"Foreward" to American Social Psychology by Fay Berger Karpf
Social psychology is a vital and important subject of present-day discussion and investigation throughout the world, perhaps particularly in America. Attempts to designate it by special terms and to give it systematic formulation began only a little over twenty years ago, but since that time systematic treatments of it in books are found by the dozen. Other books dealing with various aspects of the field, although not necessarily bearing the title, are numbered by the hundred, while articles and special researches of a briefer character carried in the learned journals of the world are to be counted literally by the thousand. Nor is there any sign of a decrease in interest. On the contrary, more men are working in the field now than ever before. The present work of Dr. Karpf, which attempts to give the history of American social psychology, with its European background, is thus, in the highest degree, timely.
The interest in social psychology has not been confined to any one section of social science. On the contrary, workers in sociology, psychology, economics, and political science, historians, psychiatrists, and even literary men have all written important and significant books which must be classified as directly bearing on this field. The attempt to understand social psychology is obviously greater every year, and the student who tries to avail himself of the heritage is confronted with a laborious and confusing body of reading which soon makes him aware of the need of some guiding clew. It is clear then that a historical guide like the present work ought to serve a very useful purpose, besides being of general interest to the intellectual reader.
Social psychology has already accumulated a body of traditions, problems, explanations, and systems which form a broad stream whose tributaries can be traced far back in time and space. The sources offer great variety. To trace them back to a single origin is, of course, impossible, for there is not one but many. Moreover, as the stream flows on, some channels have been cut out at an angle and by a divergent path have been flowing on until they have become lost in the desiccations of the desert sand. There are other muddy currents which have refused to mingle with the main stream, being particularly resistant to the assimilating influence of the rest.
There are, of course, many ways of describing all this. The author has chosen a sort of modified biographical treatment inherited from the tradition of histories of philosophy, and by copious quotation and sym-
( xiv) -pathetic condensation has set for herself the task of giving the reader the teachings of the various authors on the questions that interested them most. French, German, and English writers pass in review before the reader, for all these have left a tradition without which the views of the Americans could not be understood. Until the latter part of the work is reached the treatment of the Americans is roughly chronological, so that the development can be seen and the influences traced.
A history of American social psychology might be written in one of two or three ways. It would hardly be possible to write it in all three of these ways. The choice of the plan must obviously be left to the author. If, therefore, the reader finds certain gaps in it, that must be set down to the necessities of literary choice. Moreover, with the clews here supplied these gaps can be filled in by sufficiently vigorous effort and sufficiently wide acquaintance with the literature.
In the first place, the student would like to know more about the place of a given author in his social and cultural setting. The answer to this demand would tend to add to the question of what the author teaches and what he advocates the more difficult question of why he taught and advocated those doctrines. Obviously here anyone who tries to answer is treading on slippery ground. Just why the ardent and valiant defenders of instincts should be also in the main conservative in their philosophical, social, and political views, many of them being avowedly vocal opponents of democracy; just why the vigorous advocates of behaviorism should adopt a violently radical attitude toward religion and conventional morals with which the doctrine of behaviorism strictly defined has no more connection than it has with the politics of Mars; just why one author or one group of authors should hold that fundamental in human life is a desire for exciting and thrilling experiences, while others, perhaps because their work is more interesting, find no truth in the doctrine; why one author's work breathes sympathy with the oppressed classes, furnishes texts for economic radicals, while another's becomes a vade mecum for defenders of the status quo—all these questions are very difficult but not without their central importance. To answer them would require a vigorous and persistent campaign in attempting to unearth the personal and biographical details of each man's life, and the result would be an interpretation so difficult to make objective that the success of such an effort would always be problematical. Nevertheless the question is not out of order. We know already too much about the relation of thought and reflection to action and ambition to fail to realize that we must eventually psychologize the psychologist if we are to understand his psychology.
There is another and easier and less invidious aspect of the history of social psychology which it would be interesting to know. Each author is not merely the deliverer of a message; he is the exponent of a culture
( xv) or, in our day, of some aspect of the culture of his people. For mind is not merely individual mind, nor is it merely social mind; it is, as we have been taught by Cooley, an organic whole; the individual and society are twin born. Each writer, therefore, not only writes about the group. He is also a part of a group. His ideas are generated in his group. The social forces that made and are still making social psychology are not inaccessible, and the trends of thought and sentiment if set alongside the expositions here would add much to that which we should like to know about the development of the science. Perhaps the author will be granted the leisure and have the impulse to make this account clear in a subsequent volume. It is to be hoped that she will; and if she does, she will put us all the more in her debt.
