What Social Objects Must Psychology Presuppose?[1]

THERE is a persistent tendency among present-day psychologists to use consciousness as the older rationalistic psychology used the soul. It is spoken of as something that appears at a certain point, it is a something into which the object of knowledge in some sense enters from without. It is conceived to have certain functions-- in the place of faculties. It is as completely separated from the physical body by the doctrine of parallelism as the metaphysical body was separated from the metaphysical soul by their opposite qualities.

Functional psychology has set itself the program of assimilating the purposive character of conscious processes—or of consciousness as it is termed—to the evolutionary conception of adaptation, but instead of making consciousness in human individuals a particular expression of a great process, as is demanded of a philosophy of nature, it comes in generally as a new and peculiar factor which even demands a new formula of evolution for its explanation; it involves a new evolution superinduced upon the old.

In spite of much philosophizing, consciousness is identified in current psychological practise with the field which is open to introspection, and the object of knowledge is placed within this field, and related to the physical world —spoken of as an external field of reality— by a parallelistic series. This psychological practise tends to accept the conceptual objects of science, the atoms, molecules, ether vortex rings, ions, and electrons, as the substantial realities of the physical world, and, by implication at least, to relegate the sensuous content of objects of direct physical experience to this separate field of consciousness. The old-fashioned idealist has then only to point out the thought structure of these hypothetical objects of science to sweep triumphantly, with one stroke of his wand, the whole world of nature within this limited field of the consciousness open to introspection. Whereupon the solipsistic spook arises again to reduce one's world to a nutshell.

The way out of these crude psychological conceptions, in my mind, lies in the recognition that psychical consciousness is a particular phase in development of reality, not an islanded phase of

(175) reality connected with the rest of it by a one to one relationship of parallel series. This point of view I have elsewhere developed somewhat obscurely and ineffectually, I am afraid. [2]

What I wish to call to your attention in the few moments at my disposal, is another phase of this situation which is itself psychological in its character; [3] the presupposition of selves as already in existence before the peculiar phase of consciousness can arise, which psychology studies.

Most of us admit the reality of the objects of direct physical experience until we are too deeply entangled in our psychological analyses of cognition. Unless we subject ourselves to the third degree of criticism, the parallelism of which we speak lies between the processes of brain tissues which can be seen and smelt and handled and the states of consciousness which are conditioned by them. While this admission guarantees the physical bodies of our fellows as equally real, the self is relegated to the restricted field of introspected consciousness and enjoys not the reality of a so-called external object, but only that of a combination of states of consciousness. Into the existence of those states of consciousness in another, we are solemnly told we can only inferentially enter by a process of analogy from the relations of our own introspected states and the movements of our bodies to the movements of other bodies and the hypothetical conscious states that should accompany them. If we approach the self from within, our analysis recognizes, to be sure, its close relationship to, if not its identity with, the organization of consciousness, especially as seen in conation, in apperception, in voluntary attention, in conduct, but what can be isolated as self-consciousness as such reduces to a peculiar feeling of intimacy in certain conscious states, and the self gathers, for some unexplained reason, about a core of certain vague and seemingly unimportant organic sensations— a feeling of contraction in the brow, or in the throat, or goes out to the muscular innervations all over the body which are not involved directly in what we are doing or perceiving. And yet when we proceed introspectively the whole field of consciousness is ascribed to this self, for it is only in so far as we are self-conscious that we can introspect at all.

But what I wish to emphasize is that the other selves disappear as given realities even when we are willing to admit the real objects of physical experience. The self arises within the introspected field. It has no existence outside that introspected field, and other selves

(176) are only projects and ejects of that field. Each self is an island, and each self is sure only of its own island, for who knows what mirages may arise above this analogical sea.

It is fair to assume that if we had exact social sciences which could define persons precisely and determine the laws of social change with mathematical exactness, we should accept selves, as there, in the same sense in which we accept physical objects. They would be guaranteed by their sciences. For in the practise of thought, we are as convinced as the Greeks that exact knowledge assures the existence of the object of knowledge.

