American Social Psychology

II. Charles Horton Cooley (1864—1929)

Fay Berger Karpf

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The attempt at specific formulation of social-psychological theory which was definitely begun in this country by Baldwin was carried forward in very notable fashion by Cooley. This was more especially the case because Cooley approached the subject chiefly from the sociological rather than from the psychological standpoint, so that his work supplemented Baldwin's in quite a unique way, as will presently appear. In any event, Cooley's work represents the next step in the line of social-psychological advance which we have been tracing out here and can best be considered alongside of Baldwin's work at this point.

Ward's pioneer reinterpretation of the field of sociological thought in this country, it will be recalled,[1] was followed shortly by the early attempts to establish the subject academically, especially by Sumner, Giddings, and Small. Sociology thus began to come into view as an increasingly important factor in defining the background of American social-psychological thought. In particular, Ward's work was supported

( 292) in its social-psychological implications by such other early sociological works as Small and Vincent's Introduction to the Study of Society and Giddings' Principles of Sociology, both of which have already been referred to here in conjunction with our discussion of Ward. These works appeared respectively in 1894 and 1896, about the same time as Baldwin's two major works. It was in this early setting of American sociological thought that Cooley's first work, his Human Nature and the Social Order, took form, and it is this work which provides the basis of our discussion here.

Cooley did not identify this work with social psychology outright, as did Baldwin in the case of his Social and Ethical Interpretations, but it has become peculiarly identified with this field of thought, nevertheless, through its subject matter as well as through the general setting of Cooley's social theory as a whole. Formal identification seemed hardly necessary at the time, since social psychology had not yet differentiated itself from sociology in this country. At any rate, Cooley's work has seemingly been even clearer in its social-psychological influence than Baldwin's, for his exposition of social-psychological theory, besides being very much more readable than Baldwin's, is freed from confusing involvement with such questionable elements of Baldwin's presentation as his recapitulation doctrine and his distinctive view of imitation as a social-psychological process. Cooley's three works, his Human Nature and the Social Order (1902), Social Organization (1909), and The Social Process (1918), remain, in fact, one of the most compelling defenses and elaborations of the social-psychological point of view which have yet appeared in this country, certainly of that all-round point of view which has come to be so prominently associated here with Cooley's name.[2]

It is not surprising, therefore, that Cooley's contributions to social-psychological thought should be among the most generally recognized in this country and among the most frequently commented upon in various connections.[3] In so far as recent sociological literature in this country is concerned, more particularly, few writers are as frequently and as confidently quoted in reference to the social-psychological point of view. It will be especially to the point, therefore, to follow out the essen-

( 293) -tial setting of Cooley's thought here and to bring it into relation with the general trend of social-psychological development as it has been traced out so far.

Cooley's social-psychological theory, like Baldwin's, is basically grounded in the observed facts of child development as they presented themselves from the standpoint of the broadened conception of the evolutionary process which had established itself in this country at the time.[4] But it was Cooley's expressed aim to bring these facts into closer relationship with the world of social forms and processes from the sociological standpoint than he felt had been done by previous writers.[5]

Acknowledging freely the influence of Baldwin and James in this connection,[6] Cooley started out in this undertaking with the central thesis of the inseparability of the individual and the social in human life. This basic thesis is reiterated over and over in various connections in the course of the three volumes mentioned above, but perhaps nowhere does it appear more clearly stated in its all-round bearing than in The Social Process, where Cooley relates it to the "organic view" of the world of human facts and relations, of which he became one of the most prominent exponents in American thought. He there says:

We see around us in the world of men an onward movement of life. There seems to be a vital impulse of unknown origin, that tends to work ahead in innumerable directions and manners, each continuous with something of the same sort in the past. The whole thing appears to be a kind of growth, and we might add that it is an adaptive growth, meaning by this that the forms of life we see—men, associations of men, traditions, institutions, conventions, theories, ideals—are not separate or independent, but that the growth of each takes place in con-tact and interaction with that of others. Thus any one phase of the movement may be regarded as a series of adaptations to other phases.[7]

Following out this train of thought further, he continues:

That the growth of persons is adaptive is apparent to everyone. Each of us has energy and character, but not for an hour do these develop except by communication and adjustment with the persons and conditions about us. And the case is not different with a social group, or with the ideas which live in the common medium of communicative thought. Human life is thus all a growing whole, unified, by ceaseless currents of interaction, but at the same time differ-

(294)     entiated into those diverse forms of energy which we see as men, factions, tendencies, doctrines, and institutions.[8]

Such, according to Cooley, are the concrete results of the process of adaptive growth in the world of human relations. All the varied complexities of human life and thought are organized by it into a unified and interdependent whole, in which everything is part of everything else in the sense of the all-embracing conception of interrelation made familiar by modern evolutionary thought, as applied to the realm of psychic and social fact.[9]

