Human Nature and the Social Order

Chapter 8: Emulation

Charles Horton Cooley

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Conformity may be defined as the endeavor to maintain a standard set by a group. It is a voluntary imitation of prevalent modes of action, distinguished from rivalry and other aggressive phases of emulation by being comparatively passive, aiming to keep up rather than to excel, and concerning itself for the most part with what is outward and formal. On the other hand, it is distinguished from involuntary imitation by being intentional instead of mechanical. Thus it is not conformity, for most of us, to speak the English language, because we have practically no choice in the matter, but we might choose to conform to particular pronunciations or turns of speech used by those with whom we wish to associate.

The ordinary motive to conformity is a sense, more or less vivid, of the pains and inconveniences of nonconformity. Most people find it painful to go to an evening company in any other than the customary dress; the source of the pain appearing to be a vague sense of the depreciatory curiosity which one imagines

(294) that he will excite. His social self-feeling is hurt by an unfavorable view of himself that he attributes to others. This example is typical of the way the group coerces each of its members in all matters concerning which he has no strong and definite private purpose. The world constrains us without any definite intention to do so, merely through the impulse, common to all, to despise peculiarity for which no reason is perceived. "Nothing in the world more subtle," says George Eliot, speaking of the decay of higher aims in certain people, " than the process of their gradual change! In the beginning they inhaled it unknowingly; you and I may have sent some of our breath toward infecting them, when we uttered our conforming falsities or drew our silly conclusions: or perhaps it came with the vibrations from a woman's glance." "Solitude is fearsome and heavy-hearted," and nonconformity condemns us to it by causing gene, if not dislike, in others, and so interrupting that relaxation and spontaneity of attitude that is required for the easy flow of sympathy and communication. Thus it is hard to be at ease with one who is conspicuously worse or better dressed than we are, or whose manners are notably different; no matter how little store our philosophy may set by such things. On the other hand, a likeness in small things that enables them to be forgotten gives people a prima facie at-homeness with each other highly favorable to sympathy; and so we all wish to have it with people we care for.

It would seem that the repression of non-conformity is a native impulse, and that tolerance always requires

(295) some moral exertion. We all cherish our habitual system of thought, and anything that breaks in upon it in a seemingly wanton manner, is annoying to us and likely to cause resentment. So our first tendency is to suppress the peculiar, and we learn to endure it only when we must, either because it is shown to be reasonable or because it proves refractory to our opposition. The innovator is nearly as apt as any one else to put down innovation in others. Words denoting singularity usually carry some reproach with them; and it would perhaps be found that the more settled the social system is, the severer is the implied condemnation. In periods of disorganization and change, such as ours is in many respects, people are educated to comparative tolerance by unavoidable familiarity with conflicting views—as religious toleration, for instance, is the outcome of the continued spectacle of competing creeds.

Sir Henry Maine, in discussing the forces that controlled the legal decisions of a Roman praetor, remarks that he "was kept within the narrowest bounds by the prepossessions imbibed from early training and by the strong restraints of professional opinion, restraints of which the stringency can only be appreciated by those who have personally experienced them." [1] In the same way every profession, trade, or handicraft, every church, circle, fraternity, or clique, has its more or less definite standards, conformity to which it tends to impose on all its members. It is not at all essential that there should be any deliberate

(296) purpose to set up these standards, or any special machinery for enforcing them. They spring up spontaneously, as it were, by an unconscious process of assimilation, and are enforced by the mere inertia of the minds constituting the group.

Thus every variant idea of conduct has to fight its way: as soon as any one attempts to do anything unexpected the world begins to cry, "Get in the rut! Get in the rut! Get in the rut!" and shoves, stares, coaxes, and sneers until he does so—or until he makes good his position, and so, by altering the standard in a measure, establishes a new basis of conformity. There are no people who are altogether non-conformers, or who are completely tolerant of non-conformity in others. Mr. Lowell, who wrote some of the most stirring lines in literature in defense of non-conformity, was himself conventional and an upholder of conventions in letters and social intercourse. Either to be exceptional or to appreciate the exceptional requires a considerable expenditure of energy, and no one can afford this in many directions. There are many persons who take pains to keep their minds open; and there are groups, countries, and periods which are comparatively favorable to open-mindedness and variation; but conformity is always the rule and nonconformity the exception.

