Introduction to the Study of Society

Book V Chapter I
The Phenomena of Social Psychology in General

Albion Small and George Vincent

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§ 164. Statements, allusions, and implications throughout the first four books of this manual have prepared the way for the assertion that all the phenomena of society find their explanations in psychical force. Social structures are preserved (§ 113) and collective activities are carried on by this agency (§ 112). It is the psychical potencies of society, knowledge, taste, and criteria of conduct, which persist and constitute the real life of the organism (§ 113). Material structures, technical devices, groupings of individuals, conduct, private and public, are simply the expression in tangible things, or in visible actions, of these mysterious forces.

The student of society, therefore, must penetrate mere outward manifestations, and seek to learn the nature of the influences which lie back of them. He must inquire whether such phrases as "social consciousness," " public opinion," " popular will," describe actual phenomena, or merely serve the purposes of the rhetorician. Again, if realities of this kind are discovered, the sociologist must endeavor to determine the laws of coexistence and sequence which they exhibit.

In view of the fundamental importance of psychical phenomena, it is by no means strange that many social philosophers are inclined to limit the scope of Sociology to the consideration of such manifestations only. Without at-

( 306) -tempting at present to draw any hard and fast lines in the general field of the social sciences, we would emphasize the peculiarly important character of the considerations involved in the psychical nature of society. To the examination of these questions this division of our volume will be devoted.

§ 165. To avoid confusion of thought, we must, at the outset, distinguish clearly between (1) Psychology, which gives an account of mind as we know it in the individual, and (2) Social Psychology, which describes the phenomena that result from the combination and reaction of the cognitions, emotions, and volitions of associated individuals. Inasmuch as the latter manifestations are a higher integration of the products of Individual Psychology, they may be said to form the subject-matter of a Super-psychology or an Ultra-psychology.

Just here it should be remarked that the existence of phenomena other than those of Individual Psychology, is seriously questioned by many, who assert that, since there is no social brain, and since all thinking is, in final analysis, done by individuals, the term " Social Psychology " is sheer juggling with words. Schaffle and De Greef, who, in somewhat different ways, have elaborated analogies between Individual and Social Psychology, have been the objects of no little ridicule. It must be owned that their efforts often give evidence of artificial and forced parallelism ; yet the open-minded reader will be convinced that these European sociologists have pointed out phenomena in society which differ essentially from those of individual mental activity.

It is useless to deny the difficulty of demonstrating logically the existence of social, as distinguished from individual, knowledge, feeling, and willing. The question at issue may be stated thus : is public opinion, for example, anything different from the arithmetical sum of the opinions of the

( 307) individuals who compose the society, or do these many opinions mutually modify each other, and result in a common conviction which may differ in some degree from that of every person involved? We believe that a careful consideration of facts will convince the student that social knowledge is something other than the mere addition of the impressions of individuals; that the standards of conduct of a given community are peculiar combinations of personal codes, which may vary widely from the former. The fact that social knowledge is apprehended by individual minds, that there is no social brain corresponding to the sensorium of an animal organism, does not discredit the existence of the phenomena we have mentioned. Without attempting at the outset to convince the student that the assertions implied above are statements of reality, we proceed to concrete illustration, in the belief that the truth will appear gradually clearer, as the discussion advances.

A lithographer prepares a dozen stones, from each of which, in succession, he prints a single tint, or color, of a given shape. The separate impression from each stone has, therefore, a form and hue of its own. But, when the twelve impressions have been superimposed upon the same paper, a picture with definite outlines, varied shades and tints, appears as something quite different from each component part. In similar fashion, many photographic negatives, each of a different person, may be printed one over another, until a "composite portrait" has been produced, which is easily distinguished from any of the likenesses which helped to form it.

In a way broadly analogous to the mechanical processes just described, the thoughts of individuals combine to form a product different in some degree from each of its elements. Social Psychology is concerned, as it were, with complete lithographs and composite photographs.