This is the significance that the terms "organic," "organization," and "organism" have when referring to the realm of psycho-social interpretation, according to Cooley. These terms are applicable, he explains, "in the sense that influences may be and are transmitted from one part to any other part so that all parts are bound together into an interdependent whole."[10] He says:

If then we say that society is an organism, we mean, I suppose, that it is a complex of forms or processes each of which is living and growing by interaction with the others, the whole being so unified that what takes place in one part affects all the rest. It is a vast tissue of reciprocal activity, differentiated into innumerable systems, some of them quite distinct, others not readily traceable, and all interwoven to such a degree that you see different systems according to the point of view you take.[11]

This general view, from the standpoint of which Cooley approaches all the special problems of his concern, is to be placed in this broad setting of evolutionary thought. It is the aim of this view, says Cooley in familiar terms, "to `see life whole,' or at least as largely as our limitations permit."[12] It is thus opposed, he points out, to the various "particularistic" explanations of human behavior, whether they be religious, political, economic, or whatever.[13] Such, for example, according to Cooley, are the theories that regard "the personal wills of individual men, supplemented, perhaps, by the similar will of a personal God, as the originative factor in life from which all else comes"; or, again, by contrast, the theories "which find the originative impulse in external conditions of life, such as climate, soil, flora, and fauna, and regard intellectual and social activities merely as the result of the physiological needs of men seeking gratification under these conditions." A well-known example of

( 295) this type of theory having rather wide acceptance, Cooley calls to mind, is "economic determinism."[14] He says:

The fallacy of all such ideas lies in supposing that life is built up from someone point, instead of being an organic whole which is developing as a whole now and, so far as we know, always has done so in the past. Nothing is fixed or independent, everything is plastic and takes influence as well as gives it. No factor of life can exist for men except as it is merged in the organic system and becomes an effect as much as a cause of the total development. If you insist that there is a center from which the influence comes, all flowing in one direction, you fly in the face of fact. What observation shows is a universal interaction. in which no factor appears antecedent to the rest.[15]

The individual is a very real and active thing, but so is the group or general tendency; it is true that you can see life from the standpoint of imitation (several writers have centered upon this) but so you can from the standpoint of competition or organization. The economic process is as vital as anything can be, and there is nothing in life that does not change when it changes; but the same is true of the ideal processes; geography is important, but not more so than the technical institutions through which we react upon it; and so on.[16]

There is no beginning; we know nothing about beginnings; there is always continuity with the past, and not with any one element only of the past, but with the whole interacting organism of men.[17]

Applied to the consideration of the special problems of Cooley's concern in his above-mentioned three works, this general point of view translates itself into a more or less definite conception of procedure which Cooley outlines at some length at the outset of his Human Nature.

The subject of that work, he explains, is really the subject of its first chapter, "Society and the Individual." : "It is my general aim," he says, "to set forth, from various points of view, what the individual is, considered as a member of a social whole"; while the special purpose of the opening chapter is "to offer a preliminary statement of the matter, as I conceive it, afterward to be unfolded at some length and variously illustrated."[18] This, in its respective aspects, it may be added, is like-wise the subject of Cooley's later two volumes which are to be regarded, in accordance with his outlook as outlined above, as merely a continuation of the discussion from the new "points of light" of organization and process instead of human nature.[19] It is thus the more important to follow through Cooley's formulation of his viewpoint in his earlier work.

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In explanation of his above-stated purpose, as epitomized by the title of his first work and especially by the subject of its first chapter, Cooley goes on to say:

A separate individual is an abstraction unknown to experience, and so like-wise is society when regarded as something apart from individuals. The real thing is Human Life, which may be considered either in an individual aspect or in a social, that is to say a general, aspect; but is always, as a matter of fact, both individual and general. In other words, "society" and "individuals" do not denote separable phenomena, but are simply collective and distributive aspects of the same thing, the relation between them being like that between other expressions one of which denotes a group as a whole and the other the members of the group, such as the army and the soldiers, the class and the student, and so on. This holds true of any social aggregate, great or small; of a family, a city, a nation, a race, of mankind as a whole: no matter how extensive, complex, or enduring a group may be, no good reason can be given for regarding it as essentially different in this respect from the smallest, simplest, or most transient.[20]

