Mind Self and Society

Section 42 Summary and Conclusion

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We have approached psychology from the standpoint of behaviorism; that is, we have undertaken to consider the conduct of the organism and to locate what is termed "intelligence," and in particular, "self-conscious intelligence," within this conduct. This position implies organisms which are in relationship to environments, and environments that are in some sense determined by the selection of the sensitivity of the form of the organism. It is the sensitivity of the organism that determines what its environment shall be, and in that sense we can speak of a form as determining its environment. The stimulus as such as found in the environment is that which sets free an impulse, a tendency to act in a certain fashion. We speak of this conduct as intelligent just in so far as it maintains or advances the interests of the form or the species to which it belongs. Intelligence is, then, a function of the relation of the form and its environment. The conduct that we study is always the action of the form in its commerce with the environment. Such intelligence we may find in plants or animals when the form in its reaction to the environment sets free its impulses through the stimuli that come from the environment.


Earlier psychologists-and many psychologists of the present time, for that matter-assume that at a certain point in the development of the organism consciousness as such arises. It is supposed to appear first of all in affective states, those of pleasure and pain; and it is assumed that through pleasure and pain the form controls its conduct. It is assumed that later consciousness finds its expression in the sensation of the antecedent stimulus process in the environment itself. But these sensations, from the point of view of our study, involve the statement of the environment itself; that is, we cannot state the environment in any other way than in terms of our sensations, if we accept such a definition of sensation as a consciousness that simply arises. If we try to define the environment within which sensation does arise, it is in terms of that which we see and feel and that which our observation assumes to be present. The suggestion I have made is that consciousness, as such, does not represent a separate substance or a separate something that is superinduced upon a form, but rather that the term "consciousness" (in one of its basic usages) represents a certain sort of an environment in its relation to sensitive organisms.

Such a statement brings together two philosophic concepts, one of emergence and one of relativity. We may assume that certain types of characters arise at certain stages in the course of development. This may extend, of course, far below the range to which we are referring. Water, for example, arises out of a combination of hydrogen and oxygen; it is something over and above the atoms that make it up. When we speak, then, of such characters as sensations arising, emerging, we are really asking no more than when we ask the character of any organic compound. Anything that as a whole is more than the mere form of its parts has a nature that belongs to it that is not to be found in the elements out of which it is made.

Consciousness, in the widest sense, is not simply an emergent at a certain point, but a set of characters that is dependent upon the relationship of a thing to an organism. Color, for instance, may be conceived of as arising in relationship to an organism

(330) that has an organ of vision. In that case, there is a certain environment that belongs to a certain form and arises in relationship to that form. If we accept those two concepts of emergence and relativity, all I want to point out is that they do answer to what we term "consciousness," namely, a certain environment that exists in its relationship to the organism, and in which new characters can arise in virtue of the organism. I have not undertaken here[1] to defend this as a philosophic view, but simply to point out that it does answer to certain conscious characteristics which have been given to forms at certain points in evolution. On this view the characters do not belong to organisms as such but only in the relationship of the organism to its environment. They are characteristics of objects in the environment of the form. The objects are colored, odorous, pleasant or painful, hideous or beautiful, in their relationship to the organism. I have suggested that in the development of forms with environments that answer to them and that are regulated by the forms themselves there appear or emerge characters that are dependent on this relation between the form and its environment. In one sense of the term, such characters constitute the field of consciousness.

This is a conception which at times we use without any hesitancy. When an animal form appears, certain objects become food; and we recognize that those objects have become food because the animal has a certain sort of digestive apparatus. There are certain micro-organisms that are dangerous to human beings, but they would not be dangerous unless there were individuals susceptible to the attack of these germs. We do constantly refer to certain objects in the environment as existing there because of the relationship between the form and the environment. There are certain objects that arc beautiful but that would not be beautiful if there were not individuals that have an appreciation of them. It is in that organic relation that beauty arises. In general, then, we do recognize that there are

(331) objective fields in the world dependent upon the relation of the environment to certain forms. I am suggesting the extension of that recognition to the field of consciousness. All that I aim to point out here is that with such a conception we have hold of what we term "consciousness," as such; we do not have to endow the form with consciousness as a certain spiritual substance if we utilize these conceptions, and, as I said, we do utilize them when we speak of such a thing as food emerging in the environment because of the relationship of an object with the form. We might just as well speak of color, sound, and so on, in the same way.