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A number of friends have, at different times, made the journey of the Rhine. They meet casually, after their return, and talk about the experiences and impressions of this trip. Each tourist viewed the same scene from his own standpoint, and carried away a mental picture, with which certain emotions of pleasure or discomfort are associated. The conversation is animated. Conflicting assertions, playful jests, earnest pleas, mingle thick and fast. One traveler grows rapturous over vine-clad hills; another complains of his wretched dinner and of the steamboat waiter who tried to sell him a bottle of wine every time they came abreast of a castle; a poetic enthusiast describes his emotions as he passed the home of the Lorelei; a student of history fancied he saw the Roman legions again patrolling the ancient frontier; still another tourist expresses disappointment at the color of the storied stream. It is clear that a listener who has never seen the Rhine gains an impression quite different from that of any of the speakers, and it is equally true that each traveler unconsciously modifies his own mental picture so that it includes, in some measure, the views of his friends. This final product, this peculiar integration of many personal impressions, which, in turn, reacts upon individual consciousness, is a phenomenon of Social Psychology.

A committee charged with some important decision holds a meeting. It is conceivable that each member has a definite plan of action which he thinks should he carried out. A full discussion takes place. Each person expresses an opinion. Questions are asked and answered; objections are raised; suggestions are offered; statements of fact are made. At last a unanimous —a one-minded— decision is reached. It differs, in a greater or less degree, from the original idea of each member of the body; it is an organized, unified product, not a mere addition of individual convictions.

A vast meeting of respectable citizens is held, under great excitement, to express indignation over an outrageous crime. A speaker relates the details of the atrocious act; individual imaginations and feelings are stimulated and aroused; low mutterings, threats, and sinister suggestions are heard here and there; a contagion seems to spread through the gathering. Suddenly a man cries, "Lynch him ! " In an instant the citizens are a howling mob, animated by a spirit which is foreign to each individual, yet dominates him for the time. The crowd rushes for the jail, and the prisoner is dragged forth and hung by citizens who are usually law-abiding. Here are phenomena which are something more than those of Individual Psychology.

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§ 166. Having indicated, in a general way, the nature of the phenomena with which Social Psychology is concerned, let us inquire of what the psychical resources of society, at a given moment, consist. They are of three kinds, which may be broadly distinguished as (1) knowledge, (2) standards of judgment, and (3)potential volitions. If we conceive of society as suddenly stopped in its course as a clock might be, we can gain a clearer idea of the phenomena, which in reality are undergoing constant change.

Assuming, therefore, a temporary state of stable equilibrium in society, we discover a mass of knowledge concerning the solar system, the physical and chemical properties s of matter, the formation of the earth, the laws of animal life, the history of the human race, the thoughts and emotions of men. This great body of knowledge is the product of contributions made by countless individuals through many centuries. It is expressed in a great variety of symbols (§ 103),in tools, implements, writing, pictures, printed books, in statues, and in buildings. Much of it is the possession of individual memories, yet the whole is so vast that a single mind could never compass, in detail, more than a small fraction of it. Again, this knowledge is not a mere accumulation of isolated observations and impressions of individuals in the past. It is a coördination and consolidation of all such contributions ; it is manifestly a product of a higher order, and may properly be described as social knowledge or social memory.

Just as observations and thoughts of individuals have been combined into social knowledge, so the feelings and judgments of innumerable social units have been, during the lapse of ages, progressively organized and reorganized into social feelings and judgments, which, often differing in a marked manner from the personal codes of individuals, sur-

(310) -vive from the past, or find present expression in manners, customs, public opinion, and laws.

Once more, individuals largely influenced by social knowledge and standards, æsthetic and ethical, will to perform certain acts. It is manifestly necessary that in many things the wills of individuals should be coördinated or combined into a general volition ; otherwise, chaos and conflict would be the result. We discover, therefore, that there is a social will which is the product of individual volitions, although it may differ from each of them. Political elections afford a more or less crude method of determining the common will in large societies, while conferences, discussions, and other forms of psychical contact serve the same purpose in smaller groups. At a given instant countless social volitions are formed, ready to find expression in appropriate action.

So much for the psychical potentialities of society in a hypothetical state of suspended animation. In reality, social knowledge is undergoing constant expansion and modification. Social feelings and judgments are, in consequence, ever changing, while social volitions in turn are, as a result, taking new forms and directions. The phenomena presented by this process of growth are peculiar to Social Psychology, and the study of them constitutes our present task.

