Review of Social and Ethical Interpretations of Mental Development by James Mark Baldwin


Professor Baldwin's book is extraordinarily ample in the range of ground covered and extremely full of incidental observation and reflection in each particular point. The impossibility of adequate notice of all features, as well as the intrinsic importance of the concepts of the individual and society in relation to each other, compel me accordingly to confine attention to the latter point. In order to be as succinct as possible, as well as to give the reader command of what seems to me the keys to both the strong and the weak points of Mr. Baldwin's discussion, I will reverse the ordinary procedure, and commence by stating what I have found to be the chief difficulty in his position, and the general character of the confusion which seems to me to be bound up in his statement of it.

In an examination of the sort attempted by Professor Baldwin, there are two possible points of view. One examines the individual from the standpoint of psychical process and determines how far this process is social in its genesis and function. The point of interest here is in the quality of the process as psychical ; in itself as psychical it is individual ; indeed, it is the individual as conscious. The social aspect of the question is found in determining whether the significance, the import of this process, judged with reference to the conditions which initiate it and the results which it effects, is social or not. This seems to me the most natural interpretation (as well as the most legitimate and fruitful point of view intrinsically) of Mr. Baldwin's statement that his method - inquires into the psychological development of the human individual in the earlier stages of his growth for light upon his social nature, and also upon the social organization in which he bears a part" (p. 2).

The other point of view would examine, not into the process, but into the content of the individual's experience, and would endeavor to discover what elements in this content he has in common with other individuals, what factors seem to be characteristically his own, and what the import of these two groups of contents may be. There is no doubt of the importance of this latter inquiry, but it seems to me a

(399) sociological rather than a psychological one. Its worth is in throwing light upon the particular type of social organization or institution which is under discussion. In any event the two sorts of problems, that concerning process and that concerning content, are quite distinct, and the failure to put clearly to one's self which problem it is he is endeavoring to solve, can result only in confusion. Mr. Baldwin seems to me to take the latter point of view when he says that his thesis " falls into two main inquiries: What are the principles which the individual shows in his mental life . . . . . and what additional principles, if any, does society exhibit ? " (p. 1 ). This seems also to be what he has in mind when he speaks of the " psychological development of the individual examined for light upon the social elements and movements of his nature" (p. 2). The latter phrase, however, seems to contain just the ambiguity in mind. So far as one is simply looking for social elements in the individual, I do not see any particular sense in the qualifying phrase ` psychological.'

The bearing of the distinction may be seen from the following considerations. From the standpoint of content as the final criterion, we should be obliged to say that the social nature of the individual ceased as soon as the elements in his experience ceased to be identical with those of his fellows. The common elements would define his sociality; the unlike elements, his individuality. But from the standpoint of process all this would be a matter of relative indifference ; it is conceivable that the whole process simply as such is individual, while in its raison d'ętre, genesis, and outcome it is social. Moreover, if we take the standpoint of content, the question arises : What is the import of the consciousness of personality, and how does the sense of personality differentiate into consciousness of self on one side and of others on the other? The mere presence of identical and unlike elements is quite a different thing from the sense of community, and from the sense of individual selfhood as attributed to one's self or to others. This is clearly recognized when Mr. Baldwin says that the question is "What is in consciousness when one thinks of himself or of another person?" And again : "To get such inquiries down to a psychological basis the first requisite to be reached is the concept of the person. Not the person as we look at him in action, alone, or chiefly ; but the personas he thinks of himself" (p. 13). I do not see that this inquiry has anything to do with the matter of common content as between different individuals. It is simply a question of discovering the conditions which determine the sense of personality. The criterion for the social or non-social character of the latter will consist in the de-

(400) -tection of the situation under which it arises and the part which it plays. I do not find anywhere in Mr. Baldwin's book a clear recognition of the two possible meanings of °sense of personality;' the one sense in which it means awareness of the particular contents which as matter of fact make up the person at a given time, and the other, the sense of personality qua personality. The former is a matter which will concern simply the onlooker, the scientific observer and investigator. The latter alone is personality to the individual himself, and hence is alone strictly psychological.

