The Laws of Social Psychology

Chapter 3: Stability and New Experience

Florian Znaniecki

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The social action as analyzed in the preceding chapter appears as a system of interconnected elements, each of which is capable of entering into many different combinations. The connection between any two elements is evident from the former discussion: the tendency determines the course of the action originally and defines the situation under the given conditions; the expected result is connected with the social object as a future reaction of this object which the subject proposes to provoke by his activity; the reflected self is connected both with the social object — for it is the agent's self viewed from the assumed standpoint of the social object — and with the, expected result, since the reaction of the social object will depend upon his attitude toward the subject; finally, the instrumental process .is primarily related to the purpose, which is to be realized through its medium, secondarily to the social object and to the reflected self, for the way to obtain the proposed reaction depends on the nature of the social object who is expected to react, and indirectly on this object's attitude toward the agent. When all those elements are determined and fixed, the social action is a closed system depending entirely upon itself, except for some secondary and relatively insignificant circumstances.

It is evidently a dynamic system, that is, it includes processes which normally will run on until the action ends

(97) and the entire combination disappears from actuality, to be eventually reconstructed by somebody else or by the same subject at some later time. The tendency is a dynamic element expressing itself gradually in the definition and practical solution of the situation. The situation proceeds gradually to its practical solution, to the realization of the purpose through the instrumental process which has been determined upon, and this solution of the situation brings with it the expected modification of the social object, and eventually a corresponding modification of the reflected self upon whom the object will react. In short, whatever modifications will occur in the system are implied in its very structure, just as the modifications of a physical system are; the continuation of the action will only fulfil the possibilities already fixed and limited in the tendency and the situation.

The normal course of the action is thus subjected to the principle of achievement, but not to any scientific laws. The structure of the system as such is constituted by ideal connections; the particular tendency, object, purpose, instrumental process, reflected self "belong together" just as the concepts in a scientific theory or the parts of a machine: they belong together not because some real forces have brought them together, but because the active subject has "mentally" selected them and determined them with reference to one another. The fact that their ideal "belonging together" is accompanied by their real "being together", that the system does not remain in the sphere of mere mental possibilities, but is realized in social practice, is due to that ultimate and inexplicable character of the action which we have expressed in the principle of achievement. The action, which starts with a tendency and begins by defining the situation, spontaneously goes on to satisfy really the tendency and to solve the situation by realizing its ideal possibilities; there is no possible and no called-

(98) -for explanation of this fact, any more than of the fact that a movement, once started, continues unless interfered with. The action as such cannot be explained, either causally, or finally, or by any other imaginable method.

But each deviation from its appointed course will call for causal explanation, and this is what we are concerned about. Two essentially different general problems must be faced when we ask ourselves why an activity ever deviates. There would be only one general problem if all activity were organized into actions as perfectly fixed and determined in their constitution as we have assumed them to be. Then, indeed, as in the case of physical movement, every deviation would have to be explained by influences coming from the outside, not by any factors involved in the activity itself. To simplify the question in our preceding discussion we have considered the closed action to be the usual and normal state of things; and when mentioning cases where the determination and fixation of the particular elements is not achieved, we excluded these from consideration as exceptional and beyond the grasp of science. And yet, we must somehow account for them and reconcile them with the principle of achievement, for the difference between them and other cases treated as normal is often only a matter of degree; we pass by imperceptible gradation from activities whose structure is changing, almost fluid, to actions, whose structure becomes determined and stabilized almost immediately after their commencement. Before trying to find the laws of change of stabilized social actions, we shall do what we can to subordinate the unstabilized activity to scientific aims, if not by extending to it the methods of Scientific rationalism, at least by defining in scientific terms the relation between it and the stabilized action.

The unstabilized social activity is one whose object, expected result, instrumental process, eventually reflected self, and their connections undergo a spontaneous evolution with

(99) no definite limits. The unstabilized activity should be distinguished from popularly—called "fickle conduct" as illustrated by the behavior of a man whose tendencies and purposes change from moment to moment under any passing influences. Fickleness does not exclude temporary stabilization; the fickle man usually has for the time being very definite views of his social situation and very clearly outlined purposes. The point is simply that any unexpected happening, any new suggestion, interferes with his going on in the chosen direction and makes his conduct deviate into a different line. Such behavior can be brought very easily under the laws of change which we shall study later on.

In the unstabilized activity stability is intentionally excluded in advance. The subject wants new and unforeseen experiences to come to him in the course of this activity, and means to keep it changing. His tendency is primarily and essentially not a tendency to obtain some result defined and known in advance under definite and known circum stances, but a tendency to obtain results as yet unknown under circumstances which are expected to change in an imprevisible way. Of course, the range of new possibilities thus kept open for his activity is not unlimited; the tendency always is qualified, the subject knows in a general way what kind of new experiences he wants. He may wish for power, or for recognition; he means to draw his social milieu toward some moral ideal or to revolutionize the political organization of his nation. But he makes no fixed plan, desires no definite reaction to definite acts; his intention implies adapting his plans continually to changing conditions, obtaining continually unforeseen reactions to new acts. The leading tendency of such an activity is a tendency demanding new experiences in a particular line; whereas a tendency which brings with it an intentional determination of the action involves, as we have seen,

(100) a demand that the situation of this action once defined should remain stable.

In every field of social behavior we find the distinction between tendencies demanding new experiences, and tendencies demanding stability within the range of those social possibilities which are open to them. We may wish to gain recognition or sympathy from new men by new methods, on the one hand, or from old associates by well-known means, on the other hand; we may desire to extend continually the sphere of our speaking acquaintances, or to communicate only with old friends; we may seek to obtain a particular political post under the present régime, or hope for increasing political importance through a revolution upsetting this régime.

An activity originating in some tendency demanding new experiences is evidently subordinated to the principle of achievement, just as an action starting with some tendency demanding stability. Once begun, it goes on until obstacles interfere. There are, however, important distinctions: the achievement under a tendency demanding new experiences lies in the very fact that the activity does bring continually new experiences of the desired kind; it is being indefinitely attained without actually arriving, precisely because the activity aims not to arrive at a settled end. And since the tendency provides in advance for changes of object, result, instrumental process, such changes do not bring any deviation of the activity from the original direction — as long, of course, as the range of possibilities implied in the tendency demanding new experiences is wide enough to include them. Therefore, deviation with regard to this kind of activities can mean only one thing: it consists in the fact that an intentionally unsettled activity becomes determined and thus takes the form of settled action. It deviates by becoming stabilized. Even this is possible only because no activity is absolutely

(101) unsettled, because the range of new experience which its leading tendency demands is always more or less limited. This process of stabilization gives science some access to the unsettled activity, which cannot be enclosed in the framework of rational concepts while and in so far as it remains unsettled; but the moment it begins to settle, science obtains a grip upon it.