The history of the development of any of the sciences illustrates admirably the formation of social knowledge. Each generation has modified and added to the work of its predecessor, until today facts are arranged in coherent and organized form, subject, however, to unwearied contemporary and future revision. If a textbook on Physics were simply a chronological list of individual observations and conclusions, — i.e. an arithmetical sum of such results, —it would offer only the products of Psychology; but presenting, as it does, these results combined into an organized body of observed reality, it is social knowledge in symbolic form. Social feelings and judgments as to extreme kinds of conduct are definitely expressed in legal enactments. Manifestly unsocial acts, such as crimes against persons and property, are in ordin-

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-ary circumstances severely reprobated. But there is much conduct about which social judgments vary. A man may consciously hold himself to a code higher than that of society, or he may fall below the social standard. Some men in business refuse to take part in transactions which the general conscience justifies, while too many pursue methods which society distinctly disapproves. The social will may be determined in many ways. The committee described on page 308 represented at first several different wills which, by discussion and conference, were united into a single volition. Voting, and the supremacy of the majority as a method of forming a common will, is less satisfactory than is generally supposed; for the minority do not, as a rule, acquiesce in the decision, and their will is unrepresented in the general result.

§ 167. We have seen that the observations, reflections, and volitions of individuals combine to produce social knowledge, judgment, and will. It is further to be remarked that these products react upon social units with such constraining influence, that it is not hard to understand why certain philosophers call in question the " freedom of the will."

Language, the chief vehicle of psychical force, is, in itself, a determining factor. Each individual acquires in some measure the use of this means of communication. Much as a tool or implement directs and limits manual labor, so language conditions in greater or less degree the mode, as well as the formal expression, of individual thought. To change the figure, language offers molds, as it were, in which the ideas of men are largely run. Conventionality of thought is nothing more than slavery to well-worn ways of expression. The trite phrase, " inadequacy of language," describes the consciousness that ideas encounter limitations in the symbols of speech. The formulas of systematic logic afford an exact method of thinking, to which individual minds must submit themselves. The very machinery of social communication, therefore, tends to secure a certain vague uniformity of mental processes, and to influence in a marked manner the course of individual thought.

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Social knowledge and judgments reach the consciousness of the individual almost exclusively through the medium of language, and become a part of his thought and feeling in a somewhat stereotyped form. The knowledge possessed by a social unit is primarily of two kinds: (1) the result of his own observations, and (2) the fraction of social knowledge which has been communicated to him. It is obvious that in the case of even comparatively unintelligent persons the element of social knowledge, appropriated in various ways through symbols, tools, and discipline, is by far the larger. More highly educated individuals possess a greatly preponderating proportion of social knowledge, into which they incorporate the results of their own observations and impressions. The knowledge of individuals, therefore, is not a personal product, but, in a very large degree, an acquisition from the resources of society. The individual believes not merely the results of his own sensations and cognitions, but accepts on faith a vast body of social knowledge.

Moreover, social knowledge is closely related to social feeling and judgment, and it is obvious that with such knowledge the individual acquires social standards and opinions ; he not only accepts the collective information, but he largely acquiesces in social estimates of what is good and what is bad, and experiences emotions common to larger or smaller groups of which he may be a member. In a similar way his volitions are influenced by the common will, and his overt acts are brought into more or less orderly relations with those of his fellows.

Education is, in one aspect, the communication of social knowledge to individual minds. A chief function of the press is to diffuse social knowledge, which influences individual thought and conduct. The pupil must accept and make his own the facts of science, history, and language which are presented to him. Only comparatively few ad

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-vanced students, and they in coöperation, are able to modify the great body of collective information.

The merchant, the banker, the doctor, or the lawyer, is compelled to gain his knowledge almost wholly from social sources. The dealer on 'Change is dependent for the information which is so vitally important to him, upon a vast number of isolated observations combined into a generalized report. The scope for independent individual knowledge is, after all, very narrow.

In the sphere of feeling and judgment, the domination of social forces is equally conspicuous. The individual accepts certain standards which are imposed upon him from without. In infancy and youth, estimates of worth, and emotions appropriate to them, are inculcated by parents and teachers. The boy is taught to regard this with aversion and look upon that with approval. He is usually an echo of father and mother. These ideals and feelings become so completely a part of the ]ad that one who knows thoroughly all the conditions of his education can generally predict what opinions and feelings will be aroused in given circumstances. The political debates of mere boys offer admirable examples of externally determined opinions.