So far, then, as there is any difference between the two, it is rather in our point of view than in the object we are looking at: when we speak of society, or use any other collective term, we fix our minds upon some general view of the people concerned, while when we speak of individuals we disregard the general aspect and think of them as if they were separate. Thus "the Cabinet" may consist of President Lincoln, Secretary Stanton, Secretary Seward, and so on; but when I say "the Cabinet" I do not suggest the same idea as when I enumerate these gentlemen separately. Society, or any complex group, may, to ordinary observation, be a very different thing from all of its members, viewed one by one—as a man who beheld General Grant's army from Mississippi Ridge would have seen something other than he would by approaching every soldier in it. In the same way a picture is made up of so many square inches of painted canvas; but if you should look at these one at a time, covering the others, until you had seen them all, you would still not have seen the picture. There may, in all such cases, be a system or organization in the whole that is not apparent in the parts. In this sense, and in no other, is there a difference between society and the individuals of which it is composed; a difference not residing in the facts themselves but existing to the observer on account of the limits of his perception. A complete view of society would also be a complete view of all the individuals, and vice versa; there would be no difference between them.[21]

Summarizing this introductory statement, Cooley says:

And just as there is no society or group that is not a collective view of persons, so there is no individual who may not be regarded as a particular view of social groups. He has no separate existence; through both the hereditary and the social factors in his life a man is bound into the whole of which he is a member,

(297)     and to consider him apart from it is quite as artificial as to consider society apart from individuals.[22]

If this be a true statement of the situation, obviously, then, Cooley goes on to point out as had Baldwin, there is a fallacy "in that not uncommon manner of speaking which sets the social and the individual over against each other as separate and antagonistic." All the well-known expressions which are associated in common usage with this type of antithesis, as individualism and socialism, particularism and collectivism, free will and determinism, egoism and altruism, and their various derivatives, are, according to him, based on the same thoroughgoing misconception of relation between the individual and the social in human life.[23] He observes:

I do not see that life presents two distinct and opposing tendencies that can properly be called individualism and socialism, any more than that there are two distinct and opposing entities, society and the individual, to embody these tendencies. The phenomena usually called individualistic are always socialistic in the sense that they are expressive of tendencies growing out of the general life, and, contrariwise, the so-called socialistic phenomena have always an obvious individual aspect.3[24]

These and similar expressions, declares Cooley, may be used conveniently enough in common speech, but whether they are suitable for purposes of careful study and description appears very doubtful. If used at all, according to him, they ought to receive more adequate definition than they have at present, for there is always "some confusion of terms in speaking of opposition between an individual and society in general, even when the writer's meaning is obvious enough." It would be more accurate and less objectionable to say, he points out, "either that one individual is opposing many, or that one part of society is opposing other parts," in order to "avoid confusing the two aspects of life in the same expression."[25] He suggests in this connection:

When Emerson says that society is in a conspiracy against the independence of each of its members, we are to understand that any peculiar tendency represented by one person finds itself more or less at variance with the general current of tendencies organized in other persons. It is no more individual, nor any less social, in a large sense, than other tendencies represented by more persons. A thousand persons are just as truly individual as one, and the man who seems to stand alone draws his being from the general stream of life just as truly and inevitably as if he were one of a thousand. Innovation is just as social as conformity, genius as mediocrity. These distinctions are not between what is

(298)     individual and what is social, but between what is usual or established and what is exceptional or novel. In other words, wherever you find life as society there you will find life as individuality, and vice versa.[26]

Accordingly, he says in conclusion on this point:

I think, then, that the antithesis, society versus the individual, is false and hollow whenever used as a general or philosophical statement of human relations. Whatever idea may be in the minds of those who set these words and their derivatives over against each other, the notion conveyed is that of two separable entities or forces; and certainly such a notion is untrue to fact.[27]

Cooley was keenly aware that this view was opposed to deeply ingrained habits of thought which are reflected in well-established views and theories of conduct. Thus, he points out:

Most people not only think of individuals and society as more or less separate and antithetical, but they look upon the former as antecedent to the latter. That persons make society would be generally admitted as a matter of course; but that society makes persons would strike many as a startling notion, though I know of no good reason for looking upon the distributive aspect of life as more primary or causative than the collective aspect. The reason for the common impression appears to be that we think most naturally and easily of the individual phase of life, simply because it is a tangible one, the phase under which men appear to the senses, while the actuality of groups, of nations, of mankind at large, is realized only by the active and instructed imagination. We ordinarily regard society, so far as we conceive it at all, in a vaguely material aspect, as an aggregate of physical bodies, not as the vital whole which it is; and so, of course, we do not see that it may be as original or causative as anything else. Indeed many look upon "society" and other general terms as somewhat mystical, and are inclined to doubt whether there is any reality back of them.[28]

Since "this naive individualism of thought" which, according to Cooley, "does not truly see the individual any more than it does society" is reinforced "by traditions in which all of us are brought up" and is thereby very hard to shake off, he feels it is necessary to point out more definitely "some of the prevalent ways of conceiving life which are permeated by it, and which, anyone who agrees with what has just been said may regard as fallacious."[29]

