The Laws of Social Psychology

Chapter 1: The Problem of Scientific Laws in Modern Social Psychology

Florian Znaniecki

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This has been frequently doubted by modern thinkers, for the most part in reaction to the superficial formulae of the English associationists. The arguments against the possibility of psychological laws may be reduced to three.

The first has been put forward by the so-called empirio-critical school of German philosophers (Avenarius, Petzoldt, and others), and also, independently of them, by the neo-criticists (Natorp, etc.). All of them stand under the influence of Kant's philosophy. They disclaim the existence of any rational order or coherence of psychological phenomena as such. Psychological phenomena are experiences of the subject; any connection between them must be first established by the subject himself, and goes to build up his objective world by becoming a part of nature as constructed by him from the material given to him, or of the ideal world of morality, science, art, religion. There can be no subjective, psychological order, for all order is essentially objective. At best, the psychologist studying human experiences may find that their actual occurrence in individual consciousness is connected with certain changes going on in one particular object among those which constitute nature, viz., in the subject's body. These changes are objective, and therefore possess their own order which the psychologist may substitute for the irrational sequence of psychological phenomena.

(2) But then, of course, he acts as a physiologist rather than as a psychologist.

This argument clearly begs the question. If all order is defined as being essentially objective and psychology as dealing only with that which is essentially subjective, then of course, there can be no psychological laws by definition. But both assumptions may be false. There may be an order of subjective phenomena as such which does not go to build up the objective world given to the subject who experiences these phenomena, yet is an objective, rational order in the sense that the psychologist who studies it and even the experiencing subject himself, when he reflects about it, treat it not as a mere personal experience nor as an arbitrary individual construction, but as a real order actually connecting the very facts which have been studied. Such a priori reasoning should, therefore, not discourage positive scientific research.

The second argument is less -obviously fallacious. It is very widely accepted, though often only in a limited way, and it is difficult to, assign its authorship to any particular thinker or school. It consists in denying the possibility of, psychological laws on the ground that the "stream of consciousness" is a concrete and fluid continuity of actual becoming in which the present merges with the past and the future, from which no stable element can be isolated and within which no definite connection can be established between a particular fact and any other fact, simultaneous, past or future, to the exclusion of the other intervening facts.

It this were true, it would prove more than it wishes to prove. For by analogous reasoning the possibility of any scientific laws bearing upon empirical data could be undermined. Not only psychological life, but all reality is in a measure a concrete and continuous stream of becoming: every isolation of elements, every rational determination of facts is

(3) in a sense an artificial abstraction breaking the continuity of the concrete rush of changes and ignoring innumerable bonds which tie every fact with, other facts, simultaneous or successive. This abstraction is, nevertheless, justified in the sciences of objective reality in so far as the concreteness and continuity of becoming are not absolute and uniform objects stand out from their milieu as relatively stable and connected into relatively isolated systems; facts are determined by certain other facts in a larger measure than by all the rest of the concrete world. This is sufficient to make science possible, particularly as this relative stability, isolation and determination can be further increased by experimental and intellectual analysis. The same holds true of the psychological field. Our own action and reflection tend spontaneously and at every moment to break up the current of our conscious becoming, give a relative stability, isolation and rational connection to particular psychological phenomena, often without any regard for the continuity of their actual co-existence and succession. Psychology has only 'to follow and supplement for theoretic purposes this spontaneous work of our consciousness, just as other sciences do in their respective fields.

The third argument against psychological laws, associated with the preceding one, has found its most radical expression in the philosophy of Bergson, though its leading idea is not absent from the works of many other writers, including humanists and pragmatists, and may be traced back as far as Guyau and Ravaisson in France, Nietzsche in Germany. It is based upon the creative character of conscious life. Consciousness is an active process; every conscious phenomenon is in its very essence a new and incalculable product of creative activity and its very appearance is the spontaneous result of free development. Creation and freedom do not mean necessarily chaos, however: there may be some specific order in consciousness, as in all "creative evolution". But

(4) this order is radically different from that which every science is searching for and which alone our reason is capable of conceiving. While for science the essence of every phenomenon is comprehensible only in so far as it can be rationally reduced to other phenomena, the fact of its appearance at a given time and place being explained causally by other preceding facts, each phenomenon in the course of conscious life is essentially unique and the fact of its present appearance has no sufficient reason in the past. Only some super-rational intuition identifying itself with its object can grasp the inherent order of the free and creative conscious process.

Without quarrelling in the least with the assumption that conscious life is essentially free and creative — indeed, we intend to go even further in this direction than any of our predecessors — the question may be raised, does this assumption absolutely prohibit the use of scientific concepts and methods in psychology, or. does it rather merely limit their application? Plain psychological observation shorn of doctrinal prepossessions clearly points toward the second answer.

Human activities are not all equally original and indetermined: they may be graded on along scale ranging from the reflex to the realization of moral ideals, from automatic speech to the master-work of a great poet. Even at the lowest grade of this scale, where there is no reflective consciousness of their aims, they .do not lose their psychological character, and do not cease to be free and creative in some degree; it is an, obvious mistake, to identify the field of spontaneous action with that of conscious reflection about action. But even at the highest grade freedom and creativeness do not entirely preclude the occurrence of determination and repetition. The point is that activity at every level of its cultural development is apt spontaneously to become repeatable and determin-

(5) -able by subordinating itself to definite objective requirements. It becomes automatism when it attaches itself to a certain organic state, personal habit when it connects the performance of certain acts with particular material conditions outside of the body, social custom when it binds itself with rules demanding specific behavior in specific social situations, the realization of a norm when it follows reflectively self-imposed demands of an ideal order—moral, religious, aesthetic, logical.[1] In the measure of its stabilization it becomes the proper subject-matter of psychological laws. On the other hand, in so far as it breaks all restrictions of automatism, habit, custom or norm, and blossoms into unreserved freedom and originality, it escapes all attempts at scientific classification and explanation.

The psychological field thus presents a multiplicity of processes, whose degree of novelty and freedom as against repetition and determination may vary indefinitely. The acknowledgment of the presence of the principle of freedom and creation in conscious life has usually led to the conclusion that psychology should not aim to establish laws of the same logical type as those for which the sciences of the physical world are searching: since the whole field of psychological phenomena cannot be subordinated to a rationally perfect scientific order, psychology should be satisfied with subjecting it to some imperfect order. That is 'to say, psychology should not attempt to classify anything exactly or to explain anything fully, but ought to limit itself to approximate and vague classifications and partial, empirical explanations, so that these modest claims may

(6) be extended to any and all of the facts within the domain of consciousness.

We object most strenuously to this conclusion. Such a conception of the purposes of psychology stands in flagrant contradiction with the standards of scientific achievement which are the chief pride of modern thought. No science fulfils its task adequately unless it tries to reach within its domain a perfect logical exactness of its classes and laws. If it is unable to control its entire field thus, it should restrict the range of its investigations as far as necessary in order to have all of its object-matter accessible in principle to its highest logical demands. This is what since the Middle Ages all those sciences have been doing whose progress is now the envy of less perfect disciplines. Physics did it in resigning the majority of its mediaeval problems, astronomy in separating itself from astrology, chemistry in rejecting many alchemical experiments. The reward of their moderation in thus limiting their fields of research has been the gradual discovery of innumerable new problems, whose existence was not even suspected before, with the consequent widening of their domains in new and useful directions.

A similar limitation of the scope of psychology clearly imposes itself. The relative irrationality of the concrete and continuous "stream of consciousness" forces us to cut and divide this stream into fragments, to isolate from it particular elements and complexes which may prove rational after isolation. And we. have seen that practical life has prepared the ground for science by actually isolating to some degree many such elements and complexes. Furthermore, the fact that in the becoming of some elements and complexes the principles of novelty and freedom prevail to such a point as to make any effort at classification and explanation hopeless, should be a sufficient motive for the psychologist to limit his investigation to those fragments of

(7) conscious life where this obstacle to scientific work may be neglected without seriously damaging the results. In other words, the psychologist should analyze and select his facts from the concrete complexity of conscious life in such a way as to take into consideration everything which can be subjected to the demands of scientific rationality, and to exclude, as not belonging to scientific psychology, everything which is essentially inaccessible to such demands.

Thus, psychology cannot be a science of consciousness in general, nor a science of all phenomena commonly called psychological, but a science of certain elements and complexes to be found in the course of concrete conscious life. Its limits are not to be traced in advance, but must be determined in the very course of investigation. The difficulty is simply to find the proper way of approach to all those conscious phenomena that can be scientifically studied. A similar problem has been already put by the behaviorist school, but the study of organic behavior has proved entirely inefficient in reaching the higher manifestations of culture. Perhaps this book will show that social activities furnish a better starting-point for the study of conscious life.


