Social Interpretations: A Reply [to Dewey]

THE review of my work by my friend Professor Dewey in the July issue of this REVIEW, is worthy of notice both by reason of its careful discussion, and also by reason of the fact that it fails in some degree to see my real point of view. In consequence of what seems a misconception, the detailed criticisms lose the instructiveness which they might have had and also, I am free to say, some of their point. This I aim to show below. As a matter of fact, Professor Dewey has mistaken a knob on my harness for a joint, and aiming at it has, I think, wasted much of his ammunition.[1]

There are two things quite essential to a real understanding of my book: (1) it must be understood that my method is genetic, and (2)that the results state empirical generalizations, as all genetic science does, and not metaphysical explanations. I am not attempting to say what either the individual or society is, nor how either of them is possible ; I attempt rather to say what the law is of their evolution, and by what relation of fact or of implication of each by the other this law of evolution proceeds. That Professor Dewey fails to realize both of these essentials, it is easy to show. I shall take the second point first, since the great 'circle' of contradiction which he finds at the outset illustrates misapprehensions on both of these points.

Professor Dewey says that I am guilty of a fine circle of argument, a circle which he allows I have myself stated ° precisely' in the following quotation:[2] "I do not see in short how the personality of this

(622) child can be expressed in any but social terms ; nor how, on the other hand, social terms can get any content of value but from the understanding of a developing individual. This is a circle of definition of course, but that is just my point. On the one hand, we can get no doctrine of society, but by getting the psychology of the socius with all its natural history; and, on the other hand, we can get no true view of the socius at any time without describing the social conditions under which he normally lives, with the history of their action and reaction upon him" (Soc. Int., p. 21). Professor Dewey goes on to say that this "recognition of the circle does credit to the author's candor, but does not eliminate the contradiction" (p. 401).

Now taking Professor Dewey's statement that this quotation 'precisely' expresses his point (a fact of which I should not otherwise have been at all sure, even after his explanations), it becomes evident how completely he has misread the theory of my book. I italicize two clauses in the quotation, each of which brings out one of the two essentials stated by me just above. The clause 'but that is just my point'-and the book is very largely vain if the point be not in the end established-intimates that the ` circle ' is not a logical one at all ; it is a material one. So far from falling into a logical circle, I make the material circular process of give and take the subject for my predicates all the way through. I make the growth of the sense of personality (qua personality) largely a matter of social absorption and ejective interpretation[3] -- a complete circle of fact. And by this very circle of fact, looked at from the objective point of view, society is constituted with its bonds of publicity, etc. To shift one's point of view in considering a process which by its very nature shows two points of view is not to argue in a circle. It is an attempt to establish something material.[4]


Now Professor Dewey's 'fundamental' criticism with many of its applications falls of its own weight with this point. Assuming the circle to be a logical one, he attributes to me the distinction between society and the individual which such a circular fallacy presupposes. In other words, I am made an individualist, recognizing individuals independent of society, society over against individuals, and committing the circular fallacy in defining them in terms of each other after such recognition. Nothing could be really more untrue to my position. I nowhere recognize such an individual nor deny sociality to him; I nowhere assume society apart .from social individuals ; I nowhere fail to protest against just these assumptions. The passage which Professor Dewey quotes as showing °even more explicitly' the denial of sociality to the individual ' is altogether misinterpreted. I say in discussing the child's egoism, not at all in discussing adult reflective action, °1 the child must grow tip to be an individual ; that is incumbent upon him at all hazards; what more he may attain in the way of being a good or wise or social individual is based on this first presupposition." What is meant is that it is essential that the child should know how to act in self defense and offense in order to live--it is rather important to his future social career that lie should live ! So he is provided with organic and spontaneous reactions for personal quasi-egoistic action. But Professor Dewey has understood this to mean that a mature individual exists who is not social, and then has in some way to be made social ! On the contrary, such a child is not a person at all, not an individual ; I say distinctly that his own self-consciousness is not yet formed. I must say that this reading of my pages seems to me very astonishing.[5]

So also it is not true that I 'unconsciously postulate' society (p. 401). I expressly and consciously postulate society, in the anthropological or sociological sense, and say that every individual at the stage to which his maturity belongs reflects a society of individuals like himself; all genetic science has so to proceed, as I explain more fully below. When Mr. Dewey says : "Were it not for this unconscious

(624) assumption we should have an absolutely numerical individualistic view," I agree, except to say-' conscious and necessary assumption' ? Things do not grow by leaps, but from earlier stages ; yet when Professor Dewey follows that up by attributing to me this: ' IT he thought of the individual in itself is not social ; but other individuals come to think in the same way, and then there is society "-I make emphatic demurrer. If he had said, ' I Then the thought becomes available as social matter in so far as the attitudes which it excites have personal value and reference," he would be true to my exposition in the passage to which he is referring.