Conformity is a sort of co-operation: one of its functions is to economize energy. The standards which it presses upon the individual are often elaborate and valuable products of cumulative thought and experience, and whatever imperfections they may have

(297) they are, as a whole, an indispensable foundation for life: it is inconceivable that any one should dispense with them. If I imitate the dress, the manners, the household arrangements of other people, I save so much mental energy for other purposes. It is best that each should originate where he is specially fitted to do so, and follow others where they are better qualified to lead. It is said with truth that conformity is a drag upon genius; but it is equally true and important that its general action upon human nature is elevating. We get by it the selected and systematized outcome of the past, and to be brought up to its standards is a brief recapitulation of social development: it sometimes levels down but more generally levels up. It may be well for purposes of incitement to goad our individuality by the abuse of conformity; but statements made with this in view lack accuracy. It is good for the young and aspiring to read Emerson's praise of self-reliance, in order that they may have courage to fight for their ideas; but we may also sympathize with Goethe when he says that "nothing more exposes us to madness than distinguishing us from others, and nothing more contributes to maintaining our common sense than living in the universal way with multitudes of men." [2]

There are two aspects of non-conformity: first, a rebellious impulse or " contrary suggestion " leading to an avoidance of accepted standards in a spirit of opposition, without necessary reference to any other

(298) standards; and, second, an appeal from present and commonplace standards to those that are comparatively remote and unusual. These two usually work together. One is led to a mode of life different born that of the people about him, partly by intrinsic contrariness, and partly by fixing his imagination on the ideas and practices of other people whose mode of life he finds more congenial.

But the essence of non-conformity as a personal attitude consists in contrary suggestion or the spirit of opposition. People of natural energy take pleasure in that enhanced feeling of self that comes from consciously not doing that which is suggested or enjoined upon them by circumstances and by other persons There is joy in the sense of self-assertion: it is sweet to do one's own things; and if others are against him one feels sure they are his own. To brave the disapproval of men is tonic; it is like climbing along a mountain path in the teeth of the wind; one feels himself as a cause, and knows the distinctive efficacy of his being Thus self-feeling, which, if somewhat languid and on the defensive, causes us to avoid peculiarity, may, when in a more energetic condition, cause us to seek it; just as we rejoice at one time to brave the cold, and at another to cower over the fire, according to the vigor of our circulation.

This may easily be observed in vigorous children: each in his way will be found to attach himself to methods of doing things which he regards as peculiarly his own, and to delight in asserting these methods against opposition. It is also the basis of some of the

(299) deepest and most significant differences between races and individuals. Controlled by intellect and purpose this passion for differentiation becomes self-reliance, self-discipline, and immutable persistence in a private aim: qualities which more than any others make the greater power of superior persons and races. It is a source of enterprise, exploration, and endurance in all kinds of undertakings, and of fierce defense of private rights. How much of Anglo-Saxon history is rooted in the intrinsic cantankerousness of the race I It is largely this that makes the world-winning pioneer, who keeps pushing on because he wants a place all to himself, and hates to be bothered by other people over whom he has no control. On the frontier a common man defines himself better as a cause. He looks round at his clearing, his cabin, his growing crops, his wife, his children, his dogs, horses, and cattle, and says, I did it: they are mine. All that he sees recalls the glorious sense of things won by his own hand.

Who does not feel that it is a noble thing to stand alone, to steer due west into an unknown universe, like Columbus, or, like Nansen, ground the ship upon the ice-pack and drift for the North Pole? "Adhere to your own act," says Emerson, "and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant, and broken the monotony of a decorous age." We like that epigram, Victrix causa diis placuit, sed victa Catoni, because we like the thought that a man stood out alone against the gods themselves, and set his back against the course of nature. The


"souls that stood alone,
While the men they agonized for hurled the contumelious stone,"

are not to be thought of as victims of self-sacrifice. Many of them rejoiced in just that isolation, and daring, and persistence; so that it was not self-sacrifice but self-realization. Conflict is a necessity of the active soul, and if a social order could be created from which it were absent, that order would perish as uncongenial to human nature. "To be a man is to be a non-conformer."

