct, selection, evaluation, and the like; in brief, an evolutionary psychology.
That such a psychology had a significance for social science which the non-functional psychologies of the past did not have was widely recognized even before Dewey had himself begun to work out this aspect of his thought specifically. Ellwood says in this connection:
The value of such a psychology to the social sciences must be evident, even from such a schematic and fragmentary statement as we have given. Such a psychology comes into contact with life at every point and interprets functionally the processes of life; it is no formal, over-abstracted science, but shows us the actual workings of the psychic reality. The question at once suggests itself : Are not these categories, which have been so successfully applied to the interpretation of the psychical life of the individual, also applicable to the interpretation of the life of society on its psychical side? Cannot the fundamental principles of such a functional psychology be transferred at once from the interpretation of the life of the individual to that of society?
The direction of applicability suggested here is peculiar to Ellwood's conception of psychological sociology and social psychology. But it clearly indicates the appeal of Dewey's functional psychology as a point of departure in social interpretation during the earlier period of American social-psychological thought.
Dewey's more specific social-psychological thinking crystallized gradually along with the development of social-psychological thought in this country generally. His earliest formulations were made incidentally in connection with his treatment of specific problems within the fields of
( 331) his major earlier interests—in connection, that is, with his treatment of logic, education, ethics, etc. His first treatment of the subject of social psychology directly is to be found in his article on "The Need for Social Psychology.” This preliminary discussion of the subject was then followed by his more exhaustive discussion of specific problems of social-psychological interest in his more recent work on Human Nature and Conduct (1922), the subtitle of which reads: "An Introduction to Social Psychology." It is with this one of Dewey's works that we shall be chiefly concerned here.
In the above-mentioned article on "The Need for Social Psychology," which is very important from the standpoint of getting his own social-psychological position in larger perspective, Dewey reviews some of the important developments in the field of social-psychological thought and he brings his own point of view as it appeared to him at the time into relation with them. After an introductory statement on the social-psychological importance of James' Principles of Psychology, in which he remarks on "the depth and breadth of the influence of James," he proceeds to consider the work of Tarde and his followers, among whom he notes especially Baldwin and Ross. After commenting on the theory of imitation as the outstanding characteristic of this first period of social-psychological development and on the general importance of this period of social-psychological thought in popularizing the idea of social psychology and in bringing into view some of its basic considerations and problems, Dewey orientates his own social-psychological point of view in the underlying conception which he attributes to Tarde, namely, that "all psychology is either biological or social psychology." He says in this connection:
Tarde himself was certainly one of the most stimulating and varied of writers, and I do not think we shall ever outgrow some of his contributions, although to
(332) my mind they are found rather in logic than in psychology—such as the necessity for reducing the gross phenomena of social life into minuter events which may then be analyzed one by one. The most fruitful of his psychological conceptions was ahead of his time and went almost unnoted. It was that all psychological phenomena can be divided into the physiological and the social, and that when we have relegated elementary sensation and appetite to the former head, all that is left of our mental life, our beliefs, ideas and desires, falls within the scope of social psychology.
Citing next the work of McDougall and Thorndike, and on the social side such writings as those of Graham Wallas, as representative of the next stage of social-psychological development, during which, according to him, social psychology was recalled "from the wrong track in which the Imitation and Suggestibility schools had set it going" and the misleading antithesis between the individual and the social to which these theories led by setting up "two independent and even contrary sciences—individual and social psychology"  —he says:
From the root of all such aberrations we were recalled the very moment the problem was presented not as one of the relationship of a mythical psychology of an isolated individual mind to the even more mythical psychology of a mass or crowd or public mind, but as the problem of the relationship of original or native activities to acquired capacities and habits.
Continuing his comment on the significance of this shift of focus he says further:
... for those who have learned the lesson of recourse to fundamental responses, the way is opened for emancipation from the greatest foe with which social science has had to contend—which I shall take the liberty of calling the monistic. How often have we been invited to build up our social, political, and ethical explanations in terms of some single and supposedly dominant mental constituent! How often discussions and disputes have been, at bottom, only a question as to which of rival single claimants we shall yield allegiance. Instincts to power, to control others, fear of authority, sex, love of pleasure, of ease, all have been appealed to, and explanations constructed in terms of one or another exclusively. Henceforth it is, I submit, pure wilfulness if any one pretending to a scientific treatment starts from any other than a pluralistic basis; the complexity and specific variety of the factors of human nature, each operating in response to its own highly specific stimulus, and each subject to almost infinite shadings and modulations as it enters into combination and competition with others.
The conception of social psychology in which this outlook results is outlined by Dewey in the words of W. I. Thomas  as follows:
On the one hand our problem is to know the modifications wrought in the native constitution of man by the fact that the elements of his endowment operate in this or that social medium; on the other hand, we want to know how control of the environment may be better secured by means of the operation of this or that native capacity. Under these general heads are summed up the infinity of special and difficult problems relating to education on the one hand and to constructive modification of our social institutions on the other. To form a mind out of certain native instincts by selecting an environment which evokes them and directs their course; to reform social institutions by breaking up habits and giving peculiar intensity and scope to some impulse is the problem of social control in its two phases. To describe how such changes take place is the task of social psychology stated in generalized terms.