I do not mean that Mr. Baldwin does not recognize and take account of both these points of view ; I mean simply that his results seem to be vague, ambiguous, and often flatly contradictory, because of unconscious shifting about from one to the other. From the point of view which I have termed that of content, there is no psychological derivation of the concepts of conscious personality, of conscious sociality, or of conscious placing of the one with reference to the other. Society is regarded as there ; the individual is regarded as there ; and the inquiry' 3 simply into the give and take between the two. Such an inquiry is interesting and important, but, I must repeat, it is not in so far a psychological inquiry at all. When we want to know how the sense of individuality develops psychically, it is no answer to say : through the assimilation of social elements, that is, of contents derived from other personalities. This would give us the social or objective differences between John Smith and Peter Robinson, but it throws absolutely no light on the other question of how the sense of personality and of individuality originate and grow. On the other side, we want to know about the process of social growth and are told that social factors constitute and influence the individual ; here society is taken for granted. In other words, when we want to know about the individual we are referred to society ; when we want to- know about society we are referred to the individual. Both concepts are assumed, not explained or derived.

It may be said that this does Mr. Baldwin injustice, because he insists upon precisely this point himself: ' ° I do not see in short how the personality of this 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, and 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

(401) social conditions under which he normally lives with the history of their action and reaction upon him " (p. 21).

Apart from the fact that an author's recognition of the circle into which he has fallen, while it does credit to his candor, does not eliminate the contradiction, such a statement does not modify the conclusion that while we set out to learn something about the structure and growth of society through studying the individual, we arrive simply at a statement that society is already there influencing the individual who is also equally taken for granted. As a negative result on the sociological side, that is, as against those who would assert individuals independent of society or society independent of psychical individuals, the ,discovery of this interdependence is of value. But once more, I do not see that we know any more of the psychology of the sense of personality and of society than we did before.

More, however, is true than this. Mr. Baldwin's method in simply sending us from society to the individual, and from the individual to society, fails as matter of fact to establish even this interdependence. It leaves us where we began with society and individual, and a reciprocal influence of each on the other.

This comes out first very clearly in his statement of the relation of social ` matter ' and ` process ' to each other. Mr. Baldwin says (pp. 478, 479) that while imitation is the true type of social function, it fails signally as a complete explanation of society, since it gives no answer to the question of matter. "The case of imitation at its purest is just the case in which the social vanishes." But when we come to discuss the ` matter' (pp. 487, 488) we are told that this consists of thoughts which originate in the mind of the individuals of the group. "At their origin there is no reason for calling them social matter, since they are particular to the individual. They become social only when society-that is the other members of the social group, or some of them-also thinks them."[1] This occurs through imitation. How a matter which is not itself social can become socialized through a process which is not social either, I do not see. The denial of sociality to the individual as such (that is, as distinct from certain elements of content which he finally takes on) is even more explicit in the following quotation : "The child must grow up to be an individual. That is incumbent on him at all hazards, what more he may attain in the

(402) way of being a good or wise or social individual, is based on this first presupposition " (p. 290).

Yet (p. 507) it is stated that the thought of self is dependent upon a two-fold imitation ; in one of which the individual understands the social copy by imitation; and by the other of which " he confirms his interpretation by another imitative[2] act by which he ejectively reads his self-thought into the persons of others." And (pp. 494, 495) it is expressly stated that the thought which is available for purposes of social organization (via the broad guage (sic) track of imitation), is not thought as private or particular at all; but "the sort of thought which the individual thinks when he reaches his sense of social situations as functions of his thought of himself "-which would seem to mean that the only thought-material which becomes content for social organization is thought which already is a social interpretation ! The verbal, or even the logical, contradiction is a comparatively slight matter ; what is important for us is that this contradiction arises from the shifting about of two points of view. According to one, the individual is non-social till some identity of content can be set up between him and other non-social individuals. According to the other, we have an individual already socialized in a social group or situation of which his thoughts are interpretations. According to the former point, it is difficult to see how there can be any sense of sociality at all. Identity of content in intrinsically different persons is certainly a different matter from sense of personality as social. From the latter point of view, this difficulty vanishes, simply because society as constituted of individuals, and individuals as constituting society, are taken as already there ; the thoughts of the individual, in so far as legitimate interpretations, are already social.