The scepticism which often makes the general psychologist doubtful about the fundamental issues of his science has seldom, if ever, daunted the representatives of social psychology. They seldom hesitate in formulating sweeping laws concerning human behavior in society, and indeed, as we shall find presently, the number and variety of logical forms which their laws assume are quite surprising, particularly in view of the relatively brief history of their endeavors. Is this merely a typical expression of the exaggerated self-confidence which every new science manifests in its youthful days and with which probably every worker in the

(8) field of sociology has been at some time justly or unjustly reproached? Or is there any deeper reason for the hopefulness with which social psychologists wield logical instruments which older and better established sciences have often found too precise and delicate for their use?

Perhaps some real justification may, indeed, be found for the eagerness with which social psychology is trying to reach at once the highest goal of a positive science. For it seems that its way of dealing with conscious phenomena is different from that which general psychology has fixed for its own use after many years of intellectual analysis and laboratory work. This difference has, in fact, been recognized by some psychologists. Thus, Münsterberg says in criticising the results of socio-psychological investigation: "Sociology has not been ultimately much concerned with the point of view of causal psychology. Certainly, it has tried to analyze psychological processes and to dissolve into elements that which appears as united in experience... . But all this remains yet fully within the limits of an interpreting intention —psychology... The causal psychologist takes something entirely different into consideration. If psychical becoming is to be grasped with the help of the concepts of his science, his essential effort must tend toward taking this internal life in such a way as it presents itself to internal perception: it requires to be explained not as a connection of meanings, but as a content of consciousness. Mere analysis is not yet a translation of life into causal processes... Thus, perhaps, no group of socially significant mental emotions has been more carefully and delicately analyzed than love; . . . and yet the causal psychology of love remains untouched". [2]

But, according to the same writer, his own discipline psychology fares no better; it is for ever incapable of finding any causal order in conscious data. "By considering

(9) psychical facts alone we can never understand how one representation provokes another representation, or how it stirs an emotion, or how it brings forth an act of will. We may observe that if often so happens, but as long as we look upon facts merely as upon (psychical phenomena we can never understand the causal necessity which connects them... This is the decisive reason why the causal psychologist is forced to treat psychical facts as phenomena accompanying brain processes".[3]

In fact, however, the very application of psychology to practice, with which the work here quoted deals, throws quite another light upon the divergence of point of view between general psychology and social psychology. Both general and social psychology have started — though at different times — from practical psychological observation of common life. But general psychology — at first closely connected with metaphysics, later allying itself with natural science — has gone very far from its original starting-point, so far, indeed, that when asked recently to contribute by practical applications to the control of human affairs, it found in its enormous agglomeration of theories and materials very little to serve, and even that little due mainly to its connection with physiology. Meanwhile social psychology still endeavors to keep in close and continuous touch with social practice, with political, literary, historical, moral observation; and the generalizations it forms are still largely constructed according to the same models as those innumerable general statements about social life which reflective men have been making for centuries past, though, of course, socio-psychological reflection attempts to be more consistent and exact than popular thought.

Now, contact with common-sense is pernicious for philosophy, but mast desirable for science, which is, nothing other than developed, critically revised and systematized

(10) common-sense. However low may be the standards of efficiency in social practice — and they are undoubtedly low — yet the latter could not be efficient at all if the common-sense generalizations it uses did not contain some, at least approximately adequate knowledge of a rational order inherent in social becoming as product of human behavior. No plans of social action could be made and. carried out, with however imperfect an approximation of ultimate achievements to original aims, unless there were some possibility of foreseeing the effects of given or expected changes; consequently, unless there were a certain regularity in the course of social happenings. It is, however, beyond question that common-sense reflection alone could never have been able to grasp fully and bring into the light of knowledge the exact nature and extent of this regularity. Judging from its accomplishments in other fields of experience before the constitution of systematic science, we should expect from it nothing more than disjointed, negligently one-sided, often half-erroneous fragments of socio-psychological knowledge. But these fragments give us an idea of what a socio-psychological theory may do if, critically balancing against each other, testing by facts, and unifying the multiple theoretic views which have helped introduce some rational purpose into social life, and substituting in further research exact methods of analysis and generalization for those used in the past, it really becomes able to reach and reconstruct scientifically the inherent order of social becoming.

We must begin by ascertaining how far social psychology has already succeeded in fulfilling this task and in what measure its various conceptions of scientific laws are fit instruments for the work of raising common-sense reflection to the level of science. Under "social psychology" is understood in this chapter all theories which explicitly assume this name, and also those which, though using only the general name of sociology, treat more especially the psychological side of the social domain, e. g. that of Tarde. We shall also turn occasionally to general psychology when it has a bearing upon social problems. A more exact definition of social psychology can be given

(11) later on only.

We have found no less than seven distinct types of laws formulated in socio-psychological literature. They must be reviewed in succession.


By static laws the tradition established by Comte understands unchanging relations between the parts of a whole. The "whole" is conceived as a system of elements or components between which there is a necessary rational connection. Comte's own conception of social solidarity illustrates this type of laws in the field of social organization. In general psychology the "circle of colors" symbolically representing the relations of similarity between "spectral qualities" has been used to exemplify a similar conception of laws.[4] The "Social Logic" of Tarde is full of statements which can be subsumed under this concept, such as: "The result of the daily contact of minds, after many struggles and discussions, is the establishment of a kind of approximate balance of convictions, comparable to the balance of the seas, which does not exclude waves and tides" .[5]

Mr. Ross in his Social Psychology gives a set of generalizations which, though not designated explicitly as laws, throw a good light upon our present problem.

"If we investigate why custom rules in one department of life and not in another, we come upon certain general truths:...


"2. Custom rules in the less accessible (more private) fields.


"4. Habits of consumption are more stable than habits of production... Habits of consumption constitute the standard of living...

"5. Custom is powerful in matters of feeling. This is because there are no objective or logical tests to emancipate us from a transmitted emotional attitude.

"6. Institutions of control — law, government, religion, ceremony and mores — are fossiliferous (because they need prestige)... and of all the prestiges that of a great antiquity. is for most men the strongest and most reliable". [6]

With particular clearness is this idea of necessary rational relations between the various elements of a system carried out in the psychological field by Spranger.[7] For him the psychical life of the individual is a spiritual structure, a structure of acts and experiences; each class of these acts and experiences corresponds to a domain of. objective meanings which, viewed in its historical development, appears as a particular domain of culture, such as science, art, economics. Among these domains of meanings and of culture, two are social: the domain of power or political control, and the domain of love or free association. In so far as an individual consistently participates in one of these domains, he realizes in his person an objective rationality: his acts and experiences are connected into' a coherent system, have a structural order subordinated to some leading principle.

We do not intend to deny the assumption of coherent structures or systems in social psychology; on the contrary, as we shall see later on, the very possibility of the develop

(13) -ment of this science is bound up with the existence of such systems. But the term "law" is hardly applicable to the permanent relation between the elements of a system. There are in this case two eventualities.

In the first eventuality such relations are simply ideal connections established by our mind; whereas scientific laws are supposed to be real connections independent of our mind. When we find that the parts of a structure necessarily belong together, this "belonging together" may mean and often does mean simply that we consider them logically connected, whether there are any real forces which hold them together, or not. This is exemplified by the relations between the parts of a geometrical figure or of a work of art, and also by the "circle of colors" mentioned above. Such an ideal connection may be valid even when the parts of a structure exist separately and are not brought together in fact. The parts of a machine "belong together", even If they have not yet been assembled; the terms of a scientific theory belong together even though nobody actually establishes or reconstructs their bond.

As these examples show, "ideal" does not mean merely "subjective". The connection between the sides and angles in a triangle is not subjective: it is necessary and obvious for anybody who is able and willing to learn mathematics. So is the connection between the parts of a machine. But again, from this latter instance we see that man himself may make the ideal connection. By inventing a machine he creates new parts and fits them mentally together, makes them "belong together" in a way that was not known before. The same holds true of other structures, also of those of social psychology. In the eyes of every believer, the dogmas and rites of a religion "belong together", are ideally connected just like the terms of a theory or the parts of a machine. In a legal contract the obligations of the parties are ideally connected from the point

(14) of view of law, even though the parties do not fulfil them. Where a marriage custom has been long established, all the performances implied in it hold together in the eyes of the community, and each appears as a logically indispensable part of the whole. A benefactor feels that gratitude should logically follow the benefit; a man who has performed a brilliant feat to gain recognition considers recognition as ideally due, as "belonging together" with the feat.

