The Persistence of Primary Group Norms in Present-Day Society and Their Influence in Our Educational System

IN his treatment of the infantile emotions Professor Watson suggested that we have greatly overstated the number of the original emotional reactions, and he is inclined to reduce them to three types — those connected with fear, those connected with rage and those connected with joy or love.

In a study of a particular immigrant group (the Poles) I have found that human behavior seems to represent four fundamental types of interests or wishes — those connected with the desire for new experience, those connected with the desire for mastery, those connected with the desire for recognition, and those connected with the desire for safety or security, — recognizing of course that all forms of behavior can eventually be reduced to the two fundamental appetites, food-hunger and sex-hunger, the one necessary to preserve the

(160) life of the individual and the other necessary to preserve the life of the species.

It would perhaps be fanciful to assume that all interest could be reduced to terms of organic motion — physiological expansion in rage and joy, physiological contraction in fear, — as the physicists reduce all reality to velocity and changes in velocity, — but actually we find the development of emotional states and of intelligence directly connected with the power of movement in space. Broadly speaking, the vegetable and the animal differ in their organic economy in the fact that the vegetable is stationary and has to rely for the satisfaction of its hunger and reproductive needs on what is present in the soil and what comes to it or falls to it (in the way of pollen or rain), while the animal, through the power of motion, seeks its food and its mate by the exploration of a wide region. It was Professor Mead, I believe, who defined the animal as a mechanism for utilizing a non-nutrient environment as means of reaching a nutrient environment.

If now the experimenter takes an animal as subject, say the rat, brings him to the proper point of hunger and places him before a box containing food, the actions of the

( 161) animal become frantic ; he pushes, climbs over, burrows under, bites the box until his random movements strike the combination and he solves the problem — perhaps by pulling a string and standing at the same moment on a platform inserted in the floor. Similarly, if the rat is placed before a maze containing food and representing one chance in twenty of going right, he will begin the same frantic and random pursuit, finally locating the food through the elimination of errors. Or if you follow him into the open the dominant activity will be pursuit, varied by flight.

And in this connection I think we must conclude that just as the whole physical mechanism of the animal is adapted largely to motion, to pursuit, so the dominant interest is a pursuit interest, and the mental pattern or schema is essentially a hunting of pursuit pattern. And we must note that the reproductive activities fall into this scheme also, for pairing among animals and human marriage are a process of pursuit and capture.

Turning now abruptly from the rat to the creative man, any one who studies the history of a practical invention or a scientific discovery will be impressed with the resemblance

( 162) between the activities of the human being before his problem and those of the rat before his box or maze. For some years, in fact, I have been in the habit of pointing out that scientific pursuit is precisely of the bunting pattern. The intensity interest on the part. of the discoverer or experimenter, his random and frenzied movements, his following of every scent, his abandonment of false trails, his elation when he has got his result, remind us of the animal in quest of his prey and after he has made his kill. The whole scientific life of such men as Pasteur, Goodyear, Helmholtz, Mayer, is a pursuit of ideas, either a series of quests or one long quest, ending perhaps with success and exhaustion. Permit me to cite a single illuminating example from the life of Pasteur.

Pasteur's first scientific success was in the study of crystallization, and in this connection he became particularly interested in racemic acid. But this substance, produced first by Kestner in 1820 as an accident in the manufacture of tartaric acid, had in 1852 ceased to appear, in spite of all efforts to obtain it. Pasteur and his friend Mitscherlich suspected that the failure to get it was due to the fact that the present manufacturers of

( 163) tartaric acid were using a different tartar. The problem became then to inspect all the factories producing tartaric acid and finally to visit the sources from which the tartars came. This was the quest, and the impatience which Pasteur showed to begin it reminds us of a hound tugging at the leash. He asked Biot and Dumas to obtain for him a commission from the Ministry, or from the Academic, but exasperated by the delay he was on the point of writing directly to the President of the Republic. "It is," he said, 46a question that France should make it a point of honor to solve through one of her children." Biot counselled patience and pointed out that it was not necessary to "set the government in motion for this." But Pasteur would not wait. "I shall go to the end of the world," he said. "I must discover the source of racemic acid," and started independently. I will excuse you from following the quest in detail, but in a sort of diary prepared for Mme. Pasteur he showed the greatest eagerness to have her share the joy of it. He went to Germany, to Vienna, to Prague, studied Hungarian tartars. "Finally," he said, "I shall go to Trieste, where I shall find tartars of various countries, notably

( 164) those of the Levant, and those of the neighborhood of Trieste itself. . . . If I had money enough I would go to Italy. . . . I shall give ten years to it if necessary." And after eight months he sent the following telegram : "I transform tartaric acid into racemic acid. Please inform M. Dumas and Senarmont." [1] He had made his kill.