In the final summary, after stating again the circle, social sanctions and institutions being generalizations from individual thoughts, while these are received from society, he goes on to say (pp. 542, 543) : " It cannot be absolutely true that the examination of society gives rules and sanctions adequate for private life ; since only the generalized part of human life is embodied in institutions. The individual must have his private rules of conduct for the situations which are particular to his knowledge and action." The dependence equally fails on the other side, because "the strictly average individual who would correspond to the generalizations which society embodies is mythical." [3]


But in this case the problem is not solved at all, for it does not arise when there is objective agreement, identity of content between individual and society. It is located in the search for an explanation or statement of the psychology of the individual in social terms-his social construction-or, if not that, then for some psychology of the individual as non-social. But we get neither. We are simply told that there is the individual who is not social, and the society which is not capable of determination in individual terms. We are told to be sure that they ` tend' to come together. But we are also told they tend to fall apart.[4] What then have we but a restatement of the original data of the problem : there is society, there are individuals ; partly they- can be stated in terms of identical content, and partly they cannot. I cannot make out that this ° conclusion ' has forwarded an understanding of the matter one whit.

In this statement, moreover, we have taken the matter at Mr. Baldwin's own valuation. But, if we turn to the facts (suggested, indeed, in his own statement that the individual corresponding to social generalizations is mythical), the case is still worse. If sociality of personality is dependent upon identity of content, is there ever any such thing in any case of self-conscious action? Is it found anywhere except in cases of action so customary that the individual never dreams of referring either to himself or to others ? The psychical individual (that is, the individual conscious of individuality) is always °particularizing.' As such he never barely repeats or assimilates a given situation as it is, but specifies it in terms of his own capacity and function. He thinks it over again in terms of his specific implication in it. Hence, if identity of content is criterion, it is only in an objective (not conscious) sense that the individual is ever identified with society. We have not then even a restatement of the original dualisms ; they have been emphasized to the extreme of refractoriness.

As usual, Mr. Baldwin recognizes all this in another place. What really constitutes the individual a particularizing force is his inventions, and the essence of an invention is precisely that it is not imitation (pp. 100-109). Mr. Baldwin first recognizes that bare imitation gives nothing new (p. 102). since the child is simply acting out his own habits on the basis of reinstating an old mental content. But he makes a valiant attempt to connect invention (as the individualizing principle) with imitation on the basis of °persistent imita-

(404) -tion,' which is commonly known as effort.[5] But, granting for the sake of argument (and only for that sake) that effort is adequately characterized as persistent imitation, two facts still stand out. One is that it is not the imitation of others as such, but difficulty in this imitation, resistance to it, which brings out the self-sense. ,The phenomenon may arise in an attempt to imitate, but when it arises, it is just not imitative. And the second fact is that the final outcome is not imitative either. °° He learns a. great number of combinations which are not those he is after" (p. 103 ; italics mine). He thus learns that he can invent, can vary (p. 104). And these two great lessons are much more important, as Mr. Baldwin justly remarks, " than the mere acquisition of the single thing he sets out to do" (p. 104). °° The outcome, that is new " (p. 1;05). One may still persist in calling invention (the consciousness of the new and its worth) imitation ; but whether naming it this does more than expose a self-contradiction, I am not so sure. The manifest fact is, that qua imitator, the child would feel dissatisfied with all these new elements as extraneous and misleading, as failures; would insist, if possible, upon eliminating them and getting back to .the simple, ' reinstated' content. This would be imitation-but hardly learning. But once more, I am not interested in detecting a merely personal contradiction. This confusion is inherent in any theory which makes a certain identity of content between persons the criterion of sociality.

The same contradictions turn up in another form in the discussion of the origin of sense of personality. We begin with a projective sense of personality; this is made subjective ; then this is ` ejected' in turn. At first, the subjective sense of personality is said to arise by imitation of the projective.[6] But the `projective' is trot personal as such (see his earlier book, pp. 18, 119, 335). Hence no amount of imitative reproduction, or absorption of this as I copy' would ever give a sense of personality. So the ground shifts, and it is through effort that sense of subjective agency arises (p. 8 ; Cf. p. 231 ; but particularly p. 337 of former book: " the first germinating nucleus of selfhood over against objecthood"). In other words, personality is here referred to

(405) a certain psychical process, not to content-identity. It is conceivable that a thorough analysis of the conditions and nature of effort would reveal this process as having a social import, but this Mr. Baldwin does not give beyond trying to attach effort to imitation-thus coming back to that, after all, as the only guarantee of sociality.

