The Laws of Social Psychology

Chapter 2: Social Action As Object-Matter of Social Psychology

Florian Znaniecki

Table of Contents | Next | Previous


The proper field of social psychology was intentionally left undefined in the preceding chapter, pending the conclusion of the survey of the efforts at scientific explanation which have been made under this name. This survey has narrowed the domain of possible scientific achievement to certain limits which can be now more easily traced. In determining these limits, a proper balance must be struck between the traditional definitions, on the one hand, and the demands put by the ideal of, scientific exactness, on the other hand.

There is one historically important conception of social psychology which must be rejected at once: that which gives this science the task of studying collective consciousness or collective behavior as against individual consciousness or individual behavior, which are left to "individual psychology" to investigate. Since, as we have seen, the chief obstacle to the discovery of any order there may be in psychological facts is the indefinite complexity, incoherence and accessibility to new influences which characterize both the personality and the collectivity as concrete psychological entities, it is not a good policy to begin by defining the phenomena to be studied as all those touching on one or the other of these respective psychological entities. Moreover, when we take into account

(53) the empirical characters of these phenomena, we see that this definition disregards many essential similarities and differences between psychological experiences and acts for the sake of the relatively secondary distinction between those which are shared by other individuals and those which are not.

Individual and collective listening to music do not differ essentially as far as the quality of the musical experience is concerned; individual and collective praying are essentially similar with regard to the character of the act of prayer as such. If between individual technical work and collective technical work there are, indeed, important differences, these differences concern merely the complexity, division and organization of the technical functions involved. The latter remain in both cases technical functions, and as such belong to a class of activities fundamentally different from the activities involved in both individual and collective praying, as well as from those involved in both individual and collective listening to music. A scientific method which wishes really to take into consideration the empirical character of phenomena will certainly not dump collective listening to music, collective praying and collective technical work together under the name of "social psychology", leaving individual listening to music, individual praying and individual technical work to be studied under "individual psychology". It will assign both individual and collective musical experience to the psychology of art, both individual and collective praying to the psychology of religion, both individual and collective working to the psychology of technique. How effective such a division may be has been already demonstrated by monographs on the psychology of art, the psychology of religion and the ,psychology of technique., which represent the best, the most significant and instructive type of modern psychological literature.

On the other hand, it is not to be denied that in the course of collective listening to music, collective praying

(54) and collective work, besides the aesthetic, religious or technical experiences and acts, there. occur usually some other experiences and acts which may be essentially similar whatever the differences between the psychological phenomena they accompany. In all these cases the individual may be conscious of the crowd and of himself in relation to the crowd: he may actively oppose himself to the crowd, or join the crowd in actively opposing some other individual; he may unreflectively tend to harmonize his aesthetic or religious experiences with what he supposes to be the experiences of others, or reflectively attempt to induce others to follow his ideas about the. division and organization of technical functions.

It thus appears that alongside of the aesthetic, religious, technical conscious phenomena, there are other, specifically social conscious phenomena which clearly and evidently belong to the field of social psychology, just as the former belong to the respective fields of aesthetic, religious or industrial psychology. The social phenomena differ from the other phenomena not by occurring in some kind of "social consciousness" as against some kind of "individual consciousness", but by being a qualitatively different variety of psychological phenomena, by belonging to a class of experiences or activities which are as distinct from religious or technical experiences and activities as these are distinct from each other. The problem now is how to define them as accurately as possible; but this should not be difficult, since, as a matter of fact, the other, non-social experiences and activities have already been defined and their investigation undertaken by other sciences or other branches of psychology.

To begin with social experiences, they are not the subject's experiences of his own bodily states, which belong to the psychology of sensation and emotions; nor those of the physical properties of material things, the subjective side

(55) of which is taken up by the psychology of sense perception, the objective side falling within the domain of the natural sciences; nor those of aesthetic objects and qualities, which constitute the object-matter of the psychology and theory of art; nor those of transcendent magical and religious powers, which are studied by the psychology and theory of religion; nor those of the utility of things, which form a part of the field of economics; nor those of scientific and philosophic ideas and theories with which the theory of knowledge is dealing; nor even those of rules of conduct formulated in legal traditions and books, which the theorist of law tries to interpret and systematize. They are simply individual or collective experiences of human beings — separate persons or groups —and of their behavior.

In experiencing a human person or group we usually experience, of course, the body or bodies of these human beings. But their bodies are not experienced as mere material things possessing certain physical qualities. They are endowed in our eyes with a potentiality of acting, thinking, feeling, judging about other things and about ourselves, which gives them a meaning, a significance that no purely physical body, possesses. We take them as instruments and symbols of a conscious life; we project into them "souls", or rather we see them as soulful. In the case of a group not only do these potentialities of conscious behavior seem attached to each member, but we experience the possibility of concerted conscious behavior of all those bodily beings together, as of one whole: we ascribe, rightly or wrongly, a collective thought or a collective will to the group.

The difference between experiencing human beings with bodies and experiencing bodies as physical things is clearly marked in the case of a doctor operating upon the body of a friend as compared with the same doctor

(56) receiving the thanks of his friend after the operation, or in the case of an artillerist aiming at the spot where a military unit of the enemy is assembled as compared with the same artillerist surrendering to an enemy troop. Moreover, in many cases we experience human beings without experiencing their bodies, as for instance, when we yield to the prestige of a leader or a writer whom we have not met face to face, or when we speculate, fear or hope in connection with the policy of a nation whose country and people we have never seen.

In experiencing any particular act or behavior of a human being —material or intellectual activity, expression of will or emotion, etc. —we may also experience certain consequences of the act which are not social, but belong to any of the other kinds of experiences enumerated above. But it is always possible to distinguish the experience of these consequences from the experience of the act itself as emanating in our eyes from a human being. When a musician performs, the experience of the music is something different from the experience of the action of the man. I may not see the musician, not even know who he is, nor think about him or his performance at all when listening to the music: the, social experience may come after the musical experience, either in the form of an actual observation and interpretation of the musician's behavior or in the form of a retrospective mental conclusion as to his technique, his ability of emotional expression, etc. On the other hand, there is an important and numerous class of other people's acts which do not involve any but purely social consequences, as when a man gives me to understand that he hates or loves, despises or admires me, or when a group admits or excludes me from its membership.

Passing from social experiences of the subject to social acts performed by him, we find a parallel distinction: there

(57) are specific kinds of acts corresponding to the specific kinds of experiences enumerated above. The character of the act is defined by the effect which the act means to produce, i. e., by its purpose. Thus, acts purposing to modify material objects are technical acts, those whose purpose is to provoke pleasurable or to avoid painful sensations are hedonistic acts, those which mean to produce or to comprehend aesthetic objects and qualities are aesthetic acts, those which purpose to appropriate, to barter, to use, or to hoard utilitarian values are economic acts, etc. Social acts are specifically those individual or collective acts whose purpose is to influence human beings, i. e., to modify persons or groups in a certain definite way.

Though social acts often appear distinctly separated from other acts — as for instance, those of expressing contempt or admiration, of excluding or admitting a group member there are many cases, indeed, when social and non-social acts are closely intertwined and connected, either because a social act is performed to help a non-social act in achieving its purpose, or vice versa, because a social act needs a non-social act for the realization of its intention. Instances of the first kind of connection occur when, in order to buy, sell or make an advantageous exchange of economic values, we resort to the social activity of persuasion; likewise, whenever to promote a new law we try to influence individual legislators or legislative bodies; whenever to exploit a factory we invite and organize workers or try to keep them interested in their functions, etc. However, even in these cases social and non-social acts may become separated: for example, activities of persuasion and bargaining in modern business tend to become a separate department entrusted to specialists, leaving the mere process of economic exchange to which they lead devoid of social components.