Without citing further cases, I think it is apparent that the hunting activity, whether of animal or man, and the scientific activity of the creative man are singularly alike. And the point of interest for us is that no activity is interesting unless it follows the pursuit pattern. With reference to pleasurable and displeasurable work, obviously the more nearly the hunting scheme is followed the more vivid the interest. Those forms of work are irksome in which the interest of pursuit is dropped out, either because the constant repetition of the process leaves nothing of the problematical or because, through the division of labor, the problem is destroyed by breaking it into fragments. Society has become so complicated and artificial that it is hard for the individual to preserve a type of occupational activity of the naturalness, spon-

( 165) -taneity and interest corresponding to the hunting schema. This is most perfectly preserved in the various games, which are all typical and integral pursuits, and in the favored occupations — scientific research, business enterprise, legal and medical callings — while hard labor represents the residuum after the interesting problems have been abstracted.

Now the pursuit, by both the rat and Pasteur, embodies, in my terminology, the desire for new experience and the desire for mastery. The incipient stage of the pursuit, or the general preparatory condition, is called curiosity. The animal must be interested in what is going on about him. If a noise, a movement, an approaching object were ignored, this might involve serious consequence of two kinds he might miss the chance of pursuit and food, or he might, by failure to be alert, be made the object of pursuit, might be eaten. Consequently the animal is always alert, always getting information with reference to possible action. This expresses itself in the endless exploration of the situation by the child—the general exploration with the hands and eyes, putting things into the mouth, tasting and biting, attentive behavior to novel ob-

(166) -jects, cautious approach and retreat, etc. — and in adults in watching one another and gossiping, in the aimless wanderings of the vagabond, and in the useful "curiosity" of the scientific man. It is a fortunate fact that this curiosity becomes a desire for new experience in the abstract, enabling the mind to take an acute interest in any problem —whatever—in scientific pursuits.

What I have called the desire for mastery or the will to power, is one of the by-phenomena of anger or rage. The gloating over the object of successful pursuit, as shown in the playing of the cat with the mouse, and in the tendency of the child to tease, to bully, torment, pounce upon, tear to pieces ; in the swagger, the strut, the glare of triumph or defiance ; in gestures, yells and actual attacks ; [2] later in the desire for ownership, the tendency to control every act of others, dictatorial, censorious and unbearable behavior — exerted by man more actively and woman more passively, by the latter to the degree of having her own way even by simulation of weakness or sickness — and finally in lust for power, tyranny, political despotism, and in "ambition," called by Milton

(167) "the last infirmity of noble mind" — the one that survives as long as he does.

If the animal or the man, the rat or Pasteur, were not a member of a society, the activities I have been indicating would have no moral quality, would be neither moral nor immoral. For the sake of limiting our problem we will drop the rat at this point, but in fact both animals and men do live in societies, in combinations whose meaning is a common struggle against death, against external enemies and internal disharmonies. The great common desire of a human society is therefore to remain solidary, and it accomplishes this by the formation of a code of behavior. In a society, the same act is good or bad, organizing or disorganizing, according to its meaning for the welfare of the whole group. Thus, the desire for mastery may express itself in furious and sadistic rage and murder and pillage, and is immoral, disorganizing and criminal when directed against the members of one's own society, but becomes courage, patriotism, heroism and virtue when turned against outsiders, in the protection of women and children, of the state.

The code therefore represents the judgment of society on the activities of its mem-

( 168) -bers, it dictates the limits within which the desires may find expression, and it is developed by a method which we may call "the definition of the situation." This defining of the situation is begun by the parents in the form of ordering and forbidding and information, is continued in the community by means of gossip, with its praise and blame, and is formally represented by the school, the law, the church. Of course morality and immorality, organization and disorganization, are relative terms ; what would be considered disorganization in one society would not be considered so in another — it is perfectly good organization to kill your parents in Africa because they wish to reach the next world while still young enough to enjoy it — and so the code will differ widely in different communal, national and racial groups, but will usually define truthfulness, honesty, obedience, cleanliness, unselfishness, kindliness, industry, economy, politeness, courage, chastity, the ten commandments, the golden rule, "women and children first," respect to the aged, etc., in terms of positive appreciation.