I think that people go into all sorts of enterprises, for instance into novel and unaccredited sorts of philanthropy, with a spirit of adventure not far removed from the spirit that seeks the North Pole. It is neither true nor wholesome to think of the "good" as actuated by motives radically different in kind from those of ordinary human nature; and I imagine the best of them are far from wishing to be thus thought of. Undertakings of reform and philanthropy appeal to the mind in a double aspect. There is, of course, the desire to accomplish some worthy end, to effectuate some cherished sentiment which the world appears to ignore, to benefit the oppressed, to advance human knowledge, or the like. But behind that is the vague need of self-expression, of creation, of a momentous experience, so that one may know that one has really lived. And the finer imaginations are likely to find this career of novelty and daring, not in the somewhat outworn paths of war and exploration, but in new and precarious kinds of social activity.


So one may sometimes meet in social settlements and charity-organization bureaus the very sort of people that led the Crusades into Palestine. I do not speak at random, but have several persons in mind who seem to me to be of this sort.

In its second aspect non-conformity may be regarded as a remoter conformity. The rebellion against social influence is only partial and apparent; and the one who seems to be out of step with the procession is really keeping time to another music. As Thoreau said, he hears a different drummer. If a boy refuses the occupation his parents and friends think best for him, and persists in working at something strange and fantastic, like art or science, it is sure to be the case that his most vivid life is not with those about him at all, but with the masters he has known through books, or perhaps seen and heard for a few moments. Environment, in the sense of social influence actually at work, is far from the definite and obvious thing it is often assumed to be. Our real environment consists of those images which are most present to our thoughts, and in the case of a vigorous, growing mind, these are likely to be something quite different from what is most present to the senses. The group to which we give allegiance, and to whose standards we try to conform, is determined by our own selective affinity, choosing among all the personal influences accessible to us; and so far as we select with any independence of our palpable companions, we have the appearance of non-conformity.

All non-conformity that is affirmative or construc-


tive must act by this selection of remoter relations; opposition, by itself, being sterile, and meaning nothing beyond personal peculiarity. There is, therefore, no definite line between conformity and non-conformity; there is simply a more or less characteristic and unusual way of selecting and combining accessible influences. It is much the same question as that of invention versus imitation. As Professor Baldwin points out, there is no radical separation between these two aspects of human thought and action. There is no imitation that is absolutely mechanical and uninventive—a man cannot repeat an act without putting something of his idiosyncrasy into it—neither is there any invention that is not imitative in the sense that it is made up of elements suggested by observation and experience. What the mind does, in any case, is to reorganize and reproduce the suggested materials in accordance with its own structure and tendency; and we judge the result as imitative or inventive, original or commonplace, according as it does or does not strike us as a new and fruitful employment of the common material.[3]

A just view of the matter should embrace the whole of it at once, and see conformity and non-conformity

(303) as normal and complementary phases of human activity. In their quieter moods men have a pleasure in social agreement and the easy flow of sympathy, which makes non-conformity uncomfortable. But when their energy is full and demanding an outlet through the instincts, it can only be appeased by something which gives the feeling of self-assertion. They are agitated by a "creative impatience," an outburst of the primal need to act; like the Norsemen, of whom Gibbon says: " Impatient of a bleak climate and narrow limits, they started from the banquet, sounded their horn, ascended their vessels, and explored every coast that promised either spoil or settlement." [4] In social intercourse this active spirit finds its expression largely in resisting the will of others; and the spirit of opposition and self-differentiation thus arising is the principal direct stimulus to nonconformity. This spirit, however, has no power of absolute creation, and is forced to seek for suggestions and materials in the minds of others; so that the independence is only relative to the more immediate and obvious environment, and never constitutes a real revolt from the social order.

