The Laws of Social Psychology

Chapter 8: General Conclusions

Florian Znaniecki

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The present investigation has not by any means reached its end. There remain a number of socio-psychological changes which we have not yet succeeded in subordinating to causal laws or even in reducing to their simplest form. For instance, the very important problems of the individualization and the socialization of tendencies are still unsolved. It seems that they are in some way connected with changes of the reflected self — a personal self being substituted for a collective self, or vice versa — but the materials illustrating these processes are so multiple and varied, and the problems themselves have been so obscured by ethical and political discussions that we do not yet see any clear and exact way of stating and solving them. Many other complex processes call for analysis and causal explanation; perhaps we shall be able to study them some later time. Meanwhile, the results already reached permit us to draw several conclusions of a general psychological and even philosophical character.

One common feature of the socio-psychological processes must have already struck the reader: it is that, corresponding to each kind of change, there may be found a change in the contrary direction; and thus every social psychological laws has its counterpart. The only seeming exception is the process of generalization; but the fact that we have not succeeded in formulating any "law of

(289) particularization" expressing changes from a tendency bearing upon social concepts to a tendency bearing upon particular concrete social objects does not prove that there are no such changes. On the contrary, their existence seems manifest from the observation of cases, by no means rare, in which the social horizon of an individual who in his youth was full of general, even if vague, humanitarian interests and aspirations, becomes reduced at a more advanced age to the concrete circle of his acquaintances, friends and enemies, But it is not quite easy to determine exactly the nature of this change and explain it. In any case, there are enough data on which to base a principle expressing this duality of socio-psychological changes.

On superficial reflection one might be inclined to speak by analogy with physical and natural sciences of a general reversibility under changed conditions of the processes of our field. Stabilization may be followed by mobilization, idealization by sensualization, subjectivation by objectivation, and vice versa; and at first sight it may seem that these correspond in a general way to such reversible processes as the change from heat into motion and from motion into heat (barring the irreversible quantitative loss through dissipation, which is not an essential feature of either change, but a separate process), and the assimilation of energy by an organism alternating its expenditure (again barring the irreversible process of aging, which is not implied either in assimilation or in expenditure). Yet on closer investigation, this assumption proves a fallacy. Within the same closed system of action a changed tendency can never become again what it originally was; each socio-psychological process is irreversible in its very essence. For a change of the tendency involves an entire reconstruction of the whole action of which it is a part thus, the next change always occurs within a different system, and its results cannot be a mere return to the

(290) tendency with which the preceding change started. For instance, if we idealize a friend during his absence our desire for response may undergo a process of sensualization after his return; but the result will be a different attitude than the one which preceded his departure, though also relatively sensualistic. In the cases of subjectivation and objectivation discussed in the preceding chapter this irreversibility is very manifest; for, as we have seen, when the evolution starts by subjectivating a tendency to satisfy personal needs and leads to the objectivation of the subjectivated tendency, the result is not a return to the original tendency, but a new tendency, a cultural interest.

What the facts which we have studied actually do suggest is a kind of polarity in all socio-psychological becoming. There seem to be two opposite limits, two poles between which all active changes oscillate. For every type of socio-psychological processes there is a corresponding type of processes going in the opposite direction.

This principle of polarization, as it may be called, does not seem limited to the social field; it appears to extend over the entire domain of conscious life. It would be too bold, however, to assume this otherwise than hypothetically at the present stage of our research. We may merely notice that there are several kinds of polarity in conscious life. There is the one which expresses itself in the opposition of positive and negative values—pleasant and unpleasant, useful or harmful, good and evil, beautiful and ugly, true and false, sacred and impure. There is the polarity of progress and regression; the continual use of these concepts by men suggests that the human mind is conscious of two contrary ways in which its evolution may go on. We cannot go further into these matters, nor decide without further investigation what is their significance for the understanding of conscious becoming,


How far is it possible altogether to extend the results and methods of our investigation beyond the limits of specifically social activities, either to other special fields like psychology of religion, psychology of art, psychology of knowledge, etc., or to the domain of general psychology, whatever this domain may include?

In going over the various laws formulated in this study, it will be noticed that they are not all in equal measure dependent on the specifically social character of the actions upon which they bear. While social repression and social sublimation, subjectivation and objectivation are unthinkable without the reaction of other human beings, stabilization and mobilization, inhibition and rationalization do not necessarily imply social objects and social responses. The desire for stability and the desire for new experience may develop in connection with a-social experiences: hedonistic, technical, aesthetic, intellectual. Psychological conflicts can arise concerning actions which have no social elements included in them; for instance, there are well-known conflicts between intellectual and religious, religious and hedonistic, hedonistic and technical, technical and aesthetic activities.

Finally, though in the particular form in which they have been here expressed some laws are applicable only to social actions, it is easy to be seen that laws similar in their general essence, though differing' in particulars, may operate in other fields of cultural life. Thus, we have investigated the laws of positive and negative change specifically in connection with unexpected reactions of social objects to social actions of the subject; but there are processes of positive and negative change occurring in activities whose objects are not social. Our tendencies bearing upon hedonistic values like feed and drink net infrequently change from liking to aversion, and vice versa. In the economic field our desire to possess a certain object may change into a desire to get rid of it; on the contrary, we sometimes

(292) wish to possess again an object which we have sold. Our active appreciations of works of art, scientific theories, religious beliefs are also qualitatively modifiable. Now, such changes of tendencies evidently imply some changes of the corresponding situations. What kind of changes these must be in order to produce such effects, it is not our present task to investigate; but they certainly will prove somewhat parallel to the changes of expected reactions which are the starting-points of the corresponding socio-psychological processes.