A few empirically observed instances of stabilization will facilitate the understanding and explanation of this process. Perhaps the best known and most instructive instance is the fixation of human behavior which comes with advancing age. The adventuresome spirit of youth gradually subsides, activity learns to run along established grooves, and whatever desire for new experience still remains can only find its expression either in flights of imagination or in some side-lines which can be separated from the main course of life. It will not do to ascribe this process exclusively to the loss of plasticity in the organism and in the nervous system in particular. Though biological factors do play here a certain role, social factors are at least equally important, as is shown by the variations of stabilization manifestly due to varying social conditions. Thus, in lower societies and in lower classes of the same society the stabilization of young people generally takes place at an earlier age than in more complex and more highly cultivated social milieux. In modern civilized life the limits of youth have been much extended at the cost of maturity, and this extension — which has mostly taken place in the course of the last century or two is clearly not the result of any marvelous increase of vitality in the human race, but mainly of the fact that society does not expect and does not force youth to settle as early as it did before. This retardation of stabilization is particularly

(102) marked with regard to women, for whom marriage usually means the end of youth and the beginning of maturity; the normal limit of the marriageable age of a woman, and consequently the reckoning of her youth has been extended by at least ten years in the last century among the cultivated classes of Western societies.

What is more: a similar extension has made the period of middle age increasingly encroach upon that of old age; the individual takes an active part in social life much longer than formerly, and in some pursuits the moment of retirement is not settled by custom or by law, as it used to be, but depends on the concrete conditions in each particular case. And since active social life in modern times demands more mental plasticity of its participants than it did in the past, such a postponement of the period of old-age retirement means that the stabilization of maturity is neither as thorough nor as all-sided as it used to 'be a few generations ago. A certain range of new experience is allowed to the mature individual, even within those limits in which his activities have become stabilized, and outside of these limits some lines of activity remain open to him in which little stabilization is socially demanded. Thus, intellectual and physical pursuits having the character of sport, though they have no direct bearing upon the serious business of life, help the mature individual of the present time to preserve some of his mental plasticity. Finally, we may mention a number of occupations in which the search for new experiences preserves a much greater rôle than usually; such are those of policeman, actor, writer, scientist.[1] Still, even in these lines some stabilization takes place; and, generally speaking, in maturity and old age the field in which stabilization is socially demanded remains incomparably wider than the field of permitted mobility.


In the behavior of social groups parallel instances of a general stabilization are found after periods of migration, revolution and revolt. The case of migration is illustrated by Greek colonization; by the settlement of Teutonic peoples in the early Middle Ages in France, Spain, and Northern Italy; by the establishment of Western invaders in Palestine after the First Crusade; finally, by the whole process of gradual colonization of the United States. Every migration involves, of course, a conscious break with some of the stabilized conditions and forms of behavior, and an intentional search for new experiences in some fields at least; and each ends in an effort to stabilize social life in the new environment. This effort sometimes begins immediately on arrival, and often proves premature with regard to the range of unforeseen possibilities which the new conditions gradually open and with regard also to the persistence of the search for new experiences in some of the members of the migrating group. An outline of future stabilization is often drawn up even at the outset, as instanced by certain Greek colonists who took with them such religious and magical values as could be transported, and planned to copy the structure of their metropolis in building the colonial city. Similarly, the Teutonic peoples carried their tribal law and their military system wherever they went; the "Pilgrim Fathers" set out with the rigid scheme of a puritanic conception of life. In such cases the stable traditional framework becomes the center of stabilization for those lines of behavior in which originally the search for new experiences predominated. The division of spoils among the Teutonic invaders of Roman provinces, and the relations between them and local population were settled under the influence of their ancient social and political organization; religious interpretations and sanctions were extended over the whole pioneer work of the Puritans; the crusaders who remained as rulers of Eastern principalities in Syria and Palestine, and the groups

(104) of knights who under the influence of religious and altruistic exaltation tended the sick and defended the pilgrims visiting the Holy Shrine framed their new activities into the old categories of feudal society. Sometimes, on the other hand, the new stabilization arises independently of any traditional order; take the spontaneous organization of gold-mining and ranching communities in the American West.

The stabilization after revolutionary upheavals is better known and even more striking because the social tendencies involved in revolutions usually are more radically bent on new experiences than those involved in migration, particularly in organized migration. The migrating group preserves an explicit or latent respect for many of its traditions, institutions and mores, whereas a revolutionary groupusually wants most of them changed. How quickly the desire for stability sets in, is well illustrated by the case of Bolshevist Russia; how unavailing, because premature, are many of the attempts to attain a post-revolutionary stabilization is shown by the history of France from 9789 to 9877, when at first every few months, later every few years brought a new constitution.

The stabilization of groups in revolt against the wider society in the midst of which they live is exemplified by the rigid organization of most militant secret societies, and by the codes of criminals whose severity has often provoked the surprise of students unable to understand how men who would not observe the rules of a normal social order willingly subject themselves to the much more exacting and stringent discipline of their group. Even groups of intellectual Bohemians, most eager to avoid all stabilization and mentally best able to do it, cannot escape the gradual growth of a more or less fixed schematism in the midst of their very revolt against all schematisms.

From these general processes let us pass to simpler cases of stabilization taking place in the course of some particular line of activity.


An Englishman started on his travels with the obvious and avowed desire to escape the boredom of old things, occupations, acquaintances and customs, and to obtain as many new and unfamiliar experiences as possible. No sooner arrived in a foreign city, than he joined the local English colony, kept aloof from all intimate contact with the native population, lived in a hotel where he could follow as closely as possible his old routine in matters of food, clothes, and lodging, was filled with contempt or with righteous indignation at any discrepancy between foreign customs, mores, ideas, and those" English standards he was trying to escape; and limited practically his new experiences to sight-seeing, shopping and table talk

Two ladies of the old continental aristocracy opened their salons to political, scientific, literary and artistic circles, so as to provoke and to experience continually new social contacts. After a while, one of them commenced to eliminate all the new elements except a few whose behavior proved to fit into the framework of classical aristocratic society, while the other preserved her wide salon as formerly, under the impression that she was performing a hard duty for the benefit of mankind, but organized separate, small and purely aristocratic receptions whose participants ceased to come to the big mixed meetings.

A social reformer started to organize a cooperative association on a new basis with innumerable new industrial, commercial, political, recreational, intellectual possibilities looming in the future. Gradually, however, these possibilities, after a few vague attempts at realizing some of them, dropped out, and the association became under his leadership an ordinary limited liability company, specializing in a few industrial and commercial enterprises.