Prejudice describes, with rather a sinister implication, the conditioning force of education and environment as well as of inherited temperament. With advancing age and wider experience individual modes of feeling and judgment may be modified, but they remain none the less predominantly social, rather than personal, products.

The youth who attends college, and returns to patronize his parents and fellow-townsmen, is not the emancipated and independent person he probably imagines. lie has simply gained a somewhat larger share of social knowledge and acquired the standards of another social group. He is hardly less the creature of circumstances than is his former schoolmate, who has remained in the little village. The circumstances are, perhaps, of a broader and better kind; but so far as personal independence is concerned, the college student has not changed essentially his relation to social psychical forces.

We may recognize the existence of a certain volitional freedom in ethical consciousness, and a consequent measure of personal responsibility, but it is useless to deny that social forces exercise a constraining influence upon individuals, which unites them in a coherent, organic whole. This psychical organism displays modes of activity and growth which are susceptible of study as peculiar phenomena.

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§ 168. If the existence of a Social or Super-psychology is admitted, as we believe it must be, most important results may be expected from the pursuit of this science. The formation of social knowledge, feeling and willing, and the reaction of them upon individuals, through whom, in turn, social structures and functions are affected, become phenomena of the utmost significance. Manifestly, we have discovered in the psychical nature of society the true vital principle, which not only explains past and present conditions, but suggests the ultimate source of those maladjustments and imperfectly performed activities which Constructive Sociology aims to modify and improve. It is clearly impossible for the student to understand the real nature of the social problems which confront him unless he gains insight into the mysterious forces which bind together and motive the physical elements of society. A mere examination of the parts of an engine, separately and in their relations, is of little or no value apart from a knowledge of the nature and properties of steam.

The analysis in Books III. and IV. has given us a conspectus of society chiefly in its external aspects. We must now conceive of this vast complex of physical matter, organic and inorganic, as forming a coherent whole, in which intangible and elusive, yet none the less actual, forces, themselves ever changing, are constantly maintaining combinations and effecting recombinations, causing movements, altering physical conditions, and thus producing progressive readjustments. It is from this standpoint that we are to regard society in the remainder of our discussion. 

An inspection of any fraction of society in the light of this conception becomes significant. Every building is the outward expression of an ideal in the mind of its architect. A street car represents in physical matter the thoughts of many men. The pavements are a result of the demands of thousands of individuals, which, through the machinery

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of society, get themselves satisfied in tangible things. If these streets are ill-kept, the very mud and litter stand for certain psychical conditions. Stores, with their stocks of goods, are called into existence as the result of psychical and psycho-physical requirements. A glance over the wares of the bookseller tells much as to the intelligence and taste of those for whom he caters.

A quotation from Lotze is apposite in connection with this subject . . . how absolutely universal is the extent, and at the same time how completely subordinate the significance, of the mission which mechanism has to fulfill in the structure of the world (Microcosmus, Introduction.)

Society gains coherence and is motived by psychical forces which are peculiar products of the psychical processes of individuals, and, as such, form the subject-matter of Social Psychology or Super-psychology. The phenomena of the latter science are shown to consist of social knowledge, feeling, and volition, which are integrations of the similar characteristics of individuals. These collective forces react upon social units and for the most part determine individual modes of thought, emotion, and action. The psychical nature of society is of the utmost significance, both in Descriptive and in Constructive Sociology.


1. An analysis of the forces which give coherence to a trades-union.

2. The significance from the psychical standpoint of a strike in a factory.

3. The motive forces of a church organization.

4. A statement of the view which recognizes no phenomena other than those of Individual Psychology.

5. A defense with concrete illustrations of the position taken by this volume with regard to the question.

6. An outline of Schäffle's analogy between Individual and Social Psychology. (Bau and Leben.)

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7. An outline of De Greef's similar analogy. (Introduction a la Sociologie.)

8. A comparison and correlation of the analysis of Schäffle and De Greef.

9. The weather-report service in its relation to social knowledge.

10. The mob spirit and its effect upon college students at a football or baseball match.

11. The causes which have made a given man a Democrat or a Republican.

12. The significance of education in the light of the psychical conception.

13. Some of the psychical forces of which Westminster Abbey is an expression.

14. An expansion of the idea expressed in the quotation from Lotze (§ 168).


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