Moreover, when the code has been defined, no matter what its content, its violation provokes an emotional protest from society

( 169) designed to be painfully felt by the offender, and it is so felt, owing to the dependence of the member on society for safety and recognition. The epithets, "coward," "traitor," "thief," "bastard," "heretic," "scab," etc., are brief definitions designed to be felt as painful. And the effect of these definitions is deeper than we suspect. Many of our profound disgusts, for example, those connected with cannibalism and incest, are so developed — that is, they are highly emotionalized institutional products. And all codified acts, even those of no intrinsic importance, become eventually saturated with emotion. It is a matter of no intrinsic importance whether you carry food to the mouth with the knife or the fork, but the situation has been defined in favor of the fork, with grave emotional and social consequences — disgust and social ostracism. In short, any definition, however arbitrary, that is embodied in the habits of the people is regarded as right. It was, for instance, a custom to burn women in India on the death of their husbands, and to strangle them in the Fiji islands, and any widow would demand this privilege although she did not wish it. The contrary behavior would mean social death.


According to Mr. Pearce, there were in Bengal alone about 1200 suttees annually, and when (in 1832) Lord William Bentinck passed an act forbidding them, a petition was sent to the Privy Council signed by 18,000 people, many of them representing the best. families in Calcutta, asking that this practice might be allowed to continue. In Vaitupu, of the Ellice Archipelago, "infanticide was ordered by law," and only two children were allowed to a family. In the Solomon Islands it was the practice to kill all (or nearly all) the children and buy others from neighboring islands, the idea being the same as in the case of the farmer among ourselves who sells his young calves to the butcher and buys yearlings. The Skposy sect of Russia sexually mutilates all its members, and since they have no children they also recruit from the neighbors, by missionary efforts. Another sect, the "Child-killers," devotes itself to strangling new-born before they are contaminated by this world. From Tarnopol there was reported in 1882 a sort of communal death. Twenty-two persons, men, women and children, were immured and suffocated by their own arrangement in order to escape the census, which they conceived as a device

( 171) of Antichrist to get their names on his list and damn their souls. In Japan, under Iyeyasu, a death penalty was attached to "other-than-expected behavior." Not smiling when reproved by a superior, and smiling too broadly when addressing a superior were forms of other-than-expected behavior. The smile had to be carefully regulated ; to expose the molars was fatal.

And we are not to regard these examples as merely curious or disgusting — slavery, duelling, burning of witches are examples of practices coming within the definition of moral acts in our own past — but as evidence of the power which the communal definitions have to control behavior. Our immigration problem and our criminal problem are not mainly questions of inherent mental and moral worth, but questions of the attitudes and norms of behavior established by definitions of the situation.

We are in the habit of calling "primary groups" those societies which through kinship, isolation, voluntary adhesion to certain systems of definitions, secure an emotional unanimity among their members. By virtue of their unanimity the mob and the jury are also momentary primary groups.

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Clear examples of the primary group are the South Slavonian zadruga and the Russian mir. When there arises in these communities the necessity of defining a new situation, it is not even sufficient to reach a unanimous decision ; each member must voice his opinion and agreement, make it explicit. Cases are recorded where in a conflict between the traditional communal definition (say of poverty) and that of the great state, a member has appeared before the communal assembly, sustained by the confidence in a new and authoritative definition, only to wither and collapse before the white scorn of a solidary group. If a member is stubborn his family members and close friends weep, embrace, implore — beg him not to disgrace them and his community by showing the neighbors that they cannot agree. It has been remarked by students of the mir that boys six or eight years of age speak and act like grown men. They repeat the standard definitions of "our community," "our people."

