Review of The Nature of Human Nature by Ellsworth Faris
The Nature of Human Nature and Other Essays in Social Psychology. By ELLSWORTH FARIS. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1937. Pp. xii + 370. $3.50.
The full title properly indicates the nature of these republished papers. They are essays rather than research reports of formal treatises. For example, even the papers dealing with the author's African experiences and his treatment of punishment, which come nearest representing re-search materials, are interpretative rather than systematically expository. The essays are, for the most part, well written, although there are one or two exceptions; they are clever in phrase and provocative in thought; but they are seldom detailed or closely reasoned presentations in the usual academic tradition. This latter fact, however, is not to be considered a loss, for the stimulating character of Faris, discussion should prove highly valuable to the theorist and investigator, who need to reckon with many of the problems which he treats.
Faced with the obvious difficulty of reprinting essays which ranged over such a wide area of interest and through such a long period of time, Faris did two things to bring about some correlation among them. First, he divided the volume into convenient sections: I, "Group and Person"; II "Conduct and Attitudes"; III, "Sociology and Education"; IV, "Sociology and Ethnology"; and V, "The Sociology of Racial Conflict." Second, he prepared an Introduction, giving a series of postulates, a sort of confession of scientific faith. Contending that culture is to be considered "a phenomenon of nature in every sense of the word," Faris first posits the reality, priority, and inertia of culture. Other postulates relate to psychological features of behavior, such as that action precedes thought and that the human being develops a self. Still others indicate the interplay of personality and culture, the interrelation of value and attitude, the relativity of cultures to each other, and finally the essential moral obligation of social science to furnish practical help in order to repay its debt to the society which makes it possible.
The intellectual sources of Faris' formulations will be apparent to the student. Though not gainsaying the importance of his own contribution to social psychology, it is evident that the Boas school of historical eth-
( 649) -nology and the writings of Znaniecki have influenced Faris' conception of culture, and that the works of James and Dewey have been important in forming the background for his psychology. In regard to George Herbert Mead-though the volume itself is dedicated to him, Faris does not actually make much use of the detailed analysis which Mead made of the rise and development of the social self.
Since most of the readers of this review will already have read many, if not all, of the papers here reprinted, nothing is to be gained by a mere sketchy summary of their contents. Rather, we may examine some of the most important features and offer, in passing, certain comments.
The papers in Sections I and II are directed chiefly to theoretical matters, while those of the last three sections are principally devoted to practical applications, predicated, however, upon his theories. In those bearing upon education, child training, and prejudice, one senses not only the keen insight and sound advice of the author but also his strong humanitarian concern with the improvement of human well-being. In fact, if one were to comment further on his intellectual heritage, one would be obliged to mention the apparent influence, both on his thought and form of expression, of his early experience as a Christian missionary.
The most recurrent motif in these essays is the omnipresent interplay of culture and personality. The negative counterpart is the repeated attack upon the concept of the instinct as the basis of social behavior. The author's strong reaction against psychoanalysis derives, in part, from its close linkage to the concept of instinct. And although Faris tries to demonstrate again and again, by argument and illustration, that culture pre-determines the course of personality, he nowhere distinguishes between culture and society, if one may assume, as the reviewer does, that such a distinction can and should be drawn. Certainly the concept of inter-action, which is basic to the concept of society, has a definite place in Faris' scheme, but to him the nature and quality of this interaction is apparently always cultural. There is no recognition of the fact that persons interstimulate each other outside the cultural framework.
His criticism of the use of the term "instinct" in the paper of 1921, "Are Instincts Data or Hypotheses?" provides the basis for his recurrent contention that, at best, instinct is a conceptual hypothesis and not an observed fact. He contends that we must deal with the behavior of children and adults as we actually observe it, and that such concepts as attitudes and habits are more valid terms with which to describe and interpret psychological events than some hypothetical list of instincts.
Yet the author's strong animadversion to instinct has led him to almost
( 650) complete neglect of the place of constitutional and maturational factors as at least partial determinants of behavior. One may quarrel with. McDougall's particular theory of instincts; but one may scarcely ignore the importance of organic or constitutional impulsions, drives, or what you will, which are significant in motivating action itself. If one accepts a dynamic view that the organism not only responds to the environment but also adapts the environment to its own ends, one cannot afford to take the strong view that culture is all important in determining behavior. Such a standpoint tends to leave the organism in the position of a passive item in the play of cultural forces—and this, I feel sure, Faris had no intention of doing.
Of less importance theoretically, but worthy of note, is the author's failure to distinguish between sociology and social psychology and to make clear just how collective or group consciousness differs from individual consciousness. Also, unfortunately, he at times employs the term "social" narrowly to denote the "moral," and at other times in the broader sense of indicating the effects of all interaction upon the individual.
In spite of any criticism, this collection of papers will long prove stimulating to the student of social psychology. And as the rapprochement of the social sciences and psychology proceeds, the name of Ellsworth Faris will be remembered as one who had a genuine place in bringing this about. Many of us will be indebted to him in a more direct way for the happy experience of having listened to many of these papers given at our meetings, or having heard the essential ideas expounded in the classroom in his inimitable and good-humored style.
University of Wisconsin