Hence the 'subjective' self is still non-social and some way must be found to socialize it. Mr. Baldwin tries to work this out along at least three different and incompatible lines. One has already been referred to : others imitate in turn. Of this, nothing more need be said. Mr. Baldwin's allusion to parrots and timing forks seems to me quite sufficient (p. 479). The second is that the agent floes not feel sure of himself, does not complete his thought of himself, until his self-thought has received the acceptance and confirmation of others - an acceptance which he eagerly attempts to get, the need for the integration of himself being so great. (See the discussion, pp. 112-120: the child's sense of reality "involves social confirmation," etc. ) This means, in turn, that the child's thought is already, tentatively and partially at least, social, and that it enacts itself to secure completion by social confirmation or else revision and criticism. It is the precise counterpart of the discussion already referred to in which 'particularization' is treated not as merely personal, or private, but as a certain construing of a social situation. I and far from objecting to this doctrine ; but we must note, in the first place, that it now assumes society as given in order to explain the social nature of the individual, and, in the second, that it is in fiat contradiction not merely to what is said about the subjective sense of personality elsewhere, but to other statements regarding the ejective process itself. While here the ejective process is the fulfilment, the guarantee of the child's social nature, at other places (pp. 19-20) the ejective self is the habitual ; it "despises" others, practices superior activities upon them, is "unsocial, aggressive, and self-centred." (See also p. 231. ) This is the legitimate, the only consistent, development of that view which regards the `subjective' self as itself barely subjective, or exclusively individual. To read this out, to act this out, would, of course, be to assert it as against others, and when Mr. Baldwin wants to account for the 'egoistic' self, this is 1115 basis of explanation, while it ether times the elective process is that of generalization which extends the social content.

But the third path followed is an attempted fusion of these two. According to it, the sense of personality at first is general; it is unspecified as regards reference to ego and alter, and is afterwards differentiated. ('This would seem to mean that personality at first projective, is 'sub-

(406) -jected' and I ejected' at the same time under stress of the same situation; but this is my own statement purely, Mr. Baldwin does not make it). Thus, on p. 8o, we are told there is °' only one body of personal data " which shifts its locus upon occasion; on pp. 14-16, that there is one self-thought (see also pp. 29, 49); on p. 491 that there are not "two different thoughts for himself and the other-the ego and the alter-but one thought common in the main for both." From this point of view ego and alter are repeatedly declared to be simply emphasized poles of the common underlying thought of personality. The aggressive, habitual self, already spoken of, from this point of view is nothing but the tipping up the social or general personality at one end.

The worth of this contention is not the point at issue. It not only stands in flat contradiction to the other official doctrine of Professor Baldwin, that all progress is first by particularizing the thoughts of others into one self, and then generalizing them back again, but is in equally flagrant opposition to Mr. Baldwin's other express theory of the general self, which emerges when he comes to discuss the ethical self. According to the group of statements just referred to, the general sense of personality underlies the distinction of ego and alter selves ; but when Mr. Baldwin wants to get an ethical self, in order to ground obligation, this general self tends to become a later growth, the unification of just the two disparate selves, which a few short pages before were not disparate, but simply poles of a relationship (pp. 43-55). The contradiction appears most clearly when Mr. Baldwin says (p. 51) that this ethical self " is a slow social attainment on the part of the child. He gets it only by getting certain other thoughts of self first." But from the other point of view, be it remembered, the general self (and the ethical is simply the general) preceded differentiation into ego and alter.[7]


