Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XV.: preparation in psychology. - The Study of Sociology
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CHAPTER XV.: preparation in psychology. - Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology 
The Study of Sociology (London: Henry S. King, 1873).
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preparation in psychology.
Probably astonishment would make the reporters drop their pencils, were any member of Parliament to enunciate a psychological principle as justifying his opposition to a proposed measure. That some law of association of ideas, or some trait in emotional development, should be deliberately set forth as a sufficient ground for saying “aye” or “no” to a motion for second reading, would doubtless be too much for the gravity of legislators. And along with laughter from many there would come from a few cries of “question:” the entire irrelevancy to the matter in hand being conspicuous. It is true that during debates the possible behaviour of citizens under the suggested arrangements is described. Evasions of this or that provision, difficulties in carrying it out, probabilities of resistance, connivance, corruption, &c., are urged; and these tacitly assert that the mind of man has certain characters, and under the conditions named is likely to act in certain ways. In other words, there is an implied recognition of the truth that the effects of a law will depend on the manner in which human intelligence and human feeling are influenced by it. Experiences of men’s conduct which the legislator has gathered, and which lie partially sorted in his memory, furnish him with empirical notions that guide his judgment on each question raised; and he would think it folly to ignore all this unsystematized knowledge about people’s characters and actions. But at the same time he regards as foolish the proposal to proceed, not on vaguely-generalized facts, but on facts accurately generalized; and, as still more foolish, the proposal to merge these minor definite generalizations in generalizations expressing the ultimate laws of Mind. Guidance by intuition seems to him much more rational.
Of course, I do not mean to say that his intuition is of small value. How should I say this, remembering the immense accumulation of experiences by which his thoughts have been moulded into harmony with things? We all know that when the successful man of business is urged by wife and daughters to get into Parliament, that they may attain a higher social standing, he always replies that his occupations through life have left him no leisure to prepare himself, by collecting and digesting the voluminous evidence respecting the effects of institutions and policies, and that he fears he might do mischief. If the heir to some large estate, or scion of a noble house powerful in the locality, receives a deputation asking him to stand for the county, we constantly read that he pleads inadequate knowledge as a reason for declining: perhaps hinting that after ten years spent in the needful studies, he may have courage to undertake the heavy responsibilities proposed to him. So, too, we have the familiar fact that when, at length, men who have gathered vast stores of political information, gain the confidence of voters who know how carefully they have thus fitted themselves, it still perpetually happens that after election they find they have entered on their work prematurely. It is true that beforehand they had sought anxiously through the records of the past, that they might avoid legislative errors of multitudinous kinds, like those committed in early times. Nevertheless when Acts are proposed referring to matters dealt with in past generations by Acts long since cancelled or obsolete, immense inquiries open before them. Even limiting themselves to the 1126 Acts repealed in 1823—9, and the further 770 repealed in 1861, they find that to learn what these aimed at, how they worked, why they failed, and whence arose the mischiefs they wrought, is an arduous task, which yet they feel bound to undertake lest they should re-inflict these mischiefs; and hence the reason why so many break down under the effort, and retire with health destroyed. Nay, more—on those with constitutions vigorous enough to carry them through such inquiries, there continually presses the duty of making yet further inquiries. Besides tracing the results of abandoned laws in other societies, there is at home, year by year, more futile law-making to be investigated and lessons to be drawn from it; as, for example, from the 134 Public Acts passed in 1856—7, of which all but 68 are wholly or partially repealed.1 And thus it happens that, as every autumn shows us, even the strongest men, finding their lives during the recess over-taxed with the needful study, are obliged so to locate themselves that by an occasional day’s hard riding after the hounds, or a long walk over the moors with gun in hand, they may be enabled to bear the excessive strain on their nervous systems. Of course, therefore, I am not so unreasonable as to deny that judgments, even empirical, which are guided by such carefully-amassed experiences must be of much worth.
But fully recognizing the vast amount of information which the legislator has laboriously gathered from the accounts of institutions and laws, past and present, here and elsewhere; and admitting that before thus instructing himself he would no more think of enforcing a new law than would a medical student think of plunging an operating-knife into the human body before learning where the arteries ran; the remarkable anomaly here demanding our attention is, that he objects to anything like analysis of these phenomena he has so diligently collected, and has no faith in conclusions drawn from the ensemble of them. Not discriminating very correctly between the word “general” and the word “abstract,” and regarding as abstract principles what are in nearly all cases general principles, he speaks contemptuously of these as belonging to the region of theory, and as not concerning the law-maker. Any wide truth that is insisted upon as being implied in many narrow truths, seems to him remote from reality and unimportant for guidance. The results of recent experiments in legislation he thinks worth attending to; and if any one reminds him of the experiments he has read so much about, that were made in other times and other places, he regards these also, separately taken, as deserving of consideration. But if, instead of studying special classes of legislative experiments, someone compares many classes together, generalizes the results, and proposes to be guided by the generalization, he shakes his head sceptically. And his scepticism passes into ridicule if it is proposed to affiliate such generalized results on the laws of Mind. To prescribe for society on the strength of countless unclassified observations, appears to him a sensible course; but to colligate and systematize the observations so as to educe tendencies of human behaviour displayed throughout cases of numerous kinds, to trace these tendencies to their sources in the mental natures of men, and thence to draw conclusions for guidance, appears to him a visionary course.
Let us look at some of the fundamental facts he ignores, and at the results of ignoring them.
Rational legislation, based as it can only be on a true theory of conduct, which is derivable only from a true theory of mind, must recognize as a datum the direct connexion of action with feeling. That feeling and action bear a constant ratio, is a statement needing qualification; for at the one extreme there are automatic actions which take place without feeling, and at the other extreme there are feelings so intense that, by deranging the vital functions, they impede or arrest action. But speaking of those activities which life in general presents, it is a law tacitly recognized by all, though not distinctly formulated, that action and feeling vary together in their amounts. Passivity and absence of facial expression, both implying rest of the muscles, are held to show that there is being experienced neither much sensation nor much emotion. While the degree of external demonstration, be it in movements that rise finally to spasms and contortions, or be it in sounds that end in laughter and shrieks and groans, is habitually accepted as a measure of the pleasure or pain, sensational or emotional. And so, too, where continued expenditure of energy is seen, be it in a violent struggle to escape or be it in the persevering pursuit of an object, the quantity of effort is held to show the quantity of feeling.