The second kind of relation is exemplified by such cases as the use of economic means for the purposes of

(58) political organization, the use of art for social propaganda or to achieve personal fame, the use of legislation for social control. The latter case is particularly instructive, for nearly all legislative acts are subservient to social activities, and yet the acts of drawing, enacting, amending, and applying legal rules may become and are in most civilized societies carried on as a separate profession, being in the minds of many lawyers quite devoid of any conscious reference to the social activities they were originally designed to promote.

A survey of modern psycho-sociological literature, particularly in America and in France, will convince the reader that the great majority of social psychologists, however variegated their abstract definitions of the object-matter of their science, study chiefly, if not exclusively, those very data which we have defined above, i. e., experiences which human individuals and collectivities have of other human beings taken individually or collectively, and acts directed by individuals and collectivities toward those human beings whom they experience with the purpose of modifying them, of provoking certain responses.[1] Two points must be kept in mind. First, That social psychology ought to investigate all such data, and none but such ,[2] if it is to

(59) cover adequately a domain that cannot be logically divided, and at the same time not encroach upon the domains of other sciences. Secondly, That the social psychologist must carefully avoid any confusion of his standpoint as investigator with his standpoint as social subject. To the social subject, whether individual or collectivity, persons and groups are given as objects of experience and action. The social psychologist is, of course, also a social subject, and has his own personal history in connection with these persons and collectivities; but it is not persons or collectivities as such that as scientist he investigates, only the aspects they present to those social subjects in whose psychology he is interested. In other words, his data are not human beings, but experiences which human beings have of one another, and acts which they direct toward one another.

We thus return to the view exposed at the end of the preceding chapter that the social psychologist should not attempt to study socio-psychological elements and facts as component parts of a conscious personality or a cultural collectivity: they must be treated without regard to the totality of their concrete psychological background. But on the other hand, these elements and facts do not remain entirely disconnected, but are found already grouped into objective complexes forming more or less wide and coherent systems, each of which may be found in an approximately identical shape in the consciousnesses of many personalities or collectivities. The task of social psychology is thus considerably simplified; the first step is to determine the kind of systems to which social experiences and acts belong.


The social experience, as conceived above, is an essentially passive psychological phenomenon; an individual or collectivity of individuals is simply given to the subject as

(60) one of the objects of his environment, its behavior appearing as an actual or possible change produced by this object in other data of his experience. The social act again is an essentially active psychological phenomenon: it is the subjects own behavior which brings or at least purposes to bring a certain change in some social object. The act is not complete, in the eyes of the subject until the purposed result has been reached and experienced. The term social action may therefore be used to indicate the combination of social act and social experience in which certain changes which the behavior of a social object (individual or group) produces in other data appear to the subject as the purposed result of his own behavior. This behavior of the social object constitutes the response of the object demanded by the behavior of the subject.

For instance, a man proposes marriage to a woman and is accepted. The act performed together with the required response constitute the social action. Other examples of social action are: the act of a speaker who introduces a motion to & public assembly together with his experience of the carrying of the motion by the audience; the act of an association deciding to exclude an undesirable member together with the desired effect on the behavior of this member; the act of a nation threatening war followed by the public's reception of the expected answer; the act of teaching an individual or a class leading to the manifestation to the teacher of increased ability on the part of the pupil; the social worker's act of assisting a family on the brink of pauperization together with the gradual realization of her hope of seeing the family recover economic independence; and so on.

The social action may be more or less complicated. The chief act of the subject may involve a number of subordinate acts all tending to realize the main purpose, and the subject's experience of the results of his activity may

(61) contain a number of simpler responses of the social object which all seem necessarily connected and therefore combined into one complex response. For instance, the action of reorganizing an association is composed of many minor acts subsidiary to the leading purpose, and many minor responses combine in the final result.

Simple or complex, the social action is a relatively closed socio-psychological system.

It is closed in the sense that, viewed from the standpoint of the acting subject, it constitutes a definite whole, more or less clearly isolated from the rest of his experiences and activities. The significance of his social act is in his own eyes determined by the response the act aims to provoke: whatever the psychological antecedents of his present activity, the essential points for him at the moment are that he now attempts to achieve something more or less definite, to exercise a certain influence upon a particular human being or collectivity of human beings, and that if this attempt is carried to the desired end, he experiences the response as the result purposed by his act.

Of course, if he reflects about the origin of his present behavior, he finds that his act is in some way the outcome of some other, his past, activities and experiences; but while he is acting, this past history does not matter to him; it is the present purpose and its achievement that matter.

On the other hand, the present significance of the experiences he has of the individual or group upon whom he is acting and of their response are determined by the act itself. If he has known this individual or group before, at other moments of his life, they then meant to him, and may yet mean much that is not involved in his present action; but what is essential to him now while he is acting and in view of the particular purpose of his activity is that they are human beings who are expected to respond

(62) in a certain way to his act. And when they actually do take the expected line of conduct, he experiences their behavior as a result of his own behavior, and it is the purpose of the latter which gives this response its present meaning in his eyes. Later on, he may discover that their behavior had also some other significance not connected with his purpose, that it sprang from far-off motives and produced distant and unforeseen consequences; he may even find that he quite misinterpreted the response, accepting irony for admiration, bashfulness for disapproval, and so on. This will present a new problem to him, different from the one which he faced before and seemed to solve by his previous activity.

The closed character of the social action does not prevent its actual conscious becoming from being interrupted by all kinds of activities, interests and experiences which have nothing to do with its constitution. The public speaker may drink water or finger a pencil while delivering his speech; the man's proposal of marriage may be interrupted by the arrival of a stranger upon the scene; between the suggestion to exclude an undesirable member and the vote deciding it an association may transact other business; between the successive visits to a penurious family the social worker visits other families and lives her own personal life. Nevertheless, in such cases the trend of activity is not broken: the action has a continuity quite independent of the continuity of concrete psychological becoming. It is in a sense raised above the current of actual consciousness; the line of actual performance waits outside of this current to be again consciously traced further at a later moment. It owes this super-actual continuity to the fact that it is an ideal system, that its components have been ideally determined by the subject with regard to one another, and therefore are logically dependent upon one another in his eyes. According to him, a definite act demands a certain

(63) particular response from 'a certain particular object, and this response is referred back to the act. Moreover, if the action is a complex one, each of the subordinate acts and secondary experiences are ideally determined by the chief act and by the principal experience respectively. The parts of a social action, as the subject intends it to occur, "belong together", in the same sense as the parts of a triangle, of a scientific theory, of a work of art or a machine belong together. This is how they remain connected with one another even while they are not being actually performed or experienced.

