An Introduction to Social Psychology

Chapter 7: The Growth of Self-Consciousness and of the Self-Regarding Sentiment

William McDougall

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IF we would understand the life of societies, we must first learn to understand the way in which individuals become moulded by the society into which they are born and in which they grow up, how by this moulding they become fitted to play their part in it as social beings—how, in short, they become capable of moral conduct. Moral conduct is essentially social conduct, and there could be no serious objection to the use of the two expressions as synonymous; but it is more in conformity with common usage to restrict the term "moral" to the higher forms of social conduct of which man alone is capable.

While the lower forms of social conduct are the direct issue of the prompting of instinct—as when the animal-mother suffers privation, wounds, or death in the defence of her young under the impulse of the maternal instinct —the higher forms of social conduct, which alone are usually regarded as moral, involve the voluntary control and regulation of the instinctive impulses. Now, volition or voluntary control proceeds from the idea of the self and from the sentiment, or organised system of emotions and impulses, centred about that idea. Hence the study of the development of self-consciousness and of the self-regarding sentiment is an important part of the preparation for the understanding of social phenomena. And

( 180) these two things, the idea of the self and the self-regarding sentiment, develop in such intimate relations with each other that they must be studied together. This development is, as we shall see, essentially a social process, one which is dependent throughout upon the complex interactions between the individual and the organised society to which he belongs.

Almost all animals are capable in some degree of learning to modify their instinctive behaviour in the light of experience, under the guidance of pleasure and pain; and in the young child also this kind of learning leads to the first steps beyond purely instinctive behaviour. At first, all efforts and movements of the young infant or young animal, in so far as they are not mere reflexes, are directly and wholly due to the instinctive impulses. When any such movement directly attains its end, the pleasure of satisfaction confirms the tendency to that particular kind of action in relation to that kind of object or situation. If, on the other hand, movements of the kind first made are not successful, the pain of failure brings them to an end; but the impulse persists and some variation of the movements is made, again and again, until success is achieved; then the pleasure of satisfaction confirms this last and successful kind of movement, so that, whenever the same impulse is again excited, it will work towards its end by means of this kind of action rather than by means of any other. Few of the animals rise to higher modes of learning or acquisition. But in the infant, as his powers of representation develop, as he becomes capable of free ideas, the end towards which any instinct impels him becomes more or less clearly represented in his mind as an object of desire. The first result of this transformation of blind appetite or impulse into desire is greater continuity of ef-

(181) -fort; for, when the power of representation of the object has been attained, the attention is not so readily drawn off from it by irrelevant sensory impressions of all sorts.

Then, as the child's intellectual powers develop further, the train of activity through which the end of any impulse is attained becomes longer ; a succession of actions is performed, each of which is only a means to the end prescribed by the instinctive impulse; objects that are in themselves uninteresting are made use of as means to the end. In all such mediate activities the original impulse persists as the motive power of the whole sequence. In so far as the actions and objects made use of do not bring him nearer to his end, they are discarded; he turns to others, until he finds those by means of which success is attainable. When, thereafter, a similar situation recurs, this last sequence of actions and objects is the one brought into play.

The principle that the original impulse or conation sup-plies the motive power to all the activities that are but means to the attainment of the desired end—this principle is of supreme importance for the understanding of the mental life and conduct of men. The train of activity, supported by any one of the instinctive impulses, may become in this way indefinitely prolonged and incessantly renewed ; it may take the predominantly intellectual form of thinking out means for the attainment of the end.

This complication of purely instinctive behaviour in the developing child may be illustrated by a concrete example. Suppose that a hungry young child has by chance found something good to eat in a certain cup-board that has been left open. On the next occasion that he comes hungry within sight of the cupboard, he

( 182) may at once turn to and help himself to food. So much profiting by experience any of the higher animals may display. Next suppose that the child finds himself hungry while in another part of the house. The idea of the cupboard and of the food in it rises to consciousness, and he goes off to find it and to repeat his successful raid. Again, suppose that on another similar occasion he finds on reaching the cupboard that it is latched and that the latch is out of his reach. He goes and fetches a foot-stool, but still he cannot reach the latch. Perhaps then the obstruction to his conation excites his anger and leads to a violent assault upon the door; the assault may be maintained until his baffled anger gives way to despair, his efforts relax, and he weeps. But, if he is an intelligent child, he may turn away from the footstool and drag up a chair and then, reaching the latch, secure the desired food. All this train of varied activity is maintained by the one original hunger-impulse; the means necessary for the attainment of the end are sought as eagerly as the food, the object capable of directly satisfying the impulse ; the energy of the original hunger-impulse imparts itself to all the mediating actions found necessary for its satisfaction. And, on the recurrence of a similar situation, the child will go at once to seek the necessary chair, neglecting the footstool; for the pleasure of success has confirmed this tendency, and the pain of failure has destroyed the tendency to seek the in-effectual footstool.

Now imagine a further complication. Suppose that, just as the child is about to seize the food he desires, some harsh elder discovers him and severely punishes him by shutting him up in a dark room where he suffers an agony of fear. On the next recurrence of the situation, the hunger-impulse drives him on as before until, per-

(183) -haps, he hears in the distance the voice of the person who punished him. This brings to his mind the idea of that person and this idea re-excites the fear induced by the punishment; or, more probably, the sound of the voice directly excites the fear-impulse in the way we considered in Chapter II. There then takes place a conflict between the impulse to withdraw and the hunger-impulse; the former proving stronger and overcoming the latter, he runs away and conceals himself; presently the fear dies away, the idea of the desired object recurs and restores the original impulse, which then attains its end.

