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Title: Psychology and Social Practice
Author: Dewey, John, 1859-1952
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    [1] Address of the President before the American
    Psychological Association, New Haven, 1899.

In coming before you I had hoped to deal with the problem of the
relation of psychology to the social sciences--and through them to
social practice, to life itself. Naturally, in anticipation, I had
conceived a systematic exposition of fundamental principles covering the
whole ground, and giving every factor its due rating and position. That
discussion is not ready today. I am loath, however, completely to
withdraw from the subject, especially as there happens to be a certain
phase of it with which I have been more or less practically occupied
within the last few years. I have in mind the relation of psychology to
education. Since education is primarily a social affair, and since
educational science is first of all a social science, we have here a
section of the whole field. In some respects there may be an advantage
in approaching the more comprehensive question through the medium of one
of its special cases. The absence of elaborated and coherent view may be
made up for by a background of experience, which shall check the
projective power of reflective abstraction, and secure a translation of
large words and ideas into specific images. This special territory,
moreover, may be such as to afford both sign-posts and broad avenues to
the larger sphere--the place of psychology among the social sciences.
Because I anticipate such an outcome, and because I shall make a survey
of the broad field from the special standpoint taken, I make no apology
for presenting this discussion to an association of psychologists rather
than to a gathering of educators.

In dealing with this particular question, it is impossible not to have
in mind the brilliant and effective discourses recently published by my
predecessor in this chair. I shall accordingly make free to refer to
points, and at times to words, in his treatment of the matter. Yet, as
perhaps I hardly need say, it is a problem of the most fundamental
importance for both psychology and social theory that I wish to discuss,
not any particular book or article. Indeed, with much of what Dr.
Münsterberg says about the uselessness and the danger for the teacher of
miscellaneous scraps of child study, of unorganized information
regarding the nervous system, and of crude and uninterpreted results of
laboratory experiment, I am in full agreement. It is doubtless necessary
to protest against a hasty and violent bolting of psychological facts
and principles which, of necessity, destroys their scientific form. It
is necessary to point out the need of a preliminary working over of
psychological material, adapting it to the needs of education. But
these are minor points. The main point is whether the standpoint of
psychological science, as a study of _mechanism_, is indifferent and
opposed to the demands of education with its free interplay of
personalities in their vital attitudes and aims.


The school practice of today has a definite psychological basis.
Teachers are already possessed by specific psychological assumptions
which control their theory and their practice. The greatest obstacle to
the introduction of certain educational reforms is precisely the
permeating persistence of the underlying psychological creed. Traced
back to its psychological ultimates, there are two controlling bases of
existing methods of instruction. One is the assumption of a fundamental
distinction between child psychology and the adult psychology where in
reality identity reigns, viz., in the region of the motives and
conditions which make for mental power. The other is the assumption of
likeness where marked difference is the feature most significant for
educational purposes; I mean the specialization of aims and habits in
the adult, compared with the absence of specialization in the child,
and the connection of undifferentiated status with the full and free
growth of the child.

The adult is primarily a person with a certain calling and position in
life. These devolve upon him certain _specific_ responsibilities which
he has to meet, and call into play certain formed habits. The child is
primarily one whose calling is _growth_. He is concerned with arriving
at specific ends and purposes--instead of having a general framework
already developed. He is engaged in _forming_ habits rather than in
definitely utilizing those already formed. Consequently he is absorbed
in getting that all-around contact with persons and things, that range
of acquaintance with the physical and ideal factors of life, which shall
afford the background and material for the specialized aims and pursuits
of later life. He is, or should be, busy in the formation of a flexible
variety of habits whose sole immediate criterion is their relation to
_full growth_, rather than in acquiring certain _skills_ whose value is
measured by their reference to specialized technical accomplishments.
This is the radical psychological and biological distinction, I take it,
between the child and the adult. It is because of this distinction that
children are neither physiologically nor mentally describable as "little
men and women."

The full recognition of this distinction means of course the selection
and arrangement of all school materials and methods for the facilitation
of full normal growth, trusting to the result in growth to provide the
instrumentalities of later specialized adaptation. If education means
the period of prolonged infancy, it means nothing less than this. But
look at our school system and ask whether the three R's are taught,
either as to subject-matter or as to method, with reference to growth,
to its present demands and opportunities; or as technical acquisitions
which are to be needed in the specialized life of the adult. Ask the
same questions about geography, grammar, and history. The gap between
psychological theory and the existing school practice becomes painfully
apparent. We readily realize the extent to which the present school
system is dominated by carrying over into child life a standpoint and
method which are significant in the psychology of the adult.