This truth, undeniable in its generality, whatever qualifications secondary truths make in it, must be joined with the truth that cognition does not produce action. If I tread on a pin, or unawares dip my hand into very hot water, I start: the strong sensation produces motion without any thought intervening. Conversely, the proposition that a pin pricks, or that hot water scalds, leaves me quite unmoved. True, if to one of these propositions is joined the idea that a pin is about to pierce my skin, or to the other the idea that some hot water will fall on it, there results a tendency, more or less decided, to shrink. But that which causes shrinking is the ideal pain. The statement that the pin will hurt or the water scald, produces no effect so long as there is nothing beyond a recognition of its meaning: it produces an effect only when the pain verbally asserted, becomes a pain actually conceived as impending—only when there rises in consciousness a representation of the pain, which is a faint form of the pain as before felt. That is to say, the cause of movement here, as in other cases, is a feeling and not a cognition. What we see even in these simplest actions, runs through actions of all degrees of complexity. It is never the knowledge which is the moving agent in conduct; but it is always the feeling which goes along with that knowledge, or is excited by it. Though the drunkard knows that after to-day’s debauch will come to-morrow’s headache, yet he is not deterred by consciousness of this truth, unless the penalty is distinctly represented—unless there rises in his consciousness a vivid idea of the misery to be borne—unless there is excited in him an adequate amount of feeling antagonistic to his desire for drink. Similarly with improvidence in general. If coming evils are imagined with clearness and the threatened sufferings ideally felt, there is a due check on the tendency to take immediate gratifications without stint; but in the absence of that consciousness of future ills which is constituted by the ideas of pains, distinct or vague, the passing desire is not opposed effectually. The truth that recklessness brings distress, fully acknowledged though it may be, remains inoperative. The mere cognition does not affect conduct—conduct is affected only when the cognition passes out of that intellectual form in which the idea of distress is little more than verbal, into a form in which this term of the proposition is developed into a vivid imagination of distress—a mass of painful feeling. It is thus with conduct of every kind. See this group of persons clustered at the river side. A boat has upset, and some one is in danger of drowning. The fact that in the absence of aid the youth in the water will shortly die, is known to them all. That by swimming to his assistance his life may be saved, is a proposition denied by none of them. The duty of helping fellow-creatures who are in difficulties, they have been taught all their lives; and they will severally admit that running a risk to prevent a death is praiseworthy. Nevertheless, though sundry of them can swim, they do nothing beyond shouting for assistance or giving advice. But now here comes one who, tearing off his coat, plunges in to the rescue. In what does he differ from the others? Not in knowledge. Their cognitions are equally clear with his. They know as well as he does that death is impending; and know, too, how it may be prevented. In him, however, these cognitions arouse certain correlative emotions more strongly than they are aroused in the rest. Groups of feelings are excited in all; but whereas in the others the deterrent feelings of fear, &c., preponderate, in him there is a surplus of the feelings excited by sympathy, joined, it may be, with others not of so high a kind. In each case, however, the behaviour is not determined by knowledge, but by emotion. Obviously, change in the actions of these passive spectators is not to be effected by making their cognitions clearer, but by making their higher feelings stronger.
Have we not here, then, a cardinal psychological truth to which any rational system of human discipline must conform? Is it not manifest that a legislation which ignores it and tacitly assumes its opposite, will inevitably fail? Yet much of our legislation does this; and we are at present, legislature and nation together, eagerly pushing forward schemes which proceed on the postulate that conduct is determined not by feelings, but by cognitions.
For what else is the assumption underlying this anxious urging-on of organizations for teaching? What is the root-notion common to Secularists and Denominationalists, but the notion that spread of knowledge is the one thing needful for bettering behaviour? Having both swallowed certain statistical fallacies, there has grown up in them the belief that State-education will check ill-doing. In newspapers, they have often met with comparisons between the numbers of criminals who can read and write and the numbers who can not; and finding the numbers who can not greatly exceed the numbers who can, they accept the inference that ignorance is the cause of crime. It does not occur to them to ask whether other statistics, similarly drawn up, would not prove with like conclusiveness that crime is caused by absence of ablutions, or by lack of clean linen, or by bad ventilation, or by want of a separate bed-room. Go through any jail and ascertain how many prisoners had been in the habit of taking a morning bath, and you would find that criminality habitually went with dirtiness of skin. Count up those who had possessed a second suit of clothes, and a comparison of the figures would show you that but a small percentage of criminals were habitually able to change their garments. Inquire whether they had lived in main streets or down courts, and you would discover that nearly all urban crime comes from holes and corners. Similarly, a fanatical advocate of total abstinence or of sanitary improvement, could get equally-strong statistical justifications for his belief. But if, not accepting the random inference presented to you that ignorance and crime are cause and effect, you consider, as above, whether crime may not with equal reason be ascribed to various other causes, you are led to see that it is really connected with an inferior mode of life, itself usually consequent on original inferiority of nature; and you are led to see that ignorance is simply one of the concomitants, no more to be held the cause of crime than various other concomitants.
But this obvious criticism, and the obvious counter-conclusion it implies, are not simply overlooked, but, when insisted on, seem powerless to affect the belief which has taken possession of men. Disappointment alone will now affect it. A wave of opinion reaching a certain height, cannot be changed by any evidence or argument; but has to spend itself in the gradual course of things before a reaction of opinion can arise. Otherwise it would be incomprehensible that this confidence in the curative effects of teaching, which men have carelessly allowed to be generated in them by the re-iterations of doctrinaire politicians, should survive the direct disproofs yielded by daily experience. Is it not the trouble of every mother and every governess, that perpetual insisting on the right and denouncing the wrong do not suffice? Is it not the constant complaint that on many natures reasoning and explanation and the clear demonstration of consequences are scarcely at all operative; that where they are operative there is a more or less marked difference of emotional nature; and that where, having before failed, they begin to succeed, change of feeling rather than difference of apprehension is the cause? Do we not similarly hear from every housekeeper that servants usually pay but little attention to reproofs; that they go on perversely in old habits, regardless of clear evidence of their foolishness; and that their actions are to be altered not by explanations and reasonings, but by either the fear of penalties or the experience of penalties—that is, by the emotions awakened in them? When we turn from domestic life to the life of the outer world, do not like disproofs everywhere meet us? Are not fraudulent bankrupts educated people, and getters-up of bubble-companies, and makers of adulterated goods, and users of false trade-marks, and retailers who have light weights, and owners of unseaworthy ships, and those who cheat insurance-companies, and those who carry on turf-chicaneries, and the great majority of gamblers? Or, to take a more extreme form of turpitude,—is there not, among those who have committed murder by poison within our memories, a considerable number of the educated—a number bearing as large a ratio to the educated classes as does the total number of murderers to the total population?