Such a brute conflict of impulses is characteristic of conation on the purely perceptual level of mental life. A rather higher stage is reached when the two impulses persist side by side, and in spite of fear, which keeps him ready to flee at the least noise, the boy steals towards his object, taking every precaution against being seen or heard. In this case the two impulses co-operate in determining each step in the sequence of actions, the one, the desire for food, predominating, the other merely modifying the way in which its end is attained. The state of affective consciousness accompanying the actions that proceed from the co-operation of the two impulses is complex; it is not simply desire of food, and it is not simply fear, nor is it merely a rapid alternation of these two states, but rather an imperfect fusion of the two for which we have no name.

behaviour of this kind may imply but a minimum of self-consciousness. It does not necessarily imply that the child has any idea or representation of himself suffering punishment or of the punishment itself. There are, no doubt, even in civilised communities, individuals of low type, brought up under unfavourable circum-

( 184) -stances, whose behaviour hardly rises above this level. Whatever power of conceptual thought such a being attains is exercised merely in the immediate service of desire springing directly from some one or other of the primary instinctive impulses ; he may display a certain cunning in the pursuit of his ends and may form certain habits in the service of these impulses, perhaps an habitual caution in the presence of strangers, an habitual brutality towards those of whom he has no fear. He has no sense of responsibility or duty or obligation, no ideal of self ; he has but rudimentary sentiments in regard to himself or others, has no character, whether good or bad, in the proper sense of the word, and, therefore, is incapable of true volition. In the case of behaviour on this comparatively low level, it is easy to understand that the instinctive impulses are the primary springs of all activities, and that the pains and pleasures experienced in the course of these activities merely serve to modify the actions motived by these impulses and thereby to shape the habits acquired in the service of them. Such behaviour may be called non-moral ; it can no more be made the subject of moral judgments than the behaviour of animals.

At the other end of the scale of conduct is the man all of whose actions are either the direct issue of volitions or the outcome of habits that are the secondary results of volitions or at least have been deliberately shaped, restrained here, encouraged there, by volitional control. Instead of acting at once upon each impulse, instead of striving to realise each desired end, such a man often resists, if he cannot altogether suppress, his strongest de-sires, and acts in direct opposition to them ; his conduct does not seem to be the issue of a mere conflict of de-sires, the stronger one prevailing; he often seems to act,

( 185) not in the line of least resistance; but in the line of greatest resistance; the motives from which he acts may be, as facts of immediate experience, as feelings, emotions, conations, much less intense than the strong feelings, emotions, and desires whose promptings he resists.

How does it become possible for a man thus to act in the line of greatest resistance, to make the feebler prevail over the stronger desire? It is the capacity for this kind of action that gives the highest moral conduct the appearance of being uncaused, the outcome of a free will, in the sense of a will not proceeding from antecedent conditions in the constitution of the individual. Such con-duct raises the problem of the will in its most difficult form.

The child has to pass gradually in the course of its development from the lowest stage of behaviour to this highest stage ; and we must gain some understanding of this genesis of the higher conduct out of the lower, be-fore we can hope to understand the nature of volition and its conditions and effects in the life of societies. The passage is effected by the development of self-consciousness, of the sentiments, and of character. And it is only when we trace the growth of self-consciousness that we can understand how it comes to play its part in determining conduct of the kind that alone renders possible the complex life of highly organised societies. For we find that the idea of the self and the self-regarding sentiment are essentially social products; that their development is effected by constant interplay between personalities, between the self and society ; that, for this reason, the complex conception of self thus attained implies constant reference to others and to society in general, and is, in fact, not merely a conception of self, but always of one's self in relation to other selves. This social genesis of the

( 186) idea of self lies at the root of morality, and it was largely because this social origin and character of the idea of self was ignored by so many of the older moralists that they were driven to postulate a special moral faculty, the conscience or moral instinct.

We may roughly distinguish four levels of conduct, successive stages, each of which must be traversed by every individual before he can attain the next higher stage. These are (I) the stage of instinctive behaviour modified only by the influence of the pains and pleasures that are incidentally experienced in the course of instinctive activities; (2) the stage in which the operation of the instinctive impulses is modified by the influence of rewards and punishments administered more or less systematically by the social environment ; (3) the stage in which conduct is controlled in the main by the anticipation of social praise and blame; (4) the -highest stage, in which conduct is regulated by an ideal of con-duct that enables a man to act in the way that seems to him right regardless of the praise or blame of his immediate social environment.

The word "self" or "ego" is used in several different senses in philosophical discourse, the clearest and most important of these being the self as logical subject and the empirical self. In considering the genesis of moral conduct and character, we need concern ourselves with the empirical self only. We may have a conception of the self as a substantial or enduring psychical entity or soul whose states are our states of consciousness. Or we may hold that, by the very nature of our thought and language, we are logically compelled to conceive, and to speak of, the self as one pole of the subject-object relation in terms of which alone we are able to describe' our cognitive experience, the knowing or being aware of

(187) anything. But such conceptions are products of re-flexion arrived at comparatively late, if at all, in the process of individual mental development, long after the complex conception of the empirical self has been formed through a multitude of experiences of a less reflective character. Those other conceptions of the self are of importance from our present point of view only in so far as they are taken up into, and become part of, the empirical conception of the self. Thus if a man believes that he has, or is, a substantial soul that can continue to enjoy consciousness after the death of the body, that belief is a feature of his total conception of his self which may, and of course often does, profoundly influence his conduct. But it is a feature of the empirical self of a certain number of persons only, and is not a part of the empirical self of others; nor is it a part essential to moral conduct of the highest order, as we know from many in-stances. We have briefly to trace the genesis of the idea of the empirical self in so far as it is common to all normally constituted men; and in doing so we shall follow in the main the description of the process recently worked out by several writers, notably by Professors Baldwin and Royce.