(304) Naturally non-conformity is characteristic of the more energetic states of the human mind. Men of great vigor are sure to be non-conformers in some important respect; youth glories in non-conformity, while age usually comes back to the general point of view. "Men are conservatives when they are least vigorous, or when they are most luxurious. They are conservatives after dinner, or before taking their rest; when they are sick or aged. In the morning, or when their intellect or their conscience has been aroused, when they hear music, or when they read poetry, they are radicals." [5]

The rational attitude of the individual toward the question of conformity or non-conformity in his own life, would seem to be: assert your individuality in matters which you deem important; conform in those you deem unimportant. To have a conspicuously individual way of doing everything is impossible to a sane person, and to attempt it would be to do one's self a gratuitous injury, by closing the channels of sympathy through which we partake of the life around us. We should save our strength for matters in regard to which persistent conviction impels us to insist upon our own way.

Society, like every living, advancing whole, requires a just union of stability and change, uniformity, and differentiation. Conformity is the phase of stability and uniformity, while non-conformity is the phase of differentiation and change. The latter cannot introduce anything wholly new, but it can and does effect

(305) such a reorganization of existing material as constantly to transform and renew human life.

I mean by rivalry a competitive striving urged on by the desire to win. It resembles conformity in that the impelling idea is usually a sense of what other people are doing and thinking, and especially of what they are thinking of us: it differs from it chiefly in being more aggressive. Conformity aims to keep up with the procession, rivalry to get ahead of it. The former is moved by a sense of the pains and inconveniences of differing from other people, the latter by an eagerness to compel their admiration. Winning, to the social self, usually means conspicuous success in making some desired impression upon other minds, as in becoming distinguished for power, wealth, skill, culture, beneficence, or the like.

On the other hand, rivalry may be distinguished from finer sorts of emulation by being more simple, crude, and direct. It implies no very subtle mental activity, no elaborate or refined ideal. If a spirited horse hears another overtaking him from behind, he pricks up his ears, quickens his steps, and does his best to keep ahead. And human rivalry appears to have much of this instinctive element in it; to become aware of life and striving going on about us seems to act immediately upon the nerves, quickening an impulse to live and strive in like manner. An eager person will not hear or read of vivid action of any sort without feeling some impulse to get into it;

(306) just as he cannot mingle in a hurrying, excited crowd without sharing in the excitement and hurry, whether he knows what it is all about or not. The genesis of ambition is often something as follows: one mingles with men, his self-feeling is vaguely aroused, and he wishes to be something to them. He sees, perhaps, that he cannot excel in just what they are doing, and so he takes refuge in his imagination, thinking what he can do which is admirable, and determining to do it. Thus he goes home nursing secret ambitions.

The motive of rivalry, then, is a strong sense that there is a race going on, and an impulsive eagerness to be in it. It is rather imitative than inventive; the idea being not so much to achieve an object for its own sake, because it is reflectively judged to be worthy, as to get what the rest are after. There is conformity in ideals combined with a thirst for personal distinction. It has little tendency toward innovation, notwithstanding the element of antagonism in it; but takes its color and character from the prevalent social life, accepting and pursuing the existing ideal of success, and whatever special quality it has depends upon the quality of that ideal. There is, for instance, nothing so gross or painful that it may not become an object of pursuit through emulation. Charles Booth, who has studied so minutely the slums of London, says that "among the poor, men drink on and on from a perverted pride," and among another class a similar sentiment leads women to indict surprising deformities of the trunk upon themselves.

Professor William James suggests that rivalry does

(307) nine-tenths of the world's work. [6] Certainly no motive is so generally powerful among active, efficient men of the ordinary type, the type that keeps the ball moving all over the world. Intellectual initiative, high and persistent idealism, are rare. The great majority of able men are ambitious, without having intrinsic traits that definitely direct their ambition to any particular object. They feel their way about among the careers which their time, their country, their early surroundings and training, make accessible to them, and, selecting the one which seems to promise the best chance of success, they throw themselves into the pursuit of the things that conduce to that success. If the career is law, they strive to win cases and gain wealth and prestige, accepting the moral code and other standards that they find in actual use; and it is the same, mutatis mutandis, in commerce, politics, the ministry, the various handicrafts, and so on.