A revolutionist participated in efforts to overthrow the existing government with wide plans and ambitions for political and social reconstruction. He had many discouraging

(106) experiences; among other things was betrayed by a friend and kept several months in prison. When offered a post under the existing régime, he took it, still intending to work for social reform; but when his first reformatory attempts were baffled, he resigned himself, and became a conservatist working for the advancement of his own bureaucratic career

A teacher wishing to get out of the rut and to individualize his purposes and methods in application to the different personalities of his pupils made a series of mistakes in these endeavors by applying the wrong method to the wrong personality. The school inspectors found his pupils insufficiently provided with the requisite stock of knowledge. After this he tried merely to impart information efficiently according to the appointed program, and developed a rigid routine.

A boy escaped from home in search of adventure and in order to avoid domestic discipline. After a few days, of unsatisfactory vagabondage, being still unwilling to return, he hired himself as a servant on a peasant farm, where the discipline was much stricter than at home. After a month, he wrote asking to be forgiven and taken home.

A group of painters dissatisfied with the alleged conservatisrn and uniformity manifested in the exhibitions of the artistic society to which they belonged, broke off and started a new society, exhibiting under the slogans of aristic revolution and individual anarchy. Their opponents and critics marked them as a school and emphasized some common traits of their most striking products as characters of the school. In trying to justify their revolt they followed the hint of their critics, developed an artistic credo and set out to put this credo into action, demanding of all members a strict adherence to the new common standards.

How should social psychology deal with facts like those outlined above? It cannot be satisfied, of course, with merely stating a frequent, or even a regular occurrence

(107) of processes of stabilization at certain points of activities that have started in search of new experiences; for such a statement does not explain the processes it describes. Nor is an adequate explanation given by simply assuming a constitutional conservatism of human beings, an inherent inclination of human nature toward stability and repetition; for these are nothing but ways of expressing the general observation that most activities are more or less determined and stabilized, and that even those which intend to remain changing usually undergo sooner or later the process of stabilization. It is certainly a true generalization; but it does not help us understand why any particular activity at any particular moment has become stabilized in spite of its original intention to remain unstable; and if too much stressed, it involves the danger of precluding any under standing of the opposite fact, i. e., of the very appearance of activities whose intention is not stability, but new experiences.

We should fare no better by admitting with some authors a rhythm of stability and change conditioned by energetic processes going on in the body: an actual surplus of organic energy agglomerated during a period of stability manifesting itself in the search for change, the expenditure of this surplus in new activities naturally leading back to rest and stabilization. Even if the facts were considered from a purely biological point of view, this explanation would not adequately cover them, for the search for change may start and go on during morbid periods of energetic exhaustion, and the stabilization of action sometimes requires as much or more actual nervous effort than the most restless mobility. Moreover, all biological explanation neglects those variations which are obviously due to social influences. Organic facts must, of course, play a rôle in behavior, since the subject's body is an instrument of all activity; but in each case other empirical factors contribute in

(108) producing the particular empirical effects, and none of them should be assumed once and for ever to be the universal determining force.

The only proper approach to the solution of our problem is to compare various empirical processes of stabilization, keeping in view the tendencies and experiences of the active subjects themselves and seeking to find what is common in all these processes. Clearly, the common and important fact which calls for explanation is the appearance in the given line of behavior of a tendency to pass from an intentional search for new and unexpected possibilities to a limited and systematized action or series of actions, each dealing with a definite situation composed of determined elements more or less similar to those known from past experiences. We may call this tendency the desire for stability, and define it as a desire to stabilize a course of activity which up to then has been unstable, that is, voluntarily to organize it into determined closed actions. This tendency ceases to be actual after stabilization has been achieved; but it may be revived at any moment, if the subject is inclined to start off again on a search for new experiences and then remembers the undesirable consequences which this search brought in the past.

Since, according to the scientific principle of causality, every change must have its cause in some other change within the same system, the cause of the appearance of this desire for stability must be sought in some other change which has occurred in the course of the subject's activity. The effect being a modification of the active tendency, the cause must be found in some change of the objective elements of the activity, some modification of the subject's experiences which the subject, though tending to new and unexpected experiences, did not intend to provoke and did not include within the range of desirable possibilities when he started in search of changes.

(109) However willing a social subject may be to modify his objects, purposes, and instrumental processes in the course of the activity; however open he may remain to new and unexpected possibilities, yet in the very fact that he purposes to bring forth by his own acts unforeseen consequences, the expectation is implied that these consequences will prove positive values, will appear desirable and be positively appreciated by the subject after they have been brought forth. Without such a latent expectation new experiences would not be desired. We do not mean to say, of course, that there always is a reflective foresight or hedonistic calculation of future consequences; on the contrary, usually the real desirability of the actually desired new experiences is not consciously foreshadowed. But the unreflective attitude toward them involves a subconscious demand that they be positive when they come; just as in a tendency which has a definite result in view, there is a subconscious expectation that this result when attained will be a positive value, at least with reference to the given situation.

This expectation of axiologically positive consequences is not yet necessarily baffled if one of the unexpected consequences actually obtained proves to be a negative value. The desire for new experience always includes a more or less conscious acceptance of what Sumner calls the "aleatory element" of life. When we wish new and unforeseen things to happen, we are willing to take the chance that among them may be some undesirable things; and this willingness accounts for much of the excitement which accompanies all activity tending toward new experiences. Guyau's "amour du risque", Thomas' "gaming instinct" express this very willingness to take the bad along with the good chances. But the good chances must prevail, or rather must seem to prevail in the eyes of the subject: unless an actually experienced negative value is

(110) interpreted by the subject as merely a temporary check or a step towards more desirable future consequences, his desire for new experiences will not continue. It is a well-known observation that if a novice in hazardous games has obstinate "bad luck" the first time he plays, he probably will never become a gambler, for it will be difficult for him to develop that sanguine expectation of future gains in spite of present losses which characterizes the true gambling spirit.

Thus, in order to determine that change which causes the appearance of the desire for stability, we must find the process which definitely baffles the. expectation of axiologically positive unforeseen consequences in an unsettled activity. It is not a single undesirable experience, nor even a number of disconnected undesirable experiences scattered among desirable ones. , It can be only a series of negative consequences which in the eyes of the subject seems likely to continue, and thus provokes the definite expectation of a prevalence of undesirable experiences among the new and unforeseen ones which his activity will provoke. This happens whenever each new consequence appears as axiologically negative relatively to the preceding ones; or, in other words, whenever the new experiences seem to range themselves in an ascending scale with regard to their relative undesirability.