He thus discusses, from the standpoint outlined, what he terms mere individualism in which, according to him, "the distributive aspect is almost exclusively regarded, collective phases being looked upon as quite secondary and incidental"; double causation or the "partition of power between society and the individual, thought of as separate causes";

( 299) primitive individualism or the view "that sociality follows individuality in time, as a later and additional product of development"; and, finally, the social faculty view, by which he means to designate the tendency to regard "the social as including only a part, often a rather definite part, of the individual." Human nature, he explains, is divided "into individualistic or non-social tendencies or faculties, and those that are social." Thus, he points out, certain emotions, such as love, are regarded as social, while others, such as fear or anger, are regarded as unsocial or individualistic; or again intelligence is treated as an individualistic faculty, sociality being attributed to some sort of emotion or sentiment.[30] By way of contrast, he says:

Of course the view which I regard as sound, is that individuality is neither prior in time nor lower in moral rank than sociality; but that the two have always existed side by side as complementary aspects of the same thing, and that the line of progress is from a lower to a higher type of both, not from the one to the other. If the word social is applied only to the higher forms of mental life it should, as already suggested, be opposed not to individual, but to animal, sensual, or some other word implying mental or moral inferiority. If we go back to a time when the state of our remote ancestors was such that we are not willing to call it social, then it must have been equally undeserving to be described as individual or personal; that is to say, they must have been just as inferior to us when viewed separately as when viewed collectively. To question this is to question the vital unity of human life.[31]

At any rate the opinion I hold, and expect to explain more fully ... is that man's psychical outfit is not divisible into the social and the non-social; but that he is all social in a large sense, is all a part of the common life, and that his social or moral progress consists less in the aggrandizement of particular faculties or instincts and the suppression of others, than in the discipline of all with reference to a progressive organization of life which we know in thought as conscience.[32]

From his position as thus elaborated, Cooley leads out, much as Baldwin did, to a reconsideration of such topics as appeared to him to be especially relevant to his subject matter or to require restatement from the new point of view. We thus get a discussion and restatement of such topics of interest as suggestion and choice, sociability, sympathy, the social self, hostility, emulation, leadership, conscience, freedom, etc. In his two later volumes, Cooley continued this treatment of relevant subject matter but, as already suggested, with a central emphasis on organization and process. All in all, he brought his point of view to bear on a wide range of important material with a cumulative effect that is the more striking because it seems to flow so naturally from his rather informal procedure. Cooley's most familiar contributions to modern

( 300) thought were made in the treatment of some of these special topics, for example, his discussion of the social self and more especially that part of the social self which he suggestively termed "the looking-glass self in his Human Nature; his classic treatment of primary group life and ideals in his Social Organization; his analysis of valuation[33] in his Social Process. The following passages from his important discussion of primary group life will suffice to illustrate his characteristic mode of procedure in the treatment of these special topics:

By primary groups I mean those characterized by intimate face-to-face association and cooperation. They are primary in several senses, but chiefly in that they are fundamental in forming the social nature and ideals of the individual. The result of intimate association, psychologically, is a certain fusion of individualities in a common whole, so that one's very self, for many purposes at least, is the common life and purpose of the group. Perhaps the simplest way of describing this wholeness is by saying that it is a "we"; it involves the sort of sympathy and mutual identification for which "we" is the natural expression. One lives in the feeling of the whole and finds the chief aims of his will in that feeling.[34]

The most important spheres of this intimate association and cooperation—though by no means the only ones—are the family, the play-group of children, and the neighborhood or community group of elders. These are practically universal, belonging to all times and all stages of development; and are accordingly a chief basis of what is universal in human nature and human ideals.[35]

Besides these almost universal kinds of primary association, there are many others whose form depends upon the particular state of civilization; the only essential thing, as I have said, being a certain intimacy and fusion of personalities. In our own society, being little bound by place, people easily form clubs, fraternal societies and the like, based on congeniality, which may give rise to real intimacy. Many such relations are formed at school and college, and among men and women brought together in the first instance by their occupations—as workmen in the same trade, or the like. Where there is a little common interest and activity, kindness grows like weeds by the roadside.

But the fact that the family and neighborhood groups are ascendant in the open and plastic time of childhood makes them even now incomparably more influential than all the rest.[36]

These groups, then, are springs of life, not only for the individual but for social institutions. They are only in part moulded by special traditions, and, in

(301) larger degree express a universal nature. The religion or government of other civilizations may seem alien to us, but the children or the family group wear the common life, and with them we can always make ourselves at home.[37]

To return to primary groups: the view here maintained is that human nature is not something existing separately in the individual, but a group nature or primary phase of society, a relatively simple and general condition of the social mind. It is something more, on the one hand, than the mere instinct that is born in us—though that enters into it—and something less, on the other, than the more elaborate development of ideas and sentiments that makes up institutions. It is the nature which is developed and expressed in those simple, face-to-face groups that are somewhat alike in all societies; groups of the family, the playground, and the neighborhood. In the essential similarity of these is to be found the basis, in experience, for similar ideas and sentiments in the human mind. In these, everywhere, human nature comes into existence. Man does not have it at birth; he cannot acquire it except through fellowship, and it decays in isolation.