The narrow scope of the traditional elementary curriculum, the premature
and excessive use of logical analytic methods, the assumption of
ready-made faculties of observation, memory, attention, etc., which can
be brought into play if only the child chooses to do so, the ideal of
formal discipline--all these find a large measure of their explanation
in neglect of just this psychological distinction between the child and
the adult. The hold of these affairs upon the school is so fixed that it
is impossible to shake it in any fundamental way, excepting by a
thorough appreciation of the actual psychology of the case. This
appreciation cannot be confined to the educational leaders and
theorists. No individual instructor can be sincere and whole-hearted, to
say nothing of intelligent, in carrying into effect the needed reforms,
save as he genuinely understands the scientific basis and necessity of
the change.

But in another direction there is the assumption of a fundamental
difference: namely, as to the _conditions_ which secure intellectual and
moral progress and power.[2] No one seriously questions that, with an
adult, power and control are obtained through realization of personal
ends and problems, through personal selection of means and materials
which are relevant, and through personal adaptation and application of
what is thus selected, together with whatever of experimentation and of
testing is involved in this effort. Practically every one of these three
conditions of increase in power for the adult is denied for the child.
For him problems and aims are determined by another mind. For him the
material that is relevant and irrelevant is selected in advance by
another mind. And, upon the whole, there is such an attempt to teach him
a ready-made method for applying his material to the solution of his
problems, or the reaching of his ends, that the factor of
experimentation is reduced to the minimum. With the adult we
unquestioningly assume that an attitude of personal inquiry, based upon
the possession of a problem which interests and absorbs, is a necessary
precondition of mental growth. With the child we assume that the
precondition is rather the willing disposition which makes him ready to
submit to any problem and material presented from without. _Alertness_
is our ideal in one case; _docility_ in the other. With one we assume
that power of attention develops in dealing with problems which make a
personal appeal, and through personal responsibility for determining
what is relevant. With the other we provide next to no opportunities
for the evolution of problems out of immediate experience, and allow
next to no free mental play for selecting, assorting, and adapting the
experiences and ideas that make for their solution. How profound a
revolution in the position and service of text-book and teacher, and in
methods of instruction depending therefrom, would be effected by a
sincere recognition of the psychological identity of child and adult in
these respects can with difficulty be realized.

    [2] I owe this point specifically (as well as others more
    generally) to my friend and colleague, Mrs. Ella Flagg

Here again it is not enough that the educational commanders should be
aware of the correct educational psychology. The rank and file, just
because they are persons dealing with persons, must have a sufficient
grounding in the psychology of the matter to realize the necessity and
the significance of what they are doing. Any reform instituted without
such conviction on the part of those who have to carry it into effect
would never be undertaken in good faith, nor in the spirit which its
ideal inevitably demands; consequently it could lead only to disaster.

At this point, however, the issue defines itself somewhat more narrowly.
It may be true, it is true, we are told, that some should take hold of
psychological methods and conclusions, and organize them with reference
to the assistance which they may give to the cause of education. But
this is not the work of the teacher. It belongs to the general
educational theorist: the middleman between the psychologist and the
educational practitioner. He should put the matter into such shape that
the teacher may take the net results in the form of advice and rules for
action; but the teacher who comes in contact with the living
personalities must not assume the psychological attitude. If he does, he
reduces persons to objects, and thereby distorts, or rather destroys,
the ethical relationship which is the vital nerve of instruction
(_Psychology and Life_, p. 122, and pp. 136-8).

That there is some legitimate division of labor between the general
educational theorist and the actual instructor, there is, of course, no
doubt. As a rule, it will not be the one actively employed in
instruction who will be most conscious of the psychological basis and
equivalents of the educational work, nor most occupied in finding the
pedagogical rendering of psychological facts and principles. Of
necessity, the stress of interest will be elsewhere. But we have already
found reason for questioning the possibility of making the somewhat
different direction of interest into a rigid dualism of a legislative
class on one side and an obedient subject class on the other. Can the
teacher ever receive "obligatory prescriptions"? Can he receive from
another a statement of the means by which he is to reach his ends, and
not become hopelessly servile in his attitude? Would not such a result
be even worse than the existing mixture of empiricism and
inspiration?--just because it would forever fossilize the empirical
element and dispel the inspiration which now quickens routine. Can a
passive, receptive attitude on the part of the instructor (suggesting
the soldier awaiting orders from a commanding general) be avoided,
unless the teacher, as a student of psychology, himself sees the reasons
and import of the suggestions and rules that are proffered him?

