The Laws of Social Psychology

Chapter 7: Changes of the Reflected Self

Florian Znaniecki

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The reflected self, as we know, is not an indispensable element of the social action. It is absent from many actions, not only on the lower stage of unreflective behavior, but also, as will be shown presently, on higher stages of objective ,cultural interests. One may safely presume, however, that its presence makes a difference to the structure of the social action and to the character of the social tendency. The first causal problem in this connection concerns, therefore, the effect produced by the introduction of a reflected self into an active system which did not contain it before.

The simplest typical case is that of an individual who, while performing a social action, learns or imagines that the object of this action has a good or a bad opinion of him personally. For instance, a boy who means to ask his parents for permission to go out in order to play with notoriously "bad" companions on the street hears himself praised for keeping only good company. A woman making a call sees some acquaintances whispering, and guesses that they are spreading evil gossip about her. A man about to address a meeting imagines that the assembled crowd thinks his exterior ridiculous. A social reformer trying to solve a social problem finds that his previous activities have earned him a prestige in the eyes of the public. In all these instances, the introduction of the

(262) reflected self into the action modifies the situation. For the boy the opinion of his parents represents a positive value upon which the intended association with bad companions may have a disastrous influence, while, on the other hand, this same opinion may prove useful in helping him obtain the desired permission. The caller becomes conscious that the purpose of her call may be thwarted by the gossip which is afloat about her; on the other hand, she has now an opportunity to combat it by giving her present social circle a better impression of herself or a worse opinion of the person who started the gossip. The public speaker wonders how far he can overcome by his eloquence the prejudice created by his appearance. The social reformer sees how to utilize his prestige to attain his present purpose; but he also begins to consider how the action which he has in mind will influence his prestige, whether he will thus preserve and develop or weaken and destroy it. In short, the various elements of the social situation become in some way connected with the reflected self; the latter acquires a new significance with reference to the situation, and the values involved in the situation acquire a new significance with reference to the self.

Very instructive in this respect are the frequent instances of showing-off and of bashfulness. Here some positive or negative appreciation of the subject's personality is expected from either the object of the action or outside observers. Genuine showing-off when the subject is really conscious of his own reflected self is quite distinct from the simpler case (which was discussed in a previous chapter) where there is merely the consciousness that the particular action performed by the subject is an object of social approval. In practical observation the limit is often difficult to draw; theoretically, however, it is clear. There is no self-consciousness in the exact sense of the term if the interest

(263) of the subject remains limited to the present action and the social approval which it provokes, but only if the reflected self as known from past experiences is in some way involved in the present action. Take a boy performing a feat of daring and becoming suddenly conscious that others observe him. He may be satisfied to win their approval by performing his feat well or eventually by repeating it: this is mere conformism, But he may perform it as if it were a mere trifle in comparison with the other things. he might do if he had the chance; he may boast of other things which he has done or will do, actually try some of them, or provoke other boys to equal him in prowess: this is clearly more than conformism and manifests a well-developed consciousness of his own self as an entity transcending this action. The action is not simply a value by itself, as in conformist behavior, but a sign of the value of the personality. Similarly in bashfulness: a bashful individual is, indeed, afraid that his behavior will be negatively viewed by others; but it is not merely the social repression of any particular action which he fears. He views any real or supposed critical attitude toward even the slightest act of his as a misappreciation of his personality; he puts his reflective self into every action, wants it to be perfect, and continually trembles lest he be misunderstood and his acts be construed as meaning something entirely different than he intends with regard to his own self.[1]

Showing-off and bashfulness illustrate also another important aspect of the process in question. The action about which the subject becomes self-conscious need not be originally a social action; it may be religious worship, technical production, economic acquisition, or the satisfaction of an elementary necessity like eating, or even a simple movement like walking. But this action becomes in a sense a social action from the moment in which the

(264) reflected self — a social object — is introduced into it; the original non-social situation acquires a social meaning by being referred to the self. In this respect, indeed, the introduction of the reflected self influences human activities in a similar way as social repression and social sublimation it helps extend the sway of social control over such domains of individual life as were originally not social, but in the widest sense of the term biological.

Still another category of cases in which the reflected self becomes introduced into the action is found in morally self-conscious behavior. This is a higher stage of reflection than before; the individual's view of his own personality is no longer a mere reflection of the view which others have manifested concerning him, but in some measure at least is constructed by himself from the standpoint of some personal standard of perfection, although the primary foundation remains always the social image. A morally scrupulous man refers most of his actions to this reflected and reconstructed self, judging them according to the degree of moral perfection or imperfection which seems to be manifested in their performance or in the very desire to perform them.