It is evident that the assumption of the self as given by social science in advance of introspection would materially and fundamentally affect our psychological practise. Consciousness as present in selves would be given as there, outside the field of introspection. Psychological science would have to presuppose selves as the precondition of consciousness in individuals just as it presupposes nervous systems and vascular changes. In actual psychological analysis we should condition the existence and process of states and streams of consciousness upon the normal presence and functioning of these selves, as we condition the appearance and functioning of consciousness upon the normal structure and operation of the physical mechanism, that our psychology presupposes

In a manner we do this in treatises on mob-psychology, in such a treatise on social psychology as that of Cooley's "Human Nature and the Social Order." McDougall's "Social Psychology" prepares the way for it in carrying back the processes of consciousness to social impulses and instincts-to those terms in which, somewhat vaguely, selves are stated in an evolutionary theory of society.

The economic man of the dismal science was an attempt to state the self in terms of an objective and exact social science. But fortunately the economic man has proved spurious. He does not exist. The economic man is as little guaranteed by the orthodox political economy, as realia were by the metaphysics of scholasticism.

Social science in anthropology, in sociology pure and impure, dynamic and static, has not as yet found its scientific method. It is not able to satisfactorily define its objects, nor to formulate their laws of change and development. Until the social sciences are able to state the social individual in terms of social processes, as the physical sciences define their objects in terms of physical change, they will not have risen to the point at which they can force their object upon an introspective psychology. We can to-day foresee the possibility of this. Eugenics, education, even political and economic sciences, pass beyond the phase of description and look toward the formation of the social object. We recognize that we control the

(177) conditions which determine the individual. His errors and shortcomings can be conceivably corrected,. His misery may be eliminated. His mental and moral defects corrected. His heredity, social and physical, may be perfected. His very moral self-consciousness through normal and healthful social conduct, through adequate consciousness of his relations to others, may be constituted and established. But without awaiting the development of the social sciences it is possible to indicate in the nature of the consciousness which psychology itself analyzes, the presupposition of social objects, whose objective reality is a condition of the consciousness of self.

The contribution that I wish to suggest toward the recognition of the given character of other selves is from psychology itself, and arises out of the psychological theory of the origin of language and its relation to meaning.

This theory, as you know, has been considerably advanced by Wundt's formulation of the relation of language to gesture. From this point of view language in its earliest form comes under that group of movements which, since Darwin, have been called expressions of the emotions. They fall into classes which have been regarded as without essential connection. Either they are elements —mainly preparatory— beginnings of acts-social acts, i. e., actions and reactions which arise under the stimulation of other individuals, such as clenching the fists, grinding the teeth, assuming an attitude of defense —or else they are regarded as outflows of nervous energy which sluice off the nervous excitement or reinforce and prepare indirectly for action. Such gestures, if we may use the term in this generalized sense, act as stimuli to other forms which are already under social stimulation.

The phase of the subject which has not been sufficiently emphasized is the value which these truncated acts, these beginnings of inhibited movements, these gestures, have as appropriate stimulations for the conduct of other individuals. Inevitably, forms that act and react to and upon each other come to prepare for each other's reaction by the early movements in the act. The preliminaries of a dog or cock fight amply illustrate the sensitiveness of such individuals to the earliest perceptible indications of coming acts. To a large degree forms, which live in groups or in the relation of the animals of prey and those they prey upon, act upon there first signs of oncoming acts. All gestures, to whatever class they belong, whether they are the beginnings of the outgoing act itself or are only indications of the attitude and nervous tension which these acts involve, have this value of stimulating forms, socially organized, to reactions appropriate to the attack, or flight, or wooing, or suckling, of another form. Illustrations are to be found in hu-

(178)-man conduct, in such situations as fencing, where one combatant without reflection makes his parry from the direction of the eye and the infinitesimal change of attitude which are the prelude to the thrust.

Gestures then are already significant in the sense that they are stimuli to performed reactions, before they come to have significance of conscious meaning. Allow me to emphasize further the value of attitudes and the indications of organized preparation for conduct, especially in the change of the muscles of the countenance, the altered breathing, the quivering of tense muscles, the evidence of circulatory changes, in such minutely adapted social groups, because among these socially significant innervations will be found all these queer organic sensations about which the consciousness of the self is supposed to gather as a core.