This belief in the moralizing effects of intellectual culture, flatly contradicted by facts, is absurd à priori. What imaginable connexion is there between the learning that certain clusters of marks on paper stand for certain words, and the getting a higher sense of duty? What possible effect can acquirement of facility in making written signs of sounds, have in strengthening the desire to do right? How does knowledge of the multiplication-table, or quickness in adding and dividing, so increase the sympathies as to restrain the tendency to trespass against fellow-creatures? In what way can the attainment of accuracy in spelling and parsing, &c., make the sentiment of justice more powerful than it was; or why from stores of geographical information, perseveringly gained, is there likely to come increased regard for truth? The irrelation between such causes and such effects, is almost as great as that between exercise of the fingers and strengthening of the legs. One who should by lessons in Latin hope to give a knowledge of geometry, or one who should expect practice in drawing to be followed by expressive rendering of a sonata, would be thought fit for an asylum; and yet he would be scarcely more irrational than are those who by discipline of the intellectual faculties expect to produce better feelings.
This faith in lesson-books and readings is one of the superstitions of the age. Even as appliances to intellectual culture books are greatly over-estimated. Instead of second-hand knowledge being regarded as of less value than first-hand knowledge, and as a knowledge to be sought only where first-hand knowledge cannot be had, it is actually regarded as of greater value. Something gathered from printed pages is supposed to enter into a course of education; but if gathered by observation of Life and Nature, is supposed not thus to enter. Reading is seeing by proxy—is learning indirectly through another man’s faculties instead of directly through one’s own faculties; and such is the prevailing bias that the indirect learning is thought preferable to the direct learning, and usurps the name of cultivation! We smile when told that savages consider writing as a kind of magic; and we laugh at the story of the negro who hid a letter under a stone, that it might not inform against him when he devoured the fruit he was sent with. Yet the current notions about printed information betray a kindred delusion: a kind of magical efficacy is ascribed to ideas gained through artificial appliances, as compared with ideas otherwise gained. And this delusion, injurious in its effects even on intellectual culture, produces effects still more injurious on moral culture, by generating the assumption that this, too, can be got by reading and the repeating of lessons.
It will, I know, be said that not from intellectual teaching but from moral teaching, is improvement of conduct and diminution of crime looked for. While, unquestionably, many of those who urge on educational schemes believe in the moralizing effects of knowledge in general, it must be admitted that some hold general knowledge to be inadequate, and contend that rules of right conduct must be taught. Already, however, reasons have been given why the expectations even of these, are illusory; proceeding, as they do, on the assumption that the intellectual acceptance of moral precepts will produce conformity to them. Plenty more reasons are forthcoming. I will not dwell on the contradictions to this assumption furnished by the Chinese, to all of whom the high ethical maxims of Confucius are taught, and who yet fail to show us a conduct proportionately exemplary. Nor will I enlarge on the lesson to be derived from the United States, the school-system of which brings up the whole population under the daily influence of chapters which set forth principles of right conduct, and which nevertheless in its political life, and by many of its social occurrences, shows us that conformity to these principles is anything but complete. It will suffice if I limit myself to evidence supplied by our own society, past and present; which negatives, very decisively, these sanguine expectations. For what have we been doing all these many centuries by our religious agencies, but preaching right principles to old and young? What has been the aim of services in our ten thousand churches week after week, but to enforce a code of good conduct by promised rewards and threatened penalties?—the whole population having been for many generations compelled to listen. What have the multitudinous Dissenting chapels been used for, unless as places where pursuance of right and desistance from wrong have been unceasingly commended to all from childhood upwards? And if now it is held that something more must be done—if, notwithstanding perpetual explanations and denunciations and exhortations, the misconduct is so great that society is endangered, why, after all this insistence has failed, is it expected that more insistence will succeed? See here the proposals and the implied beliefs. Teaching by clergymen not having had the desired effect, let us try teaching by schoolmasters. Bible-reading from a pulpit, with the accompaniment of imposing architecture, painted windows, tombs, and “dim religious light,” having proved inadequate, suppose we try bible-reading in rooms with bare walls, relieved only by maps and drawings of animals. Commands and interdicts uttered by a surpliced priest to minds prepared by chant and organ-peal, not having been obeyed, let us see whether they will be obeyed when mechanically repeated in schoolboy sing-song to a thread-bare usher, amid the buzz of lesson-learning and clatter of slates. Not very hopeful proposals, one would say; proceeding, as they do, upon one or other of the beliefs, that a moral precept will be effective in proportion as it is received without emotional accompaniment, and that its effectiveness will increase in proportion to the number of times it is repeated. Both these beliefs are directly at variance with the results of psychological analysis and of daily experience. Certainly, such influence as may be gained by addressing moral truths to the intellect, is made greater if the accompaniments arouse an appropriate emotional excitement, as a religious service does; while, conversely, there can be no more effectual way of divesting such moral truths of their impressiveness, than associating them with the prosaic and vulgarizing sounds and sights and smells coming from crowded children. And no less certain is it that precepts often heard and little regarded, lose by repetition the small influence they had. What do public-schools show us?—are the boys rendered merciful to one another by listening to religious injunctions every morning? What do Universities show us?—have perpetual chapels habitually made undergraduates behave better than the average of young men? What do Cathedral-towns show us?—is there in them a moral tone above that of other towns, or must we from the common saying, “the nearer the Church,” &c., infer a pervading impression to the contrary? What do clergymen’s sons show us?—has constant insistance on right conduct made them conspicuously superior, or do we not rather hear it whispered that something like an opposite effect seems produced. Or, to take one more case, what do religious newspapers show us?—is it that the precepts of Christianity, more familiar to their writers than to other writers, are more clearly to be traced in their articles, or has there not ever been displayed a want of charity in their dealings with opponents, and is it not still displayed?2 Nowhere do we find that repetition of rules of right, already known but disregarded, produces regard for them; but we find that, contrariwise, it makes the regard for them less than before.3
The prevailing assumption is, indeed, as much disproved by analysis as it is contradicted by familiar facts. Already we have seen that the connexion is between action and feeling; and hence the corollary that only by a frequent passing of feeling into action, is the tendency to such action strengthened. Just as two ideas often repeated in a certain order, become coherent in that order; and just as muscular motions, at first difficult to combine properly with one another and with guiding perceptions, become by practice facile, and at length automatic; so the recurring production of any conduct by its prompting emotion, makes that conduct relatively easy. Not by precept, though heard daily; not by example, unless it is followed; but only by action, often caused by the related feeling, can a moral habit be formed. And yet this truth, which Mental Science clearly teaches, and which is in harmony with familiar sayings, is a truth wholly ignored in current educational fanaticisms
There is ignored, too, the correlative truth; and ignoring it threatens results still more disastrous. While we see an expectation of benefits which the means used cannot achieve, we see no consciousness of injuries which will be entailed by these means. As usually happens with those absorbed in the eager pursuit of some good by governmental action, there is a blindness to the evil reaction on the natures of citizens. Already the natures of citizens have suffered from kindred reactions, due to actions set up centuries ago; and now the mischievous effects are to be increased by further such reactions.