Similarly, in other cultural fields there are facts of generalization, idealization and sensualization, and it may be safely presumed that their causal explanations will differ only in certain particulars from those which have been found adequate in the socio-psychological field.

On the other hand, it is probable that every other field of human activities — hedonistic, economic, technical, artistic, intellectual, religious — has, like the social field, some processes of its own subjected to laws of changes which remain limited to this particular domain.

Thus, we reach — hypothetically — the conception of a general psychology of action whose object is the investigation of those essential features which all activities possess. From this general psychology of action a number of special psychologies branch off —social psychology, hedonistic psychology, economic psychology, psychology of language, technique, art, religion, knowledge. Each of these again is closely connected with and in a sense belongs to some particular cultural science. Social psychology is a part of sociology, economic psychology a part of economics, psychology of art a part of aesthetics. In this way psychology of action is a common bond and in some respects the foundation of all sciences of culture — a role which has been wrongly ascribed to sociology from Comte down to our own time by philosophers and scientists who failed to

(293) notice that there are specifically social phenomena, as different from economic, linguistic and religious phenomena, as these are different from one another.

What can be the character of this general psychology of action, and what its relation to the psychology which prevails powadays in universities and laboratories?

Its character may be deduced from those introductory remarks which were made in Chapters 1 and II, and also from those laws of social psychology which seem applicable to other ;fields. Psychology of action as here conceived is not a natural but a cultural science, and in that differs radically both from the older physiological psychology and from the modern psychology of "behavior", The differences can be summed up as follows.

Both from the point of view of physiological psychology as organized by Wundt, Ribot, James and others, and from that of behaviorism as represented preeminently by Watson, the object-matter of investigation is the individual in his environment, as receiving influences and responding to them. Between the action of the environment and the reaction of the individual, or between stimulus and response, there comes in a more or less complex "internal" process of elaborating, combining, preserving, reviving these environmental influences, of preparing, organizing, checking, etc. these responses. Whereas in older psychology the stress was laid on those internal processes, which were described, analyzed, classified for their own sakes and only secondarily referred 'to external stimulations and overt responsive acts, behaviorism stresses the stimulus-response series and views all internal processes only as intermediary links in this series. Furthermore, old psychology assumed a duality of internal processes, psychical and physiological; while behaviorism admits only one kind of them, organic.

For our purposes, however, these distinctions are secondary. Both schools conceive the psychological subject

(294) as an entity, a part of nature. He is an object among other objects given to the psychologist, whether as a psyche connected with a body, or as a stream of facts of consciousness accompanying physiological processes, or as a living and active organism. The result is that every psychological fact appears as a modification of this entity and can be understood only in connection with other modifications of the same entity and with reference to the entity itself. It follows that, as we have seen before (Chapter I, conclusion), such facts cannot be subjected to laws: for this would be possible only if all individual bio-psychical entities were identical (which they are not) and reacted in the same way to the same influences (which they do not).

But — luckily, we believe, for the progress of psychology — this bio-psychological conception of the conscious and active subject, cannot be accepted for what it claims to be, viz., the purely objective, theoretic standpoint of an impersonal, rational science. In fact, it is nothing but a product of social intercourse, a sociological datum rather than a psychological theory. For the ultimate source of the bio-psychological entity does not lie in scientific reflection about psychological phenomena, but in the practical aspect which other human beings assume in the eyes of a subject who acts socially upon them. The conscious individual with whom modern psychology deals is originally simply the social object, to which (whenever the psychologist assumes the existence of self-conscious introspection) the reflected self is superadded.

Indeed, a human individual appears to those who act upon him and are subjected to his action as an object among objects, a part of their natural and — on earlier stages — supernatural environment. Around the nucleus of his body, out of his actions and 'reactions as given to others, these others, i. e., the community to which he belongs, construct a social image of his personality. Since

(295) everyone is a member of some community and a social object for others, all human individuals are thus given primarily as social images.

The general nature of these images evolves under the influence of cultural evolution. On earlier stages each individual appears as composed of a visible body and of one or more invisible, but material substances which inhabit his body, the former accounting for his physical and visible actions and reactions, the latter for those real or supposed ones whose processes are not directly accessible to the senses. Such a conception of the human being is sufficient in primary-group life, as long as social relations are based upon face-to-face contacts, and group-members, though practically interested in one another, seldom reflect about themselves but accept uncritically the social image of themselves. The infrequent .phenomena showing the influence of one human being on another who is not at the time in face-to-face relation with him are explained by the idea 'that the invisible substance within the body can temporarily leave it and transport itself elsewhere; while the rare discrepancies between the subject's own view of himself and the view others hold of him are sufficiently accounted for by the belief that strange powers sometimes take possession of man.

With the development of secondary groups, however, the original conception of the human being as purely material and entirely localized in space ceased to be satisfactory, for these groups are based upon innumerable indirect contacts between absent and even unknown individuals and smaller groups, and involve a continual idealization and generalization of social objects and tendencies. The discovery of ideal values — intellectual, moral, aesthetic — which exist and exert a powerful influence, although they cannot be localized anywhere in space, has cooperated further in gradually depriving at least the invisible part of the social individual of its material

(296) and spacial character. Thus, man as viewed by society has acquired a non-spacial "spiritual" soul attached to his material and spacially localized body.