Let us take a case from physiology. Here is a writer who is asking how physiological growth takes place. He finds there is an order of changes through which morphological results come about. These changes may be looked at chemically or physically. First, he treats of animal chemistry; then in part II. of his treatise, he treats of functional physiological changes. Now, is he guilty of a circulum in definiendo in saying that the functional changes, which can be described only from the physiological point of view, require certain definite chemical changes, and also that the chemical changes in the organ are dependent upon the physiological action of that organ ? Can we go on and say that his recognition of the chemical changes makes him an atomist in his morphology, his recognition of the functional changes makes him an organist, and his attempt to unite the two only emphasizes their antagonism ? I think his answer would be that any one who knew the real problem of growth, as the facts set it, would see that the development of the organism is actually-materially-a thing of just this sort of higher organization of chemical matter in physiological form. And if any one pressed him with being an atomist he might retort: "Away with you; read me again! And if you, my critic, chance to be a philosopher, I advise you in the meantime to stop lecturing on Aristotle !"

Professor Dewey says: " How a matter which is not itself social ( the individual's inventions ) can become socialized through a process (imitation) which is not social either, I do not see." But this is just what happens whenever a lower order of fact is built into a higher organization. It is what happens in physiology, and it is what happens here. Imitation is not social unless it be the means of organizing a certain sort of material, and the material is not social unless it be imitatively organized. Self-thoughts imitatively organized are, I contend, the essence of what is social.[6]


Turning to the need of taking the genetic point of view-the other general point-I find Professor Dewey equally wide of the mark.[7] I have italicized a second clause in the sentence which he quotes from my book to prove the fatal circle; I say: °' We can get no true view of the socius at any time without describing the social conditions under which he normally lives etc. " The words I at any time ' indicate what the whole book clearly says from preface to back-cover. If we are to assume a ready-made individual, on one hand, and a readymade society, on the other hand, and an antagonism between them which we are called upon in some way to do away with-all of which I have called (Soc. Int., p. 88) a I hideous un-fact '-then of course we cannot allow ourselves to explain one of these ' at any time ' or stage of growth as involving elements from the other at some other stage of growth. But if we are studying a progress, an evolution, genetically, and have already determined the essential interdependence of the elements which go into it, it is not only legitimate, it is necessary for attaining truth, that we discover in each stage, 'at any time,' the part in the whole movement which each of the elements contributes. The individual's growth as a person is as a fact, I think, at once personal and social ; and the social situation is, at any time, a reflex of the individual's growth in personality. So a genetic investigation has just to trace out the zig-zag or spiral curve of this one development, now looking toward society from the point of view of the individual and now toward the individual from the point of view of society. It is again a matter of astonishment to me that a member of the Hegelian school should urge for a moment that opposition in the elements of a complex group of phenomena should be considered strictly static-not resolvable into a higher organized unity. To carry out such a point would be to condemn all evolution theory; and-what may sound like a worse penalty to my reviewer-it would destroy Hegel's Philosophy of Mind as well as his philosophy of Nature.

Space will not suffice for the application of these remarks to all the points of criticism which Mr. Dewey makes. I think the reader will see in most of the instances how the genetic and material points of view relieve the case of all embarrassment.[8] For example, my view of the ` publicity' of the ethical sense is said to be contradictory because it is ° quantitative ' (involving reference to others' knowledge of the situation) and also 'qualitative,' i.e., having an ' ideal reference.

(626) Waiving matters of fact[9] I see no inconsistency. If the ideal is a synthesis of ego and alter-thoughts which has been attained through actual social contact and reciprocal judgment, then the ideal reference comes to take the place of the social contact. But this ideal reference is always confirmable concretely and in terms of self-attitude only through the original social channels. Private judgment in ethical matters ` needs less and less to appeal to an [external] authority,' but its inner authority is always subjected in particular cases to this appeal. The instance given by Professor Dewey (i. e., "our surest token that an intention is wrong is our shrinking from having anybody else know of it ") does involve the thought of some one else's knowing of it, and moreover it does not escape the genetic truth that the judgment of the act has arisen in us through other experiences in which we had the actual judgment of others. As to evidence of others knowing of the deed, I have taken pains in the book (PP. 315 f. ) to say only of the negative case (i. e., in which we know the deed to be quite private) that our ethical competence is impaired ; not that we require evidence in the positive case. In the negative case, the facts impair the data of moral synthesis ; in the positive case, past experience reinforces the ethical judgment without such direct evidence.