The English people are complained of as improvident. Very few of them lay by in anticipation of times when work is slack; and the general testimony is that higher wages commonly result only in more extravagant living or in drinking to greater excess. As we saw a while since, they neglect opportunities of becoming shareholders in the Companies they are engaged under; and those who are most anxious for their welfare despair on finding how little they do to raise themselves when they have the means. This tendency to seize immediate gratification regardless of future penalty, is commented on as characteristic of the English people; and contrasts between them and their Continental neighbours having been drawn, surprise is expressed that such contrasts should exist. Improvidence is spoken of as an inexplicable trait of the race—no regard being paid to the fact that races with which it is compared are allied in blood. The people of Norway are economical and extremely prudent. The Danes, too, are thrifty; and Defoe, commenting on the extravagance of his countrymen, says that a Dutchman gets rich on wages out of which an Englishman but just lives. So, too, if we take the modern Germans. Alike by the complaints of the Americans, that the Germans are ousting them from their own businesses by working hard and living cheaply, and by the success here of German traders and the preference shown for German waiters, we are taught that in other divisions of the Teutonic race there is nothing like this lack of self-control. Nor can we ascribe to such portion of Norman blood as exists among us, this peculiar trait: descendants of the Normans in France are industrious and saving. Why, then, should the English people be improvident? If we seek explanation in their remote lineage, we find none; but if we seek it in the social conditions to which they have been subject, we find a sufficient explanation. The English are improvident because they have been for ages disciplined in improvidence. Extravagance has been made habitual by shielding them from the sharp penalties extravagance brings. Carefulness has been discouraged by continually showing to the careful that those who were careless did as well as, or better than, themselves. Nay, there have been positive penalties on carefulness. Labourers working hard and paying their way, have constantly found themselves called on to help in supporting the idle around them; have had their goods taken under distress-warrants, that paupers might be fed; and eventually have found themselves and their children reduced also to pauperism.4 Well-conducted poor women, supporting themselves without aid or encouragement, have seen the ill-conducted receiving parish-pay for their illegitimate children. Nay, to such extremes has the process gone, that women with many illegitimate children, getting from the rates a weekly sum for each, have been chosen as wives by men who wanted the sums thus derived! Generation after generation the honest and independent, not marrying till they had means, and striving to bring up their families without assistance, have been saddled with extra burdens, and hindered from leaving a desirable posterity; while the dissolute and the idle, especially when given to that lying and servility by which those in authority are deluded, have been helped to produce and to rear progeny, characterized, like themselves, by absence of the mental traits needed for good citizenship. And then, after centuries during which we have been breeding the race as much as possible from the improvident, and repressing the multiplication of the provident, we lift our hands and exclaim at the recklessness our people exhibit! If men who, for a score generations, had by preference bred from their worst-tempered horses and their least-sagacious dogs, were then to wonder because their horses were vicious and their dogs stupid, we should think the absurdity of their policy paralleled only by the absurdity of their astonishment; but human beings instead of inferior animals being in question, no absurdity is seen either in the policy or in the astonishment.
And now something more serious happens than the overlooking of these evils wrought on men’s natures by centuries of demoralizing influences. We are deliberately establishing further such influences. Having, as much as we could, suspended the civilizing discipline of an industrial life so carried on as to achieve self-maintenance without injury to others, we now proceed to suspend that civilizing discipline in another direction. Having in successive generations done our best to diminish the sense of responsibility, by warding-off evils which disregard of responsibility brings, we now carry the policy further by relieving parents from certain other responsibilities which, in the order of nature, fall on them. By way of checking recklessness, and discouraging improvident marriages, and raising the conception of duty, we are diffusing the belief that it is not the concern of parents to fit their children for the business of life; but that the nation is bound to do this. Everywhere there is a tacit enunciation of the marvellous doctrine that citizens are not responsible individually for the bringing-up, each of his own children, but that these same citizens incorporated into a society, are each of them responsible for the bringing-up of everybody else’s children! The obligation does not fall upon A in his capacity of father, to rear the minds as well as the bodies of his offspring; but in his capacity of citizen, there does fall on him the obligation of mentally rearing the offspring of B, C, D, and the rest; who similarly have their direct parental obligations made secondary to their indirect obligations to children not their own! Already it is estimated that, as matters are now being arranged, parents will soon pay in school-fees for their own children, only one-sixth of the amount which is paid by them through taxes, rates, and voluntary contributions, for children at large: in terms of money, the claims of children at large to their care, will be taken as six times the claim of their own children! And if, looking back forty years, we observe the growth of the public claim versus the private claim, we may infer that the private claim will presently be absorbed wholly. Already the correlative theory is becoming so definite and positive that you meet with the notion, uttered as though it were an unquestionable truth, that criminals are “society’s failures.” Presently it will be seen that, since good bodily development, as well as good mental development, is a pre-requisite to good citizenship, (for without it the citizen cannot maintain himself, and so avoid wrong-doing,) society is responsible also for the proper feeding and clothing of children: indeed, in School-Board discussions, there is already an occasional admission that no logically-defensible halting-place can be found between the two. And so we are progressing towards the wonderful notion, here and there finding tacit expression, that people are to marry when they feel inclined, and other people are to take the consequences!