Of ' course, if man can create new ideal connections, make things "belong together", he can also make real those which already subsist, bring together things which belong together. But this requires an active process which is not implied in the ideal connection as such. Any given ideal connection may be made real or not; this does not depend on itself, but on active forces external to it. The parts of a machine may be assembled or not:. it depends on whether there are men willing and able to do the physical work of assembling. Likewise, in reasoning the proper conclusion may be drawn from the premises, or not: this depends on the logical ability and readiness of the man who is doing the reasoning.

In other words, the ideal connection does not realize itself by its own power. Its realization must be considered as a subsidiary question of fact not necessarily involved in its subsistence. We may always put the problem how any such ideal connection became real. There are two possible solutions. Either we assume creative activity on the part of some conscious subject who realized the ideal connection by his own free will, because he understood it and intended to make it real; or else we must claim that this realization was the result of some natural causes, and then appeal to the dynamic laws ruling the process of its realization. Whereas the real connection expressed by the scientific or commonly-called "natural" law has a power of realizing itself by itself. As soon, for instance,

(15) as the cause is there, the effect must come, not as a mere matter of fact, but as a matter of necessity, involved in the very existence of the causal connection. Therefore, the ideal connection is not a law.

There is, however, another alternative. The static law may be more than an ideal "belonging together", a logical determination of the components of a system. It may mean a real reciprocal dependence between these components. The balance of mechanical forces in the working of a machine; the interdependence of functions in the life of an organism, are examples of this type of dependence. In this sense, however, the static law reduces itself in modern science to a combination of dynamic laws, i. e., of laws of changes. The mechanical balance means a strictly reciprocal functional dependence between two continuous processes. The organic unity of a body is maintained by a rythmical alternation. of dependence between processes, in which each process becomes in turn cause and effect. This is clearly the significance of Comte's social solidarity (consensus social); it becomes also evident after a careful analysis that the generalizations of Mr. Ross quoted above, though static in formulation, ultimately presuppose dynamic laws. The theory of the well-known French psychologist, F. Paulhan, gives a very good illustration of this conception of static laws. Paulhan interprets all conscious life in terms of psychical systems whose elements are interconnected according to the principle of finality; psychical facts belong together because and in so far as they cooperate for a common purpose. Thus, there is between them a relation, not only of ideal, but of real interdependence. When he now wishes to formulate the fundamental law of "systematic association", he gives it a definitely dynamic expression: "Every psychical fact tends to associate with itself and to make appear those psychical facts which can harmonize themselves with it, which can converge with it toward a common aim, or harmonious

(16) aims, which can form with it one system".[8] That is, the system of interdependent facts is constituted by a dynamic influence exercised by every fact upon every other fact, an influence consisting in the power of a process to provoke another process.

Thus, there are no "static laws" in social psychology, nor, for that matter, in psychology in general. Psychical structures are either ideal systems for whose realization we can account only by a free and creative activity of the subject, or else by processes subjected to dynamic laws; or they are real systems which reduce themselves to combinations of dynamic laws. Therefore, every law of social psychology must be a dynamic law, that is, a law of psychical becoming.


The most common form of dynamic laws used in social psychology belongs to the type for which the term "empirical laws" has been coined. Such a "law" simply asserts that according to observation all conscious living' beings, or all human beings, or all human groups, or all representatives of a certain class of human beings or groups act, feel, or think in a certain way: or, more generally, that a certain kind of facts occur in the behavior of those, beings or groups. Mr. Ellwood in a characteristic argumentation limits social laws to this type: "In sow science we can use the term 'law' merely, to indicate a relatively uniform and regular way in which things happen. . We return thus to the old meaning of this word: regularity in an observed phenomenon... The uniform characters of human nature and of society are due to instincts or habits, adaptations to ends pursued rather than mechanical necessities. The 'habits' of individual behavior.°.. give birth to regular returns

(17) in social phenomena almost as invariable as those of physical nature... A social law is the statement of a habitual mode of action of individuals or groups among them".[9]

Generalizations of this variety are current in common reflection and can be found in profusion in popular and scientific psychological literature of all ages. A few statements selected at random may serve as illustration: "Man always wants more than he has"; "The behavior of women is irrational", "Man is a political animal". A few examples drawn from modern social psychology will show the scientific development of these generalizations. Le Bon on the psychology of crowds: "Nothing is ever premeditated in crowds. They can run successively the gamut of the most opposite emotions under the influence of momentary stimulations. "[10] Tarde on imitation: "Imitation propagates itself from above"; "The social superior is imitated by the social inferior";[11] and "Imitation goes from the inside of man to the outside" [12]

We shall also quote one important conception from the field of general psychology which has been frequently applied to social psychology: the pair of correlative laws formulated by Wundt as "the law of creative synthesis" and "the law of relating analysis". Both laws are briefly formulated in the statement: "Every psychological synthesis represents a unified whole which realizes new properties as compared with its elements, and the parts of this compound

(18) whole are always definitely related to one another".[13] Speaking in terms of becoming, the process of psychological synthesis produces a result which contains something that was not contained in the synthetized elements, and the process of psychological analysis leaves the parts of the analyzed whole related to one another.

What is now the difference between these "laws" and the laws of physical sciences, which are the recognized models of present scientific method ? We should not be misled by any similarity of formulation, for this is often consciously sought by social psychologists: we should look beyond the formula to the objective order of things which it tries to express. Thus analyzed, the difference is simple and clear: the psychological laws of empirical uniformity define certain facts, the laws of physical science define certain relations between facts. Or, if we decide to treat connected facts as one process, we might say that the psychological law of uniformity defines a process in its totality whereas the physical law tries also to determine the connection between the parts of a process. Each of the psychological laws quoted above merely describes what more or less generally happens: there are facts of imitation descending from the superior to the inferior; there is an active tendency in man to associate with his fellows; there is a psychological synthesis producing something that was not in the elements. Whereas, the laws of motion describe what changes in speed. and direction necessarily occur if a certain force is applied to a moving body; the laws of gravitation are abbreviated formulae of statements defining what changes of gravitation follow definite, however infinitesimal, changes in mass and in distance between bodies; the Boyle-Mariotte law states the relation between the fact of increasing or diminishing the pressure exercised upon a gas and the fact of change

(19) occurring in the resistance offered by the gas to further pressure.

It follows that logically these so-called psychological "laws" are not laws of facts in the exact sense of the term, but merely descriptions of classes of facts. They do not give scientific explanations, but only scientific classifications; they classify facts just as zoology classifies animals. Explanation of a fact implies the possibility of deducing this fact from another: we explain the changes in the movement of a body by deducing them from the application of certain forces to this body. Whereas neither the laws of imitation nor the law of creative synthesis permits us to explain any fact. If we see that a man has imitated his superior, we do not know yet why he has done so; we know only that he has done something most men do. And when we find that a psychological synthesis has occurred, we cannot explain it by anything that happened before; on the contrary, the law explicitly states that the results of the synthetic process are a creative product not to be explained by the nature of the elements which have gone to produce it. This has made some authors say that the law of creative synthesis is simply a confession that psychical life treated by Wundt's method is irrational; and perhaps this was one of the reasons why Wundt himself preferred to call it a "principle" rather than a "law". Of course, if we could find that the synthesis adds to the elements something which is always the same when the elements are the same, the law would assume a different character; but such an interpretation is precluded by the whole theory.

It follows, further, that the relative validity of the "laws" here discussed depends an the generality with which the facts described by these laws occur in empirical observation. Generality takes here the place of the necessity characterizing physical laws. To the physicist it does not matter whether

(20) a certain relation between facts has manifested itself empirically a million times, or only once or twice in laboratory experiments. He simply assumes that it exists whenever these facts occur, that if fact B is causally determined by fact A, every occurrence of A must result in the occurrence of B. If experience shows that in some cases, few or many, A is not actually followed by B, he supposes that some other cause X has interfered, whose effect Y has combined with B to produce the given actual effect C. He will then try to discover Y and X, to find the law of the relation between X and Y, as well as the form of combination of B and Y. However often such unexpected combinations happen, they do not affect the validity of the law of the relation between A and B; indeed, these apparent "exceptions" — in which A is not in fact followed by B, but by something else; C, D, or E — are usually much more obvious in practical experience than the empirical manifestations of the "rule".

On the contrary, every empirical exception does affect a law of psychological uniformity, for it shows that the definition does not extend as far as it was meant to extend. If we find many exceptions to the law that the inferior imitates the superior, or that women behave irrationally, it means that the class of facts here generalized is not the only class of facts found within the given limits, that there are also different facts when the inferior does not imitate the superior, and women do not behave irrationally. Therefore, unless we have made an actual inventory of all the varieties of facts found within the whole domain of human behavior which is, of course, impossible — there is no way of telling when and where a law of this type will apply. The Boyle-Mariotte law is valid wherever and whenever gases are compressed; but the law of Tarde is not valid wherever and whenever there is imitation.