Such, then, was Dewey's conception of social psychology in 1916 when the instinct theory of human conduct was at the height of its popularity in this country. With the developing attack upon instinct psychology which followed, however, and the clarification of the implications which it held for social-psychological thought, Dewey gradually shifted ground from emphasis on instinct to habit as a basis of attack in social psychology (a position which in any event is more in line with his point of view as a whole) and thereby he arrived at the position which he outlines in his Human Nature and Conduct.
Before passing on to the consideration of the latter, it is notable here, especially in view of some of our previous considerations relating to method, that Dewey mentions the application of the statistical procedure to psychological research and the behavioristic movement as most important factors in the positive development of social psychology on the methodological side at this time. Neither of these, he points out, was devised primarily in the interest of social psychology, but both have made themselves felt in bringing to the fore the experimental attitude and the interest in control, and these Dewey regards as all-important in respect to the decisive problem of method in social psychology.
Dewey's final summation of the situation as he saw it at the time is especially to be noted here as background for his later treatment of social psychology in his Human Nature and Conduct. He says:
I foresee a great reflex wave from social psychology back into general psychology. An important conclusion in the psychology of native activities does not seem to have been drawn as yet by those who would base a scientific psychology upon this foundation. The conclusion seems inevitable that since "mind" does not appear in the original list of instincts, it represents something acquired. It represents a reorganization of original activities through their operation in a given environment. It is a formation, not a datum; a product, and a cause only after it has been produced.
Theoretically, according to him, it is "possible that the reorganization of native activities which constitute mind may occur through their exercise within a purely physical medium "—a condition assumed by the older individualistic psychology. Empirically, however, "a consideration of the dependence in infancy of the organization of the native activities into intelligence upon the presence of others, upon sharing in joint activities and upon language, makes it obvious that the sort of mind capable of development through the operation of native endowment in a non-social environment is of the moron order, and is practically, if not theoretically, negligible."
The net outcome of the newer movements in psychology, he maintains, has been, "an unexpected confirmation of the insight of Tarde that what we call 'mind' means essentially the working of certain beliefs and desires; and that these in the concrete—in the only sense in which mind may be said to exist—are functions of associated behavior, varying with the structure and operation of social groups." The conviction "that anything which may properly be called mind or intelligence is not an original possession but is a consequence of the manifestation of instincts under the conditions supplied by associated life in the family, the school, the market place and the forum," he says further, "is no remote inference from a speculative reconstruction of the mind of primitive man; it is a conclusion confirmed by the development of specific beliefs, ideas and purposes in the life of every infant now observable."
In his more recent work on Human Nature and Conduct, Dewey elaborated these preliminary remarks in the discussion of his well-known emphasis upon the social psychology of habit. In explanation of this emphasis and its relation to the subtitle of the work which, as was stated above, reads "An Introduction to Social Psychology," Dewey says:
Perhaps the sub-title requires a word of explanation. The book does not purport to be a treatment of social psychology. But it seriously sets forth a belief that an understanding of habit and of different types of habit is the key to social psychology, while the operation of impulse and intelligence gives the key to individualized mental activity. But they are secondary to habit so that mind can be understood in the concrete only as a system of beliefs, desires and purposes which are formed in the interaction of biological aptitudes with a social environment.
The full social-psychological significance of this statement can appear only when it is viewed in the light of Dewey's point of view as a whole as it is developed here and the particular sense in which he uses the term
( 335) habit in this connection. We must therefore follow out at some length his conception of the role of habit in mental life and note how he brings this conception into relation with the other important aspects of his theory. He proceeds to point out:
Habits may be profitably compared to physiological functions, like breathing, digesting. The latter are, to be sure, involuntary, while habits are acquired. But important as is this difference for many purposes it should not conceal the fact that habits are like functions in many respects, and especially in requiring the cooperation of organism and environment. Breathing is an affair of the air as truly as of the lungs; digesting an affair of food as truly as of tissues of stomach. Seeing involves light just as certainly as it does the eye and optic nerve. Walking implicates the ground as well as the legs; speech demands physical air and human companionship and audience as well as vocal organs. We may shift from the biological to the mathematical use of the word function, and say that natural operations like breathing and digesting, acquired ones like speech and honesty, are functions of the surroundings as truly as of a person. They are things done by the environment by means of organic structures or acquired dispositions. The same air that under certain conditions ruffles the pool or wrecks buildings, under other conditions purifies the blood and conveys thought. The outcome depends upon what air acts upon.
Continuing, he suggests in this connection:
There are specific good reasons for the usual attribution of acts to the persons from whom they immediately proceed. But to convert the special reference into a belief of exclusive ownership is as misleading as to suppose that breathing and digesting are complete within the human body. To get a rational basis for moral discussion [Dewey directs his discussion to this problem constantly in this work by specific reference to the particular problem of moral conduct with which it chiefly deals] we must begin with recognizing that functions and habits are ways of using and incorporating the environment in which the latter has its say as surely as the former.