And this is thought to be the policy conducive to improvement of behaviour. Men who have been made improvident by being shielded from many of the evil results of improvidence, are now to be made more provident by further shielding them from the evil results of improvidence. Having had their self-control decreased by social arrangements which lessened the need for self-control, other social arrangements are devised which will make self-control still less needful; and it is hoped so to make self-control greater. This expectation is absolutely at variance with the whole order of things. Life of every kind, human included, proceeds on an exactly-opposite principle. All lower types of beings show us that the rearing of offspring affords the highest discipline for the faculties. The parental instinct is everywhere that which calls out the energies most persistently, and in the greatest degree exercises the intelligence. The self-sacrifice and the sagacity which inferior creatures display in the care of their young, are often commented upon; and everyone may see that parenthood produces a mental exaltation not otherwise producible. That it is so among man-kind is daily proved. Continually we remark that men who were random grow steady when they have children to provide for; and vain, thoughtless girls, becoming mothers, begin to show higher feelings, and capacities that were not before drawn out. In both there is a daily discipline in unselfishness, in industry, in foresight. The parental relation strengthens from hour to hour the habit of postponing immediate ease and egoistic pleasure to the altruistic pleasure obtained by furthering the welfare of offspring. There is a frequent subordination of the claims of self to the claims of fellow-beings; and by no other agency can the practice of this subordination be so effectually secured. Not, then, by a decreased, but by an increased, sense of parental responsibility is self-control to be made greater and recklessness to be checked. And yet the policy now so earnestly and undoubtingly pursued is one which will inevitably diminish the sense of parental responsibility. This all-important discipline of parents’ emotions is to be weakened that children may get reading and grammar and geography more generally than they would otherwise do. A superficial intellectualization is to be secured at the cost of a deep-seated demoralization.
Few, I suppose, will deliberately assert that information is important and character relatively unimportant. Everyone observes from time to time how much more valuable to himself and others is the workman who, though unable to read, is diligent, sober, and honest, than is the well-taught workman who breaks his engagements, spends days in drinking, and neglects his family. And, comparing members of the upper classes, no one doubts that the spendthrift or the gambler, however good his intellectual training, is inferior as a social unit to the man who, not having passed through the approved curriculum, nevertheless prospers by performing well the work he undertakes, and provides for his children instead of leaving them in poverty to the care of relatives. That is to say, looking at the matter in the concrete, all see that for social welfare, good character is more important than much knowledge. And yet the manifest corollary is not drawn. What effect will be produced on character by artificial appliances for spreading knowledge, is not asked. Of the ends to be kept in view by the legislator, all are unimportant compared with the end of character-making; and yet character-making is an end wholly unrecognized.
Let it be seen that the future of a nation depends on the natures of its units; that their natures are inevitably modified in adaptation to the conditions in which they are placed; that the feelings called into play by these conditions will strengthen, while those which have diminished demands on them will dwindle; and it will be seen that the bettering of conduct can be effected, not by insisting on maxims of good conduct, still less by mere intellectual culture, but only by that daily exercise of the higher sentiments and repression of the lower, which results from keeping men subordinate to the requirements of orderly social life—letting them suffer the inevitable penalties of breaking these requirements and reap the benefits of conforming to them. This alone is national education.
One further instance of the need for psychological inquiries as guides to sociological conclusions, may be named—an instance of quite a different kind, but one no less relevant to questions of the time. I refer to the comparative psychology of the sexes. Women, as well as men, are units in a society; and tend by their natures to give that society certain traits of structure and action. Hence the question—Are the mental natures of men and women the same?—is an important one to the sociologist. If they are, an increase of feminine influence is not likely to affect the social type in a marked manner. If they are not, the social type will inevitably be changed by increase of feminine influence.
That men and women are mentally alike, is as untrue as that they are alike bodily. Just as certainly as they have physical differences which are related to the respective parts they play in the maintenance of the race, so certainly have they psychical differences, similarly related to their respective shares in the rearing and protection of offspring. To suppose that along with the unlikenesses between their parental activities there do not go unlikenesses of mental faculties, is to suppose that here alone in all Nature, there is no adjustment of special powers to special functions.5
Two classes of differences exist between the psychical, as between the physical, structures of men and women, which are both determined by this same fundamental need—adaptation to the paternal and maternal duties. The first set of differences is that which results from a somewhat-earlier arrest of individual evolution in women than in men; necessitated by the reservation of vital power to meet the cost of reproduction. Whereas, in man, individual evolution continues until the physiological cost of self-maintenance very nearly balances what nutrition supplies, in woman, an arrest of individual development takes place while there is yet a considerable margin of nutrition: otherwise there could be no offspring. Hence the fact that girls come earlier to maturity than boys. Hence, too, the chief contrasts in bodily form: the masculine figure being distinguished from the feminine by the greater relative sizes of the parts which carry on external actions and entail physiological cost—the limbs, and those thoracic viscera which their activity immediately taxes. And hence, too, the physiological truth that throughout their lives, but especially during the child-bearing age, women exhale smaller quantities of carbonic acid, relatively to their weights, than men do; showing that the evolution of energy is relatively less as well as absolutely less. This rather earlier cessation of individual evolution thus necessitated, showing itself in a rather smaller growth of the nervo-muscular system, so that both the limbs which act and the brain which makes them act are somewhat less, has two results on the mind. The mental manifestations have somewhat less of general power or massiveness; and beyond this there is a perceptible falling-short in those two faculties, intellectual and emotional, which are the latest products of human evolution—the power of abstract reasoning and that most abstract of the emotions, the sentiment of justice—the sentiment which regulates conduct irrespective of personal attachments and the likes or dislikes felt for individuals.6
After this quantitative mental distinction, which becomes incidentally qualitative by telling most upon the most recent and most complex faculties, there come the qualitative mental distinctions consequent on the relations of men and women to their children and to one another. Though the parental instinct, which, considered in its essential nature, is a love of the helpless, is common to the two; yet it is obviously not identical in the two. That the particular form of it which responds to infantine helplessness is more dominant in women than in men, cannot be questioned. In man the instinct is not so habitually excited by the very helpless, but has a more generalized relation to all the relatively-weak who are dependent upon him. Doubtless, along with this more specialized instinct in women, there go special aptitudes for dealing with infantine life—an adapted power of intuition and a fit adjustment of behaviour. That there is here a mental specialization, joined with the bodily specialization, is undeniable; and this mental specialization, though primarily related to the rearing of offspring, affects in some degree the conduct at large.