If this view does not recommend itself to common-sense I do not know that elaboration will be of much avail. It simply means the application at this point of the idea that society and individuals are inseparable phases of a common whole, so that wherever we find an individual fact we may look for a social fact to go with it. If there is a universal nature in persons there must be something universal in association to correspond to it.[38]

Here [that is, in the discussion of primary group life] as everywhere in the study of society we must learn to see mankind in psychical wholes, rather than in artificial separation. We must see and feel the communal life of family and local groups as immediate facts, not as combinations of something else. And perhaps we shall do this best by recalling our own experience and extending it through sympathetic observation. What, in our life, is the family and the fellowship; what do we know of the we-feeling? Thought of this kind may help us to get a concrete perception of that primary group-nature of which everything social is the outgrowth.[39]

The composite conception of human nature and social life which Cooley thus by stages develops, like the composite picture of the Gothic cathedral which, by analogy, we should get, according to him, were we to view it as a work of organic art ("from many points, and at our leisure, now the front and now the apse, now taking in the whole from a distance, now lingering near at hand over the details, living with it, if we can for months, until gradually there arises a conception of it which is confined to no one aspect, but is, so far as the limits of our mind permit, the image of the whole in all its unity and richness"[40] ) contains the following essential and frequently repeated elements:

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The individual and the social are reciprocal and inseparable aspects of human reality.[41] They are interrelated each with each in those fundamental processes of interaction and communication in which alone they come to expression and development, so that at no time can they in a concrete sense be set over against each other.[42] In this connection, the face-to-face social groups in which contact is of the most intimate character—the family, the play group, the neighborhood, etc.—are of the utmost importance. They are to be regarded as "the nursery" of human nature and social life, and in this sense "primary" as over against the more impersonal or derived groupings in which contact is likely to be much more casual and superficial.[43] Here are developed the primary virtues and ideals—love, freedom, justice, loyalty, sympathy, service, kindness, truth, lawfulness, etc.—which constitute the chief basis of all that is universal in "human" nature and enduring in our common life together.[44] Upon the effective organization of these basic human qualities on the ever widening scale made possible by the improved means of communication in modern life depends that extension and enlargement of the moral order which, according to Cooley, "is the great historical task of mankind."[45] The increasing magnitude of this task has been part of the growing complexity of social life, a fact which explains, in Cooley's opinion, the many shortcomings of its accomplishment. Especially during the nineteenth century have the possibilities of communication, due to the rapid advance of mechanical invention and the "enlargement and animation" of life which followed, enabled social contact to run clear beyond the ability of social organization to keep the pace.[46] The inevitable result has been that partial breakdown of effective social control which has left our modern life, with its humanizing and democratizing tendencies on the one hand and its superficiality and strain on the other, socially uncoordinated at its points of greatest stress.[47]

Such, in barest outline, are some of the important observations around which Cooley developed his theory and which, added to his lucid conversational style and the stimulating moral quality of his thought, have made his works among the most popular and influential in American social science literature.

But despite this, and despite the wholesome closeness to the concrete facts of social life which Cooley's observations bespeak and which leave the impression, as one writer has said, that "even the casual reader could

( 303) hardly run over one of his pages selected at random without a sense of being in somewhat novel contact with life as it is,"[48] perhaps because of these high qualities, it is inescapable that his theorizing is, even more strikingly than that of most writers in his field of interest, essentially of the nature of what Cooley himself more recently termed "arm-chair philosophy."[49] His work is broadly critical and analytical, not narrowly specialized and scientific. He appeals quite as much to general literature for support and illustration of his position as to scientific fact and principle, and his whole procedure is rather directed toward the formulation and illustration of an illuminating point of view than toward the development of a program of scientific investigation.[50] But the latter stage of social-psychological development is in any event only just beginning to come seriously into view; and meanwhile Cooley's work stands out in this country as one of the high-spots in the preliminary formulation of social-psychological theory.