We may borrow words from a context less technical than that of biology, and convey the same idea by saying that habits are arts. They involve skill of sensory and motor organs, cunning or craft, and objective materials. They assimilate objective energies, and eventuate in command of environment. They require order, discipline, and manifest technique. They have a beginning, middle and end. Each stage marks progress in dealing with materials and tools, an advance in converting material to active use.
The implications of this conception of habit for social psychology are far-reaching. We should laugh, observes Dewey, "at anyone who said that he was master of stone working, but that the art was cooped up within himself and in no wise dependent upon support from objects and assistance from tools." Yet in the field of morals we are "quite accus-
( 336) -tomed to such fatuity." Moral dispositions are, according to him. thought of as belonging exclusively to a self and the self is at the same time isolated from its natural and social surroundings.
A whole school of morals flourishes upon capital drawn from restricting morals to character and then separating character from conduct, motives from actual deeds. Recognition of the analogy of moral action with functions and arts uproots the causes which have made morals subjective and "individualistic." It brings morals to earth, and if they still aspire to heaven it is to the heavens of the earth, and not to another world. Honesty, chastity, malice, peevishness. courage, triviality, industry, irresponsibility are not private possessions of a person. They are working adaptations of personal capacities with environing forces. All virtues and vices are habits which incorporate objective forces. They are interactions of elements contributed by the make-up of an individual with elements supplied by the out-door world. They can be studied as objectively as physiological functions, and they can be modified by change of either personal or social elements.
It is precisely this dual aspect of habit which makes it peculiarly significant for social psychology from Dewey's point of view. And since this significance has been traditionally obscured by the tendency of psychological individualism to treat habit as though it were a possession of the individual formed in a social vacuum, it becomes his task to emphasize particularly the social element involved in it.
Since habits imply, he argues, "the support of environing conditions, a society or some specific group of fellow-men, is always accessory before and after the fact." He explains:
Some activity proceeds from a man; then it sets up reactions in the surroundings. Others approve, disapprove, protest, encourage, share and resist. Even letting a man alone is a definite response. Envy, admiration and imitation are complicities. Neutrality is non-existent. Conduct is always shared; this is the difference between it and the physiological process. It is not an ethical "ought" that conduct should be social. It is social, whether bad or good.
In practical life, according to Dewey, there are many recognitions of the part played by social factors in generating personal traits. One of them, he suggests, is our habit of making social classifications. "We attribute," he says, "distinctive characteristics to rich and poor, slum-dweller and captain of industry, rustic and suburbanite, officials, politicians, professors, to members of races, sets and parties." And while these judgments are, according to him, usually too coarse to be of much use, they show our practical awareness that personal traits are functions of social situations. The significance of this point is suggested by him as follows:
When we generalize this perception and act upon it intelligently, we are committed by it to recognize that we change character from worse to better only by changing conditions—among which, once more, are our own ways of dealing with the one we judge. We cannot change habit directly; that notion is magic. But we can change it indirectly by modifying conditions, by an intelligent selecting and weighting of the objects which engage attention and which influence the fulfilment of desires.
Refusal to recognize this is responsible, according to him, for a tremendous waste of human energy in the field of social reform. He observes:
We may desire abolition of war, industrial justice, greater equality of opportunity for all. But no amount of preaching good will or the golden rule or cultivation of sentiments of love and equity will accomplish the results. There must be change in objective arrangements and institutions. We must work on the environment, not merely on the hearts of men. To think otherwise is to suppose that flowers can be raised in a desert or motor cars run in a jungle. Both things can happen and without miracle. But only by first changing the jungle and desert.
It is a significant fact, Dewey further suggests in this connection, that in order to appreciate the peculiar place of habit in activity we have to betake ourselves to bad habits, idling, gambling, addiction to liquor and drugs.
When we think of such habits, the union of habit with desire and with propulsive power is forced upon us. When we think of habits in terms of walking, playing a musical instrument, typewriting, we are much given to thinking of habits as technical abilities existing apart from our likings and as lacking in urgent impulsion. We think of them as passive tools waiting to be called into action from without. A bad habit suggests an inherent tendency to action and also a hold, command over us. It makes us do things we are ashamed of, things which we tell ourselves we prefer not to do. It overrides our formal resolutions, our conscious decisions. When we are honest with ourselves we acknowledge that a habit has this power because it is so intimately a part of ourselves. It has a hold upon us because we are the habit.
These traits of a bad habit are precisely the things which are most instructive about all habits and about ourselves. They teach us that all habits are affections, that all have projectile power, and that a predisposition formed by a number of specific acts is an immensely more intimate and fundamental part of ourselves than are vague, general, conscious choices. All habits are demands for certain kinds of activity; and they constitute the self. In any intelligible sense of the word will, they are will. They form our effective desires and they furnish us with our working capacities. They rule our thoughts, determining which shall appear and be strong and which shall pass from light into obscurity.