There are only two points at which I feel Professor Dewey's remarks take hold upon the matter vitally. One of these (pp. 405-6) is a point already raised by Professor Tufts in the Psychological Review for May, 1898, and answered by me in the July issue of that journal (cf. also Soc Int., p. 266, note). It is this: that the general can be at once unformed and undifferentiated, and also a generalization from concrete thoughts. I hold that there is always in a general more than the content which stands for the objective class ; there is a forward reach, a prospective reference, a drift which is, in so far, as yet undifferentiated. In the general self this is just the ° projective,' the unabsorbed balance of personal material which sets imitative copies and, in the higher development, ethical law to the child.[10]


The other point raised by Professor Dewey is whether my doctrine of identity of content in individuals, as necessary to sociality, takes any account of my other ° official ' doctrine that the general as such is motor attitude. I reply: Certainly it does, though here I might have made further explanations in the text, had I not already (officially!) dealt with the psychology of the general in the earlier book. The identity of content is essential to the identity of motor ( i. e., personal) attitudes in which last this general self and the social consciousness consist. I go to the greatest pains to say, in the chapter on Intelligence, that the attitudes are functions of the thought. Given identity of the self-thought, and the attitudes which constitute general and social personality follow-however inadequate the actual content may be to establish sociality. Professor Dewey's criticisms are verbal and logical,[11] and take no account of what to me is the essential fact, i. e., that in thinking himself the individual attains a general and ideal self-attitude with the implication of a social situation. It is not to me the identity of content, as Professor Dewey seems to suppose (PP. 3991 4021 403, 404), that is immediately productive of sociality ; but the common attitude which the individual takes up, whether the identical content be determined as ego or as alter-content ( see Soc. Int., Appendix D). This consideration and the recognition of the genetic method completely dispose of the criticism on p. 402 of his article. So in the final summary, where professor Dewey again says that I have myself happily stated the three ° contradictory' conceptions of the socius, these are the things to bear in mind. Socius (b)[12] is the content, the identical concrete thought which stands for the and you. It is the socius in so far as that personage has any concrete embodiment. It is the identical content in every concrete self. Socius (a) is the retrospective, historical, psychological self which has experienced pleasures, pains, etc., with other persons. It is not content in so far as it is different from (b) ; but the (b) content is there of course to arouse the (a) attitude. It is the self of habit which dominates over other selves. Socius (c) is the general, qua ideal, self which is `projective ' and prospective ; again not content, Since it too is attitude aroused by content (a).

(628) Now to say that these three things contradict and annul one another is absurd, save in a faculty psychology. Genetically they are phases in a process upon a content. The thing essential to it all is a social situation which each individual helps on and realizes just by his personal growth. The different passages which discuss it might certainly be better written, but such as they are they do not appear to me inconsistent.

In conclusion, I may say that I do not mean that Professor Dewey has not written with consideration and evident desire to be just, and I regret, indeed, that I do not find his remarks more pertinent. That one of his mind and heart should have so largely, as it seems to me, mistaken my fundamental presuppositions makes me think there must be some radical divergence between his ' apperceptive systems' and mine. I make free to add also that at times I find Professor Dewey's writing somewhat unintelligible. For example, the first paragraph on p. 403 of his notice has no glimmer of meaning to me, except that it says, "we are simply told that there is the individual who is not social"-which somebody else must have told him, not I ! If this statement refers to the quotation just made from me to the effect that the completely socialized individual-whose rules and sanctions would equate absolutely with those of society-is mythical, it is a singularly wild and uncalled-for misunderstanding. Of course, I mean that there are variations in individuals' sociality-not a hard saying!-and that science has to suppose a mean value ; and that conclusions cannot be drawn in concrete cases, since the mean value is seldom or never met with. Where is the assertion of the individual who is not social?'

