The Social Character of Instinct

The primitive instincts of the human animal are practically all social.  It is at best a difficult task to isolate and define human instincts, but whatever group one gathers together is bound to refer to conduct that is determined by the movements of other individuals whose conduct is like our own. In fact the earlier history of the race and the history of childhood shows us that primitive consciousness even of the physical world is social, and only becomes a physical consciousness with the growing powers of reflexion.

A recent published list of instincts, that of William MacDougall in his Introduction to Social Psychology, enumerates flight, repulsion, curiosity, pugnacity, subjection, self-assertion, the parental instinct, that of reproduction, the gregarious instinct, and the instincts of acquisition, and construction. If the objects of instinctive flight and curiousity were defined their predominantly social character would be evident. Excepting the questionable instincts of acquisition and construction we find the instinctive conduct here presented taking place within a social environment.  This conduct might be more sharply defined as that which is mediated by the movements of other individuals, to which our own movements are instinctively adjusted, though this definition does not necessarily imply the presentation of such individuals as objects.  This is, as has already been suggested, the type of conduct which earliest appears in the infancy of the form or the race. The earliest adjustments of the child are to the movements of the mother, and for primitive people the changes of the whole surrounding world are socially interpreted before they can be scientifically determined. And yet psychologists such as Baldwin have suggested that the child early distinguishes the social object from the physical by its unreliability.

Within the field of social consciousness arise gradually objects -- social objects, the selves, the me and the others.  I wish to discuss for a few moments the process by which these objects arise. That these instinctive social processes are intimately connected with the emotions, that many of the so-called expressions of the emotions are vestiges or early stages of instinctive reactions has been recognized in all psychological treatment of the emotions and the instincts, but so far as I know the

(2) function of these expressions of the emotions may have in the process of mediating social conduct and then in forming the objects within social consciousness has not been adequately studied.

I will assume the point of view given in Dewey's articles on the emotions in the first and second volumes  of the Psychological Review -- or rather the still more admirable and succinct statement of this position in Angell's Psychology. The so-called expressions of the emotions are physiologically traced either to the valuable instinctive activities themselves or to evidences of preparation on the part of the system, through blood flow, the rhythm of breathing and like organic changes, for such instinctive processes.   This theory assumes that such a physiological explanation could be offered for all the expressions of the emotions and that Darwin's own position could be rendered more consistently Darwinian than the form in which he left it.  It assumes further that emotional situations which are responsible for the so-called expressions of the emotions imply some break -- some barrier to action -- and that this break or inhibition of immediate overt action is due to the conflict of impulses mediated by the same situation.   At this point the interpretation of the James-Lange theory of the emotions demands that we account for the emotional consciousness by the stimulation of those expressions of the emotions, the preparation for the act and the earlier stages of the act itself.   These physiological processes themselves produce the emotion -- or rather the emotion is the feel of these physiological processes.  Over against this bald statement Dewey and Angell insist that in the process of recognizing and building up the object as fearful, for example, our consciousness of the physiological processes are essential.  A cold blooded attitude would never lead to the presentation of an object of emotion. Our own physiological condition is, then, evidence to us of how fearful the object is.  Thus at least to the individual who is experiencing the emotion this theory recognizes that the so-called expressions of the emotions are valuable functionally even when they may be vestiges of acts no longer executed.  But this revelation of the emotional nature of the situation to the subject himself is not the only mediating function which these expressions of the emotions may perform.  As already indicated they are all of them early stages in the act or evidences of organic preparations for instinctive acts.  As evidences of an on-going act they are of the highest value as to the very cues to which other individuals in the group respond.

We have already defined social conduct as that in which the acts are adjusted to the movements of others.

(3) Perfection of adjustment implies response to the earliest indications of the overt act. Just as the fencer reads in the eye of his opponent the coming thrust and is ready with the parry before the thrust is made, so we are continually reading from the attitude, the facial expressions, the gestures and the tones of the voice, the coming actions of those with reference to whom we must act. Such beginnings of acts, and organic preparations for action, which have been called expressions of emotion are just the cues which have been selected and preserved as the means of mediating social conduct.   Before conscious communication by symbols arises in gestures, signs, and articulate sounds there exists in these earliest stages of acts and their physiological fringes, the means of co-ordinating social conduct, the means of unconscious communication.  And conscious communication has made use of these very expressions of the emotion to build up its signs. They were already signs. They had been already naturally selected and preserved as signs in unreflective social conduct before they were specialized as symbols.