"We may think of habits," says Dewey, "as means, waiting, like tools in a box, to be used by conscious resolve. But they are something more than that. They are active means, means that project themselves, energetic and dominating ways of acting." We need, according to him, to distinguish in this connection between materials, tools, and means proper. Nails and boards are not strictly speaking means of a box, he points out. They are only materials for making it. Even the saw and hammer are means only when they are employed in some actual making. Otherwise they are tools, or potential means. "They are actual means," he says, "only when brought in conjunction with eye, arm and hand in some specific operation. And eye, arm and hand are, correspondingly, means proper only when they are in active operation. And whenever they are in action they are cooperating with external materials and energies. Without support from beyond themselves the eye stares blankly and the hand moves fumblingly. They are means only when they enter into organization with things which independently accomplish definite results. These organizations are habits."
This conception of habit is, according to Dewey, double-edged in its social-psychological consequences. Except in a contingent sense neither external materials nor bodily and mental organs are in themselves means. They have to be employed "in coordinated conjunction with one another" to be actual means or habits. "This statement," he suggests, "may seem like the formulation in technical language of a commonplace." But belief in magic, he recalls, has played a large part in human history, and it did not wholly cease with the passing of the coarser forms of superstitious practice. "And the essence of all hocus-pocus," according to him, "is the supposition that results can be accomplished without the joint adaptation to each other of human powers and physical conditions." Such expectations still prevail among us, he points out, in particular in the fields of morals and politics, and in so far, the most important phases of human action are still under the control of the magical attitude. He says further in this connection:
We think that by feeling strongly enough about something, by wishing hard. enough, we can get a desirable result, such as virtuous execution of a good resolve, or peace among nations, or good will in industry. We slur over the necessity of the cooperative action of objective conditions, and the fact that this cooperation is assured only by persistent and close study. Or, on the other hand, we fancy we can get these results by external machinery, by tools or potential means, without a corresponding functioning of human desires and capacities. Often times these two false and contradictory beliefs are combined in the same person. The man who feels that his virtues are his own personal accomplishments is likely to be also the one who thinks that by passing laws he can throw
( 339) the fear of God into others and make them virtuous by edict and prohibitory mandate.
An example of such superstition, he suggestively notes, is the notion current among even cultivated people that if the right end is pointed out, all that is required in order to bring about the right act is will on the part of the one who is to act. As a matter of fact, he maintains, the implication that habit is merely negative, a mere failure to do the right thing which can be made good by an order of the will, is nothing short of being absurd. By way of illustration he observes:
One might as well suppose that the man who is a slave of whiskey-drinking is merely one who fails to drink water. Conditions have been formed for producing a bad result, and the bad result will occur as long as those conditions exist. They can no more be dismissed by a direct effort of will than the conditions which create drought can be dispelled by whistling for wind. It is as reasonable to expect a fire to go out when it is ordered to stop burning as to suppose that a man can stand straight in consequence of a direct action of thought and desire. The fire can be put out only by changing objective conditions; it is the same with rectification of bad posture.
When we realize this, we are likely to suppose, suggests Dewey, that posture involves difficulties because control of the body is physical and hence external to mind and will. "Transfer the command inside character and mind, and it is fancied that an idea of an end and the desire to realize it will take immediate effect. After we get to the point of recognizing that habits must intervene between wish and execution in the case of bodily acts," he explains, "we still cherish the illusion that they can be dispensed with in the case of mental and moral acts." But in fact, from his point of view, formation of ideas as well as their execution depends on habit. "The act must come before the thought, and a habit before an ability to evoke the thought at will." Ordinary psychology, according to him, reverses the actual state of affairs.
It thus follows, as Dewey proceeds to point out, that meaning, purpose, reason, ideas, even sensations are all alike functions of experience and habit. "The medium of habit filters all the material that reaches our perception and thought," according to him. Distinct and independent sensory qualities, for instance, "far from being original elements, are the products of a highly skilled analysis which disposes of immense technical scientific resources." That it is not such a simple matter to have a clear-cut sensation as the older psychology assumed, a moderate amount of observation of a child, suggests Dewey, will suffice to reveal. Even such gross discriminations as black, white, red, green are the result, it will appear, of training, skill, and habit. The psychology of illusion
( 340) of perception and of intuitive judgment is full of telling illustrations of this point, according to him.
The term "habit,"Dewey recognized, may seem twisted somewhat from its customary use when employed in this way. But a word is needed to express, he explains, "that kind of human activity which is influenced by prior activity and in that sense acquired; which contains within itself a certain ordering or systematization of minor elements of action; which is projective, dynamic in quality, ready for overt manifestation; and which is operative in some subdued subordinate form even when not obviously dominating activity." And habit, he felt, comes nearer to denoting these qualities than any other word. Alternative terms would be "attitude" and "disposition," but these terms appeared to him to hold more misleading suggestions than habit, unless the facts are recognized in advance. The facts involved are, however, the only important consideration, and if these are perceived in their proper relation, the term employed to designate them is a matter of no very great importance, according to him. But in defense and clarification of his own preference for the term habit, he says in summary:
While it is admitted that the word habit has been used in a somewhat broader sense than is usual, we must protest against the tendency in psychological literature to limit its meaning to repetition. This usage is much less in accord with popular usage than is the wider way in which we have used the word. It assumes from the start the identity of habit with routine. Repetition is in no sense the essence of habit. Tendency to repeat acts is an incident of many habits but not of all. A man with the habit of giving way to anger may show his habit by a murderous attack upon some one who has offended. His act is none the less due to habit because it occurs only once in his life. The essence of habit is an acquired predisposition to ways or modes of response, not to particular acts except as, under special conditions, these express a way of behaving. Habit means special sensitiveness or accessibility to certain classes of stimuli, standing predilections and aversions, rather than bare recurrence of specific acts. It means will.