Furthermore, with the progress of individualization the discrepancies between the image of the individual as viewed by others and his own reflection of this image, his reflected self, grow more and more numerous and marked. The nature of each reflected self becomes a problem; subjectivation gives rise to introspection, and all individual activities and experiences become related to the reflected self as belonging to it. Naturally the reflected and introspected self is identified with the non-spacial soul; everything the individual finds in his reflected self goes to furnish the content of the soul concept. Thus arises our familiar, traditional conception of the human being as composed of a body and of a soul which is the non-spacial receptacle of his experiences and acts.

This being, which we see to be merely a social structure, psychology in its beginnings took as object-matter of investigation. Thinking to study man as he was, it studied the social image of man, the product of other people's reflection about him and of his own reflection about this reflection. The reforms which the later psychology has introduced have not reached the root of the matter. The human being as viewed by others and secondarily by himself a social image, the product of social life — still remains the actual object of psychology, though its content has changed under the influence of modern scientific thought in general and of modern biology in particular.

This social product is not devoid of reality. Not only are the materials real from which it has been built — the individual's body and his activities — but the structure itself, the view which the social environment takes of the individual subject, has at least that kind of reality which every cultural product possesses, be it a word, a myth, a musical

(297) composition, or a custom: it is real because everybody behaves as if it were real, and particularly because the subject himself consciously or unconsciously tries to shape his personality in accordance with his social image. Therefore the individual as social image can and should be studied, not indeed by the biological psychologist, but by the sociologist, who will try to determine how this image is fashioned in social intercourse. The sociologist will bear in mind that all man's views of man are historically relative and dependent upon the culture and organization of particular societies; he will thus avoid the blunder of imagining that the particular view of man prevailing in certain circles, let us say at the beginning of the twentieth century, is the absolute truth about man as he really and ultimately is.

Critical reflection about the problem of man will easily show that, whatever may be the possibilities of our obtaining a true scientific and philosophical knowledge of particular natural and cultural objects, of their relations and their more or less extensive and complicated systems, neither science nor philosophy can ever obtain a total view or disclose the ultimate essence of man.

Indeed, man is only secondarily an object, because he can be an object only as a social structure, an. image created by social intercourse and given to other men or to himself for the purposes of social intercourse. Primarily and essentially, man is an individual subject, that inexpressible and unknowable center toward which data of experience converge in the process of experiencing and from which radiate activities bearing upon those data. Among the data of the individual subject is his own body — not the foundation of his subjectivity, but simply a thing connected with other things given to him, only more important to him than others because it is endowed with a more permanent and multiform axiological significance, and because its variations affect his other experiences more

(298) than the variations of any other object. Among the subject's activities are the intellectual activities which constitute his theories of things, and among these theories may even be some that, like modern naturalism, deny his own subjectivity.

Now, all attempts to understand and explain man as he is are based on either of two presumptions, the philosophical or the scientific. The philosophical presumption is that we can reach beyond the mere fact of subjectivity, determine the metaphysical essence of that inexpressible center of experiences and activities, and understand why objects are given to the individual subject and acts are performed by him. In searching for this explanation, philosophy seizes upon the characteristics ascribed to man as social object and naively believes that they offer the solution of the problem, Thus, the essence of man as subject is found in a material. soul, or in an immaterial soul, or in a material body, or in an ideal "Ego", regardless of the fact that any particular soul or body or "Ego" is not the subject, but merely an element in the experience of some subject, for it is always given among other data to some individual as the image of some other man, or reflectively as the image of himself, but never is "himself".

The scientific presumption is that we can obtain a scientific synthesis of the empirical human personality, i. e., of the totality of the experiences and acts of which the individual subject is the center. In trying to construct such a synthesis, science attaches itself to some particular set of individual experiences and acts, and attempts to reduce to them all the rest. Thus, in early psychology the foundation for scientific synthesis was furnished by that special complex of social activities in which the individual subject constructs his reflected self, becomes "self-conscious; or, in other words, behaves as an introspective psychologist, and refers to his "consciousness" all his experiences and acts. This was the intellectualistic, "intro-

(299) -spective" personality. According to a later conception, the processes which occur in the individual's body as seen by himself and by others (chiefly by the physiologist) became the fundamental set of experiences to which other experiences were to be reduced: this gave the personality of physiological psychology. Nowadays, the complex of hedonistic activities common to all living beings, viz., the search for the satisfaction of elementary appetites and for the avoidance of painful contacts is made the center of psychological synthesis: this is the personality of behaviorism, an energetic system of biological functions.

The failure of every one of these attempts is logically unavoidable, since the concrete empirical totality of personal experiences and activities is an inexhaustible, unlimited, disorderly, indefinitely variable multiplicity. .It is impossible to circumscribe any particular set of data from among all those that constitute the world of the individual subject and oppose this set as constituting his personality to the rest of his world as to the objective environment of this personality. Everything in the world as given to the individual has a subjective, personal aspect, just as everything has also an objective aspect — and this subjective aspect differs from individual to individual. The concrete personality is not distinguished from and opposed to the world; it is involved in the world, is interwoven with everything the subject experiences, is an inseparable component of all that is real and all that is ideal for him. What an individual experiences, does, or thinks, is not "in him", but is or occurs in the world that is given to him, among the objects with which he deals.

The human world — and we know no other — is the totality of all those experiences and acts that, on their subjective side, constitute ell the numberless human per= sonalities that are and were. For the individual this totality is the world; an objective immensity of things and processes;

(300) it is supra-personal because in its content and meaning, in its form and function, in its extension and duration it transcends indefinitely every particular personality. The personality is poorer than the world; and yet it is rich enough and complex enough to baffle every effort of scientific systematization.

