Review of "An Introduction to Comparative Psychology" by C. Lloyd Morgan

An Introduction to Comparative Psychology.' C. L. Morgan. London, Walter Scott; imported by Chas. Scribner's Sons, New York, 1894. Pp. xiv + 382.

Mr. Morgan's 'Introduction to Comparative Psychology ' is an attempt to clear the ground for a science that has suffered thus far from the homocentric character of psychical analysis as comparative anatomy and physiology have suffered earlier from the almost exclusive interest that centered in the human organism.

With this end in view Mr. Morgan starts with the postulate of a monism. He is not, however, convinced of its necessity as a basis

(400) for comparative psychology, and warns, in a note, all those to whom philosophic speculation has not attractions to pass over his prolegomena.

It is true that his subsequent analysis may be followed out from a dualistic standpoint. It is, for his practical analysis, a matter of indifference to Mr. Morgan, whether physical and psychical be regarded as two aspects of the same entity or whether we conceive them as simply running parallel with each other. His thought is dominated by the analogy of the two aspects of the curve. It is certainly a matter of indifference to one who would study these tow aspects, as respects their directions and mutual relation, whether he sees them as two aspects of one line or as the corresponding aspects of two lines that run parallel to each other.

It is in terms of just such tangible analogies that Mr. Morgan does most of his thinking. The whole treatise is built on three of them: (a) that already named between the two aspects of a curve and the parallel physical and psychical phenomena, (b) the analogy between a wave in an undulating medium and consciousness, and (c) that between our recognition of consciousness in another being and the inference a clock might make by means of the relations between its hands and its own inner works to the inner works of another clock from the position of its hands. These analogies cannot lay claim to any great novelty; their value lies in their simplicity and lucidity.

Such analogies, however, are at best makeshift. They inevitably carry with them much error because they are analogies, i.e., concepts which, for the sake of concreteness, are but incompletely analyzed and abstracted. We are very definitely of the opinion that psychology, especially comparative psychology, needs, on the contrary, a thoroughgoing analysis of its fundamental concepts to put it upon its feet.

Experimental psychology fares, to be sure, about as well with the incomplete analysis as it would with the most searching, because the most that such an analysis could do would be to justify it in its use of the methods of physics and physiology. The theoretical stage in no science has done much more than justify and free the methods which had been worked out in its first period of discovery. Experimental psychology would profit greatly by such a freeing of its tools, i.e., in the definite formulation of a psychological method as ultimately distinct from those of the physical and biological sciences. Still it suffers as yet no serious set-back through this lack of definiteness in its own territory. A capital error, such as is involved in 'Fechner's law,' will hardly be committed again.


But the case stands quite differently with comparative psychology. The experimental psychologist has the test of immediate experience for the distinction which he makes between the physical and the psychical. The reality of the distinction is justified by the success of the life processes that assume it. The experimenter has therefore only to follow rigidly the essential reactions that make up his life and he need not go astray. This is but another statement for the assertion that the distinction between the physical and the psychical is an immediate datum of experience. And one must go a step further than this; the distinction between the physical and the psychical in others is as really an immediate datum of experience. We are as essentially social beings as physical and physiological beings, despite the analogy to the clocks. (We must deprecate the reappearance of this spook of Paley's watch, after its have been laid in the field of natural theology, to haunt the domains of a modern science.) The development of the distinction between the physical and psychical in others proceeds pari passu with that in the child's consciousness of himself — if for no other reason because he could never form the conception of himself as psychical without the conception of others. Or again man is essentially social.

The experimenter therefore runs no more risk of making an unreal distinction between the physical and psychical in others than he does in his analysis of his own consciousness. But just in proportion as our analysis leaves the stage of self-consciousness within which we live, and approaches those points of civilization where we are no longer perfectly at home, and especially when we leave the human intelligence quite behind and strive to reconstruct the consciousness of lower animals, are we at the mercy of dangerous analogies which were before harmless. These analogies, in their proper place, serve as illustrations, that is act as stimuli to reconstruct what in all its details is fully within our power. The analogy of the clocks may serve fairly well to recall to one the process by which he revises his social judgment — detects, as it were, a social hallucination. It is as far from copying the state of consciousness in which a dog recognizes a hostile intruder, as the click of a calculating machine would be from describing his angry growl at the loss of half his dinner.

The same criticism holds in regard to the analogy of the wave of consciousness. This serves excellently to recall the onward sweep of concentrated attention through the mass of details that crowd the field of consciousness, and the positions of relative importance

(402) which those details hold. But while this illustration summons up the reality in my consciousness, it is but the most superficial analysis of attention. This has the unity and direction of the purposive act, not that of a wave propelled by a vis a tergo. So that at the point where we are forced to abandon the concrete reality of our own full reconstructions, the analogy becomes as false as the reconstructions of Greek life by the romancer of the Middle Ages. The Socratic task of substituting analytical definitions for illustrations is that which faces the comparative psychologist. In the opinion of the reviewer this can only be successfully met when the logical process which is the reality of the distinction between the physical and psychical has been recognized.

Geo. H. Mead
University of Chicago


No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2