There is thus nothing morally distinctive about rivalry; it is harmful or beneficent according to the objects and standards with reference to which it acts. All depends upon the particular game in which one takes a hand. It may be said in a broad way, however, that rivalry supplies a stimulus wholesome and needful to the great majority of men, and that it is, on the whole, a chief progressive force, utilizing the tremendous power of ambition, and controlling it to the furtherance of ends that are socially approved. The great mass of what we judge to be evil is of a

(308) negative rather than a positive character, arising not from misdirected ambition but from apathy or sensuality, from a falling short of that active, social humanity which ambition implies.

In order to work effectively in the service of society rivalry must be disciplined and organized. This means, chiefly, that men must associate in specialized groups, each group pursuing ideals of technical efficiency and social service, success in this pursuit being the object of rivalry. Consider, for example, how achievement in athletics is attained in our colleges. In the first place, there is a general interest in sports and an admiration for success in them which makes it an object of general ambition. Many candidates are "tried out" and assigned, according to their promise, to special squads for training, in football, baseball, running, jumping, and so on. In each of these little groups rivalry is made intense, definite, and systematic by traditions, by standards of accomplishment, by regular training, and by expert appreciation and criticism. Occasional public contests serve to arouse the imagination and to exhibit achievement. The whole social self is thus called in to animate a course of endeavor scientifically directed to a specific end. A similar method is used in armies and navies to develop excellence in marksmanship and the like. And is it not much the same in professional groups; among lawyers, for example, dentists, bacteriologists, astronomers, historians, painters, novelists, and even poets? In each of these fields there is a selected group of can-

(309)-didates for distinction, watching one another's work, eager to excel, imagining the judgment of their fellows, testing achievement by expert criticism and by comparison with high examples. There is also a more or less systematic course of training which all must go through, and a tradition to which all refer.

The general fact is that the most effective way of utilizing human energy is through an organized rivalry, which by specialization and social control is, at the same time, organized co-operation.

An ideal social system, from this point of view, would be one in which the work of individuals in each occupation, the work of occupations in relation to one another, that of class in relation to class and of nation in relation to nation, should be motived by a desire to excel, this desire being controlled and subordinated by allegiance to common social ideals.

I have little faith in any system of motives which does not leave room for personal and group ambitions. Self-feeling and social feeling must be harmonized and made to go abreast.

But is it practicable to make emulation in service, as distinct from selfish emulation, the ruling motive of mankind? If it is, and if we can establish ideals of service that make for general welfare and progress, the problem of getting the best out of human nature would seem to be in a way to work itself out.

There appears to be nothing to prevent the higher emulation from becoming general if we can provide the right conditions for it. If college boys, soldiers,

(310) and many sorts of professional men will put their utmost energies into the attainment of excellence, without pecuniary reward, impelled only by loyalty to a group ideal and the hope of appreciation, it is clear that the lack of this spirit in other situations is due not to human nature but to the kind of appeal that is made to it.

What, then, are the right conditions? Apparently they are, in general, a group spirit and tradition, ruled by service ideals, in which the individual may merge himself. This will take up the self into its own larger life: the individual will conform to it and his ambition will be to further its ideals. This is what animates the college athlete, the loyal soldier, the man of science, the socialist, and the trade-unionist.

Without doubt it would animate the workman in a factory, if the organization had the same unity of spirit and ideal that are found in the other cases mentioned. In fact, however, this is rarely present in the industrial and commercial world. For this there are various reasons, among which are the following:

1. The fact that the traditional motive and ideal in commerce and capitalistic industry is not service but private gain. This is a condition that idealizes selfishness and is directly opposed to emulation in service. Unless the idea of service can be so enhanced that it subordinates the idea of gain, these occupations will continue to lack social spirit and higher efficiency. Apparently we must look for this enhancement to the development of service groups, embracing handworkers as well as managers, with such power, responsibility,

(311) and sense of honor as we now see in some of the professions.