Moreover, it is not isolated from other personalities: as part of a common world, it is part of others, and others are parts of it. This actual interpenetration of conscious human individuals is (or at least should be) so evident to every observer of cultural life that psychology's attempt to understand the individual man as a separate whole would be incomprehensible if not explained by the historical origin of this psychology in the social objectivation of men by one another.


Psychology cannot be a theory of man as natural being, because there is no such being and because no science of man is possible, in any case. It can be only a theory of the subjective side of those experiences and performances of which man as subject is the center, which enter into the composition of man as a concrete personality while, on the other hand, they belong to the world in which this personality lives and acts. Here, however, an obvious difficulty arises. How to separate the subjective side of these experiences and performances from their objective side?

This difficulty is no novelty. It lies at the root of the two opposite philosophical conceptions, radical subjective idealism and radical realism. The subjective idealist says: since everything there is, is for the subject, everything is part of the subject's personality, of his "consciousness": what seems objective, supra-personal, merely seems so; it

(301) is the subject who constructs the objective within his own consciousness. In a word, "the world is my representation". But the plausibility of this well-known doctrine is easily upset. As thinking in terms of society was unknown at the period of its formation, it failed to consider sufficiently the socially connect I plurality of subjects, and is thus forced either into the absurdity of solipsism —the view that my own ! individual self is the only subject or into the assumption of a super-individual, absolute subject, which again deprives the doctrine of its very foundation, for we know the subject only as individual subject.

Radical objectivism can be much more consistent and, indeed, with one essential reservation which will be emphasized presently, it is almost irrefutable. However, realism of all varieties has always been in so far inconsistent that it has left some — often the most numerous — phenomena out of consideration, either unwarrantedly ignoring their existence or rejecting them into the subjective domain and trying to explain them away as epiphenomena of organic processes. A truly consistent and thorough realism should emphatically say that every datum that has been experienced and every act that has been performed by an individual subject is essentially objective as a component of an objective, supra-personal world; none can be characterized as essentially subjective.

Since every particular experience of every individual can be in so far duplicated by some other individual as to make it the same experience with regard to all those features by which it can be characterized at all, there are no purely private experiences or acts. And realism has the right to claim as objective anything that is or may be common to many subjects. Some experiences are, in fact, often multiplied, as, for instance, those which constitute the content of so-called material things. Others are less

(301) frequently shared by other individuals, for instance, those called "illusions" and "hallucinations". But sociology knows innumerable cases of collective illusions and hallucinations whose reality in the eyes of a human group has been strong. enough to influence their behavior more lastingly and powerfully than many a material thing. Others are normally not shared, like many dream-visions; but there are examples of particular visions that have been accepted as real by countless numbers and thus become myths.

Between the most permanent and generally shared experiences, like those of natural objects, and the most fleeting and unique experiences there is an imperceptible gradation. The intermediary grades are largely filled by so-called cultural products —products of technique, works of art, economic values and means of exchange, linguistic expressions, myths, literary objects and personages, etc. Unless we wish to fall into subjective idealism we must agree that some at least of our experiences belong to the objects themselves, that certain aspects of things are characteristics of those things and therefore constitute the object-matter of objective science. And once this has been granted, we cannot halt at any particular stage and say that from now on our experiences become purely personal and cease to characterize the objects themselves, for reality shows no such cleavage. Every object includes the totality of those experiences which various individuals have had of it and is constituted by them.

The same applies to every particular act performed by an individual subject. Every act performed is only definable as part of an objective, supra-personal function. Thus, the act of multiplying 3 by 2 is an objective, math ematical operation: it bears no subjective characters;, its role in mathematics is the some whoever performs it. Similarly, the acts of looking, walking, or eating are definable only as biological functions, and so on. Every act

(303) of a man is a link in some supra-personal chain of activity which began long before this particular man was born and will last long after he is dead.

Thus far the position of radical objectivism is impregnable. For, though there is no denying the fact which subjectivism has taken as its pivotal point, viz., that each experience is "somebody's" experience, each act "somebody's" act, yet as long as this fact does not actually affect the intrinsic character of experiences and acts, as long as these do not become essentially different by becoming "somebody's" from what they would otherwise be, the subjective side of the world may be metaphysically significant, but it remains meaningless for positive science. If, as Bergson says, the subjective is the undefined, the fluid, the absolutely irrational and purely dynamic matrix from which definite experiences and acts emerge in contact with the static spacial reality, this mystical, subjective becoming by its very essence can only be the object of an equally mystical intuition for which science has no use whatever. For psychology to accept this as its proper field, would be to resign without a struggle its claims as a science.

Since psychology really exists as a science and occupies a certain domain of its own — though its limits are not always clearly traced —the objective interpretation of the world, as above outlined, must be in some way incomplete. It must omit some phenomena which, though empirical and accessible to scientific research, are yet not components of any objects or objective functions, but may be qualified as subjective. These phenomena cannot be any special class of data or any special class of acts; but they may be some combinations of data and acts which occur only owing to individual subjects.

The existence of such phenomena must depend upon the rôle which the subject as such plays in the world. If his only task is to have objects given to him and to

(304) perform functions that are determined independently of him, then his experiences and performances, though in a sense his own, possess no distinct significance apart from their objective significance. If, on the contrary, his experiencing objects and performing functions affects at least in some cases those very objects and functions, if an object may become different after and because it has been given to somebody, and a function may become different after and because it has been performed by somebody, then indeed and in this very measure the subject's experiences and performances can mean something, not merely to himself but to the world at large.