How .long such a progressively negative series must be in order to produce the desire for stability depends upon many circumstances. Since we are dealing with unsettled activity, the rational grasp of science cannot be as firm as it might be in bearing upon changes of stabilized action; any law here must leave open a range of possible variations within its limits. In some cases a succession of two new experiences, the second negative with reference to the first, is sufficient. A boy whose experiment of breaking a window is followed by a severe punishment may forever afterwards keep on the safe side with regard

(111) to experiments of this kind; a savage tribe preparing for war may be discouraged and return to peaceful occupations if, after starting to march against the enemy, an unexpected event happens the magical significance of which is interpreted as disastrous. On the other hand, the history of revolutionary movements shows many undaunted fighters whose hope for ultimate success survived for many years a most painful series of obvious failures.

It must be clearly realized that not the absolute objective importance, but the relative subjective ascendency of negative consequences is the determining factor in this process. An individual may not be discouraged by the most difficult obstacles or disastrous events, if they seem accidental; whereas a series of small, but steadily increasing annoyances will dampen his eagerness for the unknown, if they appear as an unavoidable outcome of his line of behavior. Thus, military ardor is more easily changed into a desire for peace and rest by the increasing discomforts of trench life than by the most violent exertions and painful wounds. Further, a series of negative consequences which objectively are of an approximately equal importance usually seem to the subject as ascendent, more seldom as descendent, in the scale of undesirability; if the former, their effect is to develop a desire for stability, Thus, to a man of steady habits who was exceptionally induced to gamble each new loss seems a new and greater misfortune as compared with the preceding one; whereas to the inveterate gambler it appears as the last stroke of bad fortune, after which the luck must turn. Finally, though the actual experiences taken separately may have been even positively "pleasant" in other combinations, they produce the same result as "unpleasant" experiences if the scale of their pleasantness steadily descends, for then every one will seem a relatively negative value with regard to what went before. This is what frequently happens in "sight-seeing".


Taking all this into consideration, we can formulate the law of stabilization as follows:

LAW 1. If in the course of an unstabilized activity the new experiences which this activity produces appear to form a negative axiological scale in such a way that every subsequent experience assumes the character of a relatively negative value as compared with the preceding experiences, there develops a desire for stability in the given line of behavior.

This law may be expressed less exactly, but more popularly by saying: An individual begins to wish for stability if his search for new experiences seems to bring more and more undesirable consequences. The same holds true of a group.

Let us now apply this law to the instances quoted above. Stabilization coming with age is easily explained when we remember: first, that society attaches a negative sanction to the individual's search for new experiences beyond a certain age limit, and that this sanction is graded according to the age of the individual — some acts which are slightly blamed in youth provoke indignation in maturity, others approved in youth, permitted in maturity, are ridiculed in old age — and according to the range and prolongation of the individual's activity; secondly, that objectively the same negative social sanction assumes a greater importance for the individual when he has a responsible position, a family to support, an established reputation to uphold, than when he was a young man with no definite social standing; thirdly, that many new experiences lose their charm, or even become actually unpleasant when the organism ceases to respond positively to stimuli and the physical effort needed to obtain new pleasures becomes increasingly difficult. Thus, with the progress of age, an ever increasing number and variety of unsettled activities, meeting with social and organic

(114) obstacles, lead to that negative axiological scale which causes the desire for new experiences to yield to the desire for stability.

The stabilization of social groups is also seen to be due to the negative axiological scale of new experiences which is brought by the very process of migration, revolution, or revolt. A group may be ready collectively to meet all external difficulties and obstacles, but it is usually not prepared for the internal disruptions which develop in new conditions with particular frequency and facility owing to the fact that each member responds in his own way to the changed environment, while the desire for new experience which is set free in each by the social upheaval leads to unexpected consequences whose harmonization cannot be at once achieved. For each member the new and unpleasant experiences arising from his conflicts with other members are something he did not bargain for when starting in search of new material, political, or economic conditions of collective life. These experiences seem to multiply and grow in importance at an ever increasing rate; for, if a social conflict remains unchecked, it is bound to bring other conflicts, since each member subjectively exaggerates the wrongs done to him, and undervalues those he inflicts upon others. Consequently, the actual series of new experiences arouses a desire for stability, which expresses itself in an effort to define and organize permanently the new social relations within the group and at the same time to impose certain regulations upon new contacts between individual members and the outside world.

The cases of the travelling Englishman and of the aristocratic ladies first extending and then limiting the range of their acquaintanceship are explained by the fact that the first personal contacts with new people'— foreigners or representatives of other classes — provoke some

(114) disagreeable shocks in those who have been brought up according to rigid standards of propriety and accustomed to specific kinds of social responses. Such shocks are apt to increase greatly in subjective importance and to multiply during the period when superficial acquaintance begins to change into intimacy; the subject rightly or wrongly foresees an ascending scale of unpleasant experiences which will follow a further extension of intimate relations, and therefore withdraws into his old shell, at best limiting his further new social experiences to purely superficial contacts and outside observation.

The social reformer or the revolutionist, particularly if young and unexperienced, finds it much harder than he thought to force his social milieu into new forms of behavior, particularly when the milieu is unprepared, i. e., has no desire for new experiences in that particular line of action which the subject tries to develop. The obstacles are apt to grow with the progress of the activity ; even those individuals who hail a new idea with enthusiasm as long as remains a thing of the imagination are apt to shrink from it when it begins to assume a practical shape, because their demand for new experiences prefers to express itself vicariously in making or accepting imaginary changes instead of bringing forth real ones. Thus, the subject again sees before him an axiologically negative scale of social effects of his action, and falls back upon stabilized old purposes and methods. An experienced social worker will foresee and plan to avoid his own future discouragement and at the same time assure better objective results by gradually preparing his milieu for his new ideas and starting with less striking modifications rather than with wide plans of radical change, when he is not sure that the way is fully prepared.

In the examples of the teacher and the runaway boy the ascending scale of undesirable results was due to the

(115) unforeseen disabilities of the subjects themselves. The teacher had probably heard about individualizing educational methods and did not realize that he was not sufficiently capable of applying the principle to its full extent because he lacked that psychological insight into other personalities which is here the indispensable condition of success. The boy had read books of adventure and illusioned himself about his own physical and moral power to cope independently with even the most obvious difficulties of vagrant life.

The dissenting anarchistic painters had not realized that none of them was able to stand entirely on his own individual merits or to gain social recognition without the backing of a school. The originality of each of them was just sufficient to make him unwilling to follow the uniformity of the traditional style, but not sufficient to enable him to create a new and purely personal style. Though they all rejected the background of artistic tradition, they had to find a new common basis in order to preserve the individual faith of each in the importance of his own work, and to impose this faith upon the public.