The savage tribe is another example of the primary group. It was once imagined and is still popularly believed that the savage is the freest person in the world, but ethnologists know that savage life is regulated by an

( 173) almost incredibly minute and rigoristic code. The native Australian boy is permitted to speak to certain persons (mother-in-law, older sister, younger sister, etc.) only at certain specified distances — a hundred yards, thirty yards, ten yards. During a period lasting from ten to twenty or even thirty years, he is taken by the old men through a series of intermittent ceremonies, some single periods lasting as long as four months, with dramatic ceremonies — as many as five or six in a single day and night — and oral drill, defining all possible situations of tribal life, and with a result which I can only indicate by saying that, as to marriage, he is related to a girl (among the Arunta) by a ceremony called tualcha mura for which we have no parallel, but which means not that he marries the girl but that he eventually marries the daughter of the girl when the latter has married another man and has a marriageable daughter, and that, as to food, he will not only not eat certain foods but believes that, if he does this he will die, and in some cases actually does die.

The Polish peasant uses a word, okolica, "the neighborhood round about," "as far as the report of a man reaches," and this may

( 174) be taken as the natural external limit of the size of the primary group — as far as the report of a member reaches, — so long as men have only primary means of communication. But with militancy, conquest and the formation of the great state we have a systematic attempt to preserve in the whole population the solidarity of feeling characterizing the primary group. The great state cannot preserve this solidarity in all respects — there is the formation of series of primary groups within the state — but it develops authoritative definitions of "patriotism," "treason," etc., and the appropriate emotional attitudes in this respect, so that in time of crisis, of war, where there is a fight of the whole nation against death, we witness, as at this moment. the temporary reconstitution of the attitudes of the primary group.

Similarly, in the great religious systems such as Christianity and Mohammedanism, we have a systematic attempt to make the whole world a primary group, to win men away from the merely communal, human and worldly definitions (or to reaffirm these) by a system of definitions having a higher value through their divine derivation. God is the best definer of situations because he possesses more

( 175) knowledge and more prestige than any man or any set of men and his definitions tend to have finality, absoluteness and arbitrariness and to convey the maximum of prepossession.

How rigid and particularistic these definitions became at one time in the western world it would be superfluous to point out, especially if you are acquainted with the Westminster Catechism, but perhaps you (lid not know that Dr. Lightfoot, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, announced at one time that "man was created by the Trinity on the 23rd of October, 4004 B.C., at 9 o'clock in the morning," stating that the height of Adam was 123 feet 9 inches, that of Eve 118 feet and 9 inches.

In the Mohammedan world, as in the Puritan world, there was an effort to define every present situation in terms of the past. "There are," says Lane, " some Muslims who will not do anything that the Prophet is not recorded to have done, and who particularly abstain from eating anything that he did not eat, though its lawfulness is undoubted. The Imam Ahmad Ibn-Hambal would not even eat watermelons, because, although he knew that the prophet ate them, he could not learn whether he ate them with or without the

( 176) rind, or whether he broke, bit, or cut them. And he forbade a woman, who questioned him as to the propriety of the act, to spin by the light of the torches passing in the street by night, which were riot her own property, because the Prophet had not mentioned whether it was lawful to do so, and was not known ever to have availed himself of a light belonging to another person without that person's leave."

But I do not wish to leave the impression that definitions are dependent for their validity on their authoritative source. All usual and habitual practices are emotionalized, become behavior norms, and tend to resist change. The iron plow-share, invented late in the 18th century, was strongly condemned on the ground that it was an insult to God, therefore poisoned the ground and caused the weeds to grow ; and until recently the old farmer laughed at the soil-analysis of the city chemist. The man who first built a water-driven saw-mill in England was mobbed ; the English war department informed the inventor of the first practical telegraphic device that it had no use for that contrivance ; in the last generation there was a persistent opposition to the introduction of stoves and organs

(177) into churches, and if we omit recent years, and in recent years only the scientific and practical fields, it would be difficult to find a single innovation that has not encountered opposition and ridicule.

The whole problem of culture hinges on the relation of the individual to society. Each is an indispensable value to the other. The whole fund of instrumental values through which the individual realizes his desires and achieves his creative activities is provided by society, while the type of social organization, the variety of the cultural content, the rapidity of social change, the creation of particular values, depend on the individual. But the nature of the individual, demanding a maximum of new experience, is in fundamental conflict with the nature of society, demanding a maximum of stability, and it would be interesting to analyze the various particular effects of the repressive action of society on the individual — the psychic wounds which confront the psychiatrist, the complete and masochistic resignation expressed in the hymn-books ("Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom "), the sullen repression of rage during a, whole lifetime, represented by Jean Meslier, curate of Epigny, who left at