The only way by which a universality of application can be assumed with reference to a socio-psychological

(21) law of this type is by limiting its definition to its extension. If we should call "imitation" a process possessing all the characters ascribed to it by Tarde, and agree to treat as something else any process otherwise similar, but varying in some particular, as going from equal to equal or from inferior to superior, we should then be sure, of course, that all imitation would follow his law. In this way Wundt has implicitly made his laws universal, by putting into his definition of psychological facts in advance those characters from which the principle of creative synthesis must logically result. Evidently, such a tautological method may help us to subsume the known facts of our experience under general concepts, but not to apply these concepts to new facts.

Therefore, with regard to the leading purpose of the present study, "laws" stating ° empirical uniformities of facts must be considered an unsatisfactory type of socio-psychological generalization. They do not even attempt to comply with the highest standards of modern scientific research, and social psychology should not resign itself to their use until all the possible ways of finding a more exact kind of laws have been tried and found to fail.

Nevertheless, the "laws" of empirical uniformity which have been already formulated either in popular reflection or in science are not useless. They suggest the existence of some deeper and more exact order of becoming in our field. A uniformity of facts usually points to some determination underlying these facts, and thus should be the starting-point of a hypothesis trying to express this determination. Social psychology has already realized this in many cases. One of the most usual ways of explaining uniformities of human behavior by reference to the bio-psychological forces involved in human nature is mentioned in the fragment from Ellwood quoted above. There are numerous attempts to explain uniformities of behavior of

(22) particular classes of human beings — women, children, race and class representatives — either by inborn tendencies connected with the bio-psychological structure of these beings, or by uniform natural and social influences. Cooley has analyzed the concept of imitation, and thus showed the possibility of its reduction to more general and explanatory laws of motivation: "It is a doctrine now generally taught by psychologists that the idea of an action is itself a motive to that action and tends intrinsically to produce it unless something intervenes to prevent. This being the case, it would appear that we must always have some impulse to do what we see done, provided it is something we understand sufficiently to be able to form a definite idea of doing it."[14] We shall discuss presently the relative value of these various kinds of hypotheses to which empirical uniformities lead; but it is a fact that modern social psychology is already trying to get beyond mere statements of these uniformities.


There are two kinds of laws of evolution in social psychology. The first kind consists in admitting a definite irreversible direction of the unique historical development of mankind (or animality) as a whole. Examples of it are: the thesis of Comte that there is a progress in the history of humanity consisting in a growing prevalence of specifically human over animal characteristics; Spencer's assumption of the growing prevalence of pleasurable over painful emotions due to an increasingly perfect internal adaptation of man to his external conditions; Ward's conception of the growing role of psychic factors in social life; the theory of Giddings (which we find also in the works of Tönnies and Barth) of the increasing prevalence of rationally controlled

23) will over unreflective impulses; Barth's law of growing individualization; the law of Swietochowski according to which disponible social energy steadily and necessarily decreases in consequence of the gradual levelling of differences between men; and so on.

In so far as such "laws" are based only upon the description of historical facts, they are necessarily inexact as to the past and not valid for the future. No description can take into account all the important historical facts, and no uniform generalization can embrace the enormous complexity of divergent tendencies and processes which the historical becoming presents to the student within even a limited field, such as that of any particular domain of cultural life (science, art, religion, technique, social organization, etc.). At best the historian may find that among the majority of that number of facts he actually has investigated a certain feature, a certain direction of historical becoming, tends to prevail; but he is not thereby justified in affirming that this feature is prevalent in the total course of the conscious life of mankind. And even if a certain direction of evolution has been discovered in the facts which have already transpired, there is no reason why this direction should not later on undergo some entirely imprevisible change.

Sociology, however, has usually tried to give these "laws of evolution" greater weight by deducing them from other generalizations bearing a character of necessary validity. The latter may be metaphysical theories determining the essence of conscious facts in general, or else scientific laws determining permanent relations between repeatable facts. Thus, if metaphysics be considered to have conclusively demonstrated that all conscious life is essentially creative and self-creative, or by its very nature tends to reflective development, or necessarily leads to the growth and independence of the conscious individual,

(24) or consists in the predetermined realization of some eternal Idea, or the like, then the conclusion might be justified that a definite direction of conscious evolution is implied in the very existence of consciousness. But the metaphysical interpretation of history and. of consciousness lies quite outside the field of scientific analysis and explanation, and we are not concerned with it at present.

Now, Spencer's evolutionary generalization mentioned above is a good example of a "law of evolution" based upon a scientific law of repetition. The latter (whose exactness we leave out of consideration) states that there is a permanent connection between "external" and "internal" facts, which consists, briefly speaking, in the adaptation of internal relations to external relations. As a true scientific law should be, it is hypothetic, i. e., it asserts that if certain external facts are realized, certain internal facts must follow; but it cannot state that these external facts will ever be realized. However, Spencer's whole theory of . internal adaptation is based on the implicit assumption that certain external facts will necessarily happen, namely, such facts as will produce an increasingly perfect harmony between man and his environment. Science cannot give any such certainty: scientific predictions are based upon hypothetic laws and therefore are themselves conditional; they permit us to foresee certain facts only if certain other presumed facts do actually happen, and no unexpected happenings come to interfere with the empirical realization of the law. Thus, Spencer's claim that psychical evolution will go in the direction pointed out by him throws us back into metaphysical presuppositions as to the future course of events.

A specific variety of laws of evolution are those which, by analogy with Haeckel's biogenetic law, have sometimes been called psychogenetic. These laws do not attempt to formulate any absolute principles of the unique historical

(25) evolution of conscious life, but simply claim that, this evolution having once occurred in a certain definite order, the same order is to be found whenever and wherever conscious life evolves again from rudimentary beginnings, primarily, of course, in the development of a human individual from infancy to mature age. The history of the individual repeats, thus, in epitome the history of the species. The order of individual evolution is in a sense both organically and psychologically predetermined and uniform. The leading ideas of this doctrine have been widely spread by the works of Mr. Baldwin.

Leaving aside the question how far the psychogenetic laws are in accordance with facts, the general uniformity of individual mental development and certain striking parallels between this development and the mental history of mankind certainly seem to justify bold hypotheses, even though similar hypotheses concerning the evolution of social groups have proved manifestly false. Assuming, however, that the psychogenetic theory is approximately true, its implications lead much further than many sober and positive scientists would really care to go. Every one of the particular evolutionary processes to which the law extends goes on in different conditions. The influences to which the unique mental development of mankind was subjected are clearly entirely incomparable with those under which a human child grows; and the environment of children growing up at various periods of history in groups which vary in material culture, social organization, religion, type of logical thinking, educational methods, natural milieu, etc., presents a scale of differences much outweighing whatever similarities there may be. If in spite of this variety of conditions mental development always follows, indeed, the same order, this means simply that it is the result of some factor independent of cultural and even natural conditions, either not subjected to real causal influences or bending

(26) these 'influences to the demands of its own essence. Such a factor, imposing its own order upon things instead of being causally modified by things, lies beyond the reach of positive science. Call it "élan vital", or continuity of germ-plasma, or unity of the world's consciousness, or find any other term and definition for it — in any case, you go again implicitly into metaphysics. If the psychogenetic theory is not an unwarrantedly sweeping induction from partial and as yet insufficiently analyzed parallelisms of mental growth, it is a metaphysical problem.

Thus, the forms and methods of scientific study prove inadequate to interpret rationally the whole of psychical evolution, and have to be supplemented by philosophy. For scientific observation gives us only a unique historical course of happenings which in its concreteness appears accidental and devoid of all rational order; or else stable connections between isolated facts or partly repeatable series of facts, which by themselves do not determine the direction of psychical evolution in general, unless we add some metaphysical principle which can bind them together and give them the character of moments or factors in the total unrepeatable process. The idea of a "law of evolution" is a combination of the scientific idea of law and the philosophical idea of a world in development. Whatever may be its significance for philosophy, it certainly has no place in social psychology if the latter wishes to be a positive science.


The preceding types of laws, as we have seen, do not explain the facts, but merely claim the existence of a certain order in their happening. With the laws of finality, we reach a well-known type of psychological explanation.

This explanation, however, can be properly understood only if we contrast it with the causal explanation of the

(27) sciences of nature. Its first assumption is that conscious change is free from natural causality and is to be treated not as a real objective fact dependent causally upon the happening of another fact, but as an ideal act of the conscious subject for whom all real things and facts are mental objects. Its second assumption is that this change, this subjective act is determined by the subject's consciousness of the results to be attained by it, which results, as represented before the act, constitute the end of the latter.