In each of the concrete cases quoted above the change which .resulted in stabilization was connected with objective factors; sometimes its chief source lay in the social object, sometimes in the instrumental process, sometimes in the reflected self, sometimes in all of these. But in each case the essential modification which produced the desire for stability was the appearance of a series of consequences which seemed to the subject to range themselves into a negative axiological scale — "from bad to worse" — and thus to threaten him with a predominance of undesirable experiences, if the activity should be continued. The appearance of such a series, more or less prolonged, is thus the necessary and sufficient cause of the development of a desire for stability, which may manifest itself either in an attempt to return to some old stabilized type of action

(116) or in an effort to stabilize the new type of action so as to preclude further unforeseen experiences and achieve definite purposes in definite conditions.


We have explained how and why activities searching for new and unexpected consequences change into determined actions with well defined situations. But there are also changes going on in the opposite direction, since an individual—or a collectivity may at any moment abandon his stabilized activities and undertake a search for new experiences. If we assumed these changes to be manifestations in a pure and unalloyed form of the element of originality and creativeness in human life, there could be no possible causal explanation of such facts; each appearance of a search for new experiences. would have to be simply taken as an absolutely spontaneous expression of the power of the: human mind to break at any moment without any reason with all stabilized forms of behavior. But we know differently: human originality is limited; search for new experiences develops in the course of stabilized actions and with reference to determined situations as a more or less far-reaching modification of some line of activity already existing. Even the most daring social adventurer, the most original searcher for new truths or for new forms of beauty does not start suddenly and all at once into the unknown, breaking absolutely and without gradation with all his former personal habits, social customs or ideal norms. His search for new experiences begins as a deviation from some stabilized activity; the new line of behavior is et first new only in contrast with the established line. Later on, if the search for new experiences has actually brought unforeseen consequences in the new line and further search takes its

(117) start from these consequences, then all connection with the original starting-point may be lost; the novelty and spontaneity of this unstabilized activity increase at every step, and no rational explanation can any longer be applied to the new and unexpected turns which this activity may take at any moment. But the origin of the search for new experiences is still within the limits of scientific analysis.

Again let us take a few concrete examples. The best known type is found in the individual's revolt against the stabilizing regulation of life to which his social environment has subjected him. There is the truant child, who avoids the discipline of the classroom to go loafing in the city streets or roaming in the fields and forests. A young man, instead of laboriously preparing for the legal career planned for him by his father, spends his time on more doubtful, but more interesting literary activities. A young woman, having been married by her family to a wealthy, but much older man, after a period of faithful though growingly reluctant discharge of her wifely and domestic duties, begins to flirt and takes a lover; another in a similar position becomes a society leader, while still another seek separation from her husband and becomes a fighter for women's rights. A soldier deserts the army and goes tramping; another gets connected with a revolutionary organization. A scientist breaks the restraint of traditional dogmas, and openly proclaims his freedom to search for truth without regard to any considerations of religious orthodoxy or alleged danger to social morals. A young European domestic servant, brought up from childhood by a benevolent but despotic mistress, on hearing of the wonderful possibilities of high wages, freedom, new pleasures and new sights which may become hers if she goes to America, leaves her place at the first opportunity of emigrating. A bank cashier who has a mistress and luxurious tastes commits an embezzlement in order to try

(118) the chances of a free life abroad with the woman whom he loves and who has tempted him. A girl of a conservative family rebels against her parents and goes to study medicine with a view to some great future work which she means to do for the benefit of the poor; and so on.

In the behavior of social groups there are parallel phenomena showing the rejection of restrictive stabilization imposed by outside authority and patiently born up to a certain moment. Many striking illustrations are found in the "social unrest" of modern times, particularly in the growth of national consciousness in subject peoples and in the progress of the labor movement.

Lithuania presents an interesting example of the first of these two processes. Since the upper strata of Lithuanian society, after a brief period of partial Ruthenization in the 14-th century, became completely Polonized, only the peasant class retained the Lithuanian language and traditions. When the peasants were released from serfdom in 1862 and opportunities for careers as priests, professionals and merchants were thrown open to them, they developed the ambition to live a full cultural life independently of the control of the higher classes. This could best be accomplished by the development of a national Lithuanian culture in all domains — social and economic organization, the church, the press, literature, art, science. This culture had to struggle with the superior and already established Polish culture, and from this struggle grew the demand for a complete Lithuanization of the country. Thus, the whole national movement sprang from the great demand for new experiences which has pervaded the masses of the country population since the abolition of the old restrictive class system.

The history of the labor movement during the last century and a half shows that the beginning of the movement and of each new stage of its progress in various

(119) countries is preceded by some violent disturbance in the given country. This may be the effect of a politial revolution, as in France in 1793, 1837, 1848, in Germany 1846-8, in Poland in 1863, and in Italy in 1870; or of a foreign war, as in England after the Napoleonic period, in France in 1871 after the German invasion; in Russia following the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 and after the disaster of 1915-1916; and in most European countries during and after the Great War. Somewhat analogous phenomena are noticeable in earlier history: the French Jacqueries following the long period of Anglo-French conflicts, and the German Bauernkriege after the religious struggles of the Reformation. Other striking similarities appear; in each case the movement begins with a collective revolt against some abuses by the propertied class which the workmen particularly resent. Gaining impetus with its progress, it develops either into a revolutionary attempt violently to eliminate the ruling ciass, and to appropriate or destroy its property; or else into a slower and steadier effort to wrestle away from it all political power and to control economic values.

There is another type of cases where the individual or the group, instead of revolting against restraints imposed from the outside, breaks self-developed or self-imposed stabilities of behavior. A wealthy young man, who had been brought up in a Jesuit school to be sincerely religious, soon after his entrance into a university was made drunk by some fellow-students and taken to a gambling club where he met with astonishing success .in gambling; later, he was tempted into sexual relations with a refined demimondaine. Before the psychological reaction following these excesses was allowed to mature, he was again induced by his friends to repeat these performances, with the result that in a short time he became the most reckless and adventurous reveler in town. Another equally typical case is that of the steady workman who takes to drink or begins

(120) to change the place of his work on every pretext until he finally becomes a vagabond; when the workman is not a hired laborer, but an independent handworker, it is still more evident that his rebellion is against self-imposed, not external discipline. There are, of course, innumerable cases where a hardworking, moral young girl, who has yielded to a seducer with whom she fell in love, gradually drops into a career of more or less explicit prostitution; and still others, where a girl is tempted to give herself for money in order to secure the luxuries which she has coveted from a distance and otherwise could never attain.

As against these cases where the desire for new experience leads to a disorganization and decadence of active life should be mentioned those in which it means an increase of creative effort; for instance, the painter producing by routine who is brought to see new artistic possibilities by contact with a master's work or some unusual subject; a scientist whose accepted theory is upset and before whom new horizons open in consequence of an unexpected discovery; a commonplace man who is lifted into mystical exaltation by a religious revival.

