Discussion of Professor McDougall's Paper

Luther Lee Bernard
University of Minnesota

I ALSO was surprised upon reading "Human Nature and Conduct" to note that Professor Dewey had apparently reversed himself on the matter of instinct. It is not strange, therefore, that there is the dualism of emphasis upon instinct and habit. in this book which Professor McDougall mentions. It is due, I believe, to the fact that he has not yet made a complete adjustment between his new and old views on the subject.

Nevertheless, I believe that Professor McDougall overemphasizes this dualism and conflict. When Dewey emphasizes the importance of habits he is thinking of the finished acts, of man acting as a trained, character-formed member of society. When he stresses native impulses lie is thinking of the biological raw material (reflexes, random movements, etc.) out of which and upon which future habit-formed conduct must be built. Dewey does not deny the existence of the native impulses, but he minimizes the importance of their study relatively, I think, to the study of the environment.

He stresses the study of the environment, of the social pressures, because lie regards the native impulses as relatively fixed, as practically never (except under very great stress or in unusual situations) coming into unmodified and direct overt expression. The environment, with its social pressures, is the changing and active factor in the building of conduct and character, hence the supreme importance of the study of its content (social situations) and of its product (habits).

In so far as he is opposed to the study of the underlying native, or instinctive content, merely because it never or practically never appears in pure unmodified form in conduct, I of course cannot agree with him. I have emphasized in several publications my own view that we need badly to study man's native equipment, and that this equipment does not consist of Mr. McDougall's 7 or 12 or 13 or more instincts (which are really only habit and value complexes) nor of Professor James' 40 or 50 instincts, but of hundreds or even thousands of much simpler processes, reflexes, etc., which underlie habits and are lost in them in their completed form. But the fact still remains, and Dewey is right, in this

( 43) regard, that habits---the finished content of conduct-and the social pressures which produce habits are the most important objects of study, for the sociologist at least, if not for the psychologist.

I would, however, make this concession to Mr. McDougall's criticism of Mr. Dewey, that while the latter is in the main correct in his viewpoint, I don't believe he has yet analyzed his subject to the extent of knowing just why he is correct. He is still in process of swapping intellectual horses in the middle of our modern stream of psychological thought. I think one of the sources of Mr. Dewey's confusion arises from the fact that, having had to abandon the old concept of highly complex instincts, which he formerly held in common with Mr. McDougall and others, he has not yet proceeded to the further analysis of substitute instinctive content. He has not pushed his analysis down to the relatively innate native content processes or raw materials out of which habits are built under environmental pressures, and he covers up the inadequacy of his analysis by denying its necessity-a device not unknown even to scholars, however little self-consciously they may use the device.

Of Mr. McDougall's four general criticisms of Dewey, I would say:

(1) I see no objection to speaking of habit wherever any physical or mental redirection or reorganization of the individual's adjustments may occur, whether this redirection and reorganization be of movement, ideas, or emotions. Dewey's insistence upon getting back to the chemical and physical processes of the organism which account for the redirection or reorganization of the individual seems to me to be in keeping with a universal and laudable tendency in science to displace wherever possible mere verbal concepts with concrete analysis of underlying causal phenomena. Only thus is progress in any science made.

(2) I wonder if so much of a distinction as Mr. McDougall urges between activity and disposition is justifiable. Are not the overt or visible activity and the disposition or neural organization of the act merely the outer (visible) and the inner (invisible) aspects respectively of the sane total act? Each act has its neural as well as its muscular organization. That is, activity is not merely muscular, but it is neuromuscular, and the neural organization aspect of the act may become cerebral. If, then, redirected or reorganized activity (which we call habit) involves reorganization of disposition (the neural side) as well as of overt response, why should we not apply the term habit to both of these aspects

( 44) of the act? Is not the fallacy really in assuming that all dispositions are inherited and therefore cannot be acquired?

(3) Admitting for the sake of argument that impulses may be characterized in terms of accompanying emotions, I deny that this fact refutes Dewey's contention; for the criticism has point only if we hold with Mr. McDougall that emotions must be organized only within the heredity. That view, as I have indicated in other publications, I regard as untenable.[2]

(4) I believe that we cannot escape looking upon sentiments and other affective sanctions to conduct as acquired, hence it seems. that we must regard habits as carrying just as much of their own impulsive force or urge as instincts are supposed to carry according to the instinctivist theory.

Regarding Professor Dunlap's substitution of desires for instincts, I agree thoroughly with Mr. McDougall that he has in the main only changed the name. However, I think one improvement must be recognized in this change of name. Obviously, the desire is a composite of experience as well as of inheritance, and therefore the desires theory makes room. for the functioning of habit and of the organization of the control of conduct under environmental pressures in a way which instinct cannot provide for. However, I believe that the desires classification of Dunlap (and of many other writers, especially of the sociologists who have used it, such as Ward, Ross, Small, Ratzenhofer) is open to the same fundamental objection as the complex instinct classifications, in that all such classifications merely block the way to further analysis of conduct and of the causes and organization of conduct in a social world. They substitute mere suspended verbal concepts for data and thus transform the description of conduct into a barren logic of unreal behavior concepts or an intellectual puzzle. What we really need to do is to get back of such artificial concepts, treated as ultimate causes, to an analysis of those true ultimate causes of the redirection of conduct, both instinctive and environmental, both biological and social, which have resulted in this nodulation of experience which we mistakenly objectify as indivisible realities, such as the complex so-called instincts and desires. Let us analyze these so-called instincts and desires (which are not really original and underived at all) and see what has organized them as they are. When we discover these organizing forces we shall have in our possession the data with which to

( 45) proceed in the creation of other desires and especially of useful motives to action, and not until then. And here at this low level of causation lie the fundamental problems of sociology, in an analysis of the root causes of conduct. The concepts of the complex so-called instincts of Mr. McDougall's brand and of the desires of Mr. Dunlap's brand are but screens in our way, obscuring the real underlying problems of conduct and character control.

In conclusion, I should like to state my regret that Mr. McDougall has seen fit to turn his paper into a review of two publications instead of undertaking an independent and constructive treatment of his announced theme.

I should like to answer the question in his title by 'saying most decisively for myself that the sociologist and the social psychologist cannot dispense with instincts. The concept is as necessary as that of environment. But I do not believe that Mr. McDougall's and most other classifications of so-called instincts represent instincts at all. They are mainly the products of experience. They are, therefore, primarily habit complexes or even abstract value complexes. We have now reached a stage in psychological analysis when we can go back of these verbal concepts to an investigation of the underlying and much more simple and elementary constituent native processes in man.[3]


  1. Presented before the American Sociological Society at Washington, D. C., December 29, 1923.
  2. See, also, chs. I8 and 19 of a forthcoming volume on Instinct, Henry Holt & Co., New York.
  3. For a more extensive treatment of this point of view see the writer's article, "The Misuse of Instinct in the Social Sciences," Psych. Rev., March, 1921.

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