2. The unstable character of many commercial and industrial activities, making it difficult to form continuing groups and traditions. This is a serious and possibly, in some cases, a fatal obstacle to higher organization.

3. The fact that our present economic organization is autocratic, or oligarchic, and that, consequently, the mass of workers do not and cannot feel that it is their own to such a degree that their selves are identified with it and that they owe it honor and service.

Some critics of the present condition speak of it as "wage-slavery," and if the essence of slavery is being compelled to do work that is in no sense yours, it is true that our industrial work is largely of this kind. It is done under a sense of compulsion, without real participation, and hence is servile in spirit, whatever its form. "But," we are told, " if the workman doesn't like it, he can quit." Precisely; in other words, the situation is such that the only way to assert one's self, to prove one's freedom and manhood, is to slight his job, or to strike. The self is not only outside the task but hostile to it. A strike is a time of glorious self-assertion against a hated domination. The misuse of human nature could hardly go further.

4. The prevalence of a narrow economics, which disregards human nature, and particularly the social self. The dogma that nothing but pecuniary interest need be considered in the economic system fortifies and perpetuates a bad situation.


Evidently we need to revise our system of motives, especially those relating to material production, with a view to giving more encouragement to our higher human nature. And this will involve the building up of somewhat democratic occupation groups with traditions, standards, and ideals of service.

By hero-worship is here meant an emulation that strives to imitate some admired character, in a spirit not of rivalry or opposition, but of loyal enthusiasm. It is higher than rivalry, in the sense that it involves a superior grade of mental activity—though, of course, there is no sharp line of separation between them. While the other is a rather gross and simple impulse, common to all men and to the higher animals, the hero-worshipper is an idealist, imaginative; the object that arouses his enthusiasm and his endeavor does so because it bears a certain relation to his aspirations, to his constructive thought. Hero-worship is thus more selective, more significant of the special character and tendencies of the individual, in every way more highly organized than rivalry.

It has a great place in all active, aspiring lives, especially in the plastic period of youth. We feed our characters, while they are forming, upon the vision of admired models; an ardent sympathy dwells upon the traits through which their personality is communicated to us—facial expression, voice, significant movements, and so on. In this way those tendencies in us that are toward them are literally fed; are stimulated, organized, made habitual and


familiar. As already pointed out, sympathy appears to be an act of growth; and this is especially true of the sort of sympathy we call hero-worship. All autobiographies which deal with youth show that the early development of character is through a series of admirations and enthusiasms, which pass away, to be sure, but leave character the richer for their existence. They begin in the nursery, flourish with great vigor in the school-yard, attain a passionate intensity during adolescence, and though they abate rapidly in adult life, do not altogether cease until the power of growth is lost. All will find, I imagine, if they recall their own experience, that times of mental progress were times when the mind found or created heroes to worship, often owning allegiance to several at the same time, each representing a particular need of development. The active tendencies of the schoolboy lead to admiration of the strongest and boldest of his companions; or perhaps, more imaginative, he fixes his thoughts on some famous fighter or explorer; later it is possibly a hero of statesmanship or literature who attracts him. Whatever the tendency, it is sure to have its complementary hero. Even science often begins in hero-worship. " This work," says Darwin of Humboldt's Personal Narrative, "stirred up in me a burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science." [7] We easily forget this varied and impassioned idealism of early life; but "the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts," and it is precisely

(314) then and in this way that the most rapid development of character takes place. J. A. Symonds, speaking of Professor Jowett's early influence upon him says, `'Obscurely but vividly I felt my soul grow by his contact, as it had never grown before "; and Goethe remarks that "vicinity to the master, like an element, lifts one and bears him on."

If youth is the period of hero-worship, so also is it true that hero-worship, more than anything else, perhaps, gives one the sense of youth. To admire, to expand one's self, to forget the rut, to have a sense of newness and life and hope, is to feel young at any time of life. "Whilst we converse with what is above us we do not grow old but grow young"; and that is what hero-worship means. To have no heroes is to have no aspiration, to live on the momentum of the past, to be thrown back upon routine, sensuality, and the narrow self.