There is, indeed, a class of personal phenomena in this sense, viz., the complex processes in which the individual makes personal contributions to the world and as subject introduces changes into objects and functions. Each such change, once made, ceases of course to be personal, like a work of art, which after having been produced is and remains a part of the objective artistic domain. But the creation of the change, the very fact of making a contribution like a work of art, is something which the objective world does not even imply; it would not have occurred if this particular individual subject were not there ; it is due entirely to his being there as a subject. Therefore it is personal in a much deeper and more pregnant sense than those copies of objects and repetitions of functions which were assumed by subjective psychologists to constitute the content of individual consciousness. And yet it can be scientifically studied; for both its antecedents and its results are objectively ascertainable.

Such phenomena would imply that human experiences and acts are not only, each separately, components of objects and functions, and thus incorporated into the objective world, but that at least some of them also combine into dynamic systems through which the subject, starting

(305) with a given set of experiences and performing determined acts, produces some new experience or act. Such a system, as we have seen, is precisely the action. In the course of the action something at least relatively new is produced, some addition is made, however slight, to the objective world, which would not have happened except for the subject performing the action.

We have found it impossible ever to explain why a certain action is being performed; the ultimate reason of this impossibility is this very dependence of the action upon the subject, who is inacessible either to scientific or to philosophic thought. All the particular elements of the action are objective, and after they once have been combined and the situation defined, the system itself can be indefinitely reconstructed and in so far is impersonal. But the fact that these elements have been thus combined, that the system has been constructed or reconstructed remains purely and inexplicably personal. For it means that this particular individual subject at this particular moment has first subjectivated these elements, drawn them so to speak from their supra-personal sphere to his center of actuality and then objectivated them again, projected them into the objective world; in the course of this, connecting, organizing and modifying them in such a way that, as a result, from the unknown sources of his subjectivity something emerges into the empirical world which was not there before.

Logically, there can be no other psychology but a psychology of action. At the present stage of scientific development this limitation is not sufficiently recognized because with regard to many phenomena no method has yet been found which would permit us to treat them as objective components of an objective world. Owing to imperfect scientific problematization, much is left to psychology which does not belong there, whereas many properly psychological problems are neglected or even entirely ignored.


The conception of psychology as psychology of action seems at first glance similar to the one promoted by the behaviorist school. This similarity is, however, only verbal; however much we may appreciate the many important positive contributions of behaviorism, particularly in the field of psychological observation, we cannot even with reservations accept the general methodological presuppositions which it employs in stating the problems of psychology. Not only is the definition of behavior as a sequence of stimulus and response indissolubly connected with the untenable conception of the psychological subject as biological entity, a natural being among other natural beings, but also, instead of the original character which the subject's activity and its objects possess for the subject himself, behaviorism substitutes the secondary and superadded features which this activity and these objects acquire in the eyes of the social observer. To the social observer, indeed, the action appears as the agent's response to a change in the common milieu which the observer shares with the agent, for he fails to realize that this change cannot influence the "behavior" of the agent, cannot become a "stimulus", unless the agent as subject has grasped it as practically significant for him, i. e., has experienced it and given it a meaning from the point of view of his actual or latent tendencies. The change becomes a "stimulus" because it is being used for an action instead of — as behaviorism sees it — starting an action, because it is a stimulus. The ordinary outside observer and the behaviorist miss that whole stage of the action which conditions and precedes what seems to them the purely objective process of stimulation, because they do not take the agent primarily as a subject to whom changes of the milieu are given, but as an object in whose apparent "re- actions" to the changes of other objects they are interested.

Similarly, the "response" concept represents only an incomplete phase of the action as viewed from the out-

(307) -side. The social observer who is practically concerned with what he has to expect from the agent and the behaviorist who accepts his point of view both treat the action as a certain modification of the agent and of the relation between the agent as object and other objects given to the social observer or to the behaviorist. But this is not what the action means to the agent himself as subject: for him it is a modification of his objects and of the relations between his objects (including his body). What matters to him is not how he behaves (unless seconda. rily, when he views himself as reflected self, as social object), but how things behave under his action. Therefore, his action is characterized in his eyes not with reference to himself, but with reference to the result aimed at and. achieved, and to the way in which it is expected to be and does gradually become achieved.

Thus, if the psychologist wishes to study the action in its original course and its actual significance, he cannot define it as the . behaviorists do, but must follow the agent's own experience of it. Furthermore, he must remember that the world in which the action happens is not "nature", that rigid and schematized, rationalistic extract of the original world of human experience. It is the cultural world, full of meaning, containing innumerable objects which have no material existence at all, or merely a symbolic nucleus of materiality, and yet are as real to the human agent as any mountain or tree; containing qualities which perhaps appear only to a small group of human subjects, and yet to them may be as important for practical purposes as the weight or velocity of bodies. The subject's contributions to this world may be merely slight variations of the content and meaning of the objects given to him, as his perceiving various new shades of color in certain lights, depending on the disposition of his sense organs; and yet they are parts of the concrete reality, which ultimately may

(308) be nothing but the total sum and agglomerated mass of such contributions.[1]