In the second edition of his Human Nature (1922), Cooley added a chapter on "Heredity and Instinct" with the object in view of bringing his theory into relation with recent social-psychological discussion, which has centered so conspicuously about these topics. And since he thus brings his point of view into clear contrast with opposing views, some of which are at the present time very widely held, especially as practical expedients in the treatment of personality, it is worth while, in summary, to follow out his brief restatement of his position in this connection. He says in part:

When our individual life begins the two elements of history from which it is drawn, the hereditary and the social, merge in the new whole and cease to exist as separable forces. Nothing that the individual is or does can be ascribed to either alone, because everything is based on habits and experiences in which the

(304)     two are inextricably mingled. Heredity and environment, as applied to the present life of a human being, are, in fact, abstractions; the real thing is a total organic process not separable into parts. What heredity is, in its practical working at a given time, depends upon the process itself, which develops some potentialities and represses others. And in like manner the effective environment depends upon the selective and assimilating activities of the growing organism. If you wish to understand it, the main thing to do is to study its life-history back to its beginning in the conception and birth of the individual; beyond that you may, if you wish, pursue still farther the germ-plasm and the social inheritance from which it sprang. These give us a background, like the accounts of a man's ancestry and early surroundings in the first chapters of his autobiography. But the life of William Sykes is a thing you must study directly, and no knowledge of heredity and environment can be more than a help to this.[51]

Any socially active human impulse may be appealed to, according to Cooley, to illustrate this "inextricable union of the animal and social heritages." Speech, for instance, serves as a good example, and he says in respect to it :

It springs in part from the native structure of the vocal organs and from a hereditary impulse to use them which we see at work in the chattering of idiots and of the deaf and dumb. A natural sensibility to other persons and need to communicate with them also enters into it. But all articulate utterance comes by communication; it is learned from others, varies with the environment and has its source in tradition. Speech is thus a socio-biologic function. And so it is with ambition and all our socially active impulses. We are born with the need to assert ourselves, but whether we do so as hunters, warriors, fishermen, traders, politicians, or scholars, depends upon the opportunities offered us in the social process.[52]

Heredity and social environment can thus be regarded normally, only as complementary, "each having its own work to do and neither of any use without the other." Which is stronger? Which is more important? As referring to general theory, these are, he declares, "silly questions, the asking of which is sufficient proof that the asker has no clear idea of the matter in hand." It is precisely, he explains, "as if one should ask, Which is the more important member of the family, the father or the mother?" In each case, according to him, the answer may be said to be that both are "infinitely important, since each is

( 305) indispensable; and their functions being different in kind cannot be compared in amount."[53]

There is in this respect, he points out, a notable difference between man and the other animals in terms of teachability and plasticity which is of the utmost importance for the understanding of human behavior. He says:

Although the transmission of heredity through the germ-plasm is much the same in man as in the other animals, there is a notable difference in the kind of traits that are transmitted, and are found to exist at birth. This difference is in teachability or plasticity. The mental outfit of the human child is above all things teachable, and therefore, of course, indefinite, consisting not of tendencies to do particular things that life calls for, but of vague aptitudes or lines of teach-ability that are of no practical use until they are educated. The mental outfit of the animal, on the other hand, is relatively definite and fixed, giving rise to activities which are useful with little or no teaching.

This difference is fundamental to any understanding of the relation of man to the evolutionary process, or of the relation of human nature and human life to animal nature and animal life. We need to see it with all possible clearness and to follow out its implications.[54]

The situation may be suggestively outlined, according to him, in terms of the following analogy:

Roughly speaking, then, the heredity of the other animals is a mechanism like that of a hand-organ; it is made to play a few tunes; you can play these tunes at once, with little or no training; and you can never play any others. The heredity of man, on the other hand, is a mechanism more like that of a piano: it is not made to play particular tunes; you can do nothing at all on it without training; but a trained player can draw from it an infinite variety of music.[54]

The implications of this difference in heredity are most far-reaching, even recognizing that there is no sharp line of division here, as indeed there never is in the world of nature viewed as a whole, according to him. He explains:

I see a flycatcher sitting on a dead branch, where there are no leaves to interrupt his view. Presently he darts toward a passing insect, hovers over him a few seconds, catches him, or fails to do so, and returns to his perch. That is his way of getting a living: he has done it all his life and will go on doing it to the end. Millions of other flycatchers on millions of other dead branches are doing precisely the same. And this has been the life of the species for unknown thousands of years. They have, through the germ-plasm, a definite capacity for this—the keen eye, the swift, fluttering movement to follow the insect, the quick, sure

(306) action of the neck and bill to seize him—all effective with no instruction and very little practice.

Man [too] has a natural hunger, like the flycatcher, and a natural mechanism of tasting, chewing, swallowing, and digestion; but his way of getting the food varies widely at different times of his life, is not the same with different individuals, and often changes completely from one generation to another. The great majority of us gain our food, after we have left the parental nest, through what we call a job, and a job is any activity whatever that a complex and shifting society esteems sufficiently to pay us for. It is very likely, nowadays, to last only part of our lives and to be something our ancestors never heard of. Thus [says Cooley] whatever is most distinctively human, our adaptability, our power of growth, our arts and sciences, our social institutions and progress, is bound up with the indeterminate character of human heredity.[55]

As regards the seemingly very important question of the place of the instinctive factor in human behavior, Cooley accordingly has the following to say:

Although instinctive emotion probably enters into everything we do, it enters in such a way that we can rarely or never explain human behavior by it alone. In human life it is not, in any considerable degree, a motive to specific behavior at all, but an impulse whose definite expression depends upon education and social situations. It does not act except through a complex, socially determined organ-ism of thought and sentiment.