Collective behavior offers a well-known illustration of this break with self-imposed stabilities in the change from old customs to new fashions. In modern society such a change usually follows the growing contact of a hitherto isolated group with the outside world, or the introduction of a new invention. A peasant community into which, through returning emigrants or city connections, strange forms of dress, new methods of house-building or agriculture begin to penetrate, opposes these innovations, and the latter are at first mere individual deviations from the collective behavior. But if a new form once gains general recognition and proves, or seems to prove desirable, the community becomes more open than heretofore to further innovations in the. same line, and after a time may even

(121) search for more. There are many peasant communities in Europe in which twenty years ago the traditional picturesque costume still prevailed; ten years later a "city dress" of non-descript fashion was commonly accepted as a substitute for the costume; whereas now the latest fashions are followed as closely and rapidly as possible which means, when they have already been worn two or three years in fashionable society — though always, of course, without the many secondary variations and refinements which they assume in "high life".

The effect of inventions is shown by the evolution which occurs in industrial circles when a new method of technical production is discovered, and a similar phenomenon appears in intellectual circles when a new theoretic view is propounded. When a new technical device breaks the technical rules sanctioned by tradition, or when a new philosophic or scientific theory disturbs theoretic beliefs hallowed by age, there is at first opposition and conflict; the acceptance of the technical device or new theory, however, makes the way easier for further technical or intellectual changes, and there even comes a time when the industrials begin consciously to search for new inventions and the intellectuals hunt up new theories for consideration and discussion.

If we leave aside the multiple differences between the cases here briefly described and postpone to a later time the analysis of the problem of conflict which is involved in many of them, the common features of all these processes of mobilization, as they may be called, stand out very clearly. Each such process begins with the appearance in the course of a stabilized action or a series of stabilized actions, of some new and unforeseen value, which may be either introduced from the outside as a product of new influences or else be an unexpected consequence of the activity itself. Even if its appearance is

(122) preceded by some vision of its existence, its introduction into the course of the action may be considered to constitute a surprise, if. the subject foresaw no actual opportunity of realizing it. Moreover, in each of our examples the value is axiologically positive with reference to the normal consequences which the continuation of the action would bring; or, in other words, the normal consequences of the action appear as relatively negative, relatively undesirable, when compared with the unforeseen event which has actually happened.

Thus, for the school child the new experiences which he might obtain by wandering in the city streets or in the open country appear as much more desirable than the normal experiences which would follow his going to school; and everyone who has been tempted in his childhood into truancy or has observed other children being tempted knows the shock of excited and pleasurable surprise which comes when the possibility of obtaining these new experiences, formerly not imagined at all or remaining a matter of vague speculation, is suddenly understood as something that can be actually realized right now or the next day, perhaps by simply following another child who has already done it before. This sudden consciousness that some desirable possibility, which the subject formerly either did not know or merely imagined in the abstract without connecting it definitely with his real behavior, can be made actual for him at once or at some real moment of his real life by his merely deviating from the appointed course of his present activity, seems to be the turning-point in that kind of mobilization which consists in rejecting regulations imposed from the outside. It is the pivotal moment of what Mr. Thomas in his studies of social psychology terms "the crisis'. The crisis may be the result of some outside happening; a woman chafing under the bond of a hated marriage meets a man who offers her love and the hope

(123) of an unexpected happiness; a soldier weary of military discipline is addressed by revolutionists who furnish him present excitement and a chance of eventually overthrowing the military system; the domestic servant hears from her relatives about America and is given an opportunity to emigrate; the abolition of serfdom enables the Lithuanian peasant to rise to higher levels; the Franco-Prussian War of 9870 and the Russo-Japanese War of 9904 by weakening the control of the ruling classes permit the laboring classes to assert themselves. Or the crisis may come in consequence of the subject's own mental activity which shows him some previously unsuspected weakness in the powers restraining him or some previously unforeseen method of escaping their restraint. The law student sees the possibility of earning a precarious living by his literary efforts, and thus becoming independent of his father; the soldier invents a plan of desertion which he hopes will prevent his recapture; the leaders of the Lithuanian national movement at a certain period consciously began to plan the reconstruction of a complete Lithuanian culture, as the Czechs had done earlier; Marx and his followers developed a creed which made the working classes expect the coming of a socialist era as a historical necessity and gave them the consciousness of their own power which they had lacked before.

When mobilization consists in getting away from self-imposed stabilities there is no sudden crisis, for the new possibilities do not appear as desirable at once. The religious young man shrank at first from the idea of revelry, gambling and sexual relations; a steady workman does not care to change his place of work as long as his occupation goes on normally; an artist or a scientist carefully consider before accepting new facts which jar with their established preconceptions; a social group is averse to forms of behavior or beliefs which conflict with its traditions. Only after the

(124) new values have been forced upon the subject and found unexpectedly positive when compared with the old, does the subject become more open than before to further new suggestions; and this does not mean that such suggestions will be welcomed as soon as they come, but that the opposition against them will be weaker than before and their desirability will be easier realized.

However, in spite of this difference the two varieties of the process of mobilization fall under the same law. In fact, whether the stability is due to, outside restraint or is self-imposed, one relatively positive new value is insufficient to change stabilized behavior into a search for new experiences. The subject must have given to him an ascending series of desirable new values. Such a series is easily realized, though perhaps only in imagination, whenever the stability of present action is maintained at the cost of the repression of some tendencies which are not completely suppressed, but continually struggling to find satisfaction by breaking away from the repressing factors. For in this case one new and desirable value actually reached, or represented as accessible by deviating from the stabilized course, may stir the subject's imagination so strongly that a whole series of increasingly positive values appear as potentially real and easy to materialize in the course of a new activity, while many more unknown and desirable possibilities seem hidden in the distant future. On the contrary, when the stabilization is spontaneous the series of positive new values must be actually produced and experienced in reality, not only in imagination, before the subject develops optimism with regard to unexpected changes and projects his present satisfaction into unknown future.

In either case there appears a desire for new experience, that is, a general tendency to break away from the given stabilized action or series of actions and to turn off into

(125) a relatively new line of activity which seems to promise positive new experiences. This desire for new experience at first takes the direction indicated by the experiences actually achieved or imagined. It ceases to be actual while the search for new experience is actually going on, but may reassert itself whenever stability is remembered or imagined to be possible. Thus, we have the very reverse of the causal change which, we have seen, leads to stabilization.