Thus considered, the action gives rise to two kinds of problems. As has been already mentioned, the subject by his action may modify either the objects or the functions which he finds in existence before he begins to act. In fact, he usually modifies both, but the scientist may ignore some of his contributions in order more thoroughly to investigate the others. The subject finds before him certain empirically given conditions, objects connected by relations. ,In these conditions he starts to act; more or less consciously he defines the situation and solves it; or, in other words, he sets a purpose with reference to the given conditions, picks the materials and instruments of his activity out of these Same conditions and with their help realizes more or less his purpose, reaches a certain empirically given result. Now, we may be chiefly interested in the real result as compared with the conditions, and ask what are the contributions that the subject has brought into the empirical reality; or we may be concerned with the very process of his action and ask whether his acts were merely performances of a well-determined function or whether they introduced any variation into this function. For instance, when an artist produces a painting, we may either study this painting with reference to the reality which the artist wished to paint, to the other paintings which influenced him, to the technical instruments he was supplied with, and characterize it, on the one hand, as a contribution to the domain of art; on the other hand, as a representation of certain objects in a way which has brought out a certain

(309) previously unnoticed aspect of those objects, or simply created a new aspect. Or else we may investigate the process of the artist's activity, the method by which he reproduces or rather recreates "mentally" the given reality in accordance with his purpose, which is in turn redefined by this contact with reality, and also the technique of his putting upon canvas the product of his aesthetic thought; all these can be more or less original as compared with what similar artistic functions have been in the past.

As long as the student merely describes particular actions, either with regard to the relations between the result and the conditions, or in order to ascertain the character of the acts involved, he does not yet fulfil the demands of science for classification and explanation, But how is it possible to classify and to explain something which seems essentially unique and inexplicable — the individual's personal contribution to the world? This is the problem, a part of which the present book has been attempting to solve,

We have been concerned here with the internal aspect of the action, that is, with the very process by which a subject brings his personal contribution to the world or, more exactly, to that part of the world which contains specifically social objects and functions. We have left out of consideration both the objective social aspect of the conditions in which the action starts and the objective significance of its final result, the change it actually introduces into the social reality given to the subject. The action has been taken as already begun, manifesting a definite tendency and a definite social situation constructed by the t out of the preexisting conditions; the result has been viewed with reference to the tendency as something intended, and expected, not with reference to the social reality of which it becomes a part after having been definitely achieved.

It has then been our task to find a way of subordinating the action thus conceived to general concepts, of

(310) applying to it the methods of scientific classification and explanation, in spite of the fact that as a personal process of modifying the given world it is in a sense unique and inexplicable. This task has been made possible by analyzing the action into its elements and by studying changes of these elements. For, although no two individual actions are exactly alike, and each, has at least a minimum of originality, yet nearly every element taken separately tendency, expected result, social object, instrumental process, reflected self — has been found approximately identical in unlimited repetitions and combinations, because made approximately identical in the subject's own reconstruction of previously experienced elements. And, although each action is in some measure a dynamic, creative performance, yet for most actions there comes a moment when their further course is approximately determined and their composition stabilized.

Thus, apart from relatively few, highly original actions which no scientific approximation can adequately reconstruct in their most important features, the immense majority of the processes by which individuals contribute to the social world have been made accessible to scientific generalization, so much so that for scientific purposes an action performed collectively by a number of individuals can be treated with regard to its proces in the same way as actions performed by isolated personalities.

The most important feature of the action viewed in its very process, the feature which makes it essentially subjective, is, as has been said before, the change which the Abject by acting introduces into the domain of activity itself, the fact that he modifies, varies a certain function. This feature has been in the center of our interest, and our study of socio-psychological changes  may be viewed primarily as an attempt to approach it by scientific methods. As long as the action proceeds in accordance with the

(311) principle of achievement, the act is merely a continuation of some function well-known in the past; the element of innovation is negligible. But when the action deviates from its course, this means that the act changes and that the subject is introducing a modification into the original function.

Now, we have been studying deviations of actions, that is, changes introduced not merely into reality, but into the course of activity itself. To be sure, 'the needs of scientific explanation have here prevented us from facing squarely any truly creative character there may be in those changes. Only changes of stabilized actions have been taken into account, and every change of the original tendency has been made causally dependent upon a change of the original situation; finally, we have refused to consider the question of the first appearance of entirely new tendencies, and limited ourselves to cases in which tendencies already existing elsewhere are introduced into actions from which they were formerly absent. Thus, the subject's contribution to the domain of social activity has by being scientifically . approached lost its uniqueness; and yet it remains in a sense personal and subjective, for it would not happen if the individual subject (or collectivity) did not actively respond to a change of the situation by reconstructing the whole action and redirecting its course toward a different purpose.

The type of research here exemplified is specifically and emphatically psychological. And yet this is not the kind of research which constitutes the main body of psychology, such as it now is, particularly experimental and pathological psychology. We are then confronted with an. alternative. Either experimental and pathological psychology do not deal with subjective phenomena at all but with objective natural phenomena, in which case they are bound to merge into biology, and thus to surrender all problems which involve the study of consciousness; or else without

(312) knowing it they are really concerned with the psychology of action, not with the process of action nor the modification of function manifested in this process, but with the relation between the conditions and the result of the action, with the changes produced by the subject in the reality that is given to him. If the latter proposition be true, experimental and pathological psychology in spite of their present explicit theoretic presuppositions belong logically to the domain of cultural, not to that of natural science; the naturalistic assumptions and methods now in use must, therefore, be inadequate for dealing with their materials, and constitute a hindrance in the way of further development. That this is really the case, the following considerations will show to any unprejudiced methodologist.