The child's first step in this direction is to learn to distinguish the objects of the external world as things existing independently of himself. How this step is achieved we need not stop to inquire. But we must note that all those features of the child's experience that are not thus extruded or referred to a world of external reality remain to constitute the nucleus of his idea of himself. The parts of his body, especially his limbs, play a very peculiar and important part in this process, be-cause they are presented in consciousness sometimes as things of the outer world, as parts of the not-self, some-

( 188) times—when they are the seats of pain, discomfort, heat or cold, or muscular sensations—as parts of the self. Thus the conception of the bodily self is in large part dependent on the development of the conception of things as persistent realities of the external world; and the conception of those things is in turn completed by the projection into it of the idea of the self as a centre of effort, a cause of movement and of resistance to pressure. It is helpful to try to imagine how far the idea of the self could develop in a human being of normal native endowment, if it were possible for him to grow up from birth onward in a purely physical environment, deprived, that is to say, of both human and animal companionship. It would seem that under these conditions he could achieve at best but a very rudimentary and crude idea of the self. It would be little more than a bodily self, which would be distinguished from other physical objects chiefly by its constant presence and by reason of the special interest that would attach to it as the seat of various pains. There would be a thread of continuity or sameness supplied by the mass of organic sensations arising from the internal organs and constituting what is called the coenęsthesia; and still more intimate and fundamental constituents of the empirical self would be the primary emotions, the conations, pleasures, and pains. The solitary individual's idea of self could hardly surpass this degree of complexity; for the further development of self-consciousness is wholly a social process.

At first the child fails to make a distinction between the two classes of objects that make up his external world, his not-self, namely, persons and inanimate objects. In the first months of life his attention is pre-dominantly drawn to persons, at first merely because they are the objects that most frequently move and emit

( 189) sounds, later because they bring him relief from hunger and other discomforts. He therefore learns to take interest in these moving objects, he watches them, he is soothed by their presence and distressed by their absence; and very early the mere sound of the mother's voice may still his crying, bringing anticipatory satisfaction of his needs. Very early also the expressions, especially the smile, on the faces of other persons and the cries of other children excite in him as purely instinctive reactions similar expressions, which are doubtless accompanied in some degree by the appropriate feelings and emotions ; in this way he learns to understand in terms of his own experience the expressions of others, learns to attribute to them the feelings and emotions he himself experiences. He finds also that things resist his efforts at movement in very various degrees and that they forcibly impress movements on his limbs. So he comes to assume implicitly in his behaviour towards things of the external world the capacities of feeling and effort, of emotion and sympathetic response, that he himself repeatedly experiences. Inanimate objects are at first conceived after the same pattern as persons, and only in the course of some years does he gradually learn to distinguish clearly between persons and things, divesting his idea of inanimate things little by little, but never, perhaps, completely, of the personal attributes, the capacities for feeling and effort, which he recognises in himself. His treatment of inert things as beings possessed of personal attributes shows clearly that his ideas of things in general are bound up with, and coloured by, his rudimentary idea of his self as a being capable of feeling and effort, and that his idea of his self is not at first the idea of a merely bodily self fashioned after ideas of inert objects.


As the differentiation of persons and inert objects proceeds, persons continue to be the more interesting to the young child, for they continue to be the main sources of his pains and pleasures and satisfactions. His attention is constantly directed towards them, and he begins to imitate their behaviour. He finds that they do many things he cannot do, but would like to do; and often he tends to do as they do simply because their actions arrest his attention and so give direction to the outflow of his abundant motor energies. But much more important than the actions of the people about him are the feelings and emotions that prompt them. The child soon learns that he can play upon these to a certain extent and so acquires an interest in understanding the attitudes of others to-wards himself. He widens his experience and his understanding of the emotional attitudes and motives of others by copying them in his imitative play ; he puts himself into some personal relation he has observed, assumes the part of parent or teacher or elder sister, makes some smaller child, a dog, a cat, or a doll, stand for him-self, and acts out his part, so realising more fully the meaning of the behaviour of other persons. In this way the content of his idea of his self and of its capacities for action and feeling grows hand in hand with his ideas of other selves; features of other selves, whether capacities for bodily action or emotional expression, having first been observed without understanding of their inner significance, are translated into personal experience, which is then read back into the other selves, giving richer meaning to their actions and expressions.

And it is not only in play that this imitation of, and consequent fuller realisation of the meaning of, the behaviour of others goes on. It is carried out also in the serious relations of daily life, as when the little girl of

(191) five or six years talks to, plays with, comforts, or re-proves a younger child in almost exact imitation of her mother.

In this way the child's idea of his self early comes to be the idea, not merely of his body and of certain bodily and mental capacities, but also of a system of relations between his self and other selves. Now, the attitudes of other persons towards him are more or less freely ex-pressed by them in praise, reproof, gratitude, reproach, anger, pleasure or displeasure, and so forth. Hence, as he rapidly acquires insight into the meaning of these attitudes, he constantly sees himself in the reflected light of their ideas and feelings about him, a light that colours all his idea of his self and plays a great part in building up and shaping that idea; that is to say, he gets his idea of his self in large part by accepting the ideas of him-self that he finds expressed by those about him. The process is well illustrated by the case of the unfortunate child who is constantly scolded and told that he is a naughty boy.[1] Under these conditions the normal child very soon accepts these oft-repeated suggestions, learns to regard himself as a naughty boy, and plays the part thus assigned to him. Similarly, if he finds himself constantly regarded as clever, or irresistibly charming, or in any other light, he can hardly fail to regard himself in the same way, and the idea of his self moulded in this way by his social environment affects his conduct accordingly.

The child's self-consciousness is, then, nourished and moulded by the reflection of himself that he finds in the minds of his fellows. It is hardly necessary to point out that this is true, not only of the mental but also of the bodily self; each of us gets some idea, more or less ac-

( 192) -curate, of his bodily appearance to others, a process in which civilised folk are greatly aided by the use of the mirror. The vain person is one who is constantly pre-occupied with this idea of his bodily or total appearance in the eyes of others, and who never achieves so stable an estimate of himself, his powers, and appearance as to be indifferent to the regards of casual acquaintances.

We are now in a position to consider the transition from the second to the third stage of conduct, from that in which conduct is regulated chiefly by the expectation of rewards and punishments, and in which the subject's attitude in controlling any impulse is expressed by the phrase, I must or must not do this, to that in which the mere expectation of social praise or blame suffices to regulate conduct.