The highest stage of subjective reflection is reached in the cases of psychological self-analysis, which usually develops out of moral self-consciousness but may result from purely intellectual interests. The psychological novel of a quarter of a century ago furnishes many instances to the point; autobiographies like those of Rousseau, Amiel, Bashkirtseff give still better illustrations. Interest in the subjective aspect of behavior may dominate over the interest in the objective side to such a degrees that the subject may not care to act overtly at all, but prefer to create purely imaginary situations for the purposes of introspection.

In collective behavior the reflected self also develops under the influence of external appreciation. A savage

(265) tribe searching for allies in war may find its advances contemptuously repulsed by its neighbors because of its bad reputation; or, on the contrary, it may discover that its alliance is much desired by another tribe which has a high opinion of its bravery. The original purpose to win allies is thus complicated by the consciousness that the group itself is considered by others in the first case an undesirable and in the second case a desirable ally. The original situation thus becomes modified: in the first case there is the determination to show that the group is worth more than its neighbors think, which may be achieved by fighting valiantly alone; in the second case the problem is to put such conditions on the alliance as will safeguard the prestige of the group. A social institution launching into a new line of activity may meet with public admiration of its initiative or, on the contrary, with public reproaches that it is undertaking more than it can properly perform. In both cases the opinion of the public introduces a new problem to which the original purpose becomes subordinated: in the first event, that of preserving and increasing its prestige by a further extension and reconstruction of its plans; in the second, that of revising its organization and activities with more regard to real efficiency.

Often, on higher stages of cultural development, the self-consciousness of the group arises from the inside and is due to the reflection of some of its members. Every collective action is then regarded not merely with reference to its results, but in connection with the total life of the collectivity as its most conscious members see it. Such a self-conscious group is well illustrated by the modern nation, however imperfect or even false theoretically may be the view which it holds of itself.

Generally speaking, therefore, the introduction of the reflected self with its powerful axiological significance affects more or less the entire structure of the action. In

(266) order to determine its role more exactly, we should note the distinction between the effect which the reflected self will have on the expected result of the action and the influence which the present action will have. upon the reflected self. As we have seen above, the good opinion which the parents have of their boy's behavior should help him to obtain the coveted permission to go out, whereas the purpose of the savage tribe to get allies may be thwarted by the fact that its neighbors do not think much of its bravery. The reflected self when regarded in this light is merely an unexpected assistance or obstacle toward the realization of the original purpose, and if its introduction has any important effects, these effects can be explained with the help of those socio-psychological laws which we have discussed before. No essentially new problem is here involved.

On the other hand, when the subject asks what influence the present action will have upon his reflected self, we have a different aspect of the question. The boy considers how the opinion of his parents about him will change, if they learn that he has gone to play with "bad boys". The social reformer begins to think whether and how his present initiative will affect his prestige. Both the individual who "shows off" and the one who bashfully seeks to avoid public notice think of the conclusions the public will draw from the action they mean to perform: the first is hopeful that the conclusion will be highly favorable, the second fears that he will fail to provoke appreciation or will be misunderstood. The savage tribe may reflect whether the present situation can have any effect upon its standing among its neighbors: whether, for instance, if it stopped searching for alliances and decided to fight unassisted, this standing would not be raised.

Here, as we see, the reflected self becomes a new center for the situation: or, rather, the original object of the action together with the whole situation begins to gra-

(267) -vitate toward and center around the self. The social reformer does not cease to be interested, say, in the working classes for the benefit of whom he initiates his plan of reform; and yet the working classes and the whole plan of reform are also referred to his reflected self. The vainglorious and the bashful may both really wish to do a certain objective action for its own sake; and yet, at the same time they cannot help viewing the probable effect which this action will produce upon the public's opinion of themselves. The morally self-conscious man considers how his moral perfection is affected by every step he takes, and this reference to the moral self combines with the objective social interest which any situation may possess, for him. For morbid introspection objective situations may even lose most of their significance, their interest depending entirely on .their subjective bearing. Similarly, the self-conscious nation may come to consider every external and internal situation as important only with reference to its own fame and greatness.

Such a complex situation in which the reflected self is a central or dominant element may be called ego-centric. In the very measure in which a situation becomes ego-centric, the tendency corresponding to this situation undergoes an obvious change, which can be characterized by saying that the tendency becomes self-seeking. The term "egotistic" might be used, perhaps, if it did not have somewhat different associations acquired in the past, particularly if Spencer had not explicitly distinguished "egotistic sentiments" as a different class from the "ego-altruistic sentiments" which correspond mainly to the very category we are discussing now.