Every psychological problem put in laboratory experiments assumes either of two forms: if a certain modification is introduced into the set of conditions given the subject, what will the subject do? Or, what will he experience? For instance, what will a rat do, if a mechanical puzzle is put in the way of its getting food; what will a man do if, after being asked to memorize a sequence of syllables, his attention gets distracted? Or, what will a man experience if to a weight that he has been lifting an extra weight of known size be added? If we eliminate the impossible interpretation of the psychological subject as a natural biopsychical entity, the cleavage between this entity and the world, and the concepts of influence-reaction and stimulusresponse, which are connected with this interpretation and cleavage, such problems generally prove to be variations of one fundamental problem of the psychology of action: what is the effect of a change of conditions upon the result of the action?

It must be again remembered that from the point of a consistent realism there is no essential difference between the data of an extrospective, behavioristic investigation and

(313) those of an introspective investigation. The movements of the rat's body are real; but so are also the sensations of a man who has the experience of an extra weight's being added to a weight previously lifted, and finds on comparison that the strain caused by these weights differs or does not differ in, degree. To make the observer experience directly the movements of the rat's body it is enough for the observer to look upon the rat. To make him experience directly the same data as the man who lifts weights, it is indispensable for him to lift those weights himself; if he does not, he must be satisfied with indirect knowledge based on the words of the man who tells him about his experiences, words which evoke some more or less similar past experiences of his own. But this is clearly only a secondary difference. More important is the fact that the movements of the rat's body can be fitted into the system of natural happenings, whereas the relation of the weights as given to the man who lifts them is in disaccordance with the relation between these same weights when measured by scales, and therefore cannot be made a part of the system of nature. This distinction would qualify the data of this man's experience as unreal if the system of nature were the only system of reality. But there are many systems of reality besides that of nature — the economic, the aesthetic, the religious, the social, etc. — and data conflicting with the natural system may still be real in some other system: take, as a striking example, magical properties, which, though in complete disharmony with reality as it appears to modern physicists, were treated as real and therefore actually constituted a reality in the eyes of innumerable past generations.

Thus, both the movements of the rat and the experiences of the than are real phenomena, which appear when the conditions given to them are changed in certain ways. Undoubtedly the rat has also some experiences as a result

(314) of the change in conditions, and these too are real phenomena, not in contrast with but in addition to his movements, though we have no way of determining their nature otherwise than by uncertain and indirect inference, in view of the fact that the rat does not speak and is too different from us for us to share his experiences directly by repeating, his action. Similarly, if the man when lifting a heavier weight performs some movements which he did not perform when the weight was lighter (as he always does, when the difference is marked), these movements appear also in addition to his experiences as a consequence of the changed conditions.

Now, as has been shown before, real phenomena cannot interest psychology and do not constitute its objectmatter except as brought into connection with activity, which introduces something new — or at least relatively new — into reality. Bodily movements and experiences of objects, of their qualities and relations are significant to the psychologist only if they are viewed either as components of practical situations constructed by the active subject to satisfy definite tendencies, or else as conditions and results of active processes. Experimental psychology does not view them in the first way, for it does not take the standpoint of the active subject when interpreting his behavior and his experiences; it does not try to reconstruct his problems as he puts them himself. At least, this is not the way the standard experiments are set. Therefore, the psychological character of the data of the behaviorist and the introspective psychologist must come from the fact that these data are connected by an active process which the psychologist does not analyze, but which actually leads from the conditions created by the experiment to the results observed by the experimentalist or by the subject. This is what saves experimental psychology from being a logically self-contradictory and practically useless con-

(315) -glomeration of materials that belong properly to the various sciences of objective reality.

If experimental psychology should accept the culturalistic point of view and realize that its future lies in its being explicitly a theory of those active contributions which the subject under certain conditions makes to the objective reality, it would thus supplement that branch of psychology which analyzes the very process of action and of which the present book is an example.. Its fundamental principle, corresponding to our, principle of achievement, would then be: Under given objective conditions a definite act produces a definite objective result. As a principle of scientific generalization it should be formulated as follows: Identical acts under identical objective conditions produce identical objective results.

This principle, though not formulated, is implied in the concept of "psychological functions". For instance, the psychologist who investigates visual or auditory "perceptions" presupposes that, as long as the function of seeing. or hearing remains the same, the subject under similar objective conditions will always have similar perceptions. The trouble is that the modern psychologist, influenced by naturalistic views, has forgotten that the function is in fact an activity of the subject which, in the cases of often repeated performances, may proceed rapidly and be totally devoid of reflection, but which becomes slow and reflective if the performance is in any way unusual; for instance, if external distractions hinder the subject in seeing or hearing. Furthermore, involved in the old dualism of objects and their subjective copies, the psychologist fails to see that the subject's visual or auditory perception is a real component of the real world and always, in however slight a measure, represents a personal addition to the world, an infinitesimal modification of reality, whose entire empirical content has been constructed out of such modifications


Such being the static foundation of experimentalp psychology, it is easy now to determine from the culturalistic point of view the formal character of the problems involved in experimental research. These problems are always dynamic, that is, they deal with changes, though not with changes of acts, which form the object-matter of analytic psychology, as illustrated in this book. On the contrary, the act is there supposed, or should be supposed, changeless. Otherwise the problem becomes too complicated and eludes scientific grasp. The experimentalist changes only the real conditions in which the act starts and tries to determine the subsequent modification of the result. Supposing the act of statisfying hunger to be always identical, we know that under certain definite conditions this act will produce certain results, a definite complex of bodily movements ending with the devouring of the food. The experimentalist who puts a rat into a maze finds that the change of conditions thus brought about leads to a change in the results — a different complex of movements appears. The act of memorizing being supposed always the same, if the conditions are the same the result will be identical; but the psychologist changes intentionally the conditions by distracting the subject's attention in order to see how the results will change. The act of appreciating a weight by lifting it is admitted identical 'in every case; but if the weights lifted are changed, the results of the appreciation will also change. And so on.