Both this consciousness of the results to be attained and the act itself are often treated as psychical facts, and the consciousness of the results is considered a motive for the performance of the act. By this interpretation, however, the entire point of view is transformed, for the idea of motivation takes us out of the domain of pure teleology into that of causality. Moreover, when consciousness of results is viewed as a motive, it cannot any longer be considered the unique determinant of the act, for modern psychology has made it clear that the process of motivation is a very complex one, and subconscious, often irrational motives combine in it with the rational calculation and appreciation of expected results, sometimes altering or even preventing the appearance of the act, independently of the significance which the end possesses in the eyes of the subject. The causal explanation by motives is not, therefore, as often asserted, a mere inversion of the explanation by ends. The end determines the act ideally and not really, as a motive does. The subject is free to choose or not to choose the end of which he is conscious, to perform or not to perform the act which will lead to its realization: the point is only that the end demands the act in order to be reached; the realization of certain foreseen results is possible only if certain acts are performed, and the subject knows this.

Laws of finality are thus only possible if there is a regularity in the pursuit of ends which does not affect

(28) the subject's freedom from causal determination. Such a regularity has been frequently admitted in psychology, but more generally in moral philosophy. There are two forms of it. The first is best exemplified by the "categorical imperative" of Kant; the second, by the Epicurean and Stoic philosophies. The regularity is due in both cases to the rationality of the subject. In the first case the subject, as a rational being, will be consistent in choosing his ends; the demand of his reason for consistency will make him behave in accordance with principles which can be consistently applied to all human behavior. In the second case, the subject as a rational being, having once chosen his end, will choose the proper means leading to it; and since, if not properly organized, various ends may interfere with each other, he will choose the highest end and subordinate to it as means all other ends. In short, laws of finality exist either because activity follows a stable and general norm, or because it complies with a stable, rational system of means and ends.[15]

The trouble with this whole conception is that it does not correspond to the empirical course of human activity. There is no such rationality possible as is postulated above, for there are no ready and settled ends and means of action waiting to be chosen by the subject. There are only purposes gradually defined in and by the very course of the action itself according to the conditions in which it works. The purpose, once achieved, may appear, indeed, as an end of action; but only after the action has stopped, when reflection, aware of the result, projects it back to the origin of the action, and by an illusion which has its source deep in the nature of reflective thinking, imagines that this result was somehow preformed at the beginning.


The conditions in which the purpose is being defined and realized are gradually taken into account and modified by the action, and it is only after the action has produced the requisite changes in them that they appear on reflection as means to the end. Only in a technically perfect, reflective activity, such as industrial production, where the purpose has been perfectly defined and all the changes necessary for its achievement planned in a causal order, after the chain of causes and effects has once started there comes a moment when the end is fully given in advance and the means appear determined with regard to it. But this is precisely the moment when action has stopped and left the natural course of events to bring the ultimate realization of its purpose.

Thus, there can be no changeless and universal norm regulating once and for all the choice of ends, for the actual end of any action appears only after it has been performed, and depends upon the means, or more exactly, upon the conditions in which the purpose has been reached; and there can be no fixed hierarchy of values as ends and means, for it is only the action itself which can show for what end any given means will be used.[16]

Wundt has tried to take into consideration the impossibility of determining the actual course of the action by its end in his famous principle of the "heterogony of ends". This principle states that the total result of the action is different from its original end and that the result actually reached becomes the basis of new actions with new ends. This is, of course, a step toward a better understanding of the actual course of purposeful activity than that

(30) achieved by the old teleological rationalism. But precisely because it starts with assuming that actions are directed by their ends, it does not give any new method for the scientific explanation of behavior. In substance it is little more than a statement that the action is not fully explicable on teleological grounds. It is neither a law, as some of Wundt's followers call it, nor a principle with the help of which laws can be formulated, as Wundt himself prefers to interpret it.


The laws of motivation are of the same type as those causal generalizations by which common-sense reflection tries to explain the sequence of facts in the material world. A motive, as commonly viewed, is the cause of an act both in the sense in which, on the one hand, the wind is the cause of the movement of the ship, and on the other hand, the spark is the cause of the powder explosion. There is originally as little precision in the current ideas of motivation as in the popular conceptions of natural causality. Lately, however, psychology and sociology have .introduced more exact conceptions of psychological causality, and now it is possible to give the concept of motivation a more definite meaning.

We may. start with the latest attempt to formulate the principle of motivation which we find in the interesting sketch of Lindworsky, Umrisskizze zu einer theoretischen Psychologie. [17] The briefest expression of this principle would be: The perception of a value produces a tendency (Streben); or, A value brings forth a tendency. The tendency may be toward the value ("love"), or away from it ("hate"). If the value is a positive value, a good, the tendency is toward it.; if it is a negative value, an evil, the tendency is away from it. Here is the theory of

(31) motivation in a nutshell. All the developments and variations which this theory has undergone through the ages center around this simple statement.

The problem has always been, whence does "the value" draw this power of provoking "love", or "hate"; "desire", or "aversion". There have been two main ways of solving the problem. According to the first, this power of the value comes from its own positive or negative character, which belongs to it objectively and absolutely. "The good" is good in itself (or, because it is connected, at least, with something which is good in itself), just as "the evil" is bad in itself; motivation is simply the ability of the conscious being to comprehend this good or evil and to be moved to action by it. This solution lies, of course, beyond the scope of scientific psychology, since science cannot deal with absolute values, nor endeavor to determine what is good or evil in itself.

The second type of solutions try to find the source of the motive power of the value in the psychological subject. The value is either an object capable of provoking the feeling of pleasure or pain (the hedonistic theory of motivation), or . an object which furnishes an actual stimulation to an impulse (the volitional theory). According to the first theory, past experiences of pleasure or pain associated with the given object or similar objects enable the latter to stir up desire, or respectively aversion. According to the second theory, a spontaneous impulse or volitional disposition tending to active expression is stimulated into action by the given object, and subsequent pleasure or pain are simply marks of satisfaction or dissatisfaction of the impulse and regulators of its future expression. Though the second theory has seemed nearer to facts than the first, we do not wish to commit ourselves to either. What we wish to show is that under neither conception are any laws of motivation possible.

(32) A law of motivation as a causal law would imply that the same motives cause always and everywhere the same psychological effects, or to use a recent formula, that "individual minds respond similarly to the same or like stimuli".[18] If taken as corresponding to a real regularity of human behavior, this implication is evidently false, for there are no objective things or facts which actually provoke the same reactions in all men and at all times. No need to emphasize this with regard to cultural products, such as works of art and technique, theoretic ideals, religious dogmas and ceremonies, moral rules, economic, social and political institutions. Even elementary material things and processes are apt to bring forth a variety of psychological effects the martyr in ecstasy may react positively to the worst tortures of the body, while a surfeited hedonist may turn with disgust from things which others deem most enjoyable. Thus, the principle that a motive is a cause whose effects are necessarily the same whenever and wherever it appears has to be qualified or modified to suit the facts.

These qualifications lead to the distinction between the motive as a mere occasion for the discharge of active energy, and the motive as real driving force. The first is the significance which Ellwood, for instance, gives to the motive as stimulus. In this case the active energy lies within the subject as impulse, disposition, etc., and identical reactions to identical things or facts depend upon the identity of these subjective impulses or dispositions. Here is the source of the absorbing interest in "human nature" which characterizes modern social. and educational psychology. Assuming that activity has to be explained by motives, scientific theory and rational control of human behavior are possible only if there are laws of motivation; and if we accept as principle of motivation the relation between stimulus and response, laws of motivation are

(33) possible only if there are in all men identical dispositions to be stimulated in the same way by the same objective phenomenon. "Human nature" in its exact sense means. the total set of dispositions which are supposed to be essentially the same in all human beings.

But where and how can we find this, and what use can we make of it, if found? Of course, "human nature" does not include those limited uniformities of dispositions which are the product of specific cultural conditions prevailing in particular societies at particular periods of their duration; for these vary from group to group and from period to period, and are subject to further variations in the hands of particular member of these groups. We can search for "human nature" only in biological instincts which the individual brings into the world, and perhaps in those dispositions which, as Mr. Cooley has pointed out, are due to the participation of every individual in the social life of some primary groups, supposed essentially identical the world over.

Is it really possible to isolate in any particular case the motive energy of these assumedly identical dispositions which constitute "human nature" from the motive energy of the individual's inborn, personal temperament, on the one hand, and from that of his higher cultural education, on the other?