The law of mobilization can be summarized as follows

LAW 2. If an actual or possible change in the course of a stabilized action appears to produce a series of desirable new experiences which seem to constitute an axiologically positive scale and are relatively positive as compared with the foreseen consequences of the original action, there develops a desire for new experience along the line of activity indicated by the change.

In popular terms we might say: if an individual (or a group) sees a possibility of obtaining a series of more and more desirable results by breaking away from some stable line of conduct into a new line, he develops a desire for new experience.

The two laws formulated above occupy in a sense an exceptional place in social psychology, for they refer to psychological processes whose beginning and end, respectively, escape rational determination. They are causal laws, indeed, in so far as stabilization, respectively mobilization, is sure to come if the necessary conditions are fulfilled; but the exact nature of the specific effects of the given causes remains indefinite. We can be sure that an individual who has had increasingly undesirable new experiences will settle into some stable line of conduct, but we do not know what this line will be; similarly, we may expect that he will launch into a search for new experiences after he has been unsettled by a series of

(126) unexpected and increasingly pleasant changes in the course of his stabilized behavior, but we cannot foretell the ultimate developments of his future activity.


We shall be henceforth concerned exclusively with the investigation of the more usual cases where social activity possesses a definite purpose and a stable systematic organization. Causal explanation has a much better opportunity in this field, for it follows from the principle of achievement that a stabilized action cannot deviate from .its original course without cause, and that the nature of the deviation is determined by the nature of the cause. To study this determination in detail should be the main task of socio-psychological research and should lead to many discoveries important for both theory and practice. We shall here trace some of the most general aspects of this determination and attempt to discover a few fundamental laws which may be useful in finding other, more special and definite causal relations.

Every deviation of a stabilized social action means a change of the tendency which has started this action and outlined its course. As long as the tendency remains the same, is not satisfied or modified, the action must be considered as pursuing its course toward achievement even if its conditions apparently change; whereas a modification of the tendency substitutes a new action for the original one even though the conditions seem the same. The final goal of causal explanation is therefore always to account for the change of a social tendency, that is, the substitution , of another tendency for the original in the course of a definite action.

Clearly, the direct cause of such a change cannot be sought in the outside world in general or even in the

(127) psychological subject himself, for this would lead inevitably to those vague explanations which we have already discussed and rejected in the first chapter. Our research must be limited to that closed system constituted by the social action: every change of the social tendency must be the direct effect of some other change which has occurred within the social action. Since with the exception of the tendency the essential elements of the action are all systematically organized in the social situation, it must be some change of the social situation which produces a change of the social tendency. That such is the fact may be demonstrated both by logic and by common observation. The social situation has been defined with regard to the tendency and actually "belongs together" with the tendency; if the situation undergoes a change which was not implied in its definition, the tendency cannot remain the same — another tendency must arise corresponding to this new situation. Numerous instances will be mentioned later on to show that this causal relation between the change of the situation and the change of the tendency has been more or less clearly noticed by common sense long ago; indeed, most of our social and educational practice assumes this relation, though it often makes mistakes in assigning particular effects to particular causes.

Thus, we can state as a general principle of socio-psychological explanation that every change of a social tendency is the necessary effect of some fundamental change of the social situation corresponding to this tendency.

Two remarks must be made in connection with this principle before we proceed. First: it is, of course, not to be denied that the change of situation which is the cause of a change of tendency can be in turn considered an effect of some other cause. It may have originated in some' natural event; thus a snowstorm may prevent or

(128) a fire disperse a public meeting. Or it may be the result of the activity of other men, as when the subject's motion at a meeting is unexpectedly and violently opposed by a part of the audience. Or it may have its source in other activities of the subject, as when he bethinks himself that his plan, if carried through, will interfere with his other plans, or when failure in some other line makes him generally despondent and weakens his interest in the present purpose. But when we ask ourselves what effect a particular change of the situation has upon the tendency, the origin of this change makes no difference to the solution, of this limited problem. Natural event, the actions of other men, other actions of the subject himself affect the given tendency only in so far as the or their consequences interfere with the given situation; and the nature and extent of this interference can be ascertained by merely observing the situation as the subject himself sees and defines it, without any need of tracing the interfering factors to their source.

The point is that the situation should be taken and the change viewed with reference to the actual meaning which it possesses for the subject, that is, as the subject experiences and inteprets it from the standpoint of his actual tendency. Afterwards, indeed, we may take up the problem of the origin of that change which came into the situation, but this will be an entirely new problem, since it leads us outside of the given closed system. To solve it we must again search for some closed system and explain the change as the effect of certain causes acting within this other system, and so on. Thus, the snowstorm or the fire can be explained as effects of certain causes occuring in natural systems —meteorological or chemical ; the opposition of the audience to the subject's proposal is a social effect whose causes can be ascertained by studying the actual tendencies of the audience and their

(129) social situation or situations with which the subject's public address has in some way interfered; the subject's own reflection on the conflict of the new plan with old plans, and the change of his emotional mood must be explained as the effect of some change which has taken place in another situation of his. This rule seems self-evident, and yet it has been only too often ignored. Sociologists and psychologists, when speaking of the influences to which an individual is subjected, are inclined to describe from an objective point of view the natural or social environment without distinguishing between the direct causes of psychological effects and indirect factors whose real influence on the individual's behavior cannot be determined without thorough investigation.

The second significant remark concerns the well-known problem of the relation between conscious and subconscious psychological processes. The facts show that human behavior can be influenced not only by modifying the conditions of present conscious and overt action, but also by acting upon "latent" tendencies which have explicitly manifested themselves in the past or will manifest themselves in the future, but are not actually in full consciousness, not accessible to reflection at the moment when the influence is brought to bear upon them. How are these facts reconcilable with the principle that every change of a social tendency is the necessary effect of some change of the social situation corresponding to this tendency?

The difficulty is more apparent than real. For neither individual nor collective activity is ever limited to any one particular action upon which present consciousness actually centers; there are always many active processes running parallel and alternately occupying the center of attention. While not consciously pursued, an action may nevertheless continue "subconsciously" toward its achievement, as is shown in hypnotism, dream activity, and even ordinary

(130) distraction. Indeed, it seems as if, unless interfered with, it always does continue, though often very slowly and without any clearly marked external effects. For when it becomes fully actualized again, the subject usually finds it constructed in the same way as during its previous actualization; its tendency remained connected with a definite situation, and its systematic organization was preserved even after dropping into the "subconscious". It evidently has not remained absolutely stationary, for when it comes up after a period of oblivion, it is never exactly at the same stage as before; even if nothing has been done toward the realization of the purpose, some progress however slight has been made in defining the situation, and some modifications have occurred. If, however, after a period of oblivion, the subject finds that the organization of the action has become partially destroyed, and if, when the forgotten threads are picked up, the tendency and the situation prove changed, an analysis of the past will always discover some important event which has had an influence on the seemingly forgotten interest. The evident conclusion presents itself that, while the action remains outside of the field of complete actuality and conscious reflection, it can continue its regular course or be subjected to real influences which cause it to deviate from its regular course.