In short, whereas from the naturalistic point of view every experimental psychological fact is composed of two links — external action upon the subject and reaction of the subject, or more simply stimulus and response —, the culturalistic interpretation of psychological phenomena demands that every experimental fact be conceived as composed of three links — change of conditions, act of the subject, change of results.


It would seem at first glance that such a formulation of experimental problems, whether significant or not Philosophically, has no bearing whatever upon their positive scientific solution. What is the use, the psychologist might say, of postulating an active process as intermediary link between one objective phenomenon and another, since this active process is normally left out of consideration in the course of research. And yet the introduction of this intermediary link makes all the difference between a descriptive science, which at its best can reach only approximate empirical generalizations, and an explanatory science, which can aim at exact causal laws.

Indeed, if the experimental fact is formulated in terms of stimulus-response, under every generalization must be included all the actual and possible variety of responses to any given kind of stimuli. For the responses depend on the total nature of the responding individuals and therefore must vary as these vary. Every general statement must be based on the inexact assumption of an essential identity of responding individuals and admit of more or less numerous exceptions. No exception can be explained, for its explanation would demand a thorough knowledge of the given individual in his personal peculiarity, and such a knowledge is impossible.

On the contrary, if we realize that the result of an action in given objective conditions depends on the nature of the act — since it is the act which out of these conditions constructs a practical situation —our generalizations will be more limited in scope, but universally valid within their limits. Since the consequence of a psychological experiment is not a new response of a psychological entity, but merely a modification of the result of a subjective act following a change of the conditions in which this act is performed, no definite relation can be assumed between this change of the conditions and the modification of the

(318) result unless the act is the same; for it is clear that a difference of acts brings forth a difference of results, independently of the conditions. But when the act is the same, a definite change of conditions must be followed by a definite change of result; there is a necessary relation between these changes which for scientific purposes may be identified with a causal relation. Generalized, it would take the form of a conditional causal law: if, whenever, and wherever the conditions of act A undergo a change M, the result will necessarily undergo the change — Nor, assuming a stable function A, change M of the conditions produces change N of the results: Thus, assuming a stable function A of satisfying hunger, a certain technical difficulty M put in the way of this satisfaction will produce a certain change N in the movements of getting food; or, assuming a stable function A of appreciating lifted weights, a certain increase M in the weight will produce a certain change N in the appreciation of this weight.

With this form no inexplicable exceptions need or should be admitted. Suppose a series of experiments shows 'some cases in which the same cause — change M of conditions — does not seem to produce the same effect (change N of results). There may be perhaps reasons to doubt whether all the experiments were well conducted, that is, to suppose that some other causes, some unnoticed and unintended changes of conditions combined in some ,cases with change M. But if there was no interference of other causes, or if the variety of effects subsists after these causes have been eliminated, the apparent exceptions from the law lead to the simple conclusion that in these cases the function is not A, but X ; in other words, that the result is changed not only because the conditions have been changed, but also because the act is different. For instance, deviations from the law of Weber in cases of too high or too low stimulation may be due to differences

(319) in the mental activity which compares the increasing or creasing stimuli. Then, of course, the problem is to find the law of the relation between changes of conditions and changes of result with this other function X.

With the same facility and similar advantages the problems of pathological psychology can be formally modified in accordance with culturalistic presuppositions. Here also we find two apparently conflicting points of view, the physiological and the psychological, which a consistent realism can reconcile. On the one hand, the subject's body is, of course, part of the conditions of every action as a universal instrument. It need not be taken into account as long as its working as an instrument is normal, unless we wish particularly to investigate the effects of certain intentional changes in the way it is used for certain kinds of acts. But it comes into the foreground when its instrumental capacity is affected. The problem again should be stated in terms of specific acts, with reference to definite functions. Knowing the results produced by a certain kind of acts under certain conditions, including a normal body, it can be easily ascertained how these results will change when the body is pathologically modified in a certain way; and this change of the results must be then referred to the pathological change of the body as to its cause. If this explanation works, that is, if it can be applied to all similar cases, there is no need for assuming any change of function; only if in some cases a definite pathological modification of the body does not produce the change of results which should follow according to a law already established, is there any reason for admitting that the function is also different, that the subject does not act as he used to act. Of course, this change of function cannot be referred to the pathological change of the body as to its cause; it must be left unexplained unless we turn to study the. very process of action and apply the

(320) method of analysis and explanation which has been used in this book.

The "physiological" explanation of abnormal behavior by pathological modifications of the body can be very well reconciled with that which searches for so-called "psychological" causes. Indeed, there is no essential difference between them, if the dualism of "body" as part of nature and "mind" as opposed to nature is at last removed. The body is simply one of the components among the conditions of every action. Changes of results may be produced either by changes of the body or by changes of other conditions given to the subject. In some cases, then, "abnormal" results of individual acts will have to be referred to pathological modifications of the body; in other cases to deep and permanent changes of other conditions - social, economic, religious, etc. Perhaps bodily changes follow other changes, or preceed them: these are questions for particular research.

We can hardly hope that experimental and pathological psychology, imbued as they are with naturalism, will explicitly accept these suggestions in their abstract formulation; but we are sure that they will be led gradually to assume premisses essentially similar to those here exposed, if they wish to make their solutions more definitive. And then all psychology will become in fact, if not in name, a cultural science.


  1. See for a more detailed discussion of the culturalistic view of the world our book Cultural Reality, Chicago 1919.

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