No analysis of a particular concrete human action can show us by itself what in this action is due to an instinct of the species, what to' the subject's particular idiosyncrasy, what to the elementary and universal conditions of all primary-group life, what finally to the peculiar traditions and institutions of the unique society to which he belongs. All these are, not psychological elements of his action, but partial aspects under which his action nay be viewed. The only method of determining "human nature" is comparison of innumerable human acts. Any such comparison leads

(34) to the formation of several categories of concepts each abstractly emphasizing the community of certain features which these acts present. Some will be concepts of instincts obtained by abstracting those features of acts which seem common to all and independent of any social education; others will classify individual temperaments or psychological types by abstracting and generalizing deviations from the supposedly common instinctive inheritance of the species; others will abstract those characters which develop in all men living in groups; others still will classify the variations of human behavior which characterize men belonging to various races, nations, social classes, professions, etc.

All such abstractions, however, are of no use when it comes to the search for laws of motivation. Given a man reacting to a stimulus, he may respond predominantly as an animal of the species homo, or as a peculiar psychological variation of the species, or as a primary-group member, or as a man with the particular education of his class — the American negroes, the English aristocracy, the Catholic priesthood, or the convicted criminals. ' Any of the characters enumerated may prevail in his behavior, or they may be all more or less evenly represented; — nor can any general principle be found of explaining or foreseeing why and when any particular character should predominate. No facts of motivation are definitely and finally reducible to the simple formula: stimulus A plus human nature gives response B. For in in every fact stimulus A will be combined not only with dispositions originating in the instincts of the species, eventually in primary-group training, but also with those involved in the subject's personal type and particular cultural education; these combinations varying from case to case will lead to corresponding variation in the response.

Theoretically speaking there is, indeed, a possible way of explaining adequately individual or collective behavior

(35) in terms of motives. We need simply include under this term not only external stimuli liberating internal energy, but also this internal energy itself — all the emotions, desires, dispositions, impulses, etc., which give the object or fact perceived by the individual or the group its significance as motive of behavior. In other words, the motive explains the act, if by motive we understand a value already incorporated into the concrete human personality, already made part of the subject. But this is an endless way, for we must then take into account everything which has ever contributed to give this object or fact its meaning in the eyes of the subject, often the entire past of the individual or the group; nay more, the entire past of mankind. Clearly, science cannot undertake such a task. And yet, it is the task implied by the social psychologist when he promulgates such "laws of choice" as: "Each individual seeks the largest return for the least sacrifice"; and "Each individual has a schedule of choices ranging from the most desirable object to the least desirable".[19] To find out what is the largest return and the least sacrifice for the given individual, to know how his schedule of choices determines his behavior, one must know him in the entire concrete wealth of his personality; until this is achieved, the laws remain abstract formulae without application.

Thus, there are no laws of motivation; acts cannot be explained by motives or predicted from motives. This does not mean that there is no connection whatever between the value and the tendency, the motive and the act; on the contrary we shall see later on that some such connection is the corner-stone of all psychological structures. Only there is no way of knowing why any given individual or group has been led to desire or reject a given value, to art or not to act under a given stimulus, nor of foreseeing whether and when he will ever do it again. Human actions

(36) as such are inexplicable and imprevisible; the search for psychological laws must have a different purpose than trying to answer the question why men do or do not perform certain acts.


Some recent theories of motivation treat the influence exercised by human beings upon one another as merely a particular case of stimulation. There is, however, an older interpretation of this influence, which was first given a sociological significance by Guyau in his Education et Héredité, by Tarde and by Le Bon, but later developed by many writers, among whom we may mention B. Sidis, Psychology of Suggestion; Ross, Social Psychology; McDougall, The Group Mind. The mechanism of human intercourse appears here as 'a relation of cause and effect between one individual and another. Perhaps the best short formulation of this conception is that of Mr. McDougall: "These processes of mental interaction, of impression and reception, may involve chiefly the cognitive aspect of the mental process, or its affective or its conative aspect. In the first case, when some presentation, idea or belief of the agent directly induces a similar presentation, idea, or belief in the patient, the process is called one of suggestion; when an affective or emotional excitement of the agent induces a similar affective excitement in the patient, the process is one of sympathy or sympathetic induction of emotion or feeling; when the most prominent result of the process of interaction is the assimilation of the bodily movements of the patient to those of the agent, we speak of imitation".[20]

Usually this social interaction is taken as a simple causal process: the mental fact in B is a direct effect of the similar mental fact in A. Sometimes it is thought of as a sequence of two causal processes: the belief,

(37) emotion or act of A produces in B the idea of a similar belief, emotion or act, and this idea causes B to accept the belief, feel the emotion or perform the act. In the latter case the influence of A upon B is combined with a causal process within the consciousness of B which leads B from the idea of the belief, emotion or act to the belief, emotion or act itself. This difference, however, is secondary, since in either case the act of A appears as a cause of the act of B; just as, for instance, when a moving body strikes another, the movement of the former is a cause of the movement of the latter. Therefore, there is a marked tendency in socio-psychological literature to see the perfect type of social interaction in a process approaching hypnotic suggestion.

Many interesting generalizations are found in psychological literature concerning the conditions which favor or hinder the process of social interaction; we need only refer to the works quoted above and add Munsterberg's Psychotechnik. Most of these appear as approximately true to facts, that is, corresponding to average observation, though none admit of an exact formulation excluding or explaining exceptions. A few statements by Ross may be quoted as examples. "What strikes us from all directions at almost the same instant has a tremendous effect . . . Men who easily throw off the thousand successive suggestions of everyday life are carried off their feet by the volume of suggestion that emanates from great numbers. This is the secret of the power of public opinion".[21] "Under these conditions — heightened suggestibility and emotion, arrested thinking — three things will happen when an impulse, whether emanating from a spectacle, an event or a leader, runs through the crowd.

"1. Extension. By their contagion, it extends to unsympathetic persons. Thus by-standing scoffers have been

(38) drawn into a revival maelstrom, law-abiding persons have been sucked into the vortex of a brutal lynching, keen, hard-headed workingmen with dependent families have been stampeded into a sympathetic strike . . .

"2. Intensification. Each individual impressed feels more intensely the moment he perceives that so many others share his feeling. Hence, a secondary wave, a reverberation, runs through the crowd that is becoming aware of itself.

"3. Predisposition. The perceived unison begets a sympathy that makes like response easier the next time.

"Since each fulfilled suggestion increases the emotion of the mob in volume and pitch, the passing of the crowd into the mob is more or less gradual. A mob is a formation that takes time". [22]

The great simplicity of this conception and its analogy to natural causation have recommended it to social psychologists and made it a favorite form of interpretation of psycho-social phenomena. And yet these very features should have provoked suspicion and critical analysis. If social interaction is such a simple matter, how is it that social psychology has not already reached a much higher level of theoretic perfection and practical efficiency? And can conscious subjects be treated without restriction as psychological entities causally influencing one another in a way analogous to physical bodies? Without denying the facts of mutual influence, perhaps these facts call for another,' less easy, but more exact interpretation.

In fact, the concept of suggestive social interaction practically ignores the diversity of individual predispositions to respond to any particular variety of social influences though it claims sometimes to recognize it in theory. It presupposes that every individual equally accepts the suggestion of any act, belief, emotion, whatever the history

(39) of his personality and his present position: the suggested act, belief or emotion communicates itself to everybody in its objective content and meaning, just as if it were a movement passing from one body to another. It takes into account the subjective conditions of social influence only in so far as it calls for an investigation of factors favoring suggestibility, i. e., producing a state in which the individual becomes a passive receptacle for suggested acts, emotions or beliefs independently of his particular personal predisposition to such or other acts, emotions or beliefs. No doubt, as the behavior of individuals in a crowd or in a hypnotic state testifies, there are cases of a complete absorption of the personality in the present social situation to the exclusion of all other factors and influences; in other words, it happens that a certain social complex becomes isolated from all other complexes which constitute the concrete human personality. However, even a complete isolation of this complex, a complete passivity to suggestion presents itself not as a perfect case of social influence to which other cases are merely imperfect approximations, and which therefore should be used to explain social interaction in general, but as one of the posible cases, one particular type of social behavior among other different types.