It is in this broad sense that habit is, according to Dewey, the basis of character and conduct, of motive and act, of will and deed, of custom ,and social organization—in short, "the key to social psychology." In terms of the traditional formula, man is, from his standpoint, "a creature of habit, not of reason nor yet of instinct." The latter, treated by
( 341) him respectively in terms of "the place of intelligence in conduct" and "the place of impulse in conduct," in correspondence with his treatment of "the place of habit in conduct," are important, to be sure, but they are, according to him, "secondary" to habit in the understanding of human behavior, since they are, from his point of view, in a real sense functions of habit. This position, Dewey recognized, requires explanation in view of the traditional trend of psychological thought and especially in view of instinct psychology and psychoanalytic theory, and he attempted to meet this requirement, somewhat after the manner of Baldwin and Cooley, through a rehearsal of some of the significant considerations relating to the conditions of infant life and human development.
When the human individual comes into the world, helpless and dependent, Dewey recalls in this connection, the activities of the group are already there, and some assimilation of his own acts to their pattern is a prerequisite for his life and well-being. He says:
Each person is born an infant, and every infant is subject from the first breath he draws and the first cry he utters to the attentions and demands of others. These others are not just persons in general with minds in general. They are beings with habits ... [and the] nature of habit is to be assertive, insistent, self-perpetuating.
There is thus no miracle in the fact, according to him, that a child learns the language of those about him or that it takes over their morality and group customs. This is, from his point of view, the inevitable result of the facts of infancy, and sex, and the elementary conditions of human life. The child "inherits" these things from the social life of which it must be a part to live and attain mental development in the normal course of events. Furthermore, "few persons," Dewey observes, "have either the energy or the wealth to build private roads to travel upon. They find it convenient, `natural,' to use the roads that are already there; while unless their private roads connect at some point with the high-way they cannot build them even if they would."
But in any event, it is from the social-psychological standpoint, he recalls, an all-important fact that all children are born into a family, and that the family into which one is born is, as he suggests, "a family in a village or city which interacts with other more or less integrated systems of activity, and which includes a diversity of groupings within itself, say, churches, political parties, clubs, cliques, partnerships, trade-unions, corporations, etc. " For it is clear from a consideration of these
( 342) elementary facts that the human individual is plunged into the social life about him perforce and from the very first. The net result of these inescapable conditions of life "is that what can be called distinctively individual in behavior and mind is not, contrary to traditional theory, an original datum" but a quality of habit involving adjustments to social environment in time and place. "In short," he says, "the primary facts of social psychology center about collective habit, custom." Other-wise stated, the psychology of habit is in the first place, as Dewey maintains, "an objective and social psychology. "
And yet, "habits as organized activities are secondary and acquired," he calls to mind. "They are outgrowths of unlearned activities which are part of man's endowment at birth." Why, then, he asks, "did we not set out with an examination of those instinctive activities upon which the acquisition of habits is conditioned?" This query, he admits, is a natural one, but it tempts to flinging forth a paradox. Thus he says:
In conduct the acquired is the primitive. Impulses although first in time are never primary in fact; they are secondary and dependent . . . In the life of the individual, instinctive activity comes first. But an individual begins life as a baby, and babies are dependent beings. Their activities could continue at most for only a few hours were it not for the presence and aid of adults with their formed habits. And babies owe to adults more than procreation, more than the continued food and protection which preserve life. They owe to adults the opportunity to express their native activities in ways which have meaning. Even if by some miracle original activity could continue without assistance from the organized skill and art of adults, it would not amount to anything. It would be mere sound and fury.
In short, the meaning of native activities is not native; it is acquired. It depends upon interaction with a matured social medium. In the case of a tiger or eagle, anger may be identified with a serviceable life-activity, with attack and defense. With a human being it is as meaningless as a gust of wind on a mud-puddle apart from a direction given it by the presence of other persons, apart from the responses they make to it. It is a physical spasm, a blind dispersive burst of wasteful energy. It gets quality, significance, when it becomes a smouldering sullenness, an annoying interruption, a peevish irritation, a murderous revenge, a blazing indignation. And although these phenomena which have a meaning spring from original native reactions to stimuli, yet they depend also upon the responsive behavior of others. They and all similar human displays of anger are not pure impulses; they are habits formed under the influence of association with others who have habits already and who show their habits in the treatment which converts a blind physical discharge into a significant anger.
As regards the important role which has been assigned to instinct in recent social-psychological theory, Dewey accordingly says:
After ignoring impulses for a long time in behalf of sensations, modern psychology now tends to start out with an inventory and description of instinctive activities. This is an undoubted. improvement. But when it tries to explain complicated events in personal and social life by direct reference to these native powers, the explanation becomes hazy and forced. It is like saying the flea and the elephant, the lichen and the redwood, the timid hare and the ravening wolf, the plant with the most inconspicuous blossom and the plant with the most glaring color are alike products of natural selection. There may be a sense in which the statement is true; but till we know the specific environing conditions under which selection took place we really know nothing. And so we need to know about the social conditions which have educated original activities into definite and significant dispositions before we can discuss the psychological element in society. This is the true meaning of social psychology.