Now, usually it is a fact that such an ideal system, if only a part of it has been actually realized, is sooner or later realized to the end. The subject goes on with the action after he has once begun it until he has fulfilled his purpose: mere interruptions are not enough to stop him. This is the ultimate and inexplicable fact of social psychology — perhaps of all psychology. There is no real necessity involved in it. The beginning of an action is not a cause of its continuation, nor is there any absolute compulsion forcing the activity to continue, any more than there is a compulsion forcing the parts of a machine to come together after they have begun to be assembled, or for a theory to be actually developed in its full significance after some of its terms have been accepted. It is simply a matter of fact that a social action, or perhaps any action, having been started, usually continues. to is purposed end. We cannot explain it, nor does it need explanation any more than the fact that a movement once started usually goes on.

This matter-of-fact observation that the social action once begun is usually achieved, just as the equally matter-of-fact observation that a movement once started usually continues, is sufficiently general and sufficiently useful to be stated as a fundamental postulate of science. Dynamics

(64) calls its postulate the principle of inertia; we may call ours the principle of achievement. Like every other postulate, it is empirically true only in so far as it has been tested; it is not a law which can be assumed true for all future cases after having been tested in a few typical observations. On the other hand, however, once we have admitted it as a principle, we are bound to uphold it in all future investigations; and this can be done only if we are able to explain all seeming deviations from it. We shall, therefore, at once generalize and supplement our principle by saying that a social action, once begun, continues to its purposed end, unless there are factors interfering with its continuation.

What happens now if the action for some reason or other does not in fact run its appointed course to its purposed end? Two eventualities are possible. Either the action disappears from actual consciousness to be eventually resumed at some other time — in which case its course is merely suspended, and there is no new problem. Or else some modification has been forced upon it from the outside, some of its components have changed against the original intention of the subject, without, however, suppressing the actual effort of the latter to go on with his activity. He then tries to adapt his activity to the changed circumstances, reconstructs the system of his acts and experiences on a new basis. In this case we say that the original action A has changed into a different action B. The action B has arisen out of the modification of the action A, and the action A by becoming modified passes into action B;. thus, we may consider action B a deviation of the action A from its appointed course.

Deviations of social activity from the line demanded by the principle of achievement can be satisfactorily explained only if there are causal laws under which such explanations may be subsumed, just as deviations of

(65) a movement from the direction and velocity demanded by the principle of inertia are explained by the laws of dynamics. The principle of achievement thus compels us to search for laws of changes occurring in social actions, just as the principle of inertia compels the physicist to search for laws of changes occurring in movements. It determines the form which these laws must take; and if laws are found to satisfy its demands, it will assume the character of an axiom upon which socio-psychological theorems will be based.

But in order to find the laws of the changes occurring in social activity and making it deviate from the course determined at its beginning, we must assume that every social action can be performed an indefinite number of times; for, as we have already shown, causal laws are empirically valid only when applied to indefinitely repeatable facts, which means, to facts occurring in systems that endure or can be reconstructed over and over again without any definite limitation. Even a superficial observation of social life shows that in fact a great many social actions are repeated, at least approximately, numerous times. There have been, and will be innumerable marriage proposals, public speeches, exclusions of undesirable members from associations, cases of assistance given to the needy, lessons to individuals and classes, etc. Some actions may, indeed, become less and less frequent, such as — let us hope —declarations of war; and yet, no definite term to their possible happening can be set.

On the other hand, no actual performance of a social action is exactly like another performance, for circumstances are never twice the same. The same may be said also of physical systems, but this consideration has not prevented physics from finding laws. The point is that in comparing any two systems unimportant differences may be overlooked and both treated as essentially the same system for the

(66) sake of important similarities. What is important or unimportant has to by determined in each particular case separately, but each science has its own general rules which investigation should follow. Such a general rule in the field of social psychology is directly at hand: of importance for any given action is whatever appears as important to the subject himself, since it is the subject's own acts and experiences as performed and viewed by him which are here under consideration. The observer discovers the subject's standpoint from the very course of the action and from significant signs and words; actual behavior and professed ideas combine and control each other, giving a picture of the action which does not necessarily exclude possibilities of error, but allows for the correction of errors by other observations.

If we follow this rule, we shall notice that most social actions do not appear to the subject as in any way unique or incomparable. On the contrary, usually (though perhaps not always), he consciously or unconsciously assimilates his present social action to some other action performed by himself, or by others in the past, or constructed as an ideal model. The first kind of assimilation is best manifested in personal habit, the second in social custom, the third in ethical norm. And it is precisely those components of the action having the greatest importance in the eyes of the subject which are thus assimilated, whereas what he considers unimportant detail is left to the inspiration of the moment. The large majority of actions become thus more or less distinctly standardized as to their essential features; their skeleton structures tend to be preserved indefinitely and reconstructed under varying circumstances, each, time being filled out with multiform, but secondary detail. Of course, there are social activities which are not standardized consciously or unconsciously, and any changes occurring in the course of these cannot be subjected

(67) to causal laws. But such activities are relatively much less frequent in the field of social behavior than in the domains of art and science, for instance. We shall discuss them at greater length in the following chapter.

The present problem is to determine those essential elements of all social action that form the primary material of standardization, out of which the skeleton structure of the action is built, and that suffice to define an action, to preserve its identity in varying secondary circumstances. Any important changes occurring in the social action, any significant deviations from the principle of achievement will naturally affect some of those essential elements.


At the beginning of every social action we find an impulse to act in a certain way, a subjective motion to do something which gradually defines itself. It is the subjective aspect of the act, i. e., the act striped of all its objective features, viewed apart from the bearing it has upon reality, apart from the effect it gradually produces upon the objects which it selects and with which it deals. In the beginning, until its object, its purpose, its ways and means have been determined, the subjective aspect predominates: the act is primarily the impulse. It acquires more and more objective bearing as it progresses; its objective side comes gradually to predominate over the subjective motion, until at the end of the action the practical results alone stand out and the impulse has disappeared, has been "satisfied", has reached its goal. We may call this impulse, this motion, this subjective side of the act the social tendency. The tendency is thus the fundamental element of the social action, the one which primarily determines its character from the very beginning and carries it on to the purposed end.


It is clear from this definition that the social tendency is spontaneously active, that it is' not a mere disposition waiting for a stimulus in order to express itself in actual behavior. Since social psychology cannot explain why any particular action is performed by any particular subject at any particular moment, the question why social tendencies do become actual, what makes them start social actions must be left entirely out of consideration. The simple fact is that they do start social actions and having started make them go on till the purpose is achieved, or some obstacle intervenes. A man who proposes to a woman behaves thus under, the influence of a tendency, or perhaps a set of tendencies, to make her agree to be his wife. A speaker who puts forward a motion tends to influence the meeting to accept a certain decision. A social worker who gives assistance to a needy family tends to assist this family out of its troubles; and so on.

But is it a fact that it is the tendency which starts the action? It seems as if the object which the action will influence — the woman to whom the man proposes, the meeting which the speaker addresses, the family which the social worker wishes to assist — are usually given to the subject before the tendency has appeared, and the result which his act will try to achieve is often present in his mind before he has actually begun to tend towards its achievement. Indeed, there are, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, theories which make the appearance of a tendency dependent upon the perception of the object or the representation of the result.