A self-seeking tendency is one which purposes to solve a given situation in such a way as to influence through it the reflected self; that is, which treats the objective purpose of the given action as instrumental for the achievement of a subjective purpose connected with the agent's own

(268) personal or collective existence as viewed by himself and by others. The caller who finds gossip about her afloat tends to utilize her call for the purposes of vindicating her good fame. The social reformer who realizes that his present initiative will have an effect upon his acquired prestige tends to lay his plan of action in such a way as to avoid any lowering and, instead, to improve still further his standing in the community. The vainglorious and bashful are alike conscious that the public will judge them by their performances, and both types interpret the situation in an exaggerated way; ascribing to their personal image in the eyes of the public more social significance than it actually possesses, they keep this image in mind during the entire performance and aim primarily to make it as perfect as possible. Under the influence of this inclination the intrinsic purpose of the performance becomes a mere instrument for the reflected self; it loses its own significance and is very likely to fail precisely because attention is deflected from the activity itself to the personal meaning of success. Similarly, the morally self-conscious man, realizing that the action he wishes to achieve, besides its objective consequences, will have significance for his moral purity, tends to make it conform with his standards of personal morality and to subordinate to this consideration the matter of its bearing upon social or cultural objects. The radical expression of this tendency in found in the well-known self-righteousness of the ethical Pharisee. The self-analyst, interested in the thoughts, feelings, emotions and volitions Which a given situation provokes in himself, is inclined to treat the situation rather as an instrument for psychological experimentation than as a practical problem to be solved, and may even go as far as to construct situations especially for the purpose of studying his subjective reaction to them.

A social group which realizes the bearing a certain collective activity has upon its standing among others tends

(269) to modify, to provoke or to suppress social problems with regard to the improvement of this standing. There are also frequent cases when a group organized for certain objective cultural purposes — religious, intellectual, educational, industrial, political — after becoming conscious of the effect which the pursuit of these purposes has upon the increase of its membership, the development of its organization and the growth of its coherence, adapts this pursuit to the ideal of collective power, external prestige and internal solidarity, drops such aims as seem dangerous to its own existence and progress, and adopts new aims which are expected to foster its collective life. Sometimes this self-seeking character of its predominant tendency makes it forget entirely the original purpose for which it was formed, and self-aggrandizement becomes explicitly formulated as the very reason of its existence.[2]

How far this self-seeking character of the tendency will manifest itself in action depends in each particular case on the total concrete situation, that is, on all the relations which the subject finds between its various elements, and on the significance which each of these elements possesses for him. The situation always becomes ego-centric when the reflected self is introduced into it, for this is what is meant 'by its introduction; but the connection which binds the original elements with one another may still remain more important practically than the new connection established between each and all of them and the reflected self. The influence to be exerted upon the original object may remain the fundamental problem in the subject's eyes rather than the modification which he tends to produce in his reflected self, and thus the adaptation of the original purpose to the new personal purpose may have only slight practical consequences. The boy, though conscious that

(270) his playing with bad boys, if discovered, will affect negatively his parents' opinion of him, may still decide to go and play, hoping or planning to conceal his misdemeanor efficiently. The social reformer, though realizing that the action he undertakes is apt to weaken his social prestige, may still be too much interested in the objective results of this action to drop it entirely, and the self-seeking tendency will perhaps express itself only in some attempt to explain and to justify his intentions in the eyes of his admirers.

Furthermore, the growth of a self-seeking tendency may be counteracted by the opposite process, when together with or after the introduction of the reflected self into the situation another element is introduced which gives a new and unexpected importance to the objective side of the action. For instance, the bashful person may be faced with a sudden critical development of a situation which, by putting a claim on his professional ability or his physical courage, makes him "forget himself" for the time being. We shall return to this problem presently.

These reservations were indispensable in order to explain apparent deviations and thus to remove in advance any doubts concerning the generality of the law, which must be formulated now and which we term the law of social subjectivation.

LAW 12. If in an action the situation becomes egocentric through the introduction of the reflected self, the tendency becomes self-seeking.

Or, in popular words: When the subject begins to think of himself in connection with his action, he tends to subordinate this action to some purpose affecting his social personality.