The psychical in that case answers to the peculiar character which the environment has for a particular organism. It comes back to the distinction which we made between the self in its universal character and in its individual character. The self is universal, it identifies itself with a universal "me." We put ourselves in the attitude of all,, and that which we all see is that which is expressed in universal terms; but each has a different sensitivity, and one color is different to me from what it is to you. These are differences which are due to the peculiar character of the organism as over against that which answers to universality.

I want to keep in the field of psychological analysis; but it does seem to me that it is important to recognize the possibility of such a treatment of consciousness, because it takes us into a field where the psychologists have been working. It is important to determine whether experienced characters are states of consciousness or whether they belong to the surrounding world. If they are states of consciousness, a different orientation results than if so-called "conscious states" are recognized as the characters of the world in its relation to the individual. All I am asking is that we should make use of that conception as we do use it in other connections. It opens the door to a treatment of the conscious self in terms of a behaviorism which has been regarded as inadequate at that point. It avoids, for example, the criticism made by the configuration psycholo-

(332) -gists, that psychologists have to come back to certain conscious states which people have.

The "I" is of importance, and I have treated it in so far as it has relation to the definite field of psychology, without undertaking to consider or defend what metaphysical assumptions may be involved. That limitation is justified, for the psychologist does not undertake to maintain a metaphysics as such. When he deals with the world about him, he just accepts it as it is. Of course, this attitude is shot through and through with metaphysical problems, but the approach is scientifically legitimate.

Further, what we term "mental images" (the last resort of consciousness as a substance) can exist in their relation to the organism without being lodged in a substantial consciousness. The mental image is a memory image. Such images which, as symbols, play so large a part in thinking, belong to the environment.[2] The passage we read is made up from memory images, and the people we see about us we see very largely by the help of memory images. Very frequently we find that the thing We see and that we suppose answers to the character of an object is not really there; it was an image. The image is there in its relation to the individual who not only has sense organs but who also has certain past experiences. It is the organism that has had such experiences that has such imagery. In saying this we are taking an attitude which we are constantly using when we sa), we have read a certain thing; the memory image is there ill its relationship to a certain organism with certain past experiences, with certain values also definitely there in relation to that particular environment as remembered.

Consciousness as such refers to both the organism and its environment and cannot be located simply in either. If we free the field in this sense, then we can proceed with a behavioristic treatment without having the difficulties in which Watson found himself in dealing with mental images. He denied there was

(333) any such thing, and then had to admit it, and then tried to minimize it. Of course, the same difficulty lies in dealing with experience regarded as states of consciousness. If we recognize that these characters of things do exist in relation to the organism, then we are free to approach the organism from the standpoint of behaviorism.

I do not regard consciousness as having selective power, in one current sense of "selection." What we term "consciousness" is just that relation of organism and environment in which selection takes place. Consciousness arises from the interrelation of the form and the environment, and it involves both of them. Hunger does not create food, nor is an object a food object without relation to hunger. When there is that relation between form and environment, then objects can appear which would not have been there otherwise; but the animal does not create the food in the sense that he makes an object out of nothing. Rather, when the form is put into such relation with the environment, then there emerges such a thing as food. Wheat becomes food; just as water arises in the relation of hydrogen and oxygen. It is not simply cutting something out and holding it by itself (as the term "selection" seems to suggest), but in this process there appears or emerges something that was not there before. There is not, I say, anything about this view that impresses us as involving any sort of magic when we take it in the form of the evolution of certain other characters, and I want to insist that this conception does cover just that field which is referred to as consciousness.