The oppositions and prohibitions that a child encounters in his social relations are not less important for the development of his personality than his sympathetic apprehension of the mental states of others. They serve especially to define and consolidate his ideas of his self and of other selves. When, for example, his desire to perform some particular action meets some personal op-position that his best efforts fail to break down, and especially if such insuperable opposition is consistently and unfailingly forthcoming, he gets both a more vivid idea of the personality of his opponent and a fuller sense of the social import of his own actions. And with his earliest experience of law, in the form of general prohibitions upheld by all members of his social environment, the child makes a further step in each of these directions. It is generally necessary that law shall be en-forced at first by physical strength, and that his regard for it shall be encouraged by physical punishment; for the first step towards moral conduct is the control of the

(193) immediate impulse, and fear of punishment can secure this control of the immediate impulse by a more remote motive at an earlier age than it can otherwise be effected, fear being the great inhibitor of action. Law takes at first the form of specific prohibition of some particular kind of action, and by punishment the child is taught to hold himself accountable for any action of that kind. By the extension of rules in number and generality his sense of accountability to others is ex-tended, and he is taught to conceive himself more and more clearly as an agent in fixed relations to other agents, as a member of a social system in which he has a defined position; and the habit of control, and of reflection before action, is thus initiated. In all this a child is in all probability recapitulating the history of social evolution, which, it would seem, must have begun by the enforcement by the community, or by the strongest member of it, of rules of conduct upon each member, rules which in primitive societies were probably prescribed by rigid customs of unknown origin rather than by the will or caprice of individuals.

But social conduct founded only upon the fear of punishment, on the sense of accountability, and on the habits formed under their influence, is the conduct of a slave. It can hardly be called moral, even if laws are never broken and all prohibitions and injunctions are observed. And, though the sense of accountability founded on fear of punishment may effectively prevent breaches of the law, it is of but little effect in promoting positive well-doing.

Why is our conduct so profoundly influenced by public opinion? How do we come to care so much for the praise and blame, the approval and disapproval, of our fellow-men? This is the principal problem that we have

( 194) to solve if we would understand how men are led to control their impulses in a way that renders possible the life of complexly organised societies. For the praise and blame of our fellows, especially as expressed by the voice of public opinion, are the principal and most effective sanctions of moral conduct for the great mass of men ; without them few of us would rise above the level of mere law-abidingness, the mere avoidance of acts on which legal punishment surely follows; and the strong regard for social approval and disapproval constitutes an essential stage of the progress to the higher plane of morality, the plane of obligation to an ideal of conduct.

The strength of the regard men pay to public opinion, the strength of their desire to secure the approval and avoid the disapproval of their fellow-men, goes beyond all rational grounds ; it cannot be wholly explained as due to regard for their own actual welfare or material prosperity, or to the anticipation of the pain or the pleasure that would be felt on hearing men's blame or praise. For, as we know, some men, otherwise rational and sane enough, are prepared to sacrifice ease and enjoyments of every kind—in fact, all the good things of life —if only they may achieve posthumous fame; that is to say, their conduct is dominated by the desire that men shall admire or praise them long after they themselves shall have become incapable of being affected pleasurably or painfully by any expression of the opinions of others. The great strength in so many men of this regard for the opinions of others and the almost universal distribution of it in some degree may, then, fairly be said to pre-sent the most important and difficult of the psychological problems that underlie the theory of morals. Some of the moralists have simply ignored this problem, with the

(195) result that their moralising is largely vitiated and made unreal. It is perhaps worth while to consider an ex-ample, of procedure of this kind, provided by a very respectable writer on morals ; the late Dr. T. Fowler[2] wrote : "Human nature, in its normal conditions, is so constituted that the remorse felt, when we look back upon a wrong action, far outweighs any pleasure we may have derived from it, just as the satisfaction with which we look back upon a right action far more than compensates for any pain with which it may have been attended. "The author went on to say that these pains and pleasures of reflection on our past actions are more intense than any other pains and pleasures, and he pro-posed to regard them as the moral sanction. According to this author's view all moral conduct arises, then, from an enlightened and nicely calculating hedonism; for he represents the strongest motives to right conduct as being the desire of this greatest pleasure and the aversion from this greatest pain.

This is a fair example of the procedure of a moralist who has got beyond the old-fashioned popular doctrine of the conscience as a mysterious faculty that tells us what is right and what is wrong and impels us to pursue the right, but who lacks psychological insight. Of course, if the statement quoted above were true, the moralist would be justified in simply recognising the fact and in leaving it to the psychologist to explain, if he could, how human nature had acquired this remark-able constitution. But the statement is in direct opposition to notorious facts, and in reducing all morality to hedonism it grossly libels human nature. The finest moral acts do not proceed from this desire of the pleasure of self-satisfied retrospection, nor from the

(196) aversion from the pain of remorse. When the patriot volunteers for the forlorn hope and goes to certain death, he cannot be seeking the pleasures of retrospective self-approval, and it would be absurd to suppose that he is driven on only by fear of remorse. Strong and fine characters, when forming their decisions pay little or no regard to the prospect of these pleasures and pains of retrospection; while in the mass of men the pain of remorse for undetected lapses from morality is easily avoided or got rid of, and the pleasure of self-approval for virtues unknown to others is comparatively slight. The most that can be admitted is that in certain morbidly conscientious persons the prospect of these retrospective pleasures and pains may play some part in regulating con-duct; and it may be added that, if we were called upon to advise in the designing of a new type of human nature, we might be tempted to recommend that it should be constituted in this way, if only for the reason that justice would be so admirably served; for each right or wrong act would then inevitably bring its own internal reward of pleasure or punishment of pain, as the nursery moralists, regardless of truth, have so often asserted that it does. Such a constitution of human nature would then obviate the irreparable injustices of this life which, human nature being what it is, constitute its darkest feature, and for which in every age men have sought to provide a remedy in some system of external rewards and punishments that shall be distributed in this life or another.

We cannot, then, consent to escape the difficulty of this problem by accepting any such false assumption as to the normal constitution of human nature, but must seek its solution in the development of the self-regarding sentiment.