It is hardly possible to over-estimate the role which the process of social subjectivation plays in social life. To this process must be ascribed every appearance of each of those tendencies which involve a conscious

(271) comparison by the subject of his own person with other persons, such as the desire for recognition, modesty, the wish for mastery, the desire for subordination, pride, humility, with all their variations. We know how important these tendencies are for social organization and control.

What specific kind of self-seeking tendency will appear in any case depends, first, on the original tendency from which it develops; secondly, on the specific nature of the reflected self around which the original situation becomes centered. Thus, if an individual who wishes to induce another individual to cooperate with him for a common end realizes that his own person , is viewed by this other individual with admiration, the self-seeking tendency which appears will be different from what it would be if he saw himself regarded with derision. If, on the other hand, he does not want to provoke cooperation but to thwart some purpose of the other individual, still a different self-seeking tendency will appear. It would lead us too far if we attempted to follow all the possible variations of causes and effects; it is enough for the moment to have ascertained generally that in every case in which any situation whatever becomes ego-centric, some one of the many varied self-seeking tendencies is bound to appear.

Furthermore, the process of social subjectivation lies at the root of every personal or collective ideal of self-development. Such an ideal, when it is not a practically powerless mental construction but an actual principle of behavior, implies a conscious convergence of activities toward the self, a subjective significance superadded to the objective bearing of every action. The self of the individual or group is realized only in and through actions, each of which deals with some object other than the self: the social self is realized through actions which have other human beings, real or imaginary, as their primary objects; the intellectual self through actions which deal with intellectual

(272) values; the physical self through actions manipulating material objects; and so on. To make these actions serve not only the objective purposes — social, intellectual, material — by which they are characterized but also the purpose of self-development, they must be consciously organized from the point of view of the image of a future personal or collective self which the subject wishes to approach gradually, by making each new action more like what in his eyes the actions of this ideal self should be. This means that the subject must subjectivate every action while planning or performing it, as we have seen the morally self-conscious subject does do. By systematizing this procedure with the help of theoretic reflection, a reflective technique of self-development has been created by moralists and religious reformers.

Finally, the very concept of a psychological ego which has been so predominant in philosophy and to which psychology as a science owes its origin could hardly have appeared in human thought without the process of social subjectivation. The reflected self alone is not the psychological ego: it is a social object, though an object endowed with a particular axiological character and with other features which make it unique in the sphere of experience of each subject. It is by referring his own activities to this unique social object, by distinguishing between their bearing upon other objects and their bearing upon his own reflected self that the subject learns to view his personality as something which contains the subjective elements of his behavior in contrast to its objective elements, i. e., as something psychological.


The opposite process, which we call social objectivation, begins with the removal of the reflected self from a situation which it dominated. The effect of this removal is

(273) a change of the tendency, which we are now bound to investigate.

The removal of the reflected self from a situation simply means that the connection which in the eyes of the subject existed between his self and other elements of this situation becomes severed, that the given action loses its former bearing upon his personality as viewed by others and by himself. This may happen for various reasons which will be best ascertained by quoting a number of empirical instances.

A boy wishes to gain recognition by getting a good school report. He finds that in order to achieve this purpose he must comply with certain intellectual standards which are the same for everybody and consequently appear as impersonal, having no reference to his individuality. When he subordinates himself to these standards and learns his lesson, his action is part of the whole plan originally instrumental for his personal purpose; but he sees that within the limits of this action there is no place for the reflected self. The intellectual problem must be put and solved on its own merits; otherwise its solution will be inadequate for the original purpose, as the boy is apt to discover if, instead of complying with the objective demands of knowledge, he relies for his report on personal factors, such as flattering the teacher, showing off scraps of useless information, profiting of the help of his neighbors, playing on the sympathetic feelings of the teacher. The intellectual action is a closed system which enters into the composition of a wider system, but has a structure of its own from which the reflected self must be excluded.

A savage would like to be the leader of a military expedition which his tribe is about to undertake. This desire concerns especially his reflected self, end in so far as the present situation is already defined, the result will depend directly on the character which the reflected self

(274) already possesses: in a word, he will be elected leader only if he has the necessary prestige. But suppose he is a young man who has not yet had the time to acquire prestige: his ambition of becoming a leader cannot be satisfied until this essential condition has been fulfilled. Military prestige, however, can be acquired only by real achievements in the field, and such achievements are standardized impersonally in the military tradition of the tribe. In order to gain prestige, therefore, the young man must perform actions in which his reflected self plays no part whatever, for they are purely objective in their bearing. Of course, in intervals between such actions he may remember the ultimate purpose for which he is performing them and picture himself acclaimed as a hero; but this picture has no real connection with the military problems which his actions must solve, or rather should have no connection. If he lets the thought of his own self actually interfere with his military performances, he is likely to fail, either because his attention will be distracted from the problem at hand, or because his courage will ooze away. The more he is able to "forget himself" during his feats of strength, the better these feats will be performed.