If, for example, we say "War is due to an instinct of pugnacity," we say something that includes so little of the truth and ignores so much that it is practically false. War is rooted in many instinctive tendencies, all of which have been transformed by education, tradition, and organization, so that to study its sources is to study the whole process of society. This calls, above all things, for detailed historical and sociological analysis: there could hardly be anything more inimical to real knowledge or rational conduct regarding it than to ascribe it to  pugnacity and let the question go at that.[56]

Much the same, he suggests, may be said "of the employment of a supposed gregarious instinct, or `instinct of the herd,' to explain a multiplicity of phenomena, including mob-excitement, dread of isolation, conformity to fads and fashions, subservience to leaders and control by propaganda; which require, like war, a detailed study of social antecedents." "This is," he approvingly quotes a contemporary writer, 'an easy, dogmatic way of explaining phenomena whose causes and effects are far more complicated than these authors would admit."Questioning the evidence in favor of the existence of a gregarious instinct altogether, he says: "It seems to me to be the postulate of an individualistic psychology in search of some special motive to explain collective behavior. If you regard human nature as primarily social you need no such special motive."[57]

( 307)

All such attempts on the part of certain psychologists, psychoanalysts, biologists, economists, writers on education, etc., to "short-circuit" the current of human causation in terms of instinct Cooley regards as but another instance of that common fallacy of "particularism" against which his "organic view" is a protest.[58] It is important to recall in this connection, according to him, that human history, in distinction from animal history, is a natural outcome of those traits of human psychology which distinguish man from the animal world and one group of men from the other. More concretely, he says:

The hereditary basis, the instinctive but teachable capacities, are relatively constant, and, so far as these are concerned, there is little or no reason to think that the Teutonic stocks from which most of us are sprung are appreciably different now from what they were when Caesar met and fought and described them. If we could substitute a thousand babies from that time for those in our own cradles, it would probably make no perceptible difference. They would grow up in our ways, driving automobiles instead of war chariots, reading the newspapers, and, in general, playing the human game as it is played today quite like the rest of us.[59]

If we would understand the complexities of social life which human history discloses, then, we must turn to the study of the complex human conditions and processes which produce them. The study of heredity and instinct in themselves cannot take us very far.

Perhaps the commonest fallacy which we meet with in discussions of human behavior from the one-sided standpoint of heredity and instinct, suggests Cooley in conclusion, "is that which assumes that human nature does not change, points out respects in which it has worked deplorably, and concludes that it will always work so. An unchanging human nature, it is said, has given us wars and economic greed; it always will."[60] Much depends, of course, he points out in this connection, on the sense in which such an indefinite term as "human nature" is used, but if it is used substantially in the sense of his own usage, as referring to the nature which man develops in the intimate contacts of primary group life, human nature must, according to him, be understood to be decidedly changeable. "It is a nature," he says, "whose primary trait is teachability, and so does not need to change in order to be an inexhaustible source of changing conduct and institutions. We can make it work," from his standpoint, "in almost any way, if we understand it, as a clever mechanic can mould to his will the universal laws of mass and motion."[61]