This is not the place to discuss the rôle of consciousness in general; but we may say briefly that in active life the clearer the consciousness the wider the range of possible choice, the greater the purposefulness of achievement, and the higher the complexity of dynamic organization. Full consciousness is the summit of activity; and from this highest level many gradations lead down to the inaccessible and perhaps unreal stage of the absolutely unconscious. For the theory of practice, the distinction between the subconscious and the conscious is a purely relative one.


Thus, with regard to all degrees of consciousness or "subconsciousness" the general principle can be maintained that changes of tendencies are always due to changes of situations. Of course, we mean always changes of tendencies introduced into closed dynamic systems. The mere appearance of a new tendency in the behavior of an individual or a group is not a causally explicable change, unless we can show that this tendency has taken the place of another in a certain definite active complex; otherwise, its actual presence must be simply taken as an inexplicable new manifestation of the free development of the given personality or collectivity.

In order to determine the most general laws of socio-psychological change we must thus, on the one hand, subordinate the various changes which can happen in social situations to some general concepts; on the other hand, characterize specific classes of social tendencies with regard to such features as will permit us to ascertain whenever a social tendency of one specific class has taken the place of a tendency of another class; and finally, find a necessary causal connection between a certain kind of change occurring in social situations and the substitution of tendencies of one class for those of another class.

From our definition of the social situation it is clear that, since there are four essential elements included in it, changes that exercise a marked causal influence upon the social tendancy can be classed according to the category of elements which they concern. We shall thus distinguish, first of all, four general classes of changes in the social situation: changes of the expected social reaction, changes of the social object, changes of the instrumental process, changes of the reflected self. We shall assume hypothetically that, whenever instead of the expected result, i. e., of the social reaction which the subject wishes to provoke, a different social reaction sets in, whenever the social

(132) object appears as changed in the course of the action, whenever a modification occurring in the conditions of the action prevents the original instrumental process from going on, and whenever the individual is forced to change his view of his own self as it appears to others, a definite effect necessarily follows in the form of a substitution of certain other social tendencies for those originally present. This substitution leads, of course, to the subsequent organization of a new active system; but our task ends in each case with the explanation of the appearance of the new tendency and its definition. Small modifications of the situation which may affect somewhat the tendency, but not enough to prevent the latter from appearing as essentially the same in the eyes of the subject, may be passed over. We are concerned with radical changes which cannot be made good by readaptations in the course of the action, but necessitate an equally radical change of the tendency. A general classification of social tendencies, even if limited to the simpler ones, would not be an easy matter, and will not be attempted here. It will be enough for our purposes to describe particular classes in connection with the causal processes which lead to their change; for the establishment of a causal law does not require a survey of the total domain of reality within which it works, but can be achieved by selecting a small number of facts evidently belonging to some specific class within this domain. The laws of falling bodies of Galileo illustrate this by showing that a science can begin by establishing laws long before its field has been wholly surveyed and described.

It may be well to mention, nevertheless, that several distinct principles must be considered in classifying social tendencies. Thus tendencies involving a positive appreciation of the social object, or simply, positive tendencies (desire for cooperation, desire for emotional harmony, desire for recognition, confidence, etc.), must be distinguished from

(133) negative ones which involve a negative appreciation (the fighting impulse, cruelty, wish for mastery, mistrust). Further, and independently of this, all tendencies must be subdivided into those bearing upon present and real social objects, and those referring to distant or imaginary objects. Tendencies concerning particular objects (for instance, personal loyalty) are distinct from those which bear upon general classes of social objects (race and class loyalties). It makes evidently an important difference also whether a tendency is reflective and rationalized, or unreflective and spontaneous. Some tendencies involve, other do not involve self-consciousness on the part of the subject. And this self-consciousness may be that of an isolated personality, or that of a group-member. Finally, many relatively secondary distinctions arise with regard to the specific social reaction which the subject expects.

Every search for laws must follow the well-known rules of scientific induction which we need not recapitulate here. The purpose of these rules is to indicate how to draw from a few facts generalizations which will be valid with regard to all the facts of the same class. The main difficulty for the investigator consists in the complexity of causal relations which concrete experience presents: how is he to be sure that a certain fact A is the effect of another fact B, and not of C or D or some unknown X? Most methodological devices are designed to assist him in deciding this point.

In our domain of research we have at our disposal two important instruments which are mutually supplementary. The first is comparative analysis: when the same facts occur in the same order in a number of widely different systems, we can be pretty sure that these are elementary facts, and that their relation is not an accidental, but a necessary one. The second is isolation of permanent factors. If an action is performed many times in succession

(134) by the same subject, it often happens that in one particular case a certain change of situation apparently fails to produce the change of tendency which should be its necessary effect; whereas if this situation is changed in the same way whenever the subject repeats the action, the expected effect finally shows itself with perfect evidence. This gradual manifestation of a causal relation comes from the interference of various other, often unknown causes, whose effects combine at first with the effect of the given cause and thus obscure its observation. But if those interfering causes vary from case to case, while the given cause acts persistently, the effects of the former partially neutralize one another, whereas the effect of, the stable cause accumulates. Reflective social practice — politics and education, for instance knows this and uses the repetition of similar influences as a common measure for obtaining the desired effect in spite of interfering causes, whenever the isolation of the individual or group from interfering causes is impossible. It must only be remembered that repeated changes of situation may often seem similar to the observer, whereas they differ from each other in the eyes of the active subject, and vice versa. For instance, objectively "the same" punishment may have an entirely different significance in the eyes of the child depending on whether it comes from his father, his mother, or a stranger; and on the other hand, different measures of suppression adopted by a government at different stages of a revolutionary movement may be interpreted by the masses as showing the same hostility to revolutionary tendencies:

The ultimate test of every scientific law is simple and yet very exacting: all apparent exceptions must be explicable by other laws. Since this test can be fully successful only after all the facts of the given domain of reality have been subjected to laws, no science can boast that its laws have an absolute certainty, and social psychology has less right

(135) to claim it than other, older sciences. But besides this ultimate test of truth, there is another — that of instrumental validity. Even if a law should be finally disproved, it has fulfilled an important function in the development of science if, by stirring investigation of apparent exceptions which it could not explain, it has led to the discovery of other, more valid laws. This is a distinction which our laws of social psychology can aim at, even at this early stage in the development of our science.


  1. See William I. Thomas, "The Gaming Instinct", in the American Journal of Sociology, VI (1900-1901).

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