(178) his death in 1733 a testament in which he declared that he had never believed a word of his teachings and that his ardent wish was that the "last king might be hung with the entrails of the last priest," the meticulous manipulation of scientific data, represented by the Egyptologist Wilkinson who falsified the dates from the monuments to fit the accepted date of the flood, the alternating violation of the definition and confession of error, represented by Galileo and the army of recanters, the straining of the definition to include the desire for new experience, represented by those geologists who at one time reconciled geological time with the Biblical account of creation by assuming six days, indeed, but extremely long ones, or by the plea which I read some years ago (1910) in the Vienna Neue Freie Presse for the legal toleration of incineration of the dead, based not upon sanitary grounds or those of individual liberty, but upon the claim that "burial" as used by the church authorities did not mean "depositing the body in the ground," but any disposition of it, etc.

But as general result of this conflict we have the development of three types of individual, dependent on the different temperamental dis-

( 179) positions and on the degree and steadiness of the pressure exercised by the given social organization. These we may call the philistine, the bohemian and the creative man. The philistine is the individual who adapts his activities completely to the prevailing definitions and norms ; he chooses security at the cost of new experience and individuality. The bohemian is unable to fit into any frame, social or personal, because his life is spent in trying to escape definitions and avoid suppressions instead of building up a positive organization of ends and attitudes ; he has avoided philistinism at the cost of character and success, because he had a strong personal tendency to revolt against social pressures or because the pressures were not strong or consistent enough. The philistine and the bohemian arc produced by the social effort to impose upon the individual a life-organization and to mold his character without regard to his personal tendencies and the line of his spontaneous development, and both are relative failures.

In contrast with these two types, the philistine tending to accept all the definitions and the bohemian tending to reject all of them, the creative man reconciles his desire for new

( 180) experience with the desire of society for stability by redefining situations and creating new norms of a superior social value. He disorganizes the old system momentarily, but provides the elements for a more efficient organization. The creative man and the criminal are equally violators of the norms, disorderly individuals from the standpoint of the primary group, but in the creative man this disorderliness is expressed in the setting and solution of problems, in the creation of new values, while in the criminal it is merely negative — destructive of the existing system. All of these types except the philistine represent individualization in the fact that they reject existing norms, but the individualism of the creative man is an intermediary stage between one system of values and another ; his function is to produce changes in the social order corresponding to favorable variations in biology.

Professor Watson emphasized the meaning of higher levels of efficiency, and higher levels of social efficiency are reached through the individualization of function represented best by the scientific specialization of our time. Individualization is a relative term—the individual always remains incorporated in some

( 181) world of ideas — but practically the creative man secures sufficient individualization to do his work, retains enough recognition to keep him sane, by escaping from the censure of one group into the appreciation of another group. And this escape seems to go on at a rate corresponding with the increased facility of communication. The world has become greatly diversified, containing not only races and nationalities with differing norms and cultural systems, but various worlds of ideas represented by various scientific, religious, artistic circles ; and by the fact of reading alone the individual can associate himself with those persons or circles pre-adapted to his ideas, and form with them a solidary group.

It does not follow, therefore, that the creative man is a temperamental rebel. He may even be a philistine at heart. Charles Darwin was not a rebellious person ; he was simply engrossed in a pursuit, and was very timorous about it. In common with his naturalist friends he had long realized that something terrible was about to happen to the Old Testament, but when he finally had the proofs that species were not, immutable he wrote to his friends that it was "like confess-

( 182) -ing murder," and in spite of the appreciation of the scientific world he felt deeply to the end of his life the censure of the religiousprimary group which accused him of a determination to "hunt God out of the world."

Dr. Meyer pointed out in his lecture that we must learn to appreciate the varying standards of normality. We recognized already that there are varying standards of abnormality, and I assume that if individualization were so complete as to remove its subject from participation in any world of common ideas whatever, this would be a form of insanity. The case of Julius Robert Mayer, discoverer of the law of the conservation of energy, is almost a case of this kind, for he did not succeed in associating himself sympathetically with the set of men preadapted to his idea — Joule indeed tried to plunder him and Helmholtz ridiculed him as a "lucky guesser" — and at the same time he remained in his narrowly provincial Heilbronn, where he was treated as the town fool, accused of the delusion of grandeur, forcibly handled in two insane asylums. Even toward the end of his life, after he had received generous recognition from Tyndall and also from Helmholtz, he regarded himself as insane in his

(183) home town. When During wished to visit him he refused to receive him in Heilbronn, but arranged to meet him in the neighboring Wildbad, saying that a visit to his home would excite unfavorable comment. "Since everyone here," he wrote, "regards me as a fool, everyone considers himself justified in exercising a spiritual guardianship over me."