The remaining qualitative distinctions between the minds of men and women, are those which have grown out of their mutual relation as stronger and weaker. If we trace the genesis of human character, by considering the conditions of existence through which the human race passed in early barbaric times and during civilization, we shall see that the weaker sex has naturally acquired certain mental traits by its dealings with the stronger. In the course of the struggles for existence among wild tribes, those tribes survived in which the men were not only powerful and courageous, but aggressive, unscrupulous, intensely egoistic. Necessarily, then, the men of the conquering races which gave origin to the civilized races, were men in whom the brutal characteristics were dominant; and necessarily the women of such races, having to deal with brutal men, prospered in proportion as they possessed, or acquired, fit adjustments of nature. How were women, unable by strength to hold their own, otherwise enabled to hold their own? Several mental traits helped them to do this. We may set down, first, the ability to please, and the concomitant love of approbation. Clearly, other things equal, among women living at the mercy of men, those who succeeded most in pleasing would be the most likely to survive and leave posterity. And (recognizing the predominant descent of qualities on the same side) this, acting on successive generations, tended to establish, as a feminine trait, a special solicitude to be approved, and an aptitude of manner to this end. Similarly, the wives of merciless savages must, other things equal, have prospered in proportion to their powers of disguising their feelings. Women who betrayed the state of antagonism produced in them by ill-treatment, would be less likely to survive and leave offspring than those who concealed their antagonism; and hence, by inheritance and selection, a growth of this trait proportionate to the requirement. In some cases, again, the arts of persuasion enabled women to protect themselves, and by implication their offspring, where, in the absence of such arts, they would have disappeared early, or would have reared fewer children. One further ability may be named as likely to be cultivated and established—the ability to distinguish quickly the passing feelings of those around. In barbarous times a woman who could from a movement, tone of voice, or expression of face, instantly detect in her savage husband the passion that was rising, would be likely to escape dangers run into by a woman less skilled in interpreting the natural language of feeling. Hence, from the perpetual exercise of this power, and the survival of those having most of it, we may infer its establishment as a feminine faculty. Ordinarily, this feminine faculty, showing itself in an aptitude for guessing the state of mind through the external signs, ends simply in intuitions formed without assignable reasons; but when, as happens in rare cases, there is joined with it skill in psychological analysis, there results an extremely remarkable ability to interpret the mental states of others. Of this ability we have a living example never hitherto paralleled among women, and in but few, if any, cases exceeded among men. Of course, it is not asserted that the specialities of mind here described as having been developed in women by the necessities of defence in their dealings with men, are peculiar to them: in men also they have been developed as aids to defence in their dealings with one another. But the difference is that whereas, in their dealings with one another, men depended on these aids only in some measure, women in their dealings with men depended upon them almost wholly—within the domestic circle as well as without it. Hence, in virtue of that partial limitation of heredity by sex, which many facts throughout Nature show us, they have come to be more marked in women than in men.7
One further distinctive mental trait in women, springs out of the relation of the sexes as adjusted to the welfare of the race. I refer to the effect which the manifestation of power of every kind in men, has in determining the attachments of women. That this is a trait inevitably produced, will be manifest on asking what would have happened if women had by preference attached themselves to the weaker men. If the weaker men had habitually left posterity when the stronger did not, a progressive deterioration of the race would have resulted. Clearly, therefore, it has happened (at least, since the cessation of marriage by capture or by purchase has allowed feminine choice to play an important part), that, among women unlike in their tastes, those who were fascinated by power, bodily or mental, and who married men able to protect them and their children, were more likely to survive in posterity than women to whom weaker men were pleasing, and whose children were both less efficiently guarded and less capable of self-preservation if they reached maturity. To this admiration for power, caused thus inevitably, is ascribable the fact sometimes commented upon as strange, that women will continue attached to men who use them ill, but whose brutality goes along with power, more than they will continue attached to weaker men who use them well. With this admiration of power, primarily having this function, there goes the admiration of power in general; which is more marked in women than in men, and shows itself both theologically and politically. That the emotion of awe aroused by contemplating whatever suggests transcendent force or capacity, which constitutes religious feeling, is strongest in women, is proved in many ways. We read that among the Greeks the women were more religiously excitable than the men. Sir Rutherford Alcock tells us of the Japanese that “in the temples it is very rare to see any congregation except women and children; the men, at any time, are very few, and those generally of the lower classes.” Of the pilgrims to the temple of Juggernaut, it is stated that “at least five-sixths, and often nine-tenths, of them are females.” And we are also told of the Sikhs, that the women believe in more gods than the men do. Which facts, coming from different races and times, sufficiently show us that the like fact, familiar to us in Roman Catholic countries and to some extent at home, is not, as many think, due to the education of women, but has a deeper cause in natural character. And to this same cause is in like manner to be ascribed the greater respect felt by women for all embodiments and symbols of authority, governmental and social.