However, this is simply a question of what problem we are interested in. The theories above mentioned are concerned in finding what antecedents of the action have brought the action to pass; they wish to explain why an action is performed, and the perception of the object or the representation of the result is supposed to give this

(69) explanation. Whereas our problem is not why the action is performed, but why and how, after having begun, it ever deviates from its appointed course. And the action has not begun yet, merely because an object is given to the subject, whom the latter may try to influence, if he wishes; or because a certain future state of things is represented which may be brought into being by a certain activity. It begins only at the moment when there arises an actual tendency to influence the object, to bring into being the represented future state of things. And we cannot say that the tendency has arisen because the object is given or the future state of things represented, since in order to explain its appearance the entire concrete personality of the subject would have to be taken into consideration. It is the tendency which turns a merely given object into an object of social action, which at other times tries to find an appropriate object when none is given, and sometimes is even satisfied with an ideal construction, if no real object is to be found. It is the tendency which makes of a merely represented future state of things the desired aim of a purposeful activity; which, at other times when no future state was represented, sets a purpose spontaneously and gradually gives it the definite form of a representation to be realized in action; and which sometimes gropes blindly for a purpose without being able to pass the stage of an indefinite longing for something.

Other terms are more commonly used to indicate this subjective side of the act, such as wish, desire, volition, impulse, will, instinct, attitude. Most of them, however, have this defect that they denote processes going on "in consciousness", taken as components of the subject's life, rather than dynamic elements of the action as a system detached from other activities and experiences of the subject. The psychologist usually defines the wish, desire, volition, impulse, will, as a certain introspectively given

(70) psychological content, and then tries to determine the empirical character and composition which this content presents when viewed as a datum for introspective analysis; he connects it either with other psychological contents wishes, desires, voluntary processes, emotions, sensations, perceptions, etc. — or else with physiological processes going on in the body. Whereas we have already seen that the indispensable condition of finding the intrinsic order of psychological phenomena is to isolate them from the concrete background of the psychological personality and take them as elements of relatively simple closed systems. By using the term tendency we further this isolation, for the tendency is essentially definable by that toward which it tends, and not by the source from which it springs; it is a dynamic element of a practical system, not a mere conscious datum or a personal fact among the concrete complexity of introspectively given data or biographical facts.

The word "instinct", which is also a behavioristic rather than an introspective category, has the disadvantage of raising difficult biological problems, beside that of denoting essentially a dispositional instead of a purely actual tendency. The words "interest" and "attitude", particularly the latter (though I have used it myself in collaboration with Prof. W. I. Thomas) seem too static, lack the direct reference to action which "tendency" very clearly bears. However, we shall not systematically avoid the use of the above terms. There are many volitional expressions in psychological literature which may be used to denote specific tendencies — such as the wish for mastery, the wish for solitude, the desire for recognition, the fighting impulse, etc. — provided they are understood not in the sense of "states of consciousness", but as dynamic elements of action tending to achieve definite social purposes. In particular, the term "attitude" will be

(71) used to denote the tendency as viewed not from the standpoint of the agent himself, but from that of another person who, when dealing with this agent, sees in his behavior the expression of a subjective desire, wish, aspiration, etc. In short, we shall speak of the tendency of the subject, but of the "attitude" of the social object as manifested in his response to the subject's activity.

If possible at all, it is generally preferable to adapt to scientific needs the available terms of common language by giving them a more or less new and exact significance than to coin new terms; for we know how to employ old words in various contexts with various, yet distinctly specified meanings without confusing these, meanings, and there is less trouble in learning to use them with some new specific meaning than to handle a new word or combination which at first conveys no meaning whatsoever. Therefore, we shall draw freely on common speech for names of definite tendencies, even if these names have acquired in scientific literature a psychological significance different from that which we wish to give them in social psychology.

This refers particularly to names of so-called passions, emotions and sentiments, such as pride, scorn, bashfulness` shame, timidity, contempt, admiration, cruelty, anger, fear, love, hate, loyalty, patriotism, etc. General psychology found them long ago in the stock of common language and did with them the same thing as we mean to do adapted them to its own purposes. It analyzed introspectively the complex subjective experiences accompanying the manifestation of these "passions", "emotions" or "sentiments", and later it studied the organic phenomena accompanying these subjective experiences. But the names still remain the property of common speech and can be once more borrowed directly from their original source and put to a somewhat different use than that of

(72) psychological tradition. We must simply determine exactly the difference between our use of them and that which introspective and physiological psychology has made of them.

The distinction between a tendency, on the one hand, and a passion, emotion or sentiment on the other is: 9) the tendency is an exclusively active or (as we might say in traditional terms) volitional phenomenon, whereas the passion, emotion or sentiment has also a passive, emotional side; 2) the tendency is defined with regard to its object and the purpose it means to achieve, whereas the passion, emotion or sentiment is defined with regard to its psychological and physiological background; 3) the tendency is an element of the action not analyzable into any simpler components, whereas the passion, emotion or sentiment is a psychological complex to be analyzed by introspective and biological methods.

Take, for instance, the empirical phenomena denoted in common speech by the words "contempt" and "admiration". The older psychologists called them "passions"; modern psychology has begun to use the term "sentiments" instead. A general psychologist who is requested to investigate them will try to find first of all by personal and vicarious introspection what he and other people experience when "despising" or "admiring" somebody, what feelings, wishes, sensations, ideas are involved in or connected with this complex subjective state or process. Since such states or processes are apt to recur in connection with the same object, they have to be treated as expressions of a more or less durable disposition; and the further problem arises of the subjective origin and evolution of passion or sentiment as a disposition and of the changing, though more or loss durable organization of the particular feelings, wishes, ideas constituting the sentimental complex. If the psychologist is also a physiologist, he will attempt to ascertain what

(73) changes of muscular contraction, blood pressure, secretion, visceral movements, reaction time, etc. occur when the "passion" is actually experienced, when the "sentiment" manifests itself in, or leads to actual "emotion". When the investigation bears upon pure emotions like anger, it will limit itself to the study of actual experiences and accompanying physiological changes, and omit the question of the formation, organization and evolution of the sentimental complex as a durable dispositional entity.

Since social psychology is a psychology of the social action, it will treat these same phenomena in an entirely different way. It will ask itself what kind of a social action any subject tends to perform when "despising" or "admiring", when "angry" or "afraid"; that is, how does he attempt to influence the object of his contempt or admiration, his anger or fear. All those emotional and intellectual states which have been enumerated above, their organization, their; origin, their dispositional evolution, their physiological accompaniments, etc. are irrelevant for the social psychologist, as his task is here understood. The important problem is whether these words of common speech stand for definite and elementary practical tendencies; whether in all cases when a subject despises or admires, is angry or afraid, etc., there is a definite inclination to a specific type of social behavior, a uniformity of social purposes. If on investigating the various actions achieved or begun under the influence of contempt, admiration, anger, or fear, respectively, we shall in fact find such a uniformity of social purposes in each case, then we shall decide that these words denote definite social tendencies; whereas if the behavior of despising or admiring subjects varies in such a way as to make the assumption of an essential uniformity of purpose towards all objects of contempt or admiration inacceptable, we must suppose that these words designate a multiplicity of combinations of simpler social tendencies. Thus, for instance, it

(74) is quite evident that the word "patriotism" does not express a definite and elementary social tendency, for it has been made to denote widely divergent, sometimes conflicting types of social behavior: actions tending to subjugate other nations as well as those aiming to make one's nation serve the interests of mankind; actions tending to preserve national traditions unchanged by preventing all innovation, and those purposing to reform, reorganize national life on some new basis, etc.

Of course, the social psychologist must also take into account the consciousness of the social subject: otherwise, his work would not be psychological at all. But the only conscious data which he takes into consideration when defining a tendency are precisely the subject's consciousness of his tendency to act and of the object, the purpose, the method of his action. Indeed, these are often the only data we possess as to the actual existence of a tendency; whenever, namely, the latter fails for any reason to express itself in overt action and is limited to a vague yearning for active expression. However; the subject's consciousness of his own tendency is not a self-sufficing datum for the social psychologist, does not interest him as a psychological state for its own sake. It is to him an indication of the existence and the character of the tendency itself. But in so far as it involves an interpretation on the part of the subject of the objective bearing of this tendency, it should be tested either by observing how this tendency is being objectively fulfilled in action or by comparing the present case with other cases when a tendency interpreted in the same way by the subject has actively manifested itself.

The objection may be raised that, since the tendency is the subjective aspect of the act abstracted by psychological analysis, it cannot be a real element, and therefore social psychology is not justified in assuming the existence of definite elementary tendencies. It may be further urged that the

(75) subjective, psychological aspect of human behavior should not be separated from its objective aspect, for individual consciousness is not an isolated receptacle or collection of psychological phenomena, but a process of intimate interaction between the individual and his environment: consequently, each action should be studied in its total concrete course, and purely conceptual entities like "fear" or "anger" should not be allowed to play in scientific explanation the rôle of real elementary forces. This is for our present problem the purport of Mr. Dewey's criticism of "instincts" and similar categories, in his latest work. But, whereas the rejection of the concept of individual consciousness as a closed whole opposed to an "outside" world seems nowadays undoubtedly justifiable, and activity must be accordingly treated as involving both personal and environmental factors in intimate connection, it does not follow that the social psychologist should not analyze activity into subjective and objective elements, if such an analysis proved useful for a scientific description of human behavior as it appears to the active subject himself. We have agreed that science has the right to isolate from the concrete complexity of the total process of reciprocal adaptation between the human being and his milieu particular, relatively closed and repeatable systems, i. e., particular actions, on the ground that such an isolation is introduced into the very course of activity by the active human being himself. In the same way science has /also the right further to analyze these closed systems or actions into distinct and relatively stable elements, when the active human beings themselves really distinguish these elements in their own behavior.

Though there is no consciousness in the sense of a psychological entity or a closed series of psychological states or processes separated from the outside world, there is yet consciousness in the sense of "the fact of being conscious": objects are actually given to conscious subjects,

(76) and conscious subjects direct their actions towards these objects as given to them. Individuals and collectivities in their behavior do not act and react directly in reference to the impersonal, valueless world of the natural scientist a world which is, in fact, only a half-artificial construction but in reference to the personal and meaningful "humanistic" world, the world as they experience it. And though the limited sphere of experience of each human being at any moment of his activity is apt to be interfered with by influences coming from the wider reality outside of this sphere, yet he lays his action within his own sphere, deals with objects as they appear to him, not "as they are in themselves" (if this mean anything at all), nor as they appear to others. Any interference with his action which is unexpected because coming from outside the narrow confines of his objective domain will first have to penetrate into his sphere of experience in order to exercise an actual influence upon his behavior, and this influence will depend upon the way he experiences and interprets the new data thus coming to him.

The social psychologist must thus treat the social action primarily as going on not, indeed, within the consciousness, but within the sphere of experience of the subject; he should as far as possible preserve for the purposes of investigation the significance which the action has in the subject's eyes. Now, it is a fact that the subject himself distinguishes within his own sphere of experience between the subjective and objective elements of his action, and other people when dealing with him also try to distinguish his tendency or his "attitude" from the conditions and results of his action. This is most evident when the subject reflects about his own action and speaks about it with others. The very language by including such terms as contempt and admiration, fear and anger, testifies that to the socially active individual and to observers, as well as

(77) to the social object of the behavior in question, contempt and admiration, fear and anger are realities, which in their eyes exist as subjective tendencies distinct from the objective conditions among which they manifest themselves. The individual and his social milieu have thus already performed that analysis which the social psychologist only tries to make more explicit and exact; they have already set up contempt and admiration, fear and anger not as mere subjective aspects of behavior, but as real elements of the action. And it cannot be argued that they may be mistaken, for they do not aim to build up a theory which might be subjected to the test of truth and error; they simply produce practical values which are practically real in the very measure as actual human behavior takes them into account as facts and adapts itself to them. Contempt and admiration, fear and anger are thus at least as real as other cultural values — myths, legal rules, forms of property, and so on — whose reality consists in their being treated in practice as realities.

What is more, not only does practical reflection give the subjective aspect of the act the character of a distinct real element, but independently of all reflection the subject does it by his own behavior. Even when his acts vary in their objective bearing according to the varying circumstances in which they are performed, he tries and to some degree succeeds in keeping his subjective tendencies unchanging through all these variations, and thus actively separates the tendency from the objective bearing of the act. Suppose he wants social recognition of his capacities by his group: the same desire for recognition may persistently recur in the most various circumstances, and its subjective identity is manifested in the fact that the individual himself feels the tendency satisfied every time social recognition in one form or another is granted to him, however different the paths which led to this

(78) result. Should he fail in some particular case, this tendency will be modified and lead to the modification of the action which was being performed, but the original tendency may return again at a later time, when there seems to be a better chance of its satisfaction, and be recognized as the same, though in view of the changed conditions it will start a different action.

The tendency is thus a real element of the action as well as the most important of its elements, the one determining it primarily and fundamentally. By itself it is by no means sufficient to characterize the action; other secondary objective elements cooperate in determining the latter and have also to be taken into consideration. The essential point, however, is that while these objective elements differentiate the actions in the course of their realization, the tendency remains relatively. stable during the course of every action which it has started. Therefore, the same tendency may be an element of many actions which differ in their concrete composition. This makes a scientific survey of social tendencies possible, whereas a survey of social, actions taken in their concrete totality would be an undertaking beyond all the resources of the human mind.

The question may arise how should the identity of a social tendency in various actions be interpreted: as a real numerical identity analogous to that of an object which, remains the same in many "representations", or as a mere ideal qualitative similarity of numerically distinct actual tendencies analogous to the similarity of events occurring at various moments and places. One interpretation is evidently precluded: the one which sees in the tendency the actual expression of a disposition rooted in the psychical or bio-psychical individual, like the instincts or the will; for we have sufficiently demonstrated the necessity of isolating the action and its elements from the complexity of the human person. Though the whole problem is rather

(79) a metaphysical than a scientific one, we may observe that the concept of "element" in other sciences always combines in a unique way the real unity of essence with the plurality of similar empirical manifestations. Thus, gold as a chemical element is essentially one substance, but it exists in many spacially distinct, though qualitatively similar specimens. The tendency is, of course, not a substance materially divisible; but nothing prevents our conceiving it as a power which is one in essence, though manifesting itself in the form of many distinct actual forces entering into the composition of many distinct dynamic systems. But any one who wishes is welcome to a different philosophic interpretation of its unity and plurality, provided its scientific utility remain unimpaired.


The concrete objective conditions of the action are variable from case to case and change in the very course of activity. But here also, the subject himself introduces a certain relatively uniform determination and stability, isolates and fixes certain elements as common to many concrete actions and definitely characterizes them in a way which remains essentially consistent up to the end of each particular action.

Not all the conditions which the tendency of the subject meets in his cultural and natural milieu are equally important from the standpoint of this tendency, and their significance for the action, the practical rôle they play, depends primarily not on the objective absolute position which they possess within the world of nature or the cultural world at large, but on the relative position which they occupy in the subject's eyes with reference to each other and to the tendency which has to be satisfied. The concrete milieu in which the action begins furnishes only the raw material upon which the subject draws to shape his own practical construction and interpretation

(80) of the actual conditions as affecting his tendency. He extracts some objects and facts from the total complexity of his sphere of experience and incorporates them into his action by taking practically into account only that aspect of them which, judging by past experiences, is apt to affect the course of the action. In short, with the help of his observation of the present and his memory of the past he defines the actual situation with which his tendency will have to count. Of course, this definition is seldom a reflective, conceptual one; usually it manifests itself only in the practical meaning which the elements of the situation assume for the subject.

This defining of the situation is most clearly marked in planful social action at the moment when the subject, having outlined for himself his future course and made a mental survey of his object, his resources, possible obstacles, etc., passes to overt social behavior and begins to perform activities whose results are directly accessible to the experience of others. Such a definite separation of the period of .planning from the period of fulfilment is, however, not an indispensable condition of observing the situation. The latter may define itself partly before, partly after overt social behavior has begun. In any case, there comes a time when the subject has a definite view of his situation and does not expect the subsequent course of events to do anything more than realize the possibilities which the situation already includes and assures. From that moment on the situation remains determined in its essential outline up to the end of the action and, as we shall see in detail later on, any important change which is unexpectedly brought into it produces a more or less radical deviation of the action from the course traced in accordance with the principle of achievement.

There are, indeed, cases when the situation is left undetermined almost to the very end, as for instance, when

(81) a political leader, faced by new and rapidly changing social events, consciously checks any inclination on his part to commit himself to a definite practical course and tries to keep his mind open to any new possibilities which may unexpectedly arise. Such cases escape the rational grasp of science. Most frequently, however, the subject defines his situation at an early period of the action and keeps this definition up unless forced to drop the action itself.

What are the essential elements of a social situation, those elements without which the subsequent course of the action cannot be outlined?

The first and most indispensable element is, of course, the social object. Every social action purposes to influence, to modify an individual or a group, and although a social tendency on its first appearance may have no definite individual or group in view, yet the action cannot go on unless the object of its purposed influence is chosen and determined. It may happen, indeed, that this determination of the social object is rather vague, that the subject does not explicitly distinguish between the particular individuals or groups upon whom his action may have an effect, but embraces in his social purpose an indistinct plurality of human beings. But even this implies usually some practical isolation of this plurality from all the other real or possible human beings in the world; and in any case involves a characterization, however vague, of these human beings individually or collectively considered.

The social object as element of the situation is not, of course, the individual or group as they actually are in the whole concreteness of their personal or collective life, but the individual or group as known and actually viewed by the subject from the standpoint of his present action. We would say that it is the subject's — "idea" of the human beings in question, if this term did not commit us to a more idealistic interpretation of social life than we care to accept.

(82) The social object is certainly not an idea in the sense of an "internal" psychological copy or extract of the real "external" human being with whom the subject is concerned nor, in general, is it a mere datum of consciousness; for, as we know, consciousness is not a receptacle or a closed series of states which are copies of objects or symbols corresponding to them, but a course of activities dealing with the objects themselves and of experiences in which the objects themselves are actually given.

Even if the social object sometimes happens to be an "imaginary" person or collectivity, it has at least that kind of reality which belongs to a myth, the hero of a novel, a dead historical personality or nation, a poem, or a religious dogma—the reality that makes it a possible object of many acts, allows it to enter into the composition of many systems and to assume in each of these systems a different aspect, while remaining numerically the same. These are the essential features of all objects, material and non-material, and we do not think the term "idea" appropriate to characterize this class of phenomena. And, of course, in most cases the social object is not a myth, an imaginary hero or a deceased person, but a personality or collectivity fully real and alive, which performs acts and experiences objects, just as the subject himself. Such a personality is, of course, not given to the subject in the total wealth and complexity of its past and present acts and experiences; the subject has in his present action a certain aspect of this personality to deal with, and only this particular aspect is of practical importance in his eyes. But, this aspect is a part of the personality itself; a man as social being is not only what he sees, thinks and does, but also what others think about him end do with him.

This part or aspect of the concrete personality or collectivity which goes to constitute the content and meaning of the social object is composed in a large measure of

(83) features that are common to many social objects. When an individual or a group is selected and defined for the purposes of a social action, the subject is mostly interested in such characters as permit him to compare it with the objects of some of his past actions and to foresee its behavior in response to his present acts by analogy or by contrast with his past experiences. This is the same schematizing attitude which our mind takes with regard to all objects of our practice and of our knowledge. In our contact with men it is perhaps less marked than in our dealing with inanimate things or lower organic beings; we individualize human persons and groups more than we do stones, plants or animals. But individual distinctions usually develop only on closer acquaintance. Our first practical contact with a human being is invariably accompanied by conscious or subconscious attempts to schematize him: his body ranges itself at once into several classes as male or female, old or young, well dressed or ragged, handsome or homely, etc; his facial expression suggests that he is apt to behave in a certain well-known way, that he has an attitude of distrust or confidence, anger or fear, sympathy or antipathy, desire for communication or desire for solitude, etc. We are interested in his social position, hoping to draw from it conclusions as to his probable conduct with regard to us and to others. We try to ascertain the psychological type of which he may be considered a representative: we want to know whether he is violent or mild, generous or miserly, quick or slow, lazy or active, etc., for the psychological type is characterized by a disposition to react in a certain uniform way to certain social actions and thus permits us to foretell more or less exactly how he will react to our action,

And even when a social object has become highly individualized and set apart as unique, the particular aspect of it which appears as predominant from the standpoint

(84) of the present social tendency and on which its significance for the present social action is based remains often in a large measure comparable to aspects which other social objects have worn in other actions. When we wish to obtain social recognition from a particular person, we base our expectations and methods of action chiefly on what our experience and information tell us about those general human features owing to which social recognition can be obtained from human beings.

Finally, even those aspects which appear as particularly characteristic of a certain person or group, distinguishing them from others, become stabilized in the eyes of the subject who in every new action defines this person or group in the same way as he did in his past dealings with them; only new experiences forced upon him in the further progress of the action make him change his view of the social object, take new aspects into consideration. This change, like other changes occuring in the action, will be studied later on.

Thus the social object, like the social tendency, is a more or less stable component of the social action. It can be analyzed into schematic features which are found also in an indefinite number of other objects, and such individual peculiarities as it possesses may be observed also in other actions of which it is an element. Therefore, like the tendency, it becomes accessible to scientific generalization, independently of the variety of particular combinations in which it occurs.

The next essential element of the social situation is the expected result of the action which in social actions always means a definite reaction which the subject purposes to provoke in the social object. While this expected reaction will become fully real only after it actually happens and is observed by the subject, nevertheless it has already a certain degree of practical reality after having been

(85) "mentally" constructed. Indeed, it is potentially achieved for the subject as soon as the latter has determined it as the purpose which he will realize, and knows or believes he knows how to obtain it. Its actual performance by the social object seems then merely a matter of continuing the action, and this continuance, in accordance with the principle of achievement, is assured if no unexpected obstacles occur. Even such a potential achievement is sufficient to make the subject adjust some of his experiences to this reaction; he prepares a place for it within his present sphere of reality; he adapts his conditions in advance to his purpose as soon as the latter has been defined.

Moreover, the expected reaction, like the tendency and the social object, is actively. schematized and stabilized by the subject and thus becomes in the full sense of the term a real element. It is constructed with the help of data drawn from past experience; it appears simply as another datum similar to those which have been often represented in past actions. The subject who wants social recognition or sympathy means to bring into his actual experience the same kind of reaction which has been offered to him in the past or which he has seen offered to other subjects. Of course, usually the subject realizes that the social reaction he will obtain may differ in some particulars from the reactions he himself or others have obtained in the past; but these differences are secondary in his eyes as compared with the essential similarity which puts all cases of social recognition — or all cases of sympathy — together into a separate class. It is this similarity which leads him to expect that he will provoke some kind of recognition or sympathy, if he uses methods which have provoked it in the past.

In so far as the result will contain features the like of which the subject has not experienced before, these features cannot be purposed, because they cannot be

(86) represented by him in advance. Even when he intentionally wishes to create something new, his expectation must at least foreshadow some deviation from a certain model which he has already known. This is true also of the first groping manifestation of an "instinctive" tendency, well illustrated by the early expressions of sexual wishes: even here, the individual begins by wanting to provoke a reaction similar to some reactions he has already experienced personally or observed, and only new and unexpected experiences in the course of his action can force this course into previously unknown channels.

Having once more or less consciously defined to himself on the ground of his previous experiences the concrete reaction which he expects, the subject keeps this closely in view throughout the course of his action and the expected result as thus defined becomes a part of the whole situation. Its definition becomes involved in the definition of the situation, and the subject considers it as the only one which will adequately meet the demands put by him in defining the situation. Nevertheless, there is a certain amount of plasticity left in this definition of the expected reaction with regard to secondary details, or whatever may be treated as such. All features of the actually experienced reaction which were not foreseen in advance are as far as possible interpreted in 'accordance with this original definition; and the concrete content of the latter adapts itself in a certain measure to the actual results of the action, these adaptations appearing at the moment quite unimportant. The possibility of such adaptations is assured by the connection existing between the expected result and the other elements of the situation: the subject will continue to treat the result which is actually being achieved as essentially identical with the result he originally expected to achieve as long as it seems to him to fit the situation and to lead toward its solution. Only

(87) when the actually experienced reaction cannot be treated thus any longer, when it becomes evident to the subject that the result he is achieving does not solve the problem which has been put in defining the situation, then this result is qualified by him as essentially different from the expected one, and the action deviates from its course.

This relative plasticity in the definition of the expected result is found in varying degrees in different actions and explains the fact that, whereas to the outside observer the final real result of the action is never quite identical in content with the representation of the future result as the subject originally expected to experience it —a nonidentity which led Wundt to formulate his principle of the "heterogony of ends" — the acting individual or collectivity consider their purpose achieved and their tendency satisfied, if only the final real result means the same to them in connection with the other elements of the situation at the end of the action as the originally expected result meant at the beginning. And since for the social psychologist it is the point of view of the acting subject, not that of the outside observer which matters in studying the social action, we must consider the actual result as essentially identical with the expected result, if the subject is satisfied with it and feels that he has solved his problem. The stability of the expected result from the beginning to the end of the action is real just because, and in so far as, it is real to the subject; for the whole systematic organization of the action is the subject's work.

The third component of the social situation is the intended objective process by which the purposed social reaction is expected to be attained; we call it the instrumental process. The subject determines ' "mentally" and starts practically a series of objective changes which will produce the result as defined: words to be spoken; bodily movements

(88) to be made; physical processes to be causally realized with the help of bodily movements; modifications of religious, intellectual, political, economic systems to be originated and made to bear upon the social object. The mental determination of this instrumental process may precede its practical beginning, as when a plan of ways and means is carefully laid out in advance; or else it may develop simultaneously with the actual start, or even afterwards, as in impulsive social action. It sometimes ,happens that the instrumental process is determined before the expected result, or the social object, or both have been defined; and no doubt, the' determination of the instrumental process often influences the determination of the purpose by making it clear what results can and what cannot be obtained under the given circumstances. In a word, the elements of the social situation are not necessarily determined all at once, nor is there any essential order in which they must appear. But there comes a moment when the instrumental process is finally settled the simpler and less original the action, the sooner this moment arrives. Only in a relatively small proportion of activities, which remain generally unsettled, do the subjects continue indefinitely and intentionally to reorganize their instrumental processes; and such activities escape our theory in the very measure of their instability. We shall return to them later. Meanwhile, it is a fact that in most of those activities which normally come under the scope of the social psychologist an early determination is the rule.

In determining the instrumental process, the subject follows the same practical ways of schematization and stabilization as in defining the social object and the purposed result. Though the conditions of the action vary from case to case so that the instrumental process can never be objectively the same, the socially active individual and, still more, the socially active collectivity

(89) attach themselves to the relatively repeatable part of this process as to its essential part, and try to make it as similar as possible to other instrumental processes known from past actions, by treating its dissimilar, unrepeatable parts as secondary and relatively unimportant. Practical schematization has perhaps gone further here than in the matter of social objects or of social purposes. There is a marked inclination to use essentially the same instrumental processes for the attainment of results recognized to be widely divergent, and even when dealing with social objects of different classes; the procedure is differentiated only as to secondary details. Take, for instance, the method of ordering and prohibiting which is used to obtain the most various social results; the use of economic rewards as inducement to perform various social functions; the constant resort to preaching in order to gain a moral or religious influence; the compulsory repetition of the words of the teacher or of phrases printed in books as the traditional routine of intellectual education in various fields, etc.

The stabilization of the instrumental process manifests itself in the fact that the subject, having chosen a schematically determined series of objective changes by which his result is to be reached, adapts his. further activity to it and tries to follow it as exactly as he can up to the end of the action. And when actual modifications of the instrumental process must, nevertheless, be introduced to meet changing conditions, if the expected result is to be attained, the subject will not consider them as important as long as the instrumental process preserves the same significance with regard to the total situation as it had when first chosen and determined. If, however, the modification required be so radical as to change the role played by the instrumental process in the situation, the whole action will undergo a change which we shall study later on.


The elements defined above — the object, the purposed result, and the instrumental process — may be found in all practical situations and in all spheres of human activity. Besides these, in social situations — or rather, in some social situations — there appears yet another element whose existence is due to the particular character of social behavior as compared with other kinds of activity. The social action bears upon human beings and expects these human beings to react. Now, human beings, unlike physical things, works of art, myths, etc., are not only objects, but also subjects of action. Consequently, the social agent, while being the subject of an action of which other men are the objects, may be also at the same time an object of the social actions of others, who in these actions are social subjects with regard to him. The reaction which he means to provoke is sometimes, indeed, a reaction which will have nothing to do with him personally, as when he induces a workman to perform an industrial function or helps a child acquire some theoretic information; but it often is a social reaction of which he will be the object, as when he seeks praise, or aims to be elected to a political office.