A mechanician wishes to advance to a higher position in his factory. He may, of course, use various methods of personal approach to his superiors; but if the organization and division of labor in the factory is properly standardized, he will have to show technical efficiency of an entirely impersonal type, which requires a complete absorption in the task at hand and the exclusion of subjective considerations from the technical action as such.

In these examples the elimination of the reflected self from some active system is forced upon the subject by the preexisting impersonal standardization of this system, which has been imposed by society as a condition of the realization of subjective purposes. But the necessity of excluding

(275) the reflected self from a limited situation may be realized more or less clearly by the subject without any social pressure, as is shown frequently in the histories of technical invention, of artistic and theoretic production, and of moral initiative. An interesting intermediary stage is illustrated by the instance quoted by Mason: "Captain Spicer, a whaler, who mingled with the Eskimo, told the writer that they often make invention a part of their sport. They go out to certain difficult places, and, having imagined themseves in certain straits, they compare notes as to what each one would do. They actually make experiments, setting one another problems of invention".[3]

In this instance, a new objective achievement was, of course, as in all sport involving rivalry, a way of gaining personal recognition; but the interest centered in the common objective problem, the personal solution of which could be graded objectively. If we imagined an instance in which recognition was . attached, as in the case here quoted, to the solution of any technical problem, but instead of direct social stimulus in the form of the presence of others during the solution, the subject were stimulated only indirectly by the expectation of the praise of his fellows at a later time, we should have the case of a spontaneously impersonal definition of the situation arising out of personal motives.

In any case, if any individual wishes to gain personal ascendancy by solving a difficulty which others have found insoluble, he can do it only on the condition of forgetting for the time all personal interest he may have in the solution and working upon the problem for its own sake. Only by doing this can he reach a solution which others will accept and which will earn him the ascendency he ultimately aims at.

The same is, of course, true in art. When the spontaneous artistic production of the primary stage of aesthetic life becomes professionalized, personal motives are bound

(276) to actuate those individuals who specialize in this line. But every artistic work or performance means to express something which in its intrinsic significance has no particular connection with the person of the agent or the performer even a dance or a song in its appeal to the public bases itself on impersonal features. In order to have this intrinsic significance understood and the performance approved by others, the artist must exclude personal consideration from the aesthetic situation as such, must make it stand on its own merits, so to speak: the action as a whole may be subservient to his self, but considerations bearing upon the self have no place in its internal structure. On higher stages of artistic activity, particularly in painting, sculpture and architecture, this exclusion of the self is still more indispensable and becomes emphatically an essential condition of making an appeal to others, of having one's activity understood and appreciated, and thus provoking that very recognition of the artist's self which may still be one of the motives, if not the ultimate motive, of his aesthetic production as a whole. If in some domains of art, such as lyrical poetry and certain varieties of music, the artist's personality remains in the foreground, it is only under the condition that it express features which are not purely individual but typical, so that each reader or listener may find his own self mirrored in it.

Take the example of theoretic activity. It is very probable that in its earliest stages explicit and conscious theoretic thinking is closely connected with social motives, in particular with attempts of persuading somebody else to accept a course of action which the subject has devised. Now, the early argument is in a large measure a personal argument: initiative, personal prestige, compulsion, emotional appeal, etc. have more power and play a greater rôle than rational considerations. But when prestige is lacking, or there are rival claims of leadership, or the practical situation

(277) is protracted and uncertain, or the number of people to be swayed by persuasion is large and varied, the personality of the subject becomes excluded from the argument, and theoretic activities of observation, analysis, generalization, demonstration have to be carried on impersonally in order to have a more lasting and a wider influence. And there comes a time in the development of intellectual life when the exclusion of the ego is socially treated as an essential condition of theoretic efficiency. This has even gone so far as to make personal disputation a bit discreditable. A theoretic achievement should stand abstracted from the subject who has accomplished it, and should be brought into connection with the achievements of others on purely rational grounds without the necessity of any social relations between the personalities of the authors.

Even in the social domain the subject is often forced to exclude his reflected self from a situation when he wishes his activity to affect many people permanently. Thus, in an enlightened society a political leader or a social reformer can reach and preserve a wide and stable influence only if he succeeds in demonstrating to others his disinterestedness, that is, in showing that the situations which he creates in the course of his public life are not ego-centric and that considerations of wealth, power, fame do not play any decisive part in his behavior, do not modify in any way his plans for the public welfare.

