Review of The Psychology of Human Society by C.A. Ellwood.

Ellsworth Faris

Had the book edited by Carl Murchison entitled Psychologies of 1925 appeared before this volume of Professor Ellwood's, he still might have written the book, but he would have written it differently. The repeated references to what "modern psychology" teaches, and the continued appeal to "scientific psychology" as if it were a unified and consistent body of knowledge, would not have been possible. And even if Professor Ellwood did write first, he should have known that psychology

( 306) is now in a state of activity and ferment, with conflicting systems much more numerous than the "schools" represented in that book. The psychological portions of the work under review discuss four notions, instinct, intelligence, imitation, and feeling. The wide reading of the author enables him to present the two false and extreme positions on each of these and to give as his opinion that the truth lies midway between. Thus there are those who assert specific and fixed instincts, and others who deny that instincts exist. The truth is that there are "instinctive tendencies" which, modified by habits and intelligence, are to be found. There are even instinctive beliefs-optimism being an example, since it is "commonly seen in savages and children."

Professor Ellwood is one of the most erudite of our American sociologists, and no one has either covered more of the literature in English than he or shown greater interest in making an irenic synthesis. There is revealed a wide range of interest and earnestly held convictions on important subjects together with a commendable zeal to indoctrinate the students with noble ethical conceptions. The author's responsibility includes evaluation of programs as well as statement of general truths. "Social science would agree with the democratic ideal which would emancipate intellectually all classes of men, etc." The grave dangers of this are admitted and a solution proposed.

The introductory chapter is followed by two on evolution, with the same general appeals to another conscience, this time "modern biology." The same mediation is apparent here also. Thus: "We have some scientific men asserting that men and women are physiologically different species, while others have asserted that few, if any, psychological differences of sex are of biological origin. The truth would seem to be midway between these extreme views." The charm of a synthesizer is very great, for one can always agree with something. Nevertheless, one misses a certain "tang." The middle-of-the-road scholar, like the middle-of-the-road politician, is safe, never far wrong but sometimes not a little tame.

With the general ethical interest of the writer no one can safely quarrel. It is a bit serious, however, when all we have is one extreme opinion balanced against another extreme, after which the middle ground is chosen and this put forward as "modern scientific sociology." The statements thus made will be accepted by everyone who already agrees and by no one else. And why should they be? Science is surely more than the opinions of professors.

The fundamental assumption is that society can be studied scien-

( 307) -tifically only if other sciences are first mastered. Biology is necessary, and psychology, and anthropology. But from the standpoint of this re-viewer this is a grievous error, however widely held. First, because it is impossible for one man to be a specialist in so many fields; and second, which is more important, it is unnecessary and undesirable. If sociology is ever to command respect, it must find its own problems, develop concepts peculiar to itself, select its own facts, generate its own hypotheses, and build up its own body of laws.

When will we take social phenomena seriously? One can no more understand human instincts by studying the lower animals, as our author insists we must do, than he can understand plant ecology by studying electricity or chemistry. Plants in communities have chemical properties, and they probably consist of electrons and protons, but social life must be analyzed into elements and not compounded of them. The author pursues the traditional genetic and synthetic method.

There is a chapter on the primary group; and continuity, change, order, and progress are all discussed with a final chapter on humanity. The reader is informed that ideals can be scientifically determined, and the outcome of scientific sociology is said, in the last paragraph, to point to, even if it does not establish, a humanitarian ethics and a humanitarian religion. Sociology, morality, and religion should all unite in the work of establishing the "Kingdom of God."

To be objective, dispassionate, and scientific requires much self-denial. Prof. Ellwood's great learning might have been directed to the mere discovery of truth for its own sake. Perhaps in the present state of American education he has done more good to the youth of his race by the passionate and sincere and repeated exhortation to the bitter life.



No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2