The instinct doctrine of social psychology, now rapidly dying out, did not come into existence full armed, nor do we account for it adequately when we give the arguments and statements of any particular author who is an advocate of that definite system. It is only in perspective, perhaps, that we can see how the various antecedent formulations were found increasingly difficult and how gradually this particular scheme came to be more advantageous. Moreover, when the doctrine began to lose its ascendency, it would be interesting and highly profitable to know what were the various influences, forces, and weaknesses which finally brought about the transition to something which seems to be more satisfactory. The presentation of separate authors with their separate views, while interesting and quite necessary, does not give the connection between and relation to the various points of view out of which the doctrine grew or into which it merged or which it stirred up. And there are many of these which it would be best fitting to have set forth in such a manner. The extreme reflex doctrine, starting in Russia and somewhat independently in America with the study of animals and influenced by many other forces, conspicuous among them the conflicts among the orthodox psychologies regarding the presence of imageless thought, and the firm hold that the doctrine of elements had, even for those who had rejected the instincts and which caused them to substitute a set of definite reflexes instead—all of this would be illustrative of the point that is here made. A similar tracing of the doctrine of wishes or of the neglect of physiology by the psychoanalysts or of the rejection of mental elements by the Gestaltians on the one hand and by men like John Dewey the other, with, in each case, quite different motives and quite different outcomes—all these and other questions like them would add greatly to the interest of the story of the development of social psychology.
For we are all social psychologists enough now to know that while it is not easy to get rid of our prejudices and predilections, it is possible sometimes to know what they are, to know that we have them, to know what our friends' prejudices are, and to make allowances for both theirs
( xvi) and ours. The compulsive nature of social or collective thought is a factor of which we can always take account for the correcting of our data. For we are all children of our time, the scholar not least of all. Indeed, it might be contended that the scholar is most of all a child of his time. Perhaps he is the very voice of his time speaking for his group. It is the time become articulate in a single point.
This task of relating the author to his time and to his group inside the time is not so great as it might seem, for there are not so many kinds of system as there are men who write about them. There are far more books than there are classes of books, and the scholars and authors may be grouped and classified. Moreover, the groups and classes can be related to each other.
Social psychology as a definite discipline known by distinctive terms is relatively young, but it is old enough already to have many "schools." We have our partisans, our sectarian champions, our orthodoxies, and our heresies. The ancient Romans used to find amusement in making their captives fight real battles, and the crowd enjoyed it most when the slaughter was most fierce. And even in this little arena the student can witness wars of words, the annihilating phrases, and the savage battle cries which show how human scholars are. Here the alliances are across jurisdictional boundaries, and behaviorism, instinctivism, Gestaltism, and the rest seek their allies in any camp. What these schools are, what their claims are, and what shibboleths are required to membership within the company are matters not hard to learn, but their real significance requires most careful interpretation and insight.
When a science is sufficiently mature and advanced to have a clear conception of its problems and is able to organize its forces so as to attract them effectively, there are no schools. Schools of psychology are the growing pains of the science. Leaders of the schools perform the same function as fanatics in any sphere. The fanatic in religious or political or social life is one who calls attention to a neglected truth or duty by a strident exaggeration of its importance. They not only tend to become extremists, but they are also in danger of losing their scientific temper, since the search for truth is suspended by the necessity for fighting. Warfare, however, whether of attack or of defense, furnishes a pleasant excitement, an increase in loyalty, often also satisfying a certain welcome notoriety, no less satisfying for being short-lived.
For the partisan leader of a school of thought there is little hope. He usually digs into a "well-prepared position in the rear" from which security he defends himself according to his resources. But the friends of science need not be disturbed. Indeed a truly scientific mind, surely a truly scientific psychological mind, cannot allow itself to be disturbed. The extremists, like the Pharisees in the Testament, have received their reward. Fortunately life is short, and neither they nor their work shall endure.
The future is with the young who, listening to the confusing voices, will not be able or willing to continue the one-sided emphases. They will see the few grains in the heap of chaff and salvage what they can. Even the disciples and students of a pundit have been known to question his claims of infallibility in his own lifetime.
Social psychology is not only new, vigorous, rapidly growing, an greatly confused; it is also vitally important. The answers to the questions that it asks are urgently needed. The unity of our culture is broken; the confusion of tradition is by now proverbial; we are becoming aware of human nature, but we do not understand what it is. The training of children, the discipline called education, the problem of inefficiency, the control of vice, crime, poverty, and war—these problems are present in a new and dreadful form. How does our human nature come to be? Is it unchangeable, and if it can be altered, how? Whence come our motives, our ambitions, and how may these be best conceived and best directed?
We have discovered a new world, but we have not explored it yet, and our peace and success demand that we know it well. Social psychology is a name we give to this task. Dr. Karpf's book tells what men have declared when they came back from spying out the land.
Although this book was not written as a college textbook, like any thoroughly comprehensive and scholarly work in the field it will admirably serve such a purpose. Nowhere is there available any comparable survey of the contributions of modern scholarship in this field. In addition to such a use, the work will certainly find an eager audience in students of social science, particularly those interested in economics and politics who wish to understand what is going on in this field and what characterizes the leaders of thought today. Here the critical comment and comparison throw the views into sharp relief, and the historical perspective of the various authors as treated by Dr. Karpf gives meaning and significance to what might otherwise seem unrelated and isolated.
The general reader who is interested in modern thought will particularly appreciate the way in which the various trends are traced out and finally brought together in the concluding chapters. The author has brought to her task an exceptionally adequate training, a high and unwavering enthusiasm, and a thoroughness of competent scholarship which will be appreciated by all who will have the privilege of reading her work.
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO,