Review of Folkways by William Graham Sumner
James Hayden Tufts
Professor Sumner's former students will not need the implication in the preface that this book is built out of material gradually accumulated during years of instruction. The range of illustration, the crisp, clear English, the vigorous dicta on policies and current conceptions, bring back vividly the memories of what has been to many a stimulating and fruitful experience. Other readers will find the class-room genesis of the book equally apparent. The great accumulation of material, of which the present volume presents but a part, has evidently grown in the work of instruction. To some extent, at least, it might be easily organized under other titles. The book is far fuller and richer than a work aus einen Guss, but it is also less sure in the ordering and arrangement of its material.
The central purpose of the author is to state and illustrate his views as to Folkways and Mores. Although the former is taken for the title the focus of interest is almost entirely in the latter. "The folkways are habits of the individual and customs of the society which arise from efforts to satisfy needs:" The struggle to maintain existence was carried on individually but in groups. Each profited by the other's experience; hence there was concurrence toward that which proved to be most expedient. All at last adopted the same way for the same purpose; hence the ways turned into customs and became mass phenomena. " The young learn them by tradition, imitation and authority." Although the above would suggest a rather definitely utilitarian, and in this sense rational origin for folkways, it is insisted that the habits arise from recurrent needs and are not themselves foreseen or intended. " They are not noticed until they have long existed, and it is still longer before they are appreciated." Moreover, a further
(385) factor which the author calls 'irrational,' enters into the formation of folkways, namely, the aleatory interest, the element of good and bad luck. " One might use the best known means with the greatest care, yet fail of the result. On the other hand, one might get a great result with no effort at all. One might also incur a calamity without any fault of his own." All such good and bad luck was attributed to superior powers, hence ',the aleatory element has always been the connecting link between the struggle for existence and religion." It was only. by religious rites that the aleatory element in the struggle for existence could be controlled." [In view of this last statement and of various others like it, it is evident that Professor Sumner uses ' irrational' in the sense of ' mistaken,' rather than in the sense of ' not adapting means to ends.' If a savage believes that sympathetic magic will give him a good crop it is just as rational a process for him as a large part of human activities. To the next generation present methods of treating many diseases, or of guarding against commercial panics, or of educating children, may appear to be as far wide of the mark as the savage interpretation. So, when it is said ' The nexus between them (ghosts, demons, another world) and events was not cause and effect but magic,' it is obvious that the author must mean, ' Cause and effect as viewed by modern science.' For the savage believes profoundly that he is working for the cause of his good or ill luck when he looks to the other world, and seeks to control his welfare by the chain of what is to his mind cause and effect.] Another 'irrational' element in the folkways is due to accident or a mistaking of the post hoc for a propter hoc. Some customs formed in this way and also some formed by inference from the supposed will of the gods may be decidedly harmful.
The Mores are the folkways raised to another plane. " The mores are the folkways including the philosophical and ethical generalizations as to societal welfare which are suggested by them, and inherent in them as they grow." The two elements out of which the conception of welfare is formed are ' right' and ' true.' The exact psychological root of ' right' is somewhat variously stated. The problem has evidently got its formulation in opposition to intuitionism, and without reference to the questions which now most interest the social psychologist. It is insisted that " the notion of right is in the folkways. It is not outside of them, of independent origin, and brought to them to test them." So far, it is easy to follow. But the precise element — or elements—in the folkways that gives rise to the idea of 'right' is not so readily located. The following leaves it uncertain whether the
(386) stress is to be placed on the habitual factor or on the ancestral source. " The right way is the way the ancestors used which has been handed down. The tradition is its own warrant." The next citation seems to make the ancestral the ultimate source; " In the folkways, what-ever is, is right. This is because they are traditional and therefore contain in themselves the authority of the ancestral ghosts." The question then arises, What is meant by ' authority of the ancestral ghosts ' ? Certain passages seem to use the term as equivalent to ' ghost fear.' " Thus (p. 28 f.) it may well be believed that notions of right and duty and of social welfare were first developed in connection with ghost fear and other worldliness, and therefore that in that field also, folkways were first raised to mores." So in the preface : " They (the folkways) are intertwined with goblinism and demonism and primitive notions of luck, and, so they win traditional authority." On the other hand we read that " the ways of the older and more experienced members of a society deserve great authority in any primitive group" and this is spoken of as a ' rational authority' (p.11). Again, four elements are enumerated (p. 30), as ' ghost fear, ancestral authority, taboos, and habit.' The authority in the reference is apparently rational chiefly in the sense that it is more skilful in the use of means to ends. The question as to whether authority is also based in part upon a will or purpose directed toward the good of the group is not raised. The author's categories for explanation are on the whole frankly individualistic, although sentiments of ' loyalty to the group, sacrifice for it' are recognized—phrases which certainly imply the metaphysics,' of Völkerpsychologie.
By the other element involved in the mores, namely, that they are true is meant that they fit into a consistent view of the world and its powers natural or supernatural, and therefore give to-the particular the value of a place in a system, a world philosophy. Thus the folk--ways take on larger meaning and value. They are also reinforced by reflection on pleasures and pains that follow according as they succeed well or ill. The notion of welfare was a resultant from the mystic and the utilitarian generalizations combined. When this has been formed the folkways become mores. The valuable in this is chiefly its emphasis upon the fact that in customs or mores we have not only habits but also judgments of value. So far he agrees with Hobhouse (Morals in Evolution, p. 13 ff.). But whereas Hobhouse starts the approval or disapproval largely in some sympathy or antipathy, although speaking also of ' impulses social and selfish,' Professor Sumner relies on, (1) a more definitely rational or utilitarian con-
(387) -ception, (2) a mystic sanction of ghost fear, (3) possibly also a conception of ' authority' in ancestors, and (4) connection with a world-system. There seems little doubt to the reviewer that the element stressed by Hobhouse enters in; it finds expression in all the various organs of group opinion. Further, it seems evident that the conception of authority implies a conception of social unity which may be backed by fear but is never to be derived from it.
An ethical philosopher, jealous for his profession, might find ground for criticism in the apparently conflicting doctrines as to the relation of reflective thought or ethical criticism to the mores. On the one hand, philosophy and ethics seem to be regarded as invariably noxious; on the other, the author not only criticizes unhesitatingly and unsparingly the present mores, using for 'the purpose standards and principles which are certainly ethical . and philosophical, but he provides also for a legitimate function of such critical reflection. On the one hand, he writes that philosophy and ethics " often interfere in the second stage of the sequence --- act, thought, act. Then they produce harm." So, too, ' great principles' are usually referred to in quotation marks and with the imputation that they are neither great nor worthy to be followed as principles. On the other hand, it is said, that ' free and rational criticism of traditional mores is essential to societal welfare.' The solution for such contradictory statements is doubtless found in the author's conviction that most philosophy and ethics have been formed in an abstract and speculative fashion, without regard to the guiding principle of social welfare. Nevertheless a large number of the author's own keen sarcasms and judgments are not reasoned; they doubtless rest on general principles of the author's and are presented in as categorical form as any of the theories which he considers as ' ethics' and ' philosophy.'
But it is ungracious to dwell upon matters of this sort. Every student of social psychology, morality, and the history of civilization will be grateful to Professor Sumner for the wealth of material which is here presented. The illustrative material is grouped under such headings as Labor, Wealth, Slavery, Cannibalism, Codes of Manners, Primitive Justice, Uncleanness, Sex, Marriage, Sacral Harlotry, Child Sacrifice, Sports, Drama, Asceticism. It has been gathered from a great range of authors, and although the student misses the names of some important workers in the field, he will be grateful that many sources have been laid under contribution which are not usually drawn upon in similar works. The author's earlier studies in the field of economic history have doubtless served a purpose here, and the obiter
(388) dicta on various sentiments and conceptions current in the political, educational, social and religious field, enliven the pages. Such themes as ' Missions,' 'Democracy,’ ‘The People,’ ‘Pensions,' call out vigorous expressions. Every reader will hope that the author will soon be able to carry out the further plan announced in the preface of publishing another volume or volumes of similar material upon other topics.