So in the note to the same paragraph I am quoted as saying, ° society solves it only to renew it,' of the ° bond between the individual and society.' To be frank, this attributes nonsense to me. What I say is: " A final conflict between the individual and society is always possible. It is soluble only by the growth of society . . . . and society solves it only to renew it always." It is a part of the task of the book just to show how the progress of society exists by constant solving of the oppositions which the individuals' thoughts produce, and that by producing new thinkers and new thoughts society ever and again renews the opposition on another plane. If Professor Dewey wishes a final adjustment of all oppositions between individuals and society, then I agree with him that my conclusion does not conclude ;' for it is a part of my conclusion that the opposition is itself an essential moment in social progress.



  1. As I correct the proofs of this, Professor Dewey's article on my book in the New World (September, 1898) comes to my hand. I find that article in all respects truer to my meaning, and were I now writing what follows I should be glad to take it for Professor Dewey's mature reading. This I cannot now do. I hope, in case he and the reader find in this 'reply' anything but friendly social ' give and take,' my apologies may be allowed to anticipate their censure ; the text was written in bits at various hotels in England! The criticisms made in the New World article, I have still to reflect upon, hot I have to thank Professor Dewey for all the attention given to the book.
  2. The reader of Professor Dewey's review will have noticed that after each statement of a 'contradiction' he says : " As usual Mr. Baldwin recognizes all this in another place." (p. 403 ; see also pp. 400, 409.) My reply is made much shorter from this fact-that I have gone over about all the points which Professor Dewey raises. They are things which the genetic point of view as involved in my' dialectic of growth' not only recognizes, but is actually built up on.
  3. Imitative! despite Professor Dewey's fear of the term (p. 402, note). I think most readers readily understand what it is to 'read oneself imitatively into others' (though that is Professor Dewey's expression. not mine). It means to think the other by the same content by which the self is thought, with the imitative attitudes which such thinking involves. If I get my self-thought by imitating others, I can reinstate it either as self or as another only by taking on the imitative attitudes over again. See what is said below of the `general' as motor attitude.
  4. The two points of view called by Professor Dewey, I think unhappily, these of process (psychological) and content (sociological),-subjective and objective are much better, for ' content' is really psychological-are not only recognized by me, but the great division of my work, into Book I and Book 11 respectively, is based upon it (disregarding intentional ° shifting' in certain chapters). When Professor Dewey asks (p. 400) for "a psychological derivation of the concepts of conscious personality, etc." from the point of view of content,' charging me with its omission, I fail to under stand how that is possible. 1f he means n sociological, i. e., anthropological derivation, that I have expressly (declined to undertake from lack of competence ; and it is not necessary, cooing tint I gay with sufficient directness that 1 am .seeking light upon society from the psychological development of the individual. It would remain for me, were I able, to investigate as to whether the ' dialectic of social growth,' which I find analogous to and suggested by the ' dialectic of personal growth,' has really been the method of sociological evolution.
  5. So on p. 403 lie says : "We are simply told that there is an individual who is not social," a statement which is not made and not intimated in the quotation (p.402) from which Professor Dewey draws it, nor anywhere else in the book ! The antisocial people, criminals anti lunatics, are expressly excluded.
  6. Calling the result of instinctive gregarious cooperation a ' company ' as opposed to a 'society.'
  7. There is a singular difference, however, between the review and his New World article in this respect.
  8. I reply to the particular criticisms, however, in various footnotes throughout.
  9. The statements : " Publicity consists in actual possession of the same content by two or more agents," and " A thought originally not ethical becomes such when one knows somebody else accepts it "-with the implication of I moral legislation by majorities' (pp. 407-8)- cannot justly be attributed to me from ally ` point of view.' I should have thought my meaning would be as plain as ' the nose on a man's face' to Professor Dewey, but it is evident that he sometimes requires a Cyrano de Bergerac !
  10. Cf. Mr. Dewey's criticism (p. 405) that the ejective process is sometimes stated as giving an alter to practice on, and at another time as resulting in social confirmation. The former is the content considered as concrete and calling out habit merely ; the latter is the projective copy for imitation ; the latter can be utilized, however, and learned about, only through imitation which now leads to accommodations. Who has not seen a child start out to tyrannize over a playfellow, and then turn in upon himself and reinterpret the whole situation ? Both are social, but represent different phases of the genetic process.
  11. Cf. p. 402, lines 13, 14 from top, where the whole point turns on the use of the word ' social ' in two senses, ' social organization ' meaning to the onlooker, and ' social interpretation' meaning subjective to the individual, the ambiguity being held up as a confusion of mine ! (See also p. 403, middle paragraph. )
  12. See Professor Dewey's symbols on p. 409 of his review.

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