But we are not to regard creative activity and changes in the norms as associated solely with creative individuals or even with design. The work of the Chicago Vice Commission illustrates the contrary fact. This was not a radical body, its "representative" character precluded this. Indeed it explicitly stated its policy of including its activities within the existing norms. We read in the introduction to its report : "[The Commission] has kept constantly in mind that to offer a contribution of any value such an offering must be, first, moral ; second, reasonable and practical; third, possible under the constitutional powers of our courts; fourth, that which will square with the public conscience of the American people."

Nevertheless the work of this commission unwittingly resulted in the modification of two norms, namely, "circulation of infor-

( 184) -mation about sexual matters illegal," and "research into sexual matters taboo." The post office declared the report obscene literature, and the members of the commission were technically liable to penitentiary sentence. The Postmaster General revoked this decision, thus modifying one norm, and the participation of a large body of respectable citizens in a research into sexual questions tended to bring such research under a new norm. But I have speculated on the fate of the individual who might have perpetrated this report single-handed.

But why, we may ask, if a society is orderly and doing very well, is it desirable to disturb the existing norms at all. "Little man, why so hot ! " And this question reduces itself ultimately to a basis of idealism. It becomes a question of happiness, of the degree of fulfillment of wishes within the society, and on the other hand of levels of efficiency as between societies in the ultimate struggle against death — as in the present war. The Arunta society is surpassed in orderliness only by the ants and other animal societies, where every act is predefined once and forever in terms of organic structure and external situation. The Chinese society represents a high degree

(185) of stability on a relatively high level of culture. "Amuse them, tire them not, let them not know," is one of the oldest Chinese political maxims.

Now, the superior level of culture reached by the western world is due to a tendency to disturb norms,—introduced first into the material world by the physicists and gradually extending itself in connection with the theory of evolution to the biological world, and just now beginning to touch the human world. And this tendency to disturb norms becomes an end in itself in the form of scientific pursuits whose aim is the redefinition of all possible situations and the establishment eventually of the most general and universal norms, namely scientific laws. And the success of this method from the standpoint of efficiency is shown in the wonderful advance in material technique resulting from research for law in the fields of physics and chemistry, exemplified, for example, in mechanical inventions and modern medicine.

But up to the present we are working in the social world with norms developed either by the method of "ordering-and-forbidding," or by that of empirical, communal "commonsense," and our level of efficiency in this

( 186) field remains relatively low. The main purpose of what I have said up to this point was to show that "human behavior norms" are not only very arbitrary, but, precisely because behavior norms, so highly emotionalized that they claim to be absolutely right and final and subject to no change and no investigation. Moreover, every norm claims to be the norm, the normal, and any departure from it is abnormal. And eventually every practical custom or habit, every moral, political, religious view claims to be the norm — not to recognize, in Dr. Meyer's phrase, the varying standards of normality — and to treat as abnormal whatever does not agree with it. In practice, as I have shown by examples, a social technique based upon a rigid system of norms tends to suppress all the social energies which seem to act in a way contrary to the norm, and to ignore all the social energies not included in the norm. Furthermore, the norms do change, in spite of the emotional prepossessions ; traditions and customs, morality, religion, and education undergo an increasingly rapid evolution, and it is evident that a system proceeding on the assumption that a certain norm is valid finds itself absolutely helpless when it

(187) suddenly realizes that the norm has lost all social significance and some other norm has appeared in its place.

The classical example of the decay of old norms in an evolving society and their persistence in doctrine and practice after they are dead is that of "classical studies as learning norm." Granting that these studies placed us at one time in the possession of cultural values superior to those contributed by the stream of Semitic influence, granting, if you please, with Sir Henry Maine that "nothing moves in the modern world that is not Greek in its origin," recognizing also that in a hierarchized society they retained for a time an adventitious meaning in the prestige they gave to their devotees — and prestige has a real value as a tool for the control of the minds of men — these studies did eventually lose their value as universal. "learning norms" in an industrial world, but they persist in our curricula, and their retention is justified by a mental process which we may call the rationalization of an emotion. Their advocates wish their survival, and they rationalize the wish in the claim that these studies have an indispensable disciplinary value — a mental process resembling the law of magical causa—

( 188) —tion whereby the appearance of the desirable and the disappearance of the undesirable effect is decreed, or virtue is transferred from an object of superior value to one of inferior value by contagion.