In outlining his action the subject may or may not be "self-conscious", that is, realize the fact that he, the agent, is a social object to others; but if he does, then his own personality, as he imagines it viewed by others. enters into his social situation. He is then conscious that the achievement of his social tendency, the actual occurrence and character of the social reaction he tends to provoke, depend among other factors also upon his own social person as given to the human beings from whom this reaction is expected. The same holds true, though in a more complex way, when the social subject is not an individual, but a collectivity acting together. We may call this self-objectified social subject simply the reflected self, as Mr. Cooley does,[3] but

(91) rather in the common than in the scientific sense of the words, since in common speech the term "self" is used of a group as well as of an individual ("ourselves" as well as "myself"), and is thus not confined to "I", but is coextensive with both "I" and "we".

Each normal human being and collectivity has a reflected self constructed on the ground of those past experiences in which they have been conscious of being a social object for others. It is a well-known fact that the social origin of the reflected self may be forgotten; the individual, in particular, often thinks of himself without regard to others who may think of him, because he has learned to objectify himself as. social object without any actual reference to other subjects who did or will make him a social object of their actions. In spite of this, the content of the reflected self remains chiefly social: however exceptional an individual may feel himself to be, his reflected self is constituted of features which put him into a class with many others, make him a type or a combination of types. He sees himself under the same aspects under which others observe him; as a soldier, a workman, or a scientist; as wise or foolish, lazy or active, mild or violent, tall or small, handsome or homely, etc.; while even such exceptional features as he may ascribe to himself are usually defined by contrast with other men. Moreover, the very consciousness of being a social agent involves a reference to other agents; the individual sees himself active as member or representative of a group — a family, a social circle, a corporation, a class, a church, a nation — sometimes, as in opposition to other members of a group. Likewise, a collectivity composed of such members is represented by each and all of them as possessing a certain type of composition and organization, similar to or different from other collectivities, as unanimous or divided, as acting collectively in a body or by its representatives, etc.


It is true that the reflected self includes certain features which distinguish it objectively from all others: a name, a peculiar history, some originality of behavior. All social objects have such individualistic features, but this does not make them unique or incomparable as social objects. They can still be subsumed under objective categories, just as other individual instances of a class which have their own peculiar place, history and characteristics. Of course, this reflected self is just a partial objectivation of the concrete personality which in the subjective totality of its experiences and activities is unique and incomparable.

In a particular action only a certain aspect of the reflected self comes into consideration — the aspect which is supposed to have a bearing upon the expected reaction of the social object. Thus, in running for a political position the individual views himself as a candidate and those personal features come into prominence which are important for his political standing. The same individual in wooing a girl will again appear to himself in a different light as a prospective lover and husband. A nation in war is interested in those characters of its composition, organization, past history, etc. which concern its military prestige and efficiency; whereas the same nation doing collective homage to a great poet or thinker who has contributed to its intellectual culture and glory will look upon itself in the light of its intellectual achievements and cultural unity. Such an aspect of the reflected self prevails throughout the action, and only with difficulty can the subject be forced into a different view of himself than the one which he has once assumed: the politician who has persuaded himself that he is the proper candidate for the election will be apt to ignore during the electoral contest any doubts which may occur to him as to his political ability or interest; the nation which has taken on a military character for the purposes of a war will hardly reflect

(93) much about itself as a peaceful producer of intellectual culture while the war lasts, and so on.

All those essential elements of the social situation possess a common feature of first-rate importance: they are not merely experienced, but also appreciated by the subject — they are values. This means, speaking in terms of introspective psychology, that there are emotional phenomena connected with their actual experience, and a complex emotional process underlies the social situation while the latter lasts; eventually, also, there may be judgments of valuation, explicit or implicit, with reference to the various objective components of the action. Since we are not here concerned in introspective psychological analysis, we shall not treat these emotional and intellectual phenomena as distinct data; but shall follow the unsophisticated experience of the subject for whom axiological meanings —pleasantness, unpleasantness, goodness, badness, utility, harmfulness, etc. — are not psychological states arising in response to experienced objects, only characters belonging, at least temporarily and relatively, to these objects themselves. From the practical social point of view, the important matter is not what the individual may find "in his consciousness" when he plays the psychologist and instead of acting analyzes his various moods, feelings and ideas, but what axiological significance is ascribed by him to the elements of the situation as such, and how this significance which they possess in his eyes affects his behavior with regard to them. And since we mean to study the social action as a practical system, this point of view is also the one our theory must take.

It appears then that each element of the social situation brings with it into the latter a certain axiological significance which it has acquired in former experiences and activities of the subject, and that it acquires certain further axiological features in this situation, owing to its

(94) relation to other elements of the social action. Thus, the social object, individual or group, is usually either a positive or a negative value before the action begins: it is either pleasant, good, attractive, dear, familiar, admirable, friendly; or unpleasant, bad, repulsive, hateful, unfamiliar, contemptible, hostile, etc. In addition to this, in the action itself it is 'the object of a special appreciation, connected with a positive or negative bearing of the social tendency, which may be either a tendency to approach, to help, to give pleasure, to subordinate oneself, to confide; or a tendency to fly, to hinder, to inflict pain, to subjugate, to mistrust, etc. the given individual or group. Though such a positive tendency usually becomes connected with a social object which was positive before the action, and vice versa, yet it may happen otherwise we sometimes wish to do good to an enemy or intend to hurt a friend. In such cases the negative value is qualified positively and the positive value negatively within the limits of the action; though, of course, only relatively to the point of view of the given tendency and with reference to the given purpose.

The reaction which the subject expects has always an axiological character of its own independently of the meaning which is given to it in the present action. We shall see later to what this character is due. Besides this, however, within the limits of the present action and with reference to the tendency of this action it is always qualified as a positive value, since it satisfies the tendency. Thus it is usually unpleasant to provoke expressions of hostility on the part of friendly persons, and yet an individual may face the alternative of provoking either hostility or contempt, and choose the former as in his eyes the lesser evil, which then appears as a relatively positive value within the limits of the action. On the other hand, the expression of hostility on the part

(95) of an enemy may have acquired as positive a character as the expression of affection on the part of a friend, and both may be equally purposed results of action, if the former is connected with a negative, the latter with a positive tendency.

The instrumental process is always a positive value with reference to the tendency and to the purposed result, since it forwards the realization of the latter, though it may have acquired a negative character before —for instance, if it demands a very strenuous effort — and may be even negatively appreciated with reference to the social object, as when we punish a beloved child in order to prevent a worse harm or to teach it a lesson; and also with reference to the reflected self, as when we must humiliate ourselves to obtain some important social result.

The reflected self is usually a positive value before the action, except in relatively rare cases of voluntary self-abasement, as when a religious man thinks of himself continually as a vile sinner; whereas in the course of the action and relatively to the other elements it may be qualified positively, e. g. the politician running for a position or the poet working for fame; or negatively, as in the case of active subordination to the will of a superior.

The ultimate source of valuation within the limits of the action is thus, as we see, the social tendency.


  1. When the individual or the collectivity through its members reflects about itself or acts so as to influence its own future behavior, this is merely one particular form of social experiences and activities, and included in our general definition.
  2. Animals might, of course. have been included in our definition as subjects and objects of social experiences and acts, but this would be to extend social psychology to data which possess comparatively little significance; for when men treat animals as social objects they usually apply to them some of the ways developed in their relations with other men, and as subjects of social experiences and acts animals are much less accessible to us than men, for we have only bodily movements' and a limited number of apparently intentional sighs given to us, whereas man's behavior offers a wide range of acts to observation and his intentions are consciously conveyed to us by speech.
  3. Human Nature and the Social Order.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2