In short, as we see, the subject must exclude his reflected self from every situation which he wants others to accept whenever their acceptance is not assured by the particular social bonds which connect him with them, but must be claimed for the situation on the merit of the values involved in it,

Now, what is the effect of this exclusion of the reflected self upon the subject's tendency, which was, as always in an ego-centric situation, more or less self-seeking?


The examples here quoted permit us to determine this effect. The schoolboy who must learn his lessons to get a good report, the savage who must perform a determined military feat to gain prestige and thus become a leader, the mechanician who has to show efficiency in factory work in order to obtain a better personal position all find themselves compelled to act temporarily in a way which will make their actions follow some objective model. This model has been socially stabilized and is applicable to an indefinite number of actions of various social subjects; therefore, it bears no reference to the personal purposes of any particular individual as such, nor does it take into account any concrete social situation as a particular subject may view it. It does not allow for any personal meanings of the values involved; the relations between these values are settled by a purely objective scheme which the subject must follow, if he wishes to make the action, once performed serve his personal aims. The original tendency to ge recognition, military prestige or a higher personal position does not by any means disappear; it remains in 'the background as the primary motive force of his behavior. But alongside with this tendency and in subservience to it there appears another tendency, deprived of all bearing upon the reflected self, deprived even of special reference to those social values which were connected with the reflected self in the original situation. It is a tendency to do an action in accordance with the objective model, to achieve something which will be objectively valid when judged from the standpoint of the standards which the established scheme implies. It is thus an intellectual tendency to "learn lessons", that is, to reconstruct a certain fragment of an objective system of science; or n social tendency to perform a standardized military feat for the benefit of one's group; or a technical tendency to do a certain standardized piece of organized industrial production.


In other cases where the scheme of the action to be performed is not ready in advance to be imposed upon the individual, the effect is nevertheless similar, for the subject is conscious of the existence or the need of certain objective standards with which his action, even if relatively new, will have to be in agreement, The Eskimo who in the game of inventiveness attempts to solve a hypothetical situation knows that he faces an objective, super-individual technical problem whose solution must gain the approval of his fellows by being in accordance with the standards which they believe to represent the highest technical efficiency under the given circumstances with the given materials and instruments. The artist knows or learns by experience that his performance or his work in order to appeal to others must possess certain. characteristics which are either an application of preexisting aesthetic standards or else introduce a new kind of objective aesthetic validity which will become a new standard, and he tends to achieve what appears to him as the degree of aesthetic perfection demanded by his milieu.

Likewise, the theorist who wishes his views to be accepted by others apart from the influence which any personal prestige of his may exercise upon their minds realizes the need of organizing them logically and present ing them in a form which will satisfy those demands for sufficient reason and logical consistency which others implicitly or explicitly apply to any theory which claims their acceptance on objective, impersonal grounds. These logical standards may not be conscious, but they develop out of the very clash of opinions, and the individual desirous that his opinion should gain .the upper hand aims net merely to equal, but to overcome rival opinions by the stability of his theoretic foundation and the coherence of his argumentative structure. Thus, he contributes to raise the standards and brings them to clearer consciousness.


Similarly, the socially active person, on seeing that the efficiency of his action depends upon the belief of his milieu in his personal disinterestedness and integrity, will try to make his behavior at least outwardly express certain ethical norms. And since in some fields of social competition each individual must rival the ethical level of others, those norms are apt to grow higher and to become more conscious in the very measure in which society actually applies them in determining the relative influence of its leading personalities. To this must be added the process so interestingly described by Mr. Ross,[4] the process of reciprocal moral criticism, in which each individual puts the highest possible moral requirements on the behavior of others, and thus helps keep the nominal moral standards of the group much above the moral level of the actual behavior of its members. There develops an objective interest in moral perfection as such apart from personal purposes.

Generally speaking, therefore, the removal of the reflected self from a closed action subservient to an originally self-seeking action leads to the appearance within this closed action of an objective cultural interest, as we may call a tendency to achieve something that will have objective validity when judged by definite standards of perfection. The choice of these standards may vary with the variations of the socio-psychological conditions in which the action is performed; but their nature depends primarily upon the objective character of that domain of culture with which this action has to deal. They are, in other words, not socio-psychological, but technical, economic, aesthetic, theoretic, moral, political, religious standards. The cultural interest of the subject leads him to some objective field of culture, makes him participate in a cultural system whose structure is super-individual and in

(281) most cases also super-collective, that is, independent of the particular community to which he belongs.