Thus the à priori inference, that fitness for their respective parental functions implies mental differences between the sexes, as it implies bodily differences, is justified; as is also the kindred inference that secondary differences are necessitated by their relations to one another. Those unlikenesses of mind between men and women, which, under the conditions, were to be expected, are the unlikenesses we actually find. That they are fixed in degree, by no means follows: indeed, the contrary follows. Determined as we see they some of them are by adaptation of primitive women’s natures to the natures of primitive men, it is inferable that as civilization re-adjusts men’s natures to higher social requirements, there goes on a corresponding re-adjustment between the natures of men and women, tending in sundry respects to diminish their differences. Especially may we anticipate that those mental peculiarities developed in women as aids to defence against men in barbarous times, will diminish. It is probable, too, that though all kinds of power will continue to be attractive to them, the attractiveness of physical strength and the mental attributes that commonly go along with it, will decline; while the attributes which conduce to social influence will become more attractive. Further, it is to be anticipated that the higher culture of women, carried on within such limits as shall not unduly tax the physique (and here, by higher culture, I do not mean mere language-learning and an extension of the detestable cramming-system at present in use), will in other ways reduce the contrast. Slowly leading to the result everywhere seen throughout the organic world, of a self-preserving power inversely proportionate to the race-preserving power, it will entail a less-early arrest of individual evolution, and a diminution of those mental differences between men and women, which the early arrest produces.
Admitting such to be changes which the future will probably see wrought out, we have meanwhile to bear in mind these traits of intellect and feeling which distinguish women, and to take note of them as factors in social phenomena—much more important factors than we commonly suppose. Considering them in the above order, we may note, first, that the love of the helpless, which in her maternal capacity woman displays in a more special form than man, inevitably affects all her thoughts and sentiments; and this being joined in her with a less-developed sentiment of abstract justice, she responds more readily when appeals to pity are made, than when appeals are made to equity. In foregoing chapters we have seen how much our social policy disregards the claims of individuals to whatever their efforts purchase, so long as no obvious misery is brought on them by the disregard; but when individuals suffer in ways conspicuous enough to excite commiseration, they get aid, and often as much aid if their sufferings are caused by themselves as if they are caused by others—often greater aid, indeed. This social policy, to which men tend in an injurious degree, women tend to still more. The maternal instinct delights in yielding benefits apart from deserts; and being partially excited by whatever shows a feebleness that appeals for help (supposing antagonism has not been aroused), carries into social action this preference of generosity to justice, even more than men do. A further tendency having the same general direction, results from the aptitude which the feminine intellect has to dwell on the concrete and proximate rather than on the abstract and remote. The representative faculty in women deals quickly and clearly with the personal, the special, and the immediate; but less readily grasps the general and the impersonal. A vivid imagination of simple direct consequences mostly shuts out from her mind the imagination of consequences that are complex and indirect. The respective behaviours of mothers and fathers to children, sufficiently exemplify this difference: mothers thinking chiefly of present effects on the conduct of children, and regarding less the distant effects on their characters; while fathers often repress the promptings of their sympathies with a view to ultimate benefits. And this difference between their ways of estimating consequences, affecting their judgments on social affairs as on domestic affairs, makes women err still more than men do in seeking what seems an immediate public good without thought of distant public evils. Once more, we have in women the predominant awe of power and authority, swaying their ideas and sentiments about all institutions. This tends towards the strengthening of governments, political and ecclesiastical. Faith in whatever presents itself with imposing accompaniments, is, for the reason above assigned, especially strong in women. Doubt, or criticism, or calling-in-question of things that are established, is rare among them. Hence in public affairs their influence goes towards the maintenance of controlling agencies, and does not resist the extension of such agencies: rather, in pursuit of immediate promised benefits, it urges on that extension; since the concrete good in view excludes from their thoughts the remote evils of multiplied restraints. Reverencing power more than men do, women, by implication, respect freedom less—freedom, that is, not of the nominal kind, but of that real kind which consists in the ability of each to carry on his own life without hindrance from others, so long as he does not hinder them.
As factors in social phenomena, these distinctive mental traits of women have ever to be remembered. Women have in all times played a part, and, in modern days, a very notable part, in determining social arrangements. They act both directly and indirectly. Directly, they take a large, if not the larger, share in that ceremonial government which supplements the political and ecclesiastical governments; and as supporters of these other governments, especially the ecclesiastical, their direct aid is by no means unimportant. Indirectly, they act by modifying the opinions and sentiments of men—first, in education, when the expression of maternal thoughts and feelings affects the thoughts and feelings of boys, and afterwards in domestic and social intercourse, during which the feminine sentiments sway men’s public acts, both consciously and unconsciously. Whether it is desirable that the share already taken by women in determining social arrangements and actions should be increased, is a question we will leave undiscussed. Here I am concerned merely to point out that, in the course of a psychological preparation for the study of Sociology, we must include the comparative psychology of the sexes; so that if any change is made, we may make it knowing what we are doing.
Assent to the general proposition set forth in this chapter, does not depend on assent to the particular propositions unfolded in illustrating it. Those who, while pressing forward education, are so certain they know what good education is, that, in an essentially-Papal spirit, they wish to force children through their existing school-courses, under penalty on parents who resist, will not have their views modified by what has been said. I do not look, either, for any appreciable effect on those who shut out from consideration the reactive influence on moral nature, entailed by the action of a system of intellectual culture which habituates parents to make the public responsible for their children’s minds. Nor do I think it likely that many of those who wish to change fundamentally the political status of women, will be influenced by the considerations above set forth on the comparative psychology of the sexes. But without acceptance of these illustrative conclusions, there may be acceptance of the general conclusion, that psychological truths underlie sociological truths, and must therefore be sought by the sociologist. For whether discipline of the intellect does or does not change the emotions; whether national character is or is not progressively adapted to social conditions; whether the minds of men and women are or are not alike; are obviously psychological questions; and either answer to any one of them, implies a psychological conclusion. Hence, whoever on any of these questions has a conviction to which he would give legislative expression, is basing a sociological belief upon a psychological belief; and cannot deny that the one is true only if the other is true. Having admitted this, he must admit that without preparation in Mental Science there can be no Social Science. For, otherwise, he must assert that the randomly-made and carelessly-grouped observations on Mind, common to all people, are better as guides than observations cautiously collected, critically examined, and generalized in a systematic way.