Similarly in the religious world, while the church has practically if not doctrinally abandoned the norm, "history of the world, unfolding of the will of God," and is doing all kinds of work under the Kantian norm, "history of the world, fulfilling of the will of man," yet a minister was able to say, and recently, that a well—known settlement worker "had done more harm than all the ministers of Chicago could make good" because she was not working under his norms.

As an example from another field I can only refer, without prophecy, to the retreat of "freedom as political norm," and of the whole individualistic system of norms developed in this country during the past two centuries, in the face of the present world crisis.

All that I have said up to this point impresses me, and I hope it will impress you, with the urgency of a more exact and systematic study of human behavior on a scale and with a method comparable with those already provided for the physical and bio-

( 189) -logical sciences. We have a failure of the "common-sense" method, not only in education and the relation of races and nationalities, but in connection with crime, prostitution, slums, insanity, abnormality, labor problems and all kinds of unhappiness. It is only by following the example of the physical sciences and accumulating the largest possible amount of secure and varied information and establishing general and particular laws which we can draw on to meet any crisis as it arises that we shall be able to secure a control in the social world comparable to that obtained in the natural world, and to determine eventually the kind of world we want to live in. I take it that the only reason we have not followed the path of the natural sciences long ago is the partially unrealized fear of disturbing our behavior norms. For evidently there were laws and consequently practices in the physical world that would never have been discovered by the "commonsense" method, and obviously the same is true of the social world.

What the detailed procedure in such a science would be I am unable even to indicate. You have had examples of it in the preceding papers of this series, and I have referred to

( 190) one of the main problems in the earlier part of this paper —the laws of the conversion of one attitude or prepossession into another. But the exact procedure could not be predicted in this field any more than it could have been predicted in the fields of physics and chemistry. The solution of problems gives rise to new problems.

And in another respect a social science must be upon the basis of the physical sciences — it must go on endlessly and without reference to immediate practical applicability. The men who were instrumental in the constitution of the physical sciences pursued their problems as ends in themselves, without any reference to practical applicability. Their work was, to begin with, illegitimate anyway, hedonistic and disorderly, and the society which opposed it had no expectation of practical applicability, but anticipated only harmful disturbance of norms. But it happened that these men adopted the course which in the end yielded the largest number of results of practical applicability precisely because they had unlimited liberty in the setting and solution of problems, and thereby established the greatest variety of laws.

The sciences do reach a point where they

( 191) are consciously turned in the direction of practical applicability, that is, they anticipate that by following certain directions certain practical results will appear (and the life of Pasteur is perhaps the best example of this) ; but the history of the sciences shows that only a method quite free from dependence on practice can become practically useful in its applications. We do not know what the future of science will be before it is constituted and what may be the applications of its discoveries before they are applied.

As to education, I have no special competence to speak in this field, but from being associated with educational methods I have some impressions ; and if I venture to name some of them, I ask you to receive them as a friendly communication from one universe of discourse to another.

I have the conviction that the prepossessions of all of us are at a given moment deeper than we suspect, that society is in a hypnoidal state with lucid intervals, that these prepossessions are the emotional result of behavior norms of the primary-group type, that educators unconsciously conform the schools to primary-group ideals, that in conformity with primary-group ideals of soli-

( 192) -darity our curricula strive for uniformity instead of diversity, that there is a consequent disharmony between education and life, because the individual no longer organizes his life on the basis of primary group relations, but the educational system prepares him to do so.

I suspect that we should increase human happiness, efficiency and productivity if we should provide the young person with an adequate technique in connection with a limited body of informational definitions and place him face to face with problems. I was impressed with a casual remark of Mr. Dewey, that if it were necessary he would be willing to have the student forget all the informational data imparted to him during the four years of college life, if he could substitute for this a consuming interest in something.

I have concluded that we are so prepossessed with the idea of giving the child the maximum of informational data that this becomes an end in itself, that the mass of learning norms is so great that the youth actually passes the physiological and psychological age where he is due to erupt along creative lines. I am aware that in our universities we create and find already created an attitude of expectancy with reference to

( 193) definitions and systems of definitions, that the student is extremely reluctant to undertake any but approved and supervised lines of interest, that he brings to all problems a too great docility, that he grows old and cautious among the multiplicity of definitions, and that we have in our doctor's dissertation what we deserve.