The same contradiction comes out in Mr. Baldwin's treatment of the relation of publicity to ethical sense and sanction. Here, too, we have three incompatible views. The extreme, on one side, is found in the statement that "the developed ethical sense needs less and less to appeal to an alter self, an authority . . ." (p. 52). But this view stands alone till we come to the question of final ethical conflict. The chief confusion is between the concept of publicity in a quantitative sense, a matter of content, and as a process of interpretative construction of a social situation. That the ethical self must be, in my consciousness of it, a public self, is the proposition (p. 315). The quantitative interpretation comes out when Mr. Baldwin says °t in case I know the action is quite private, quite secret, absolutely unknown to anybody else, then the full reinstatement of the conditions of an ethical judgment, is, ipso facto, not present " (p. 315). And, again, the thought that the judgment passed is actually in the mind of some other is necessary to a full ethical judgment as such" (p. 318 ; italics mine).[8] In spite of the undoubted help in both reinforcement and enlightenment, that we get from confession, or even from imagination of others as knowing of our proposed deed, this seems to me extraordinary doctrine as matter of fact-particularly as often our surest token that an intention is wrong, is our shrinking from having anybody else know of it ; while according to these statements we could not really judge it wrong until we knew somebody else did know of it. But its correctness is not so much in question as its contrast with another view of publicity. This view emerges upon pp. 498, 499 (as well as pp. 438, 517, 532). According to this the appeal is to a °` higher self already formed in my breast through social experience," through which "anticipate." Its publicity is in its ideal reference, and this reference is accordingly to every agent ; the quantitative generality follows from the quantitative ; while, from the other point of view, publicity consists in actual possession of tile same content by two or more agents. The doctrine now propounded is that just because the ethical self as such is general, its thought must be accepted and ratified by any self, whether you or me.

Naturally, when we come to ethical growth, the latter point of view dominates. According t0 the first conception, a thought originally not

(408) ethical becomes such when one knows somebody else accepts it-a process of moral legislation by majorities that leaves Hobbes nowhere. But " he now learns that the growth of society is but the generalization of the individual's ethical ought into society's conventional ought " (P- 534). Hence ethical rules are °capable' of being embodied in the sanctions of society ; "they are to have the publicity which attaches to the ethical sanction as such" (p. 534). The contradiction is obvious enough when we recall that at the outset the judgment could not be ethical unless it already had such publicity. Add that Mr. Baldwin finds the final and most significant conflict between individual and society to be precisely in the cases where the individual opposes his ethical judgment to those of others (see pp. 539-54o and P. 544), and we see how completely Mr. Baldwin has shifted his statement of the interpretation of the nature of publicity and generality.[10]

All these various contradictions summarize themselves in Mr. Baldwin's varying conceptions of the socius or social personality. There seem to be no less than three independent and incompatible views on this point. One of these goes back to identity of content, established by imitation. Any self is in so far a socius as it is built up by imitative appropriations from others. But on a more organic basis, the community self, or spirit, the sense of common interest, of a community of situation, in which all live, and of which their thoughts are interpretations, is the socius (pp. 30, 32, 47). The third view serves as a bridge to pass over from the first individualistic notion to the second highly socialized one. According to this, the socius is the common element in ego and alter. This is like the first view in that it begins with separate selves. It differs in that neither self as such is the socius, but simply the identity of content. It is like the second view in that the concept of the `common' is used, but differs in that it

(409) is one of abstract content, instead of a principle of organization. On pages 53 and 55 the socius is respectively public opinion, the relationships existing between members of a family, and another person whom the child obeys. On page 24, all three conceptions get happily stated in sequence. (a) " He thinks of the other, the alter, as his socius, just as he thinks of himself as the other's socius, and the only thing that remains more or less stable, throughout the whole growth is the fact that there is (h) a growing sense of self which includes both terms, the ego and the alter. In short (c) the real self is the bipolar self, the social self, the socius."[10]

I should be glad to speak upon the more strictly psychological side of Mr. Baldwin's conception of the relation of thought-content and action, and of its specific application to the problem of the nature of desire, and also to say something about the psychology of imitation as such, and the psychology of the relation of habit and accommodation. But I have used an intolerable amount of space in following the concepts of the relations of the individual and the social through the various forms in which they appear, and must abstain. It would be a grateful task not only to acknowledge the suggestiveness, the thought-provoking and thought-compelling quality of Mr. Baldwin's book--that goes without saying-but to point out the richness of the details of many of the various discussions which have just been criticised as regards their coherency in fundamental concepts. More particularly should I like to refer to the value of the discussions of the social aids to invention (language, play, and art) ; to the clear and judicious summing up under the second head ; to the original contribution to the theories of art which adds the factor of 'showing off,' at once psychical and social, to the ordinary play-concept ; to the admirable conception of the genius, so free both from the attempt to explain away his significance, by losing him in the social mass, and from the attempt on the other side to isolate him upon a mysterious non-social pedestal ; to the discussion of tile development of bashfulness and shame, etc. I should regret very much to have my failure to call attention to these matters interpreted as failure to recognize their positive value. But 1 chiefly desire to acknowledge the indebtedness, on the part of all interested in the relations of psychology and sociology to Mr. Baldwin for his courage in attacking at first hand problems which most steer clear of, or simply repeat well-worn conventionalites concerning, and for the fresh, varied, and vigorous way in which he has opened up new problems and new points of view.




