Human Nature and Conduct

Part 1: The Place of Habit in Conduct:
VI. Habit and Social Psychology

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The prior discussion has tried to show why the psychology of habit is an objective and social psychology. Settled and regular action must contain an adjustment of environing conditions; it must incorporate them in itself. For human beings, the environing affairs directly important are those formed by the activities of other human beings. This fact is accentuated and made fundamental by the fact of infancy— the fact that each human being begins life completely dependent upon others. The net outcome accordingly is that what can be called distinctively individual in behavior and mind is not, contrary to traditional theory, an original datum. Doubtless physical or physiological individuality always colors responsive activity and hence modifies the form which custom assumes in its personal reproductions. In forceful energetic characters this quality is marked. But it is important to note that it is a quality of habit, not an element or force existing apart from adjustment of the environment acid capable of being termed a separate in dividual mind. Orthodox psychology starts however from the assumption of precisely such independent minds. However much different schools may vary in their definitions of mind, they agree in this premiss of separateness and priority. Hence social psychology

(85) is confused by the effort to render its facts in the terms characteristic of old psychology, since the distinctive thing about it is that it implies an abandonment of that psychology.

The traditional psychology of the original separate soul, mind or consciousness is in truth a reflex of conditions which cut human nature off from its natural objective relations. It implies first the severance of man from nature and then of each man from his fellows. The isolation of man from nature is duly manifested in the split between mind and body— since body is clearly a connected part of nature. Thus the instrument of action and the means of the continuous modification of action, of the cumulative carrying forward of old activity into new, is regarded as a mysterious intruder or as a mysterious parallel accompaniment. It is fair to say that the psychology of a separate and independent consciousness began as an intellectual formulation of those facts of morality which treated the most important kind of action as a private concern, something to be enacted and concluded within character as a purely personal possession. The religious and metaphysical interests which wanted the ideal to be a separate realm finally coincided with a practical revolt against current customs and institutions to enforce current psychological individualism. But this formulation (put forth in the name of science) reacted to confirm the conditions out of which it arose, and to convert it from a historic episode into an essential truth. Its exaggeration of individuality is largely

(86) a compensatory reaction against the pressure of institutional rigidities.

Any moral theory which is seriously influenced by current psychological theory is bound to emphasize states of consciousness, an inner private life, at the expense of acts which have public meaning and which incorporate and exact social relationships. A psychology based upon habits (and instincts which become elements in habits as soon as they are acted upon) will on the contrary fix its attention upon the objective conditions in which habits are formed and operate. The rise at the present time of a clinical psychology which revolts at traditional and orthodox psychology is a symptom of ethical import. It is a protest against the futility, as a tool of understanding and dealing with human nature in the concrete, of the psychology of conscious sensations, images and ideas. It exhibits a sense for reality in its insistence upon the profound importance of unconscious forces in determining not only overt conduct but desire, judgment, belief, idealization.

Every movement of reaction and protest, however, usually accepts some of the basic ideas of the position against which it rebels. So the most popular forms of the clinical psychology, those associated with the founders of psycho-analysis, retain the notion of a separate psychic realm or force. They add a statement pointing to facts of the utmost value, and which is equivalent to practical recognition of the dependence of

(87) mind upon habit and of habit upon social conditions. This is the statement of the existence and operation of the "unconscious," of complexes due to contacts and conflicts with others, of the social censor. But they still cling to the idea of the separate psychic realm and so in effect talk about unconscious consciousness. They get their truths mixed up in theory with the false psychology of original individual consciousness, just as the school of social psychologists does upon its side. Their elaborate artificial explanations, like the mystic collective mind, consciousness, over-soul, of social psychology, are due to failure to begin with the facts of habit and custom.

What then is meant by individual mind, by mind as individual? In effect the reply has already been given. Conflict of habits releases impulsive activities which in their manifestation require a modification of habit, of custom and convention. That which was at first the individualized color or quality of habitual activity is abstracted, and becomes a center of activity aiming to reconstruct customs in accord with some desire which is rejected by the immediate situation and which therefore is felt to belong to one's self, to be the mark and possession of an individual in partial and temporary opposition to his environment. These general anal necessarily vague statements will he made more definite in the further discussion of impulse and intelligence. For impulse when it asserts itself deliberately against an existing custom is the beginning of individuality in

(88) mind. This beginning is developed and consolidated ire the observations, judgments, inventions which try to transform the environment so that a variant, deviating impulse may itself in turn become incarnated in objective habit.


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