Review of Instinct and Reason
Instinct and Reason: An Essay concerning the Relation of Instinct to Reason, with some Special Study of the Nature of Religion. By HENRY RUTGERS MARSHALL, M.A. New York : The Macmillan Co., 1898. Pp. vii + 574.$3.50
THIS is a large book an an old question, and one is prepared to find an important contribution to psychology in it, or to be somewhat annoyed. It turns out, however, that the volume is not primarily on the relation of instinct to reason, but is a biological plea for religion. Religion is regarded as a part of the machinery of natural selection, and the race has survived because through systems of religion checks have been established on individual conduct to the advantage of the group to which the individual belongs. Three classes of instincts are considered in some detail : (1) those of service to the individual ; (2) those of service to the race, that is, relating to the reproduction of the race ; and (3) those of service to the group. Religion, it is claimed, is an instinct, and an instinct of service to the group, its function being the regulation of group conduct. Mr. Marshall makes the very interesting claim, also, that, generally speaking, instinct is a safer guide than reason, reason being the variant principle, and instinct the beaten path. The standpoint naturally throws great stress upon the idea of duty, and the subordination of the individual. "Under my view, what is here called the suppression of our will to a higher will may be expressed in psychological terms as the restraint of individualistic impulses to racial ones ; that such restraint has effect upon the moral character being, of course, granted" (p. 329). ". . . . The function
( 686) of religion which lies back of its ceremonial is the suppression of the tendency to individualistic, elemental impulses, in favor of those which have a higher significance It would appear, then, that in relation to our modern complex and self-conscious intellectual life the function of religion will lie to a great extent in the restraint of reason and its subordination to faith" (pp. 297-8). It is obvious that the general view of the social importance of religion held by Mr. Marshall is very similar to that of Mr. Kidd, but differences of detail are pointed out in a special chapter.
The author is at great pains to make it appear that religion is an instinct, but it is not evident that he has done this. His treatment of instinct on the animal side is very clear, but not new in any important respect, and only preliminary, and interest is whetted in anticipation of a fine bit of work based on child-study and perhaps on ethnological data. But this does not follow; it is not even seriously attempted. The one definite case taken from children is given in a footnote, and relates to a girl, intentionally reared without mention of religious subjects, who at an early age asked her mother if she might not "say a little prayer." But though the mother and the kindergarten teacher had not given the child religious notions, it must be admitted that children get a good deal of information from others than their parents and teachers. This child had learned the word for prayer from some-one, and doubtless had some description of the practice from the same person, and the case seems not one of instinct, but of imitation. Similarly, the use of ethnological facts is scant and chary. This line is so fruitful and so unexplored in connection with instinct and habit that it seems sheer pity that a writer touching on race psychology should merely "look back into the dim past and imagine the conditions which must have existed amongst the ancestors of the human race . . . ." (p. 309). Far better consult the old travelers, unveracious as they often were. So far, then, as proof goes we have no occasion to conclude that religious feeling and practice are not socially rather than instinctively kept up. The importance of this contention appears to be, in the author's scheme, its newness, more than anything else, for he says: "But even if we assume that religious activities are not instinctive, but are entirely due to tradition and to the imitation of the example of others, even then it seems to me that we are compelled to assume that the activities have functional import in the development of the race." This is profoundly true, but it has been a commonplace ever since Spencer and others worked it out. It thus appears that the interesting field of the
( 687) relation of instinct and habit to religion is not here worked out, and that, on the other hand, it was unnecessary to remind anybody that religion has had a functional value in the development of the race. It must be said, also, that when we compare his incidental interpretation of such phenomena as hallucination, circumcision, and phallic worship with the facts and practices which we may examine in such works as Stoll's Hypnotismus und Suggestion in der Völkerpsychologie, Andree's Ethnographische Parallelen und Vergleiche, and Payne Knight's Discourse on the Worship of Priapus, we wonder whether the construction put upon these matters by the writer could ever have occurred to him if they had not happened to fit conveniently into his general theory. But waiving these and like inadequacies, the book is an important addition to the literature which attempts to interpret social facts from the standpoint of psychology. It is unfortunate, however, that interest in the argument should be hindered by a singularly procrastinating style, to which, indeed, the generous size of the book is really due. There is so much anticipation of what is to be said, and so much revival of what has been said, that the reader is pestered with a lack of certainty that he is ever at any time in the thick of the argument.
W. I. THOMAS.