Of course, when one goes back to such a conception of consciousness as early psychologists used, and everything experienced is lodged in consciousness, then one has to create another world outside and say that there is something out there answering to these experiences. I want to insist that it is possible to take the behavioristic view of the world without being troubled or tripped up by the conception of consciousness; there are certainly no more serious difficulties involved in such a view as

(334) has been proposed than there are in a conception of consciousness as a something that arises at a certain point in the history of physical forms and runs parallel in some way with specific nervous states. Try to state that conception in a form applicable to the work of the psychologist and you find yourself in all sorts of difficulties that are far greater than those in the conceptions of emergence and relativity. If you are willing to approach the world from the standpoint of these conceptions, then you can approach psychology from the behaviorist's point of view.

The other conception that I have brought out concerns the particular sort of intelligence that we ascribe to the human animal, so-called "rational intelligence," or consciousness in another sense of the term. If consciousness is a substance, it can be said that this consciousness is rational per se; and just by definition the problem of the appearance of what we call rationality is avoided. What I have attempted to do is to bring rationality back to a certain type of conduct, the type of conduct in which the individual puts himself in the attitude of the whole group to which he belongs. This implies that the whole group is involved in some organized activity and that in this organized activity the action of one calls for the action of all the others. What we term "reason" arises when one of the organisms takes into its own response the attitude of the other organisms involved. It is possible for the organism so to assume the attitudes of the group that are involved in its own act within this whole cooperative process. When it does so, it is what we term "a rational being." If its conduct has such universality, it has also necessity, that is, the sort of necessity involved in the whole act-if one acts in one way the others must act in another way. Now, if the individual can take the attitude of the others and control his action by these attitudes, and control their action through his own, then we have what we can term "rationality." Rationality is as large as the group which is involved; and that group could be, of course, functionally, potentially, as

(335) large as you like. It may include all beings speaking the same language.

Language as such is simply a process by means of which the individual who is engaged in cooperative activity can get the attitude of others involved in the same activity. Through gestures, that is, through the part of his act which calls out the response of others, he can arouse in himself the attitude of the others. Language as a set of significant symbols is simply the set of gestures which the organism employs in calling out the response of others. Those gestures primarily are nothing but parts of the act which do naturally stimulate others engaged in the cooperative process to carry out their parts. Rationality then can be stated in terms of such behavior if we recognize that the gesture can affect the individual as it affects others so as to call out the response which belongs to the other. Mind or reason presupposes social organization and cooperative activity in this social organization. Thinking is simply the reasoning of the individual, the carrying-on of a conversation between what I have termed the "I" and the "me."

In taking the attitude of the group, one has stimulated himself to respond in a certain fashion. His response, the "I," is the way in which he acts. If he acts in that way he is, so to speak, putting something up to the group, and changing the group. His gesture calls out then a gesture which will be slightly different. The self thus arises in the development of the behavior of the social form that is capable of taking the attitude of others involved in the same cooperative activity. The precondition of such behavior is the development of the nervous system which enables the individual to take the attitude of the others. He could not, of course, take the indefinite number of attitudes of others, even if all the nerve paths were present, if there were not an organized social activity going on such that the action of one may reproduce the action of an indefinite number of others doing the same thing. Given, however, such an organized activity, one can take the attitude of anyone in the group.


Such are the two conceptions of consciousness that I wanted to bring out, since they seem to me to make possible a development of behaviorism beyond the limits to which it has been carried, and to make it a very suitable approach to the objects of social psychology. With those key concepts one does not have to come back to certain conscious fields lodged inside the individual; one is dealing throughout with the relation of the conduct of the individual to the environment.


  1. [See The Philosophy of the Present and The Philosophy of the Act for such a defense.)
  2. [Supplementary Essay I deals further with the topic of imagery.]

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