No one, indeed, who is once led to dwell on the matter, can fail to see how absurd is the supposition that there can be a rational interpretation of men’s combined actions, without a previous rational interpretation of those thoughts and feelings by which their individual actions are prompted. Nothing comes out of a society but what originates in the motive of an individual, or in the united similar motives of many individuals, or in the conflict of the united similar motives of some having certain interests, with the diverse motives of others whose interests are different. Always the power which initiates a change is feeling, separate or aggregated, guided to its ends by intellect; and not even an approach to an explanation of social phenomena can be made, without the thoughts and sentiments of citizens being recognized as factors. How, then, can there be a true account of social actions without a true account of these thoughts and sentiments? Manifestly, those who ignore Psychology as a preparation for Sociology, can defend their position only by proving that while other groups of phenomena require special study, the phenomena of Mind, in all their variety and intricacy, are best understood without special study; and that knowledge of human nature gained haphazard, becomes obscure and misleading in proportion as there is added to it knowledge deliberately sought and carefully put together.
[1.]Probably most readers will conclude that in this, and in the preceding section, I am simply carrying out the views of Mr. Darwin in their applications to the human race. Under the circumstances, perhaps, I shall be excused for pointing out that the same beliefs, otherwise expressed, are contained in Chapters XXV. and XXVIII. of Social Statics, published in December, 1850; and that they are set forth still more definitely in the Westminster Review for April, 1852 (pp. 498–500). As Mr. Darwin himself points out, others before him have recognized the action of that process he has called “Natural Selection,” but have failed to see its full significance and its various effects. Thus in the Review-article just named, I have contended that “this inevitable redundancy of numbers—this constant increase of people beyond the means of subsistence,” necessitates the continual carrying-off of “those in whom the power of self-preservation is the least;” that all being subject to the “increasing difficulty of getting a living which excess of fertility entails,” there is an average advance under the pressure, since “only those who do advance under it eventually survive;” and that these “must be the select of their generation.” There is, however, in the essay from which I here quote, no recognition of what Mr. Darwin calls “spontaneous variation,” nor of that divergence of type which this natural selective process is shown by him to produce.
[2.]And even then there are often ruinous delays. A barrister tells me that in a case in which he was himself the referee, they had but six meetings in two years.
[1.]“The Statistics of Legislation,” read before the Statistical Society, May, 1873, by Frederick H. Janson, Esq., F.L.S., vice-president of the Incorporated Law Society.
[2.]Among recent illustrations of the truth that frequent repetition of Christian doctrines does not conduce to growth of Christian feelings, here are two that seem worth preserving. The first I quote from The Church Herald for May 14, 1873. “Mr. J. Stuart Mill, who has just gone to his account, would have been a remarkable writer of English, if his innate self-consciousness and abounding self-confidence had not made him a notorious literary prig. * * * * * His death is no loss to anybody, for he was a rank but amiable infidel, and a most dangerous person. The sooner those ‘lights of thought,’ who agree with him, go to the same place, the better it will be for both Church and State.” The second, which to an English manifestation of sentiment yields a parallel from America, I am permitted to publish by a friend to whom it was lately addressed:— “(From a Clergyman of 28 years’ service.) “U.S. America, March 10th, 1873. J. Tyndall,—How it ought to ‘heap coals of fire on your head,’ that, in return for your insults to their Religion, in your various works, the American people treated you with distinguished consideration. You have repeatedly raised your puny arm against God and His Christ! You have endeavoured to deprive mankind of its only consolation in life, and its only hope in death (vide ‘Fragments of Science,’ &c.), without offering anything instead, but the ‘dry-light’ of your molecules and atoms. Shall we praise you for this? We praise you not! “‘Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee?’ “Every suicide in our land (and they are of daily occurrence) is indirectly the effect of the bestial doctrines of yourself, Darwin, Spencer, Huxley, et id omne genus. “‘The pit is digged up for you all?’ “‘Woe unto you that laugh now, for ye shall mourn and lament.’ “With the supremest contempt, I remain, “A. F. F—.”
[3.]To show how little operative on conduct is mere teaching, let me add a striking fact that has fallen under my own observation. Some twelve years ago was commenced a serial publication, grave and uninteresting to most, and necessarily limited in its circulation to the well-educated. It was issued to subscribers, from each of whom a small sum was due for every four numbers. As was to be expected, the notification, periodically made, that another subscription was due, received from some prompt attention; from others an attention more or less tardy; and from others no attention at all. The defaulters, from time to time reminded by new notices, fell, many of them, two subscriptions in arrear; but after receiving from the publishers letters intimating the fact, some of these rectified what was simply a result of forgetfulness: leaving, however, a number who still went on receiving the serial without paying for it. When these were three subscriptions in arrear, further letters from the publishers, drawing their attention to the facts, were sent to them, bringing from some the amounts due, but leaving a remainder who continued to disregard the claim. Eventually these received from the publishers intimations that their names would be struck off for non-payment; and such of them as continued insensible were at length omitted from the list. After a lapse of ten years, a digest was made of the original list, to ascertain the ratio between the number of defaulters and the total number; and to ascertain, also, the ratios borne by their numbers to the numbers of their respective classes. Those who had thus finally declined paying for what they had year after year received, constituted the following percentages:—
Admitting that the high percentage among the journalists may have been due to the habit of receiving gratis copies of books, we have to note, first of all, the surprising fact that nearly one-third of these highly educated men were thus regardless of an equitable claim. Further, on comparing the subdivisions, we discover that the class undistinguished by titles of any kind, and therefore including, as we must suppose, those whose education, though good, was not the highest, furnished the smallest percentage of defaulters: so far as the evidence goes, it associates increase of intellectual culture with decrease of conscientiousness. And then one more thing to be noted is the absence of that beneficial effect expected from repetition of moral precepts: the Clergy and the Secularists are nearly on a level. So that, both in general and in detail, this evidence, like the evidence given in the text, is wholly at variance with the belief that addressing the intellect develops the higher sentiments.
[4.]Even after the reform of the Poor-Law, this punishment for good behaviour was continued. Illustrations will be found in the before mentioned Tracts on the Poor-Laws, by a late uncle of mine—illustrations that came under his personal observation as clergyman and as guardian.
[5.]The comparisons ordinarily made between the minds of men and women are faulty in many ways, of which these are the chief:—