There are two principal varieties of the self-regarding

( 197) sentiment, which we may distinguish by the names "pride" and "self-respect." No sharp line can be drawn between them, unless we restrict the name "pride" to one extreme type of the sentiment that is but rarely met with; in popular speech the forms of self-respect that approximate to this type are commonly called pride. Pride, taking the word in the narrow and strict sense, is a simpler sentiment than self-respect, and we may with advantage consider it first.

Imagine the son of a powerful and foolish prince to be endowed with great capacities and to have in great strength the instinct of self-display with its emotion of positive self-feeling. Suppose that he is never checked, or corrected, or criticised, but is allowed to lord it over all his fellow-creatures without restraint. The self-regarding sentiment of such a child would almost necessarily take the form of an unshakable pride, a pride constantly gratified by the attitudes of deference, gratitude, and admiration, of his social environment; the only dispositions that would become organised in this sentiment of pride would be those of positive self-feeling or elation and of anger (for his anger would be in-variably excited when any one failed to assume towards him the attitude of subjection or deference). His self-consciousness might be intense and very prominent, but it would remain poor in content; for he could make little progress in self-knowledge; he would have little occasion to hear, or to be interested in, the judgments of others upon himself ; and he would seldom be led to reflect upon his own character and conduct. The only influences that could moralise a man so endowed and so brought up would be either religious teaching, which might give him the sense of a power greater than him-self to whom he was accountable, or a very strong

( 198) natural endowment of the tender emotion and its al-truistic impulse, or a conjunction of these two influences.

A man in whom the self-regarding sentiment had assumed this form would be incapable of being humbled—his pride could only be mortified; that is to say, any display of his own shortcomings or any demonstration of the superiority of another to himself could cause a painful check to his positive self-feeling and a consequent anger, but could give rise neither to shame nor to humiliation, nor to any affective state, such as admiration, gratitude, or reverence, in which negative self-feeling plays a part. And he would be indifferent to moral praise or blame; for the disposition of negative self-feeling would have no place in his self-regarding sentiment; and negative self-feeling, which renders us observant of the attitudes of others towards ourselves and receptive to-wards their opinions, is one of the essential conditions of the influence of praise and blame upon us.

In many men whose moral training has been grossly defective the self-regarding sentiment approximates to this type of pure pride; such men may revel in the admiration, flattery, and gratitude of others, but they re-main indifferent to moral approval; they may be pain-fully affected by scorn or ridicule, and but little by moral censure. And for most of us the admiration and the scorn or ridicule of others remain stronger spurs to our self-feeling than praise or blame, and still more so than mere approval and disapproval.

But the self-regarding sentiment of the man of normally developed moral nature differs from pride in that it comprises the disposition of negative self-feeling as well as that of positive self-feeling; it is the presence of this disposition within the sentiment that distinguishes self-respect from pride. We have seen that negative

( 199) self-feeling is normally evoked by the presence of any person who makes upon us an impression of power greater than our own, and that its impulse is to assume an attitude of submission towards that person, an attitude which becomes in the child, as his intellectual powers develop, an attitude of receptivity, of imitativeness and suggestibility. The main condition of the incorporation of this disposition in the self-regarding sentiment is the exercise of authority over the child by his elders. At first this authority necessarily demonstrates its superior power by means of physical force, later by means of re-wards and punishments. On each occasion that the exercise of personal authority over the child makes him aware of a superior and inflexible power to which he must submit, his negative self-feeling is evoked; then his idea of self in relation to that person becomes habitually accompanied and suffused by this emotion in however slight a degree, and he habitually assumes to-wards that person the attitude of submission. Thus the disposition of this emotion becomes incorporated in the self-regarding sentiment. Thereafter all persons fall for the child into one or other of two classes; in the one class are those who impress him as beings of superior power, who evoke his negative self-feeling, and towards whom he is submissive and receptive ; in the other class are those whose presence evokes his positive self-feeling and towards whom he is self-assertive and masterful, just because they fail to impress him as beings superior to himself. As his powers develop and his knowledge in-creases, persons who at first belonged to the former class

are transferred to the latter; he learns, or thinks he learns, the limits of their powers; he no longer shrinks from a contest with them, and, every time he gains the advantage in any such contest, their power of evoking

( 200) his negative self-feeling diminishes, until it fails completely. When that stage is reached his attitude towards them is reversed, it becomes self-assertive; for their presence evokes his positive self-feeling. In this way a child of good capacities, in whom the instinct of self-assertion is strong, works his way up the social ladder. Each of the wider social circles that he successively enters—the circle of his playmates; of his school-fellows, of his college, of his profession—impresses him at first with a sense of a superior power, not only because each circle comprises individuals older than himself and of greater reputation, but also because each is in some degree an organised whole that disposes of a collective power whose nature and limits are at first unknown to the newly-admitted member. But within each such circle he rapidly finds his level, finds out those to whom he must submit and those towards whom he may be self-assertive. Thus, when he enters a great school, the sixth-form boys may seem to him god-like beings whose lightest word is law ; and even the boys who have been but a little while in the school will at first impress him and evoke his negative self-feeling by reason of their familiarity with many things strange to him and in virtue of their assured share in the collective power of the whole society. But, when he himself has reached the sixth form, or perhaps is captain of the school, how completely reversed is this attitude of submissive receptivity! When he enters college, the process begins again ; the fourth-year men, with their caps and their colours and academic distinctions, are now his gods, and even the dons may dominate his imagination. But at the end of his fourth year, after a successful career in the schools and the playing fields, how changed again is his attitude towards his college society ! The dons he regards with kindly

( 201) tolerance, the freshmen with hardly disguised disdain ; and very few remain capable of evoking his negative self-feeling—perhaps a "blue," or a "rugger-international," or a don of world-wide reputation; for the rest—he has comprehended them, grasped their limits, labelled them, and dismissed them to the class that ministers to his positive self-feeling. And so he goes out into the great world to repeat the process and to carry it as far as his capacities will enable him to do.[3]

But if once authority, wielding punishment and re-ward, has awakened negative self-feeling and caused its incorporation in the self-regarding sentiment, that emotion may be readily evoked ; and there is always one power[2] that looms up vaguely and largely behind all individuals—the power of society as a whole—which, by reason of its indefinable vastness, is better suited than all others to evoke this emotion and this attitude. The child comes gradually to understand his position as a member of a society indefinitely larger and more powerful than any circle of his acquaintances, a society which with a collective voice and irresistible power distributes re-wards and punishments, praise and blame, and formulates its approval and disapproval in universally accepted maxims. This collective voice appeals to the self-regarding sentiment, humbles or elates us, calls out our

( 202) shame or self-satisfaction, with even greater effect than the personal authorities of early childhood, and gradually supplants them more and more. And, when any individual passes upon us a well-founded judgment of moral approval or disapproval, he wields this power; and, though he may be personally our inferior, his expressions may influence us profoundly, because we realise that his moral judgment voices the collective judgment of all-powerful society.