To recur to the situation out of which the emotion arises, we find it one in which inhibition through conflicting impulses makes readjustment necessary. The situation is a social situation. Its readjustment will be a social readjustment. The first objects that must be presented are social objects. What will be the material out of which these social objects will be constructed? As our physical objects later come to be build up out of sensuous stuff, and fundamentally out of the sensuous experiences of contact, so must we not assume that the stuff out of which selves are constructed is emotional consciousness?

In the first place the emotional consciousness belongs at the beginning of the reflective process. It comes before the possibility of thought or of reflective action. It arises immediately upon the inhibition of the act. It is the earliest stuff out of which objects can be built in the history of presentative consciousness, and this earliest instinctive consciousness is primarily social. The first objects that must be presented are then social objects. The first adjustments and readjustments must be made to social stimulations, and these social stimulation must be first constructed into social objects. Secondly introspection reveals that our thoughts and our volitions are refferred (sic) to selves whose content is affective. Thought and volition develop and interpret the situation that is first of all emotional. It is the emotion that is most particular, most definitely

(4) referred to or rather made a part of the individual self and the other selves. Thought and action demand universality for their own validity. To generalize and universalize the emotion deprives it of the very content which enables it to function.

It is the further through these cues of social conduct, these so-called expressions of the emotions, that the social objects are first differentiated. These were the instinctive means of organizing social conduct. The earliest readjustments had to be in terms of those stimulations.  We find them in our experience in the value which human faces and attitudes and facial expressions have for us, when the individuals are complete strangers, when we would be unable to define intellectually one of the values to which we move among unknown men without perhaps presenting to ourselves the ideas of one of them, and yet successfully recognize and respond to each attitude and gesture which our passing intercourse involves. There is in all of us a fund of unexplored social organization which enables use to act more surely in a social environment than in the physical. This content of consciousness is one of feeling. It is not sensuous. What we see in the faces and attitudes of others is not the face or the body.  It is the indication of certain sorts of conduct, and the evidence of the feeling that conduct involves. We see the coming acts and feel the values which express themselves in those actions.

We feel first of all to be sure the tendency to respond to the social stimulus and the emotional content that accompanies it, when momentarily checked. The presentation of the social stimulus to this response follows first of all in terms of the response itself.   It is the organization of the response or the various responses that determines the construction of the object -- the social stimulus. The social object is then constructed out of this emotional material which accompanies the inhibited social impulses in their earlier phases. It follows from this that the self loses its particular content when intellectualized. The average man, the economic man, the man in the street, are not selves in the meaning of our social consciousness. These selves have the same immediacy as the "me". They are made out of the same stuff.

The distinction between the me and alteri is given in the nature of the instinct. In the instinct of pugnacity the object is a hateful one, i.e., the content

(5) of the emotion arising from the checking of the hostile impulse. The primitively hateful individual is the one who at least for the moment successfully checks the instinct to attack. Just what that content will be depends upon the ground of inhibition. If indications of superior prowess check the attack, the content of the alter is the objectified emotional content of one's impulse to escape from certain indications of dangerous action surcharged with that emotional content which answers to the inhibited pugnacity, i.e., vulnerability, and the me is the consciousness of the inhibited efforts both to escape and attack in terms of the same emotional contents.  The alter in this social consciousness is quite as immediate as the me. There is no projection nor ejection of subjectivity from the self to the other.  It is only a secondary process which leads to the projection of oneself into the other, putting oneself in his place. The object self of the protective instinct is the objectified group of social indications of the action of the child or the helpless member of the family or larger group, placed for the moment at least beyond our fostering care and surcharged with the tender emotion. A detailed analysis is of course in place here that must be postponed.

To sum up. We find a great group of primitive instincts which are social in the sense that the responses arise in answer to indications of various movements in other individuals of the group. That these indications are all the early stages in activities which when checked give rise to emotional experiences, in the individual, and answering responses in other members of the group. Their importance as indications of socially important conduct is vital and has led to their selection and preservation and final development into the language of signs and articulate speech. Furthermore the earliest stages in the reflective process in the child and the race has been among these social instincts, and here the objectification has been mediated by those early stages in the act which inevitably give rise to emotion, so that the content of the object is and must be emotional, and that these indications of the on-going act have both the function of stimulating the social response and indicating the import of the act to the individual and the socii. I would convert the proposition and insist that all objects whose content is emotional are selves -- social objects, for which proposition the psychology of art, the theory of Einfühlung would afford abundant illustration.




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