We must distinguish several possibilities. Given an act performed or indicated, or a belief expressed by one individual in the presence of another, usually the latter does not react by repeating the act or echoing the belief, but in some entirely different way — perhaps by counteracting or opposing, perhaps by supplementing or developing the act or belief, perhaps by utilizing it for his own purposes, even by starting off on seine line of action of his own without any direct practical or logical connection with the first individual's behavior. And if the specific reaction of performing the act or echoing the belief actually

(40) occurs, its form and function vary according to the preexisting tendency of the subject and his present situation. Thus, the second individual may have explicitly intended to cooperate with the first in the given case or to join him in publicly expressing the belief. Or he may have implicitly wished to perform such an action or to voice such a belief, in which case the first individual's behavior merely rouses latent tendencies just as other stimulations might do. Or he may have been prepared willingly to follow the example or the indication of the first individual because of the social prestige or acknowledged hierarchical superiority of the latter, or because the particular situation especially called for imitation, as when the subject realizes the need of concerted and identical group behavior in the attainment of some common purpose. Finally, suggestion or imitation may be actually unintentional and unprepared, as in the case of individuals in a mob or under the influence of a masterful personality with hypnotic power.

These last are the only clear cases of direct suggestive influence as defined above, for here only does the subject passively yield to social pressure. In comparison with the numerous other instances mentioned, such yielding, far from appearing as the simplest and most typical form of social interaction, calls for a special analysis and explanation. Its occurrence shows, first, that the subject has a specific predisposition, a subconscious tendency, to yield to social pressure, irrespectively of the nature of the demands which this pressure puts upon him and of any special relations which bind him with the individual or group who exercises the pressure. This tendency coexists and often conflicts with other tendencies — to cooperate or to counteract, to obey the orders of a hierarchical superior, or freely to follow the example of a hero — and the mechanism of its working must be investigated, just as that of any other tendency. Secondly, the fact of passively

(41) yielding to social suggestion proves that a specific social situation has been created in which this particular predisposition of the subject finds satisfaction; and this situation is also one of many possible social situations in which entirely different tendencies might express themselves.

In short, direct suggestive social influence is neither a distinct type of psychological causality nor the fundamental form of psycho-social behavior, but merely a special and limited class of socio-psychological facts to be explained causally by the same methods as other different kinds of facts occurring in society.


Sociologists and social psychologists have often looked with envy at the splendid instrument which physical sciences possess in mathematics. Their envy found additional justification in the philosophical doctrine which has been current since the days of Descartes and according to which quantitative formulation is the essential condition of scientific exactness, there being no real science of qualities. Besides, the imposing mathematical tables and curves in which economics, demography, anthropology and even experimental psychology have been dealing in increasing measure could not fail to exercise a strong fascination upon many workers in the neighboring sociological field; and it seemed that Quetelet had already demonstrated that this was the surest way of obtaining real laws in this field. Finally, common reflection about psychological and social phenomena continually uses quantitative terms and comparisons. There were, thus, many factors favoring attempts to introduce quantitative methods into socio-psychological research, and only the obvious difficulties which all such attempts have met account for the relatively limited number of quantitative laws found in the literature of our science.


There are a few examples of mathematically formulated laws of the empirical uniformity of processes, such as Tarde's law: "In the absence of interferences, imitation spreads in geometrical progression";[23] applied by Giddings to impulsive social action in general: "Impulsive social action tends to extend and to intensify in a geometrical progression".[24] These are, however, much less important than the laws which try to express quantitatively a causal relation between two processes, and which may be called laws of functional dependence, since they imitate in their expression certain physical laws to which logicians have applied this name.

One variety of such laws deals with extensive or numerical quantities. They study the relative frequency of certain facts in a community and try to show that the numerical increase or decrease of one category is regularly accompanied or followed by a corresponding increase or decrease of the number of facts of another category. Thus, for instance, the rise and fall in the number of suicides is studied in relation to the increase or decrease in the frequency of crime, or in relation to the spreading or shrinking of religious beliefs as manifested in the number of active church members. More common in the field of social psychology, however, are laws of functional dependence between intensities. Variations in the intensity of a socio-psychological phenomenon are made dependent upon corresponding variations in the intensity of another phenomenon. The following examples illustrate this type of laws. "Impulsive social action, as a rule, varies inversely with the habit of attaining ends by indirect and complex means"; "Tradition is authoritative and coercive in proportion to its antiquity".[25]

(43) "'The greater the height [of a social craze] the more absurd the propositions that will be believed or the actions that will be done"; "The higher the craze, the sharper the reaction from it".[26] "Institutions become strong through use, and become weak or extinct through disuse".[27] "The greater the obligation imposed, the stronger are the ties of moral feelings which bind the individual to the object of his obligation".[28]

The first objection to laws of intensive as well as to those of extensive functional dependence in social psychology is that instead of solving problems they really only state the existence of such problems. When a physicist speaks of functional dependence between two processes, there is implied in his law a relation of causality between each of the partial changes into which one of the processes can be analyzed and the corresponding change which is a part of the other process. There are two continuous or discontinuous series of facts, and each fact in the series A is causally connected with a certain fact in the series B. But if a social psychologist tells us that the frequency of suicides varies inversely to the frequency of church attendance, or that the authoritativeness of tradition grows in proportion to its antiquity, or that the higher the craze, the sharper the reaction from it, no definite causal relation between particular facts is implied thereby. We cannot say that each fact of joining a church checks the tendency to suicide and each fact of ceasing to be an active church member causes this tendency to develop, nor that the continued duration of a tradition for a period of time is the cause of a corresponding increase of its authoritativeness.

The law merely points out that there must be some real causal rotation between the facts in each, or at least

(44) in the majority of the cases which it tries to cover, but it does not formulate this relation. If we wish to determine it, we must study the particular cases. We shall then probably find that in a general way suicidal tendencies conflict with a religious organization of life, though in each particular case the final fact of giving way or checking the suicidal impulse depends not only upon the relative development of religious life-organization in the given personality, but also on many other factors varying from case to case. We shall probably discover that the duration of a tradition and its authoritativeness are both due to some more fundamental factors and that in each particular case where the antiquity of a tradition is reflectively appealed to or unreflectively assumed as a ground for its authority, this appeal or assumption has a real effect only in so far as there are some specific predispositions prevalent in the given social group and some specific social conditions into which the tradition fits. These predispositions and conditions have to be investigated in order to reach the real causal relation which the "law" presupposes, but does not discover. In a word, these laws of functional dependence deal with symptoms, not with causes.

The second important and really fundamental objection against all quantitative laws in social psychology is that quantitative concepts in this domain do not express objective characters of things and facts, but merely our subjective ways of first approaching certain aspects of things and facts which, on closer inspection, always resolve themselves into qualitative characteristics. Thus, when in social statistics we express numerically the frequency with which certain phenomena happen in a given society, our numbers are purely arbitrary ways of grouping together objects or events which are not grouped together objectively, but form ° separate phenomena, each with its separate

(45) antecedents and consequences. If we say that the number of suicides or divorces in a society has increased, this does not mean the same as saying that the number of fishes in a pond has increased: it does not mean that new objects or facts have appeared within an objectively closed, real group of similar objects or facts; but simply that facts of a certain variety have happened among innumerable other, different facts, and we may observe them, isolate them by abstraction, and add our observations to a logical class of similar observations performed in the past. It is the actual happening of each of these facts, and not the abstract increase in the number of our observations which calls for explanation; for the happening of each fact has nothing to do with the number of such facts which have happened within the range of our investigation: it has to be referred to the causes which brought it forth, and these causes are not numbers, but again qualitatively specified facts.

Similarly, when we speak of the antiquity of a tradition, of the power of an institution, or of the height of a social craze, we do indeed think in terms of intensive gradation; and perhaps we shall always continue to do so, for grading things and processes is a useful simplification. We use it even while explicitly dealing with qualities — for instance, when we establish or acknowledge a hierarchy of values. But we should always remember that gradation outside of the material world does not stand for more or less of the same measurable reality, like energy in physics, but for qualitative differences, for the possession by a thing or fact of certain additional characters over and above those which some other thing or fact possesses. Thus, when we find that one tradition has a greater antiquity than another this does not mean merely that it has endured a longer stretch of the same astronomical time, but that by having been established earlier it has become associated with

(46) some social memories, ideals, tendencies, beliefs, with which the later tradition lacks permanent association. When we say that an institution has a greater power than another, this means that it influences some human actions which the "weaker" institution fails to affect. The greater height of a craze means that the craze has reached men who were left untouched by another craze, and has modified human behavior in lines which had then remained unaffected. When we cease to be satisfied with dealing ,in subjective concepts, but desire to reach social reality, we must always search beyond quantitative formulae for the qualitative data whose existence they vaguely indicate.

Social psychology should, therefore, realize once and for all that, in contrast to physical science, quantitative laws are not its goal, but at best an introductory, inexact and superficial means of approach to the study of its real causal relations. This, however, is not an impediment which need prevent it from reaching scientific exactness. The requirements of the latter will be perfectly satisfied if necessary and universal causal relations between exactly defined, qualitative facts are determined, and all apparent exceptions reduced by logically exact, qualitative analysis to other equally necessary and universal causal relations.