The exercise of inflexible authority over the child pre-vents, then, his self-regarding sentiment taking the form of pride in the strict sense, pride that acknowledges no superior, that knows no shame, and is indifferent, to moral approval and disapproval; it gives the sentiment the form of a self-respect that is capable of humility, of the receptive imitative attitude of negative self-feeling; and, by so doing, it renders the developing individual capable of profiting by example and precept, by advice and exhortation, by moral approval and disapproval.

Does, then, the incorporation of negative self-feeling in the self-regarding sentiment suffice to explain the strength of our regard for public opinion, for the praise and blame of our fellows? Some further explanation is, I think, required. For we can hardly assume that the two instincts of self-display and self-subjection, which respectively impel us to seek and to avoid the notice of our fellows, impel us also directly to seek approval and avoid disapproval. It might well be contended that positive self-feeling seeks merely to draw the attention of others to the self, no matter what be the nature of the regards attracted; that it finds its satisfaction simply in the fact of the self being noticed by others. There is much in the behaviour of human beings to justify this view—for example, the large number of men who seek,

( 203) and who are gratified by, mere notoriety, some of whom will even commit criminal acts in order to secure notoriety; or again, the large number of people whose dress is clearly designed to attract attention, but which, even by the most disordered imagination, can hardly be sup-posed to excite admiration or approval; or again, the curiously great satisfaction most of us find in seeing our names in a newspaper or in print of any kind. We have to ask, Do the many facts of this order imply perversion of instinct, or are they the outcome of its primitive and natural mode of operation? It is not easy to decide; but it is at any rate clear that the satisfaction of the impulse is greater when the regards of others are admiring regards, or such as to express in any way the recognition of our superiority in any respect. We shall probably be nearest the truth if we say that the impulse of positive self-feeling primitively finds its satisfaction when the attitude of others towards us is that of negative self-feeling, the normal attitude of men in the presence of one whom they recognise as superior to themselves. But even if this be granted, something more is needed to account for our great regard for praise and approval. Now, the effect upon us of praise and of approval is complex ; they do not, like admiration, simply bring satisfaction to our positive self-feeling; in so far as praise is accepted as praise, it implies our recognition of the superiority of him who praises and an attitude of submission towards him. It is for this reason that all may admire a great man without impertinence, and that he may derive pleasure from their admiration; whereas it is rightly felt to be an impertinence for any one to praise his superior in any art or department of activity; and the superior is apt to resent praise coming from such a quarter, rather than to be pleased by it. It is for him to praise if he so

(204) chooses. That is to say, since our acceptance of praise involves the recognition of the superiority of him who praises, praise evokes our negative self-feeling; but since it is an acknowledgment by our superior of our merit, it also elates us; in other words, it evokes that state of bashfulness in which the impulses and emotions of the two instincts are imperfectly combined, but a bashfulness that is highly pleasant because both impulses are in process of attaining satisfaction. And moral approval, embodying as it does the verdict of society upon us, provokes a like complex satisfaction.

Blame and disapproval also are apt to produce a, similarly complex effect. They check the impulse of self-assertion and evoke the impulse of submission; and the resulting state ranges, according as one or other of these effects predominates, from an angry resentment, in which negative self-feeling is lacking, through shame and bashfulness of many shades, to a state of repentance in which the principal element is negative self-feeling, and which may derive a certain sweetness from the completeness of submission to the power that rebukes us, a sweetness which is due to the satisfaction of the impulse of submission.

The organisation of these two dispositions within the self-regarding sentiment renders us capable of this range of moral emotions; but still something more is needed to explain the full magnitude of the effects of praise and blame, or of the mere anticipation of them. We may imagine, and, I think, we may also observe, persons in whom the sentiment is strong and whom it renders very sensitive to the opinions of others, yet whose conduct is not effectually controlled by the sentiment; for these persons are content to oscillate between the luxury of

( 205) the elation induced by praise and the lesser luxury of repentance induced by blame.

In order that blame and disapproval shall exert their full deterrent effects, it would seem that some other factor or factors must co-operate, that the sentiment must undergo a process of moralisation. We may find one such factor in the influence of punishment during the early days of childhood. Punishment and the fear of punishment are needed by most of us, we said, to initiate the control of the instinctive impulses and the habit of reflection before action. In the normal course of things punishment is gradually replaced by the threat of punishment in the successively milder forms of the frown and angry word, the severe rebuke, blame combined perhaps with reproach, and moral disapproval ; but all of these owe something of their effectiveness to the fact that they retain the nature of, because they continue to produce the effects of, the early punishments; that is to say, they evoke some degree of fear; for in virtue of the early punishments the disposition of fear has become incorporated in the self-regarding sentiment, and fear, as we know, is the great inhibitor of action. Fear, then, once incorporated in the sentiment, readily enters into and colours our emotional attitude towards authority in whatever form we meet it, renders us capable of awe and reverence in our personal relations, and is one of the principal conditions of the effectiveness of moral disapproval as a regulator of conduct.[5]

It is possible also that praise and approval owe some part of their power over us to their early association

( 206) with the grosser forms of reward, which they gradually replace as the moral education of the child progresses.