As hero-worship becomes more imaginative, it merges insensibly into that devotion to ideal persons that is called religious. It has often been pointed out that the feeling men have toward a visible leader and master like Lincoln, Lee, Napoleon, or Garibaldi, is psychologically much the same thing as the worship of the ideal persons of religion. Hero-worship is a kind of religion, and religion, in so far as it conceives persons, is a kind of hero-worship. Both are expressions of that intrinsically social or communicative nature of human thought and sentiment which was insisted upon in a previous chapter. That the personality toward which the feeling is directed is

(315) ideal evidently affords no fundamental distinction. All persons are ideal, in a true sense, and those whom we admire and reverence are peculiarly so. That is to say, the idea of a person whether his body be present to our senses or not, is imaginative, a synthesis, an interpretation of many elements, resting upon our whole experience of human life, not merely upon our acquaintance with this particular person; and the more our admiration and reverence are awakened the more actively ideal and imaginative does our conception of the person become. Of course we never see a person; we see a few visible traits which stimulate our imaginations to the construction of a personal idea in the mind. The ideal persons of religion are not fundamentally different, psychologically or sociologically, from other persons; they are personal ideas built up in the mind out of the material at its disposal, and serving to appease its need for a sort of intercourse that will give scope to reverence, submission, trust, and self-expanding enthusiasm. So far as they are present to thought and emotion, and so work upon life, they are real, with that immediate social reality discussed in the third chapter. The fact that they have attached to them no visible or tangible material body, similar to that of other persons, is indeed an important fact, but rather of physiological than of psychological or social interest. Perhaps it is not going too far to say that the idea of God is specially mysterious only from a physiological point of view; mentally and socially regarded it is of one sort with other personal ideas, no less a verifiable fact,

(316) and no more or less inscrutable. It must be obvious to any one who reflects upon the matter, I should think, that our conceptions of personality, from the simple and sensuous notions a little child has of those about him, up to the noblest and fullest idea of deity that man can achieve, are one in kind, as being imaginative interpretations of experience, and form a series in which there are no breaks, no gap between human and divine. All is human, and all, if you please, divine.

If there are any who hold that nothing is real except what can be seen and touched, they will necessarily forego the study of persons and of society; because these things are essentially intangible and invisible. The bodily presence furnishes important assistance in the forming of personal ideas, but is not essential. I never saw Shakespeare, and have no lively notion of how he looked. His reality, his presence to my mind, consists in a characteristic impression made upon me by his recorded words, an imaginative interpretation or inference from a book. In a manner equally natural and simple the religious mind comes to the idea of personal deity by a spontaneous interpretation of life as a whole. The two ideas are equally real, equally incapable of verification to the senses.


  1. Maine, Ancient Law, p. 62.
  2. Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, v, 16, Carlyle's Translation.
  3. In reading studies of a particular aspect of life, like M. Tarde's brilliant work, Les Lois de l'Imitation, it is well to remember that there are many such aspects, any of which, if expounded at length and in an interesting manner, might appear for the time to be of more importance than any other. I think that other phases of social activity, such, for instance, as communication, competition, differentiation, adaptation, idealization, have as good claims as imitation to be regarded as the social process, and that a book similar in character to M. Tarde's might, perhaps, be written upon any one of them. The truth is that the real process is a multiform thing of which these are glimpses. They are good so long as we recognuze that they are glimpses and use them to help out our perception of that many-sided whole which life is; but if they become doctrines they are objectionable.
    The Struggle for Existence is another of these glimpses of life which just now seems to many the dominating fact of the universe chiefly because attention has been fixed upon it by copious and interesting exposition. As it has had many predecessors in this place of importance, so doubtless it will have many successors.
  4. Decline and Fall, vol. vii, p. 82; Milman-Smith edition.
  5. Emerson, address on New England Reformers.
  6. Psychology, vol. ii, p. 409.
  7. See Darwin's Life and Letters, by his son, vol. i, p. 47.

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