  1. Supra, p. 245.
  2. Cf. BOGARDUS, Essentials of Social Psychology, p. 24; A History of Social Thought, p. 389; also BODENHAFER, Amer. Jour. Sociol., vol. 26, pp. 498—499, 1921; PARK and BURGESS, Introduction to the Science of Sociology, p. 67; BARNES, Sociol. Rev., Vol. 14, pp. 194—195, 1922.
  3. See in this connection, Bodenhafer's survey of Cooley's thought, Amer. Jour. Sociol., vol. 26, pp. 454,$., 1921; also BARNES, Sociol. Rev., vol. 14, pp. 194—205, 1922; PARK and BURGESS, Introduction to the Science of Sociology, pp. 56, 67, 70, etc.; BOGARDUS, Essentials of Social Psychology, pp. 23—24; A History of Social Thought, pp. 389—395; ALLPORT, Social Psychology, p. 325; DAVIS, Psychological Interpretations of Society, pp. 59—60; ELLWOOD, Introduction to Social Psychology, pp. 51ff., 118, 131, etc.
  4. Like Baldwin, Cooley sought to lead out in his theory from observations of child growth and development, both his own and those reported by other investigators (see, for instance, Human Nature and the Social Order, 2d ed., pp. 56ff., 81ff., 97ff.,189ff., etc.; supra, p. 273).
  5. See Human Nature and the Social Order, Preface to 2d. ed.
  6. See ibid., note p. 90 (this and the following references to this work, except where otherwise indicated, are to the first edition).
  7. The Social Process, p. 3. Quotations from this work are reprinted by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons, publishers.
  8. Ibid., pp. 3-4.
  9. Ibid., pp. 8f., 19f.
  10. Ibid., p. 26.
  11. Ibid., p. 28:
  12. Ibid., p. 48.
  13. Ibid., pp. 43 f.
  14. Ibid., pp. 43-44.
  15. Ibid., pp. 41 45.
  16. Ibid., p. 51.
  17. Ibid., p. 46.
  18. Human Nature and the Social Order, p. 1 (see supra; note 3, p. 293).
  19. See Preface to his Social Organization, also p. 57. It is significant that Cooley's Social Organization carries the subtitle "A Study of the Larger Mind."
  20. Human Nature and the Social Order, pp. 1-2. Quotations from this work are reprinted by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons, publishers.
  21. Ibid., pp. 2-3.
  22. Ibid., p. 3.
  23. Ibid., pp. 4 ff.
  24. Ibid., p. 5.
  25. Ibid., pp. 5-6.
  26. Ibid., p. 6.
  27. Ibid., p. 7.
  28. Ibid., pp. 7-8.
  29. Ibid., p. 8.
  30. Ibid., pp. 8-12.
  31. Ibid., pp. 10-11.
  32. Ibid., p. 12.
  33. Here Cooley made a notable attempt to carry his point of view over into a highly individualistic phase of economic doctrine. For a discussion of this part of his theory see ANDERSON, Social Value; BODENHAFER, Amer. Jour. Soc., vol. 26, pp. 461-463, 598, 726 if., 1921; PARK and BURGESS, Introduction to the Science of Sociology, pp. 708-712.
  34. Social Organization, p. 23. Quotations from this work are reprinted by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons, publishers.
  35. Ibid., p. 24.
  36. Ibid., p. 26.
  37. Ibid., pp. 27-28.
  38. Ibid., pp. 29-30.
  39. Ibid., p. 31.
  40. The Social Process, p. 49.
  41. Human Nature and the Social Order, pp. 1f
  42. Social Organization, Chap. VI; The Social Process, pp. 3ff.
  43. Social Organization, Chap. III.
  44. Ibid., Chap. IV.
  45. Ibid., Chap. V.
  46. Ibid., Chap. VIII.
  47. Ibid., Chap. X.
  48. SMALL, review of The Social Process, Amer. Jour. Soc., vol. 24, p. 315, 1918-1919.
  49. Address at meetings of The American Sociological Society, 1923, and published Jour. Appt. Sociol., vol. 8, pp. 259-262, 1924.
  50. Cooley himself realized during the recent period of intensified interest in research technique in the field of psycho-social investigation, that his work lacked in respect to its total unconcern with methodology, and in the last few years he set about heroically to translate his point of view into a definitely formulated research approach. Unfortunately, this part of his work was interrupted before it could lead to very clear-cut results. But with his usual suggestiveness, Cooley set a whole group of students to thinking about the implications of established research methods in the field of psycho-social investigation, so that even in this respect, his point of view may have very far-reaching consequences (see in this connection COOLEY, "The Roots of Social Knowledge," Amer. Jour. Sociol., vol. 32, pp. 59-80, 1926; "Case Study of Small Institutions as a Method of Research," Pub. Amer. Sociol. Soc., vol. 22, pp. 133—143, 1928; "The Life-study Method as Applied to Rural Social Research," ibid., vol. 23, pp. 249-254, 1929; also BURGESS, "Statistics and Case Studies," Sociol. and Soc. Res., vol. 12, pp. 103-121, 1927—1928; THOMAS, "The Behavior Pattern and the Situation," Pub. Amer. Sociol. Soc., vol. 22, pp. 1—13, 1928).
  51. Introduction to Human Nature and the Social Order, 2d ed., p. 15. It is an old fallacy but one constantly recurring, according to Cooley, which proceeds on the theory that we can in some way measure the hereditary factor in the human mind apart from the social or acquired factor, as is assumed, for example, in some cases of intelligence testing. Since the growth of the mind "is altogether a social process," says he, "it is unreasonable to suppose that the outcome can be in any way independent of that process" (note, pp. 15-16).
  52. Ibid., p. 16.
  53. Ibid., pp. 16-17.
  54. Ibid., p. 19.
  55. Ibid., pp. 21-22.
  56. Ibid., pp. 27-28.
  57. Ibid., p. 28.
  58. Ibid., p. 29.
  59. Ibid., p. 31.
  60. Ibid., p. 33.
  61. Ibid., p. 34.

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