There is yet another factor that operates in very various degrees in different persons to develop their regard for praise and blame, their sensitiveness towards moral approval and disapproval. It is what we have called active sympathy, that tendency to seek to share our emotions and feelings with others which, as we found, is rooted in primitive or passive sympathy and in the gregarious instinct. The person in whom this tendency is strong cannot bear to suffer his various affective experiences in isolation; his joys are no joys, his pains are doubly painful, so long as they are not shared by others ; his anger or his moral indignation, his vengeful emotion, his pity, his elation, his admiration, if they are confined to his own bosom, cannot long endure without giving rise to a painful desire for sympathy. Active sympathy impels him, then, not only to seek to bring the feelings and emotions of his fellows into harmony with his own, but also, since that is often impossible, to bring his own into harmony with theirs. Hence he finds no satisfaction in conduct that is displeasing to those about him, but finds it in conduct that pleases them, even though it be such as would otherwise be distasteful, repugnant, or painful to himself. He finds in the praise of his fellows evidence that his emotions are shared by them, and their blame or disapproval makes him experience the pain of isolation. To many children this sense of isolation, of being cut off from the habitual fellowship of feeling and emotion, is, no doubt, the source of the severest pain of punishment; and moral disapproval, even though not formally expressed, soon begins to give them this painful sense of isolation; while approval gratifies the impulse of ac-

(207) -tive sympathy and makes them feel at one with their fellows. And, as their social circle widens more and more, so the approval and disapproval of each wider circle give greater zest to their elation and a deeper pain to their shame, and are therefore more eagerly sought after or shunned in virtue of this impulse of active sympathy.

The two principles we have now considered—on the one hand the influence of authority or power, exercised primarily in bringing rewards and punishments, on the other hand the impulse of active sympathy towards harmony of feeling and emotion with our fellows—these two principles may sufficiently account, I think, for the moralisation of the self-regarding sentiment, for that regard for the praise and blame of our fellow-men and for moral approval and disapproval in general, which is so strong in most of us and which plays so large a part in shaping our sentiments, our character, and our conduct. This regard leads on some men to the higher plane of conduct, conduct regulated by an ideal that may render them capable of acting in the way they believe to be right, regardless of the approval or disapproval of the social environment in which their lives are passed.

There are, of course, great differences between men as regards the delicacy with which they apprehend the attitudes of others towards them. These differences are due in part to differences of intellectual power, but in greater part to differences in the degree of development of the self-regarding sentiment. Any man in whom this sentiment is well developed will be constantly observant of the signs of others' feelings in regard to him, and so will develop his powers of perceiving and interpreting the signs of the more delicate shades of feeling that do not commonly find deliberate expression. On the other

( 208) hand, one whose perceptions are dull and whose self-regarding sentiment is not strong will be moved only by the coarser expressions of general approval and disapproval, by open praise and blame. Of two such men, the one will be said in common speech to have a sensitive conscience, and the other to have a less delicate, or a relatively defective, conscience.

Before going on to consider the higher kind of conduct, we may note some of the' ways in which conduct, while remaining upon the plane of regulation by the impulses and emotions evoked by our social circle, may be complicated by altruistic motives. For, just as upon the purely instinctive plane of animal life the parental instinct may impel to behaviour from which we cannot withhold our admiration, so it may do upon this higher or middle plane also, working, of course, in more subtle fashion.

This occurs when the approval and the disapproval of others move us not merely through their appeal to the self-regarding sentiment, but also because we see that the act of approval is pleasing, and the act of disapproval painful, to him who approves or disapproves, and we desire to give him pleasure and to avoid giving him pain. This kind of motive implies the previous growth of a reciprocal sentiment of affection between the parties concerned. Therefore it can never efficiently supply the place of the coarser egoistic motives arising out of the self-regarding sentiment. Nevertheless, within the family circle or other intimate community it constitutes a very effective supplement to the egoistic motives. The con-duct of affectionate children is in many cases very largely regulated by this motive from an early age. When they do what they have been taught to believe is right, it is not so much from the motive of securing

( 209) praise or avoiding blame, as from that of giving pleasure, or avoiding the giving of pain, to those they love.

This is a kind of conduct that has its own peculiar charm, and it tends to the development of a very delicate and sympathetic character, though a narrow one; it cannot lead on to the stronger forms of character and to conduct based on broad moral principles; and it renders the person in whom this kind of motive pre-dominates peculiarly dependent upon the natures of those to whom he is attached. Little girls act from this motive far more commonly, I think, than do boys; the tendency to its predominance seems to be one of the distinguishing features of their sex, as we might expect if it is true that, as we argued in Chapter III., all altruistic conduct has its root and origin in the maternal instinct.

The motive constituted by the co-operation of this altruistic impulse with the egoistic motive of securing praise or avoiding blame, is apt to reach a third degree of complication by the addition of an egoistic motive that is secondary to the altruistic. When a child acts in a way that secures the approval of his mother and pleases her, then, apart from the satisfaction of his tender impulse towards her, the pleasure that he derives from her approval is heightened by his perception of her pleasure in his conduct; and this increase of his own pleasure may have one, or both, of two sources—a simpler and a more complex. It may come by way of that primitive sympathetic reaction in virtue of which another's expression of a feeling or emotion generates the same feeling or emotion in the observer.[6] There are persons, in whom this primitive sympathetic tendency is very strong, whose kindly conduct to those about them proceeds

(210) largely from this motive ; they cannot bear to see dull, unhappy faces about them, for to do so depresses them; they desire to see those about them bright and joyous, because that renders themselves bright and joyous. If such a person is in a position to influence markedly the welfare of those by whom he is constantly surrounded —if, for example, he is the head of a family or the master of many servants who live in close contact with him—his conduct towards them will be rendered kindly and beneficent up to a certain point by the desire to se-cure this sympathetic pleasure and to avoid sympathetic pain.