  1. Notice here the unconscious postulating of the very thing to be explained, namely, society, the social group with its members, etc. Were it not for this unconscious assumption, we should have an absolutely numerical individualistic view. The thought of the individual in itself is not social ; but other individuals come to think in the same way and then there is society !
  2. This act by which one `imitatively' reads himself into others is an example of the loosely magnificent way in which the concept of imitation gets to be used. The same occurs on p. 08. How one can imitate himself into others passes understanding.
  3. Italics mine in both cases.
  4. "Society solves it, only to renew it" (p. 544). Just what can be meant, however, by ' society' solving this and renewing it, when it is just the bond between society and the individual which is in question, is not clear to me.
  5. Another example of Mr. Baldwin's large use of the category of imitation comes out here. He starts out to show that all learning is through imitation (p. 103); this, too, in spite of the definition of imitation as reinstatement of an old content ! When this latter point becomes obvious, he says: "How can the imitative situation [italics mine] instruct the child?" (p. 103). Then, when the situation, in which imitation plays a minor part, is shown to teach the child, the result is triumphantly accredited to 'imitation.'
  6. P. 9; see also pp. 31, 87, 99, 417, 503, 505.
  7. Limits of space prevent further detailed examination. But I will suggest that a careful reading of the discussions, pp. 34-55, will reveal no less than three differing concepts of the general self. According to one, it is distinctly a psychical process; it represents motor synthesis, or integration, of a variety of partial tendencies. This is in harmony with Mr. Baldwin's professed psychology of the 'general' as equivalent to motor attitude. It seems to be highly suggestive and valuable. It is admirably stated on p. 266. It locates generality of personality in process of a certain sort, not in content, but it finds no application. Another point of view comes out to the insistence on obedience-the consciousness of law is the general, and this consciousness is reached through having to obey other personalities. Here the general is quantitative. But Mr. Baldwin evidently, feels the arbitrary and external character of such a general, and so, in turn, the father who imposes law does it because this is the law of the whole social situation-its generality lies in its being an interpretation of the family group as such. (On p. 54 there is the confusion between 'general' because common to a number--a quantitative conception--and general because involved in the group as such). The crucial question is this: Is the idea which, as thought, is peculiar to the father, but which he insists upon having obeyed, general or not? If not, floes it become general simply because others obey? Or, in so far as it is an interpretation of the interests of the group as such, is it, perforce, general from the start?
  8. See also p. 425. The passage on p. 435 is open to either interpretation.
  9. Limits of space compel me to relegate to a footnote the fact that Mr: Baldwin has precisely the same contradiction concerning the relation of intelligence and the ethical. On one hand, the very nature of intelligence is to generalize, and hence to usher in the ethical, especially since the general as such is motor or dynamic. On the other, the intelligence. occupies a lower plane, is 'private,' 'personal,' or, when named 'social,' is so named simply because it uses social forces for personal advantages, and is finally displaced by the ethical sentiment. I cannot work this out in detail ; but the reader is referred to pp. 397, 393, 250 for the first position ; and to pp. 321, 323, 327, 382, 527 for the second. On p. 515, both views are stated-one that intelligence tends toward selfish use, the other, that intelligence, as such, is generalizing process ; and be it remembered, the 'general' is the only psychological criterion afforded for the ethical--a fact which does not prevent Mr. Baldwin from remarking that one cannot give reasons "for pronouncing conduct right " (p. 395 ; see also p. 535). Mr. Baldwin, indeed, appears to reconcile the genetic and the intuitive views by taking them both by turns.
  10. The letters interjected are my own, of course. (a) gives the individualistic view; (c) the social organization, or community view; (b) the identity of content view.

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