Human conduct is distinguished primarily from animal conduct by that increase in inhibition which is an essential phase of voluntary attention, and increased inhibition means an increase in gesture in the signs of activities which are not carried out; in tile assumptions of attitudes whose values in conduct fail to get complete expression. If we recognize language as a differentiation of gesture, the conduct of no other form can compare with that of man in the abundance of gesture.

The fundamental importance of gesture lies in the development of the consciousness of meaning-in reflective consciousness. As long as one individual responds simply to the gesture of another by the appropriate response, there is no necessary consciousness of meaning. The situation is still on a level of that of two growling dogs walking around each other, with tense limbs, bristly hair, and uncovered teeth. It is not until an image arises of the response, which the gesture of one form will bring out in another, that a consciousness of meaning can attach to his own gesture. The meaning can appear only in imaging the consequences of the gesture. To cry out in fear is an immediate instinctive act, but to scream with an image of another individual turning an attentive ear, taking on sympathetic expression and an attitude of coming to help, is at least a favorable condition for the development of a consciousness of meaning.

Of course the mere influence of the image, stimulating to reaction, has no more meaning value than the effect of an external stimulus, but in this converse of gestures there is also a consciousness of attitude, of readiness to act in the manner which the gesture implies. In the instance given the cry is part of the attitude of flight. The cry calls out the image of a friendly individual. This image is not merely a stimulus to run toward the friend, but is merged in the consciousness of inhibited flight. If meaning is consciousness of

(179) attitude, as Dewey, Royce, and Angell among others maintain, then consciousness of meaning arose only when some gesture that was part of an inhibited act itself called up the image of the gesture of another individual. Then the image of the gesture means the inhibited act to which the first gesture belonged. In a word, the response to the cry has the meaning of inhibited flight.

One's own gestures could not take on meaning directly. The gestures aroused by them in others would be that upon which attention is centered. And these gestures become identified with the content of one's own emotion and attitude. It is only through the response that consciousness of meaning appears, a response which involves the consciousness of another self as the presupposition of the meaning in one's own attitude. Other selves in a social environment logically antedate the consciousness of self which introspection analyzes. They must be admitted as there, as given, in the same sense in which psychology accepts the given reality of physical organisms as a condition of individual consciousness.

The importance for psychology of this recognition of others, if thus bound up with the psychology of meaning, may need another word of emphasis. Consciousness could no longer be regarded as an island to be studied through parallel relations with neuroses. It would be approached as experience which is socially as well as physically determined. Introspective self-consciousness would be recognized as a subjective phase, and this subjective phase could no longer be regarded as the source out of which the experience arose. Objective consciousness of selves must precede subjective consciousness, and must continually condition it, if consciousness of meaning itself presupposes the selves as there. Subjective self-consciousness must appear within experience, must have a function in the development of that experience, and must be studied from the point of view of that function, not as that in which self-consciousness arises and by which through analogical bridges and self-projections we slowly construct a hypothetically objective social world in which to live. Furthermore, meaning in the light of this recognition has its reference not to agglomerations of states of subjective consciousness, but to objects in a socially conditioned experience. When in the process revealed by introspection we reach the concept of self, we have attained an attitude which we assume not toward our inner feelings, but toward other individuals whose reality was implied even in the inhibitions and reorganizations which characterize this inner consciousness.

If we may assume, then, that meaning is consciousness of attitude, I would challenge any one to show an adequate motive for directing attention toward one's attitudes, in a consciousness of things that

(180) were merely physical; neither control over sense-perception nor over response would be directly forwarded by attention directed toward a consciousness of readiness to act in a given situation. It is only in the social situation of converse that these gestures, and the attitudes they express could become the object of attention and interest. Whatever our theory may be as to the history of things, social consciousness must antedate physical consciousness. A more correct statement would be that experience in its original form became reflective in the recognition of selves, and only gradually was there differentiated a reflective experience of things which were purely physical.


  1. Given at the meeting of the Psychological Association in Boston, December 31, 1909.
  2. "The Definition of the Psychical," University of Chicago Decennial Volumes.
  3. I have discussed the implications of this position from a somewhat different point of view in the Psychological Bulletin, Vol. VI., No. 12, December 15, 1909.

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