At some place on the globe, at some time, Dewey calls to mind in defending this position, every kind of practice seems to have been tolerated or even praised. How, he asks, is this diversity of behavior to be accounted for in terms of native equipment, in view of the evidence to the effect that the native stock of instincts is practically the same everywhere?
The wholesale human sacrifices of Peru and the tenderness of St. Francis, the cruelties of pirates and the philanthropies of Howard, the practice of Suttee and the cult of the Virgin, the war and peace dances of the Comanches and the parliamentary institutions of the British, the communism of the south-sea islander and the proprietary thrift of the Yankee, the magic of the medicine man and the experiments of the chemist in his laboratory, the non-resistance of Chinese and the aggressive militarism of an imperial Prussia, monarchy by divine right and government by the people; the countless diversity of habits suggested by such a random list springs from practically the same capital-stock of native instincts.
The same original fears, angers, loves, and hates are hopelessly entangled in the most opposite practices and institutions. What avails it, then, to speak of "instinct"? "Exaggerate," says he, "as much as we like the native differences of Patagonians and Greeks, Sioux Indians and Hindoos, Bushmen and Chinese, their original differences will bear no comparison to the amount of difference found in custom and culture." In the course of the further consideration of such facts, Dewey finally leads to the conclusion that "the development of native impulse must be stated in terms of acquired habits, not the growth of customs in terms of instincts." "The thing we need to know," he says, "is how a native stock has been modified by interaction with different environments"; "how different customs, established interacting arrangements, form and
( 344) nurture different minds"; how social conditions educate "original activities into definite and significant dispositions."
A combination of traditional individualism with the recent interest in progress explains, in Dewey's opinion, "why the discovery of the scope and force of instincts has led many psychologists to think of them as the fountainhead of all conduct, as occupying a place before instead of after that of habits." The orthodox tradition in psychology, he points out, was built upon isolation of individuals from their surroundings. The soul or mind or consciousness was thought of as self-contained and self-enclosed. "Now in the career of an individual if it is regarded as complete in itself instincts clearly come before habits," he observes. "Generalize this individualistic view, and we have an assumption that all customs, all significant episodes in the life of individuals can be carried directly back to the operation of instincts."
But the artificiality of this point of view appears immediately, he suggests, when we recognize that "if an individual be isolated in this fashion, along with the fact of primacy of instinct we find also the fact of death." And if we abandon such "an impossible individualistic psychology," instinct in any concrete and intelligible sense must be regarded as a function of habit, as a product and not a datum, as "filtered" by the social environment. As "instincts" merely, they simply do not exist in human conduct.
Such attempts as have been made, therefore, to define separate instincts and to classify them in sharply demarcated groupings must thus be frankly looked upon, according to Dewey, as attempts to deal with abstracted elements of conduct, and as such they should be judged in terms of the "purpose" which they are intended to accomplish; that is, generally speaking, "to facilitate our dealing with unique individuals and changing events." And, most important of all, one must be careful not to confuse the results of such abstraction with the reality of human conduct itself. "When we assume that our clefts and bunches represent fixed separations and collections in rerum natura," he says in this connection, "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." And because this type of assumption was becoming some-thing of a real obstruction in current psychological thought, Dewey
( 345) throws out the challenge of "no separate instincts" in his discussion of the subject. He says:
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 specialism. It is one of the conspicuous traits of high-browism, 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. Theories 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 in psychology, he points out, 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." Fear, the so-called self-seeking impulse, imitation, invention, cooperation, conflict, sympathy, benevolence, the economic interest, have each in turn held this sort of despotic sway, according to him. "It is surprising," he states, "that men can engage in these enterprises without being reminded of their exact similarity to natural science before scientific method was discovered in the seventeenth century. " Just now another of these oversimplifications has become current, he recalls. "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."
In their practical effect, too, these theories have been injurious, according to Dewey, for they have seemed to lend scientific support to the notion of the "practical unalterability of human nature," the age-old refuge of the opponent to progressive social change. In point of fact, as it seemed to him, native impulse, besides being the raw material of habit, is also the motive-force of progressive adjustment and control, of reorganization and readjustment. "The hen precedes the egg," he says. "But nevertheless this particular egg may be so treated as to modify the future type of hen." It is no accident, therefore, according to him, "that men became interested in the psychology of savages and babies when they became interested in doing away with old institutions. "
"The direction of native activity depends upon acquired habits, and yet acquired habits can be modified only by redirection of impulses" is the way Dewey states the issue involved in the above statement. Here, then, is the field of function of intelligence in his scheme. The position of impulse in the habit-impulse-intelligence complex is intermediary. Habit implies, according to him, a balance of organism and environment so that stimulus and response can be mechanically linked together in an unbroken chain. A complete balance, however, never exists, for life flows on beyond established adjustments. In consequence, though habit control the greater part of behavior, life is still a series of interruptions and recoveries. Success in achieving a ruthless and dull life of habit is constantly thwarted by untoward circumstances. "The most skillful aptitude," says Dewey, "bumps at times into the unexpected," from which only the renewing function of impulse and the reconstructing activity of thought can extricate it.