This process may be called social objectivation, and its law may by stated in the following terms

LAW 13. If from a situation subservient to a selfseeking activity the reflected self is excluded, the tendency of this situation becomes a cultural interest.

The evolution of tendencies does not end at this stage of objectivation. The new tendency may find difficulties in its way which force it to become modified, to develop, to have other impersonal tendencies, other cultural interests added to it as auxiliary forces. Thus, on the one hand, the final satisfaction of the original self-seeking tendency may be postponed almost indefinitely, and on the other hand the impersonal cultural interests may become more numerous, independent and absorbing. A cultural interest which was at first only subsidiary to personal, ego-centric purposes often begins in fact to predominate in the active life of a given individual. Finally, in a conflict between a self-seeking tendency and an objective cultural interest, the latter may prove vital enough to maintain itself and to inhibit the former.

No need to emphasize the tremendous historical importance of this process of objectivation. It is perfectly clear that no higher cultural life would be possible if there were no interest in achieving objectively valid results; in other words, if the subject were unable to forget himself and his actual contact with the concrete social milieu for the time of performing a certain cultural action and, instead, to become absorbed in the detached and standardized bearing of this action upon a sphere of impersonal objects and connections. The only question which arises here is whether social objectivation is the unique or even the main source of cultural interests. For the common supposition is that cultural interests arise rather out of primary, a-social

(282) human needs whose satisfaction demands objective achievement. The development of technique is thus supposed to be due to the fact that the quest for food or shelter forces man to face problems of modification of the material environment whose solution is possible only with the help of instruments; consequently, "necessity" becomes "the mother of invention". Theoretic interests are presumed to originate and to develop under the direct influence of unexpected obstacles arising in the way of instinct or habit; aesthetic interests are traced back to play, and so on. Of course, no reflected self is involved in the quest for food or shelter, in the intellectual comprehension of the new situation produced by an obstacle, or in spontaneous animal play.

It would be vain to deny that the satisfaction of needs forms the primary background of all objective achievements, even though the connection between a certain variety of needs and a specific kind of objective production is not always as definite as assumed in popular theories. Even in those examples of social objectivation we have quoted it is clear that the capacity of an individual performance or product to serve certain human needs is ultimately implied in its acceptance by others. The technical invention, the military feat, the work of art, the theory would not appeal to other members of the agent's group if they could not be utilized directly or indirectly to solve some vital problems. But we believe that social objectivation is an indispensable stage of the process in which the interest of the subject is drawn from the needs which the objective achievement helps satisfy to the objective aspect and intrinsic validity of this achievement as such.

As long as a certain active modification of objective data is subservient to an actual biological need of the subject, success in satisfying the need — actual, concrete, practical success — is the only measure of value which

(283) can be applied to this modification. Picking up or shaping a technical instrument to help a present food-quest, solving by theoretic reflection an unexpected practical problem are indeed objective achievements; but the only thing that, natters about them is the ultimate relation of their results to the subjective purposes for which they have been devised. They are neither valued for themselves nor appreciated according to their bearing upon the objective world, but their entire meaning is exhausted in the subjective use to which their products will be put. There is, and can be, no interest in their intrinsic, objective perfection as long as they are auxiliary to the satisfaction of the need.

This does not mean that every activity must have originally a biological end outside of its own performance to which it is subjected. In play the activity itself is its own biological end, and is performed for its own sake. But play does not imply any criteria of achievement. As soon as such criteria are admitted, activity ceases to be mere play and becomes serious business. As serious business means primarily, for every human being, satisfaction of needs, it. is evident that some powerful "drive" must have been necessary in order to give and to preserve a serious and important character to activities which have no direct connection with any actual biological need of the agent: the substitution of standards of objective perfection for criteria of subjective success and the imposition of such standards upon natural play surely required a different factor than any which could be furnished by the agent's life. This drive, this non-biological factor could be found only in social intercourse, as is shown by an investigation of human activities in societes on various stages of cultural development.

In a sense, social sublimation is sufficient to produce a certain interest in an action, independent of the need which the latter serves. A socially approved action is a value in the eyes of the subject quite apart from its

(284) significance as leading to an ulterior purpose — hedonistic, economic, or whatever it may be. And this kind of valuation, as we know, can develop very early, since children and even animals show themselves susceptible to the social approval of their behavior. But still sublimation does not develop the desire to achieve validity and perfection. An action may be socially sublimated such as it is, without any demand for its improvement; even when a model scheme is set for its performance, the scheme may be entirely indifferent to the bearing of the action upon any part of the objective world, and imply merely the wish of the agent's milieu that the action be similar to other actions already approved.