Though this brief survey of the multiple attempts of modern social psychology to subject its facts to scientific laws has yielded partially negative results, we are far from denying the real importance and value of these attempts. They have not succeeded in formulating any necessary and universal relations between socio-psychological facts; but they have at least shown from various points of view that the domain of socio-psychological becoming presents a certain regularity, —even though the expressions of this regularity

(47) are still hovering between philosophical doctrines and more or less vague, empirical approximations. Some social psychologists, as we shall see later on, have even hit upon the right road leading toward a comprehensive knowledge of the nature of this regularity; but, unfortunately, they did not follow the road far enough to realize where it was leading.

It may well be asked what are the reasons which have prevented social psychology thus far from giving its generalizations proper exactness and control over facts. The answer to this question is easy when we realize the full meaning of scientific laws of becoming.

A scientific law, as exemplified by the laws of physics or chemistry, always states a necessary and universal, but conditional relation between certain facts. If, wherever and whenever fact A happens, fact B will necessarily happen: this is the abbreviated formula of a causal law. This formula says nothing as to whether, where, or when fact A will happen. If A should never happen, the law would have no practical application, would remain an empty play of concepts; if A should happen only once, the law would be an arbitrary statement, for it could not be tested by repetition. A law has a real significance only if the facts which it binds are repeatable facts. More than this: they should be at least in principle indefinitely — which does not mean infinitely—repeatable facts to make the law certain, for if we admit a definite limitation to their happening some doubt remains whether their connection was a necessary causal bond, and not a mere coexistence or succession due to some unique set of circumstances which made them accidentally occur together.

But indefinitely repeatable facts are possible only within so-called closed systems, that is, within limited complexes of things and processes which are independent of outside influences either because they remain permanently isolated

(48) from the outside world or else because they are indefinitely reconstructed in such conditions that outside influences are negligible or perfectly calculable. For it is clear that in the enormous complexity and fluidity of our total concrete world every fact is new, no repetition really can happen, because there is a continual shifting and rearrangement of objects and processes influencing one another. Sciences of nature either search for closed, relatively isolated and stable systems in the concrete and changing reality (such as, for instance, the solar system of heavenly bodies), or else create closed systems artificially in laboratories. By ignoring insignificant eternal perturbations and determining exactly those which cannot be ignored, they succeed in finding necessary laws of dependence between the facts which are present for observation within their systems. Of course, the further application of these laws depends on the future existence of the same or similar systems; and as this is never absolutely secure, no law has absolute certainty: but, at least if there are no instances to the contrary, such a certainty can be postulated.

Now, what about the laws of social psychology? A review of the various types of laws discussed above demonstrates immediately that the social psychologists have not bothered at all about discovering or experimentally isolating any closed systems in their domain. This omission was not quite unintentional. They merely took it as a matter of course that the facts whose relations they were trying to .determine always occurred together (simultaneously or in succession) either within one human personality or within one society. The personality or the society were thus treated as the equivalent of the closed systems of the physicist. Unhappily, they are entirely unfit to play this role. Conscious or unconscious analogies with the biological treatment of the individual or the group have here, as in many other cases, brought harm to the psychologist and the sociologist.

(49) When the individual is taken merely as an organic body, he may indeed be considered a relatively closed system, though much more complex than a physical one: the bodily structure can be determined, at least in its general outlines; the more important changes going on within the body can be ascertained; and the most significant physical and chemical influences to which the body is subjected from its surroundings can be defined and taken into account. A group of organic beings inhabiting a certain territory can be similarly treated as a relatively closed system, though even more complex than a body, as long as we limit ourselves to the consideration of their biological properties and their material relations with the natural environment and with each other. But the problem changes radically when we pass to those phenomena which interest primarily the social psychologist, viz., to the activities of the individual as a conscious personality, and to the cultural life of the group as a collectivity of conscious personalities.

At any particular moment of his life, a man's personality contains not only his body, not only a limited set of biological instincts, but the entire incalculable wealth of his memories and all the volitional and emotional dispositions stirred and developed in contact with nature, with his fellows, and with the innumerable material and immaterial objects and relations which constitute his cultural milieu —language, literature, art, religion, science, law, economy. At any moment any of these memories and dispositions may become actual and determine his present behavior in a way which cannot be explained or foreseen unless all about him is known. And this enormous complexity is not by any means one system whose structure could be studied and understood like the structure of the body. On the contrary, numerous recent studies have shown that the personality is composed of many disconnected or partially

(50) connected complexes; these only in rare cases of men with a very stable and important purpose tend to converge into anything approximating organic unity, — which remains, however, an ideal never actually achieved.

A concrete collectivity of human beings living a common cultural life is, of course, still richer and still farther from forming a systematic structure, for the behavior of every member may be affected at any moment not only by his own memories and dispositions, but by those of other members; and thus with a few exceptions — such as unexpressed new ideas and some bodily functions — all the experiences and activities of each member may be said to constitute a part of the collective cultural process.

It is also evident that neither the personality, nor the concrete collectivity of personalities can be even relatively isolated from new influences. For not only are new experiences continually coming from the environment, experiences which it is impossible to foresee or to calculate, but, as we have noticed 'before, conscious life involves creation, new activities producing new data which are not reducible to anything that went before and which in turn exercise an influence upon further psychical developments.

Consequently, no laws of socio-psychological becoming can ever be determined as long as facts are taken to happen on the general background of a personality or a collection of personalities. The failure of the attempts described in this chapter proves, thus, to have been unavoidable, while the direction of future research now appears clearly traced. Any fact which we wish to study must be referred not to the concrete individual or social subject in his totality, but to some much more limited and relatively stable system among those which enter into the composition of the conscious life of the personality or the collectivity. Each fact must be treated as a change occuring within such a limited system isolated as far as

(51) possible from the rest of the personality or collectivity, and only if and in so far as such a treatment proves possible will there be any scientific laws in this domain. Not man and society in their concrete active being, but particular sets of human activities and experiences abstracted from personal or social contexts should constitute the proper data of social psychology, if the latter is ever to approach to scientific perfection.


  1. It does not seem desirable to include, as Mr. Dewey does (Human Nature end Conduct), all relative stability of behavior under the common term of "habit", for this obliterates the distinctions mentioned above whose importance, though perhaps only secondary for science, is yet primordial for philosophy.
  2. Psychotechnik, p. 237-232.
  3. Ibidem, p. 192.
  4. R. Pauli, Ober psychische Gesetzmâssigkeit, Jena 1920, p. 69-70.
  5. La Logique sociale, Alcan, p. 74.
  6. Social Psychology, p. 254-270.
  7. Lebensformen, Halle 1922.
  8. Activité mentale, p. 88.
  9. Re-translated from the French translation entitled Psychosociologie, p. 57-58, which is happily at hand. In the present financial condition of Poland neither public nor private libraries can afford to buy foreign, particularly English and American books, to any extent comparable with the actual needs.
  10. Psychologie des foules, 1921, p. 24.
  11. Quoted by Ross, Social Psychology, p: 947,
  12. Tarde, Lois de l'imitation, p. 276. Tarde explicitly connects social uniformities due to imitation with natural uniformities. See the first chapters of his Lois de limitation.
  13. Grundzûge der physiologischen Psychologie, 5, 111, p. 782.
  14. Human Nature and the Social Order, p. 62—63.
  15. For some interesting attempts of reviving ancient rationalism, see Cresson, La morale de la raison théorique, and Lapie, Logique de la volonté (Paris, Alcan, Bibliothèque de philosophie contemporaine).
  16. We have elsewhere discussed these matters at length: see Cultural Reality, Chicago 1919, and Introduction to Sociology, Poznan 1922 (Polish). Cf. also Pradines, Critique des conditions de l'action, Paris, Alcan 1905-1909; and Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, New York 1922.
  17. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 1922, pp. 393-357.
  18. Blackmar & Gillin, Outlines of Sociology, p.398.
  19. Blackmar & Gillin, op. cit. p. 317-78.
  20. Introduction to Social Psychology, 1915, p.91.
  21. Ross, Social Psychology, p. 37-8.
  22. Op. cit., pp. 47-49.
  23. See Blackmar & Gillin, op. cit., 320.
  24. Ibidem, 322.
  25. Giddings, Inductive Sociology, (quoted by Blackmar & Gillin, op. cit.).
  26. Ross, Social Psychology, pp. 77, seq.
  27. Blackmar & Gillin, op. cit., 326.
  28. Wundt, Ethik, III, p. 207.

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