Normally, according to him, the environment remains sufficiently in harmony with the body of organized activities to sustain most of them in active function. But novel situations arise which release conflicting impulses and throw the organism for the time being into a state of con-fusion and inhibition. The disturbed flow of established habit provokes conscious feeling and thought, the function of which it is to bring to terms the stock of old habits and the newly released impulses, in such a way as to reconstruct the balance of action and adjustment between organism and environment. The manner in which habit, impulse, and intelligence interact in this process of readjustment is suggestively described by Dewey in the following passage:
In this period of redistribution impulse determines the direction of movement. It furnishes the focus about which reorganization swirls. Our attention in short is always directed forward to bring to notice something which is imminent but which as yet escapes us. Impulse defines the peering, the search, the inquiry. It is, in logical language, the movement into the unknown, not into the immense inane of the unknown at large, but into that special unknown which when it is hit upon restores an ordered, unified action. During this search, old habit applies content, filling, definite, recognizable, subject-matter. It begins as vague presentiment of what we are going towards. As organized habits are definitely deployed and focused, the confused situation takes on form, it is "cleared 'up"—the essential function of intelligence. Processes become objects. Without habit there is only irritation and confused hesitation. With habit alone there is a machine-like repetition, a duplicating recur-
(347) -rence of old acts. With conflict of habits and release of impulse there is conscious search.
We may compare life to a traveler faring forth, suggests Dewey, in order to bring out more clearly the functional interrelation between these three basic aspects of mental life. He says:
We may consider him [the traveler] first at a moment where his activity is confident, straightforward, organized. He marches on, giving no direct attention to his path, nor thinking of his destination. Abruptly he is pulled up, arrested. Something is going wrong in his activity. From the standpoint of an onlooker, he has met an obstacle which must be overcome before his behavior can be unified into a successful ongoing. From his own standpoint, there is shock, confusion, perturbation, uncertainty. For the moment he doesn't know what hit him, as we say, nor where he is going. But a new impulse is stirred which becomes the starting point of an investigation, a looking into things, a trying to see them, to find out what is going on. Habits which were interfered with begin to get a new direction as they cluster about the impulse to look and see. The blocked habits of locomotion give him a sense of where he was going, of what he had set out to do, and of the ground already traversed. As he looks, he sees definite things which are not just things at large but which are related to his course of action. The momentum of the activity entered upon persists as a sense of direction, of aim; it is an anticipatory project. In short, he recollects, observes and plans.
The trinity of these forecasts, perceptions and remembrances form a subject-matter of discriminated and identified objects. These objects represent habits turned inside out. They exhibit both the onward tendency of habit and the objective conditions which have been incorporated within it. Sensations in immediate consciousness are elements of action dislocated through the shock of interruption. They never, however, completely monopolize the scene; for there is a body of residual and undisturbed habits which is reflected in remembered and perceived objects having a meaning. Thus out of shock and puzzlement there gradually emerges a figured framework of objects, past, present, future. These shade off variously into a vast penumbra of vague, unfigured things, a setting which is taken for granted and not at all explicitly presented. The complexity of the figured scene in its scope and refinement of contents depends wholly upon prior habits and their organization.
In this picture, thought is "eventual, not a source," as was so long supposed. Dewey explains:
Its occurrence marks a peculiarly delicate connection between highly organized habits and unorganized impulses. Its contents or objects, observed, recollected, projected and generalized into principles, represent the incorporated material of habits coming to the surface, because habits are disintegrating at
(348) the touch of conflicting impulses. But they also gather themselves together to comprehend impulse and make it effective.
This psychology "of the dependence of mind upon habit and of habit upon social conditions" is central in Dewey's more recent formulation of his thought on the subject of social psychology. His position as thus outlined, as McDougall, for instance, has taken occasion to point out, is neither altogether consistently carried out nor entirely in line with his previous pronouncements on the subject. It may to some extent even appear to be a reversal from his previously expressed convictions. In a deeper sense, however, it is to be viewed as a growth, corresponding to the development of social-psychological thought generally in this country. For in its essential implications, his social-psychological position as outlined follows more or less directly even from his early thought, so that what appears at first to be a reversal of position is really rather a clarification of point of view on the basis of new and accumulating evidence. At any rate, the main import of Dewey's thought for social psychology is clear enough, and its practical bearing, as an expression of the pragmatic spirit and interest which are characteristic of Dewey's position in every field of thought, is of the deepest significance. This the author has himself taken pains to point out at various times and in various connections.