The more complex source of the pleasure that constitutes this tertiary motive to kindly conduct is the sense of being the source of the pleasure the expressions of which we observe in those round about us. The impulse of positive self-feeling finds satisfaction in the recognition by the recipients of our bounty of the fact that our actions have benefited them, especially if those recipients exhibit gratitude and deference, or even merely a lively sense of favours to come. George Meredith's "Egoist" is a fine study of conduct founded predominantly on the combination of the desire for reflex sympathetic pleasure with that for this kind of satisfaction of the impulse of positive self-feeling; and many another rich man's beneficence derives in the main from this last source. Such conduct is, of course, thoroughly egoistic, though it implies a disposition in which the primitive sympathetic tendency and the altruistic impulse are present in moderate strength. In many respects such conduct will closely resemble altruistic conduct; but it will differ in one very important respect, namely, that the beneficence arising from the truly altruistic motive, the im-pulse of the tender emotion, knows no limits and may

(211) go the length of absolute sacrifice, even of life and of all that is most valued in life; whereas this pseudo-altruistic motive will never impel a man to sacrifice things the pain of the loss of which will counterbalance the pleasure he derives from contemplating the effects of his beneficent actions.

Again, this pseudo-altruistic motive can impel a man to act kindly to those only with whom he is in personal contact—those whose pleasure in, and whose gratitude for, his gifts and kindly attentions he can observe. To a man predominantly swayed by this motive the happiness or misery of all who are outside his circle and are not obtruded upon his attention will be a matter of in-difference; and even within his circle such a man will be unjust, and, like King Lear, will shower benefits upon those who respond most readily with expressions of pleasure and gratitude, and will feel resentment against those who remain unmoved. And his conduct will exert a deleterious influence upon those about him, will en-courage flattery and toadying in some ; but it will provoke the scorn of men of sterner fibre, if they are able to understand his motives.

Upon this middle plane of conduct, and alongside the pseudo-altruistic conduct just now considered, must be ranged also the conduct proceeding from certain quasi-altruistic motives which arise from the extension of the self-regarding sentiment and are of the greatest importance for the life of societies.

We have already touched upon this subject in describing the full-blown parental sentiment. The parental sentiment we said, is apt to be not only a tender sentiment of love for the child, but to be complicated by an extension of the self-regarding sentiment to him and to

( 212) all that pertains to him, owing to the parent's intellectual identification of the child with himself.

But the child is by no means the only object to which the self-regarding sentiment may be, and very commonly is, extended, especially in men in whom the sympathetic tendency and the gregarious instinct are strong. After the child the family as a whole, both in the past and in the future as well as in the present, is the object to which this extension is most readily effected. A man realises, more especially perhaps in societies less complex than our own, that the family of which he is a part has a capacity for collective suffering and collective prosperity, that it is held collectively responsible and is the collective object of the judgments, emotions, and sentiments of other men; he recognises that he, being a member of the whole, is in part the object of all these regards. In so far as he does this, all these attitudes of other men appeal to his self-regarding sentiment, evoke within it his anger, his gratitude, his revenge, his positive self-feeling, his shame. Therefore he desires that his family shall prosper and shall stand well in the eyes of men; and this desire may become a motive hardly less strong than the care for his own welfare and position. The mere community of name of all the members of the family goes a long way to bring about this identification of the self with the family and the consequent extension of the self-regarding sentiment, results which are described by the popular phrase, "Blood is thicker than water."

And this extension should not, and usually does not, stop short at the family; in primitive societies the tribe and the clan, which are the collective objects of the regards of other tribes and clans, become also the objects of this sentiment; and among ourselves the growing child

( 213) is led on in the same way to identify himself with, and to extend his self-regarding sentiment to, his school, his college, his town, his profession as a class or collective unit, and finally to his country or nation as a whole. It should be 'noted that, in each case, the extension of the sentiment depends upon the existence of the object, the school, the profession, the country, as one object among other similar objects, having to those others relations similar to the relations between persons, and being made by those other collective units and by men in general the object of judgments, emotions, sentiments, and actions, that are capable of evoking our resentment, our elation, our gratitude, and all the specifically personal emotions. So long as any such collective unit has no such "personal" relations, the extension of the self-regarding sentiment to it can hardly take place; for example, it is not extended to the nation or people that is isolated from all others; and the extended sentiment tends to become stronger and more widely distributed the more abundant and intense are the interactions of the nation with others, the more free and vigorous become inter-national rivalry and criticism; that is to say, our patriotic self-knowledge and sentiment, just like individual self-knowledge and sentiment, are developed by constant interplay with other similar collective selves; they grow in the light of our advancing knowledge of those other selves and in the light of the judgments passed by them upon our collective self and upon one another.

From this kind of extended self-regarding sentiment, then, there may spring motives to conduct that may involve individual self-sacrifice; and, if the sentiment is strong, these motives may be powerful enough to over-come the more narrowly self-regarding motives ; but in the main they work in harmony with these, as when

( 214) the patriot soldier in giving his life in battle brings glory upon himself as well as upon his country.[7]

These quasi-altruistic extensions of the egoistic sentiment constitute a very important part of the moral equipment of the individual; for they lead to the subjection of immediate personal ends in the service of social co-operation undertaken to secure the collective ends that individual action is powerless to achieve. They enrich our emotional life and raise our emotions and conduct to an over-individual plane.

'Like the fully developed parental sentiment, the patriotism of many men is a fusion of this quasi-altruistic extension of the self-regarding sentiment with the truly altruistic sentiment of love.


  1. Cf. Kipling's story, "Baa-baa, Black Sheep."
  2. In "Progressive Morality."
  3. Professor Baldwin has well described this process, although he does not seem to have recognised the two instincts which, according to the view here taken, are the all-important factors. See "Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development," part I., chap. i.
  4. I leave out of account here religious conceptions, which for many, perhaps most, persons play this all-important part in developing the self-regarding sentiment.; not because they are not of great social importance, but because the principles involved are essentially similar to those dealt with in this passage.
  5. It may seem anomalous that fear should enter into the self-regarding sentiment; but we have to remember that the object of this sentiment is not merely the self, but rather the self In relation to other persons.
  6. Cf. Chapter IV.

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