I am impressed with the fact that great men so frequently did their great work very young. Newton had discovered the law of gravitation, integral calculus, had made discoveries in light, had developed the binomial theory, at the age of 24; Linnaeus had his sexual system of plants ready at the same age. Ludwig, Brücke, Helmholtz, du Bois Reymond, were reforming physiology at the average age of 25. Mayer, Joule, Colding, Helmholtz, were all under 9.8 years of age when they did their work on the conservation of energy. Goethe, Schiller, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Liebig, Sadi-Carnot, are striking examples of creative work at an early age. I have reflected upon how much it seemed to help Shakespeare and O. Henry to be compelled to be in a hurry and abandon the conventional norms and break all the rules.


I think it is significant that so many creative men were poor in school, and I cannot escape the conclusion that being poor in school was an unconscious protective device for escaping from a multiplicity of learning with no relevance to their aptitude, and that, in view of what was going to happen, they had to be the worst pupils. The chemist Ostwald, in his interesting book, Grosse Männer, has pointed out that the precocity of such men as Leibnitz and Sir William Thomson would have done them no good if the schools had been "better " in their time.

A learned man has been at some pains to determine how many men became later productive in literature who did not learn to read in childhood. I believe he did not find any, but it would be of interest to know how many became productive in literary lines who barely learned to read and no more — did not parse or diagram or etymologize or make comparative and historical studies in paragraphing.

I recognize the importance of what we call general culture, of contact with various worlds of ideas, but I am convinced that great blocks of our curricula, both those representing norms outworn but persisting through

( 195) their emotional rationalization, and those representing real but not universal values, or values disproportionately emphasized in the curriculum, should be transferred to the region of amateur work or sport, and that this can be so arranged as to minister to the emotional needs and contribute at the same time to the efficiency of the individual.

Now, whether these opinions are entirely justified or not, the whole of what I have said makes it impossible for me to wish to disparage our educational system or our educators in comparison with our other social practices. Indeed, if stones are to be thrown, the sociologist is the last man to throw them. It does not solve the problem to attack this or that weak point in our system. If I wanted to run amuck, I think I should not select the educational but the legal field for this purpose ; and if the legislator wanted to do the same thing, I think he would select the sociological.

I hesitated to make those remarks about education because I feared you would think I thought they were of fundamental importance. That would be to miss the whole point. The point is that we have not got a method in the social world. The primary group norms

( 196) are breaking down, mainly owing to the facilitated communication gained through discoveries in the natural sciences and their practical application. The very disharmony of the social world is largely due to the disproportionate rate of advance in the mechanical world. We live in an entirely new world, unique, without parallel in history. History has not helped us. It cannot help us because we do not understand it; we do not even understand an election. We must first understand the past from the present. We must view the present as behavior. We must establish by scientific procedure the laws of behavior, and then the past will have its meaning and make its contribution. If we learn the laws of human behavior as we have learned the laws of mathematics, physics, and chemistry, if we establish what are the fundamental human attitudes, how they can be converted into other and more socially desirable attitudes, how the world of values is created and modified by the operation of these attitudes, then we can establish any attitudes and values whatever.

And we are not to speak of "ultimate" or "supreme" values. The ultimate value is the value you desire at the given moment.

( 197) But if your "ultimate" values mean the abolition of war, of crime, of drink, of abnormality, of slums, of this or that kind of unhappiness, then you can secure these values, and you can secure whatever seem to you "ultimate" values afterwards, but they cannot be secured without a science of behavior, and more than an "ultimate" mechanics or an "ultimate" medicine could or can be secured without the preceding sciences of mathematics, physics, and chemistry.

And, finally, if we recognize that social control is to be reached through the study of behavior, and that its technique is to consist in the creation of attitudes appropriate to desired values, then I suggest that the most essential attitude at the present moment is a public attitude of hospitality toward all forms of research in the social world, such as it has gained toward all forms of research in the physical world. The Chicago Vice Commission could not be called on to do more than face a penitentiary sentence.


  1. Cf. Vallery-Radot, R., Life of Pasteur, 61 ff.

  2. Cf. Thorndike, E. L., The Original Nature of Man, 92, et passim.

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