On the face of it, he says in his article on "The Need for Social Psychology," in contrasting his point of view with other social-psychological positions, the point of view described has implications only for the theory of psychology. Slight scrutiny, however, makes obvious its practical consequences, "for the struggle to gain control of the forces forming society." In an important and very influential passage, Dewey thus explains the import of this statement:
The ultimate refuge of the standpatter in every field, education, religion, politics, industrial and domestic life, has been the notion of an alleged fixed structure of mind. As long as mind is conceived as an antecedent and ready-made thing, institutions and customs may be regarded as its offspring. By its own nature the ready-made mind works to produce them as they have existed and now exist. There is no use in kicking against necessity. The most powerful apologetics for any arrangement or institution is the conception that it is an inevitable result of fixed conditions of human nature. Consequently, in one disguise or another, directly or by extreme and elaborate indirection, we find the assumed constitution of an antecedently given mind appealed to in justification of the established order as to the family, the school, the government, Indus-
(349) try, commerce and every other institution. Our increased knowledge of the past of man has, indeed, given this complacent assumption a certain shock, but it has not as yet seriously modified it. Evolution in the sense of a progressive unfolding of original potencies latent in a ready-made mind has been used to reconcile the conception of mind as an original datum with the historic facts of social change which can no longer be ignored. The effect on the effort at deliberate social control and construction remained the same. All man could do was to wait and watch the panorama of a ready-formed mind unroll. The French school of imitation, and its present successor, the Durkheim school of collective mind, has practically the same outcome as the German school of Volkgeist in this respect. All are engaged in explaining the past and present, and (if they predict at all) in predicting the future on the basis of the past. The new point of view treats social facts as the material of an experimental science, where the problem is that of modifying belief and desire—that is to say mind—by enacting specific changes in the social environment. Until this experimental attitude is established, the historical method, in spite of all the proof of past change which it adduces, will remain in effect a bulwark of conservatism. For, I repeat, it reduces the role of mind to that of beholding and recording the operations of man after they have happened. The historic method may give emotional inspiration or consolation in arousing the belief that a lot more changes are still to happen, but it does not show man how his mind is to take part in giving these changes one direction rather than another.
The new point of view, in bringing with itself the experimental attitude, tends definitely to substitute for the first time, according to Dewey, "the interest in control for the interest in merely recording and what is called `explaining.' If mind," he says, "in any definitely concrete sense of that word, is an offspring of the life of association, intercourse, transmission, and accumulation rather than a ready-made antecedent cause of these things, then the attitude of polite aloofness or condescending justification as to social institutions has its nerve cut, and with this the intellectual resources of sanctified conservatism disappear." Mind becomes a function of the "shared life of the place and time," and the kind of mind that develops "depends upon the kind of objects of attention and affection which the specific social conditions supply." These conditions being controllable and modifiable, the point of view described becomes at once an incentive to and a challenge for the development of a technique of positive social control.
Here, then, is where Dewey's social psychology passes into his theory of education as the aspect of social control in which Dewey is especially interested, and where it links up intimately with his notable doctrine of social progress, which in its emphasis upon knowledge, education, the democratic ideal, and the positive control of human welfare is so strongly reminiscent of Ward (it is possible to draw some very interesting parallels
( 350) between these two otherwise very different writers) that it fairly seems to bring Ward's pioneer social doctrines to a natural and eloquent climax. In respect to these aspects of his thought, Dewey has been so important an influence in this country that they might be said to deserve extended treatment in their bearing on the social-psychological situation here. But for our purposes at this point, it will be sufficient to quote, in closing, the following very brief passages in illustration of this larger setting of his social-psychological theory from his article on "The Need for Social Psychology:"
There is a genuine modesty, and there is a stupid simulation of modesty which is only a mask for lazy complacency. No science has so much cause to be humble about its actual achievements as has social science, including social psychology. But in prospect, in possibility, social science seems to me to stand about where physical science stood three centuries ago in the early years of the seventeenth century . . . The experimental method in physical matters brought with it a technique of control—a technique of invention and construction. Specific desired ends can be formulated in specifically analyzed terms; the conditions of their attainment stated; these conditions subdivided into known and unknown factors, and some definite estimate made as to the practicability, at the given time, of attacking the problem. That we are without any such technique in social matters is self-evident. That the attainment within reasonable time of a similar technique stands and falls with the possibility of developing a human psychology which shall be experimentally applicable to the understanding of social affairs is not, however, self-evident, and is my excuse for reiteration.
Physical science has got to the point of bringing even the ends of the earth into physical, forceful relations with one another, and to the point of mobilizing all its resources for a contest in aggression and endurance. We are overwhelmed by the consequences of the very sciences into which have gone our best thought and energy for these last few hundred years. We apparently do not control them; they control us and wreak their vengeance upon us. Yet how infantile and pusillanimous are those who talk about the bankruptcy of science and who blame the increase of knowledge for our situation. Physical knowledge, and the consequent technique of control of physical forces, has far out-run social knowledge and its technique. The recourse of a courageous humanity is to press forward in the latter until we have a control of human nature comparable to our control of physical nature.
"We are not called upon [says he in conclusion, quoting a previous statement of his] to be either boasters or sentimentalists regarding the possibilities of our science ... But we are entitled in our daily work to be sustained by the conviction that we are not working in indifference to or at cross purposes with the practical strivings of a common humanity. The psychologist in his most remote and technical occupation with mechanism may be contributing his bit to that ordered knowledge which alone enables mankind to secure a larger and to direct a more equal flow of the values of life."