This is typically represented in social custom. Customary activities are socially sublimated and schematized activities; and yet they involve no standards except the very fact of customary repetition. , There is no idea of objective validity to which a customary performance is subjected, no intrinsic perfection to which it tends. Marriage customs, table manners, magical and religious performances, settled ways of production, in so far as accepted without critical reflection, are approved by the group members simply because they have "always" been folloved by the group; no other reason is demanded for their being such as they are, nor is there any need of justification by any other standards — as long as the custom remains vital and generally recognized.

This does not conflict with Sumner's assumption that folkways are the result of agglomerated experiences of the utility of certain actions. Customs are the outcome of the social sublimation of actions originally subservient to the satisfaction of needs. It is usually true that in consequence of the method of trial and error certain kinds of actions relatively more successful than others become more generally performed in a given group. And it is a fact that on lower stages of social life the more generally

(285) performed actions, those in which an individual by imitating others achieves a success similar to theirs, are also those which the group mostly sublimates, whereas an original variation of the usual behavior is more likely to meet at first with social repression. Thus the sanction of custom is attached to activities which have already become common hrough trial and error and individual imitation. The point is only that this sanction adds a new feature to them, that it makes them valued for their own sake, not for the sake of their results.

Therefore, although social sublimation makes the action in the subject's eyes relatively independent of biological purposes, still there is no direct passage from socially sublimated customary behavior to cultural interest in activities standardized with regard to their objective validity. On the contrary, it is by deviating from customary behavior that standards of objective validity are reached; they are the work of reformers who subject custom to criticism from the point of view of the intrinsic perfection of objective results. These standards may in turn receive a social sanction after they have been more or less generally accepted; but then they are collective norms, not customs. The collective norm does not demand that the individual should repeat the same action which others have performed before or are performing now, only that his action should be at least as perfect in its way as actions of the same category which others have performed or are performing. For instance, custom in primitive societies requires that the mother should purify herself ritually after childbirth; and that the making of weapons should proceed according to a definite scheme and be accompanied by certain magical ceremonies and incantations. Compare with these the collective norms which in civilized societies demand that the mother should educate her child up to the standards prevailing in the given society, leaving her a range of free choice as

(286) to the ways by which this result may be obtained, and the technical norms which a worker or an organized group of workers follow when they try to produce an article of the highest known quality by the most efficient and most economical means they can devise, even if these means should differ from those usually employed.

Back of all cultural interests we find, especially in savages and in children, the desire to excel over one's fellows or at least to equal them. This superiority or equality may be desired for the sake of the social recognition it brings or for other purposes which it is expected to foster, In any cases it implies subjectivation by which an activity that was originally performed as play, as a means to satisfy some subjective need, or in order to comply with custom becomes performed in view of the reflected self in order to raise one's social standing. Then, and only then, when the subject begins to feel the necessity of not merely doing something, but of doing it as well or better than others, his activity becomes standardized in accordance or in competition with the standards of achievement recognized by his milieu, and the way is open for the development of genuine cultural interests.

In short, in order to pass from mere satisfaction of needs or social conformism to creative aspirations in any field of culture — technique, economics, science, art, religion, education, social reformation, political organization — man must pass the intermediary stages of subjectivation and objectivation, first subordinate his purposes to his reflected self and then eliminate the latter, The reflected self is the necessary stepping-stone on the way from animal life or mere uniformity in social behavior to any kind of disinterested cultural achievement — but it is merely a stepping-stone.

Of course, it often happens that the reflected self, after having once been eliminated, is reintroduced again

(287) into some field of disinterested cultural activity. Subjectivation then no longer means progression from animal to cultural life, but, on the contrary; regression to a stage below. Still, if the standards of an activity thus subjectivated remain high and achievement difficult, such a regression is apt to be merely temporary. It remains permanent only if the subject no longer needs to aim at prefection in the given field, but can reach or maintain social recognition without any new creative efforts. This is illustrated in the frequent failure of the successful man to keep up the level of that productive activity to which he owes his success.


  1. See Dugas, La timidité, Paris, Alcan.
  2. See Thomas and Znaniecki, The Polish Peasant, Vol. V, p. 149, for example of the "Polish Alma Mater" in Chicago.
  3. The Origins of Invention, p. 23.
  4. Social Control.

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