I quote a passage that seems of significance: "Do we not lay a special
linking science everywhere else between the theory and practical work?
We have engineering between physics and the practical workingmen in the
mills; we have a scientific medicine between the natural science and the
physician" (p. 138). The sentences suggest, in an almost startling way,
that the real essence of the problem is found in an _organic_ connection
between the two extreme terms--between the theorist and the practical
worker--through the medium of the linking science. The decisive matter
is the extent to which the ideas of the theorist actually project
themselves, through the kind offices of the middleman, into the
consciousness of the practitioner. It is the participation by the
practical man in the theory, through the agency of the linking science,
that determines at once the effectiveness of the work done, and the
moral freedom and personal development of the one engaged in it. It is
because the physician no longer follows rules, which, however rational
in themselves, are yet arbitrary to him (because grounded in principles
that he does not understand), that his work is becoming liberal,
attaining the dignity of a profession, instead of remaining a mixture of
_empiricism and quackery_. It is because, alas, engineering makes only a
formal and not a real connection between physics and the practical
workingmen in the mills that our industrial problem is an ethical
problem of the most serious kind. The question of the amount of wages
the laborer receives, of the purchasing value of this wage, of the hours
and conditions of labor, are, after all, secondary. The problem
primarily roots in the fact that the mediating science does not connect
with his _consciousness_, but merely with his outward actions. He does
not appreciate the significance and bearing of what he does; and he does
not perform his work because of sharing in a larger scientific and
social consciousness. If he did, he would be free. All other proper
accompaniments of wage, and hours, healthful and inspiring conditions,
would be added unto him, because he would have entered into the ethical
kingdom. Shall we seek analogy with the teacher's calling in the
workingmen in the mill, or in the scientific physician?

It is quite likely that I shall be reminded that I am overlooking an
essential difference. The physician, it will be said, is dealing with a
body which either is in itself a pure object, a causal interplay of
anatomical elements, or is something which lends itself naturally and
without essential loss to treatment from this point of view; while the
case is quite different in the material with which the teacher deals.
Here is personality, which is destroyed when regarded as an object. But
the gap is not so pronounced nor so serious as this objection implies.
The physician, after all, is not dealing with a lifeless body; with a
simple anatomical structure, or interplay of mechanical elements.
Life-functions, active operations, are the reality which confronts him.
We do not have to go back many centuries in the history of medicine to
find a time when the physician attempted to deal with these functions
directly and immediately. They were so overpoweringly present, they
forced themselves upon him so obviously and so constantly, that he had
no resource save a mixture of magic and empiricism: magic so far as he
followed methods derived from uncritical analogy, or from purely general
speculation on the universe and life; empiricism so long as he just
followed procedures which had been found helpful before in cases which
somewhat resembled the present. We have only to trace the intervening
history of medicine to appreciate that it is precisely the ability to
state function in terms of structure, to reduce life in its active
operations to terms of a causal mechanism, which has taken the medical
calling out of this dependence upon a vibration between superstition and
routine. Progress has come by taking what is really an activity _as if_
it were only an object. It is the capacity to effect this transformation
of life-activity which measures both the scientific character of the
physician's procedure and his practical control, the certainty and
efficacy of what he, as a living man, does in relation to some other
living man.

It is an old story, however, that we must not content ourselves with
analogies. We must find some specific reason in the principles of the
teacher's own activities for believing that psychology--the ability to
transform a living personality into an objective mechanism for the time
being--is not merely an incidental help, but an organic necessity. Upon
the whole, the best efforts of teachers at present are partly paralyzed,
partly distorted, and partly rendered futile precisely from the fact
that they are in such immediate contact with sheer, unanalyzed
personality. The relation is such a purely ethical and personal one that
the teacher cannot get enough outside the situation to handle it
intelligently and effectively. He is in precisely the condition in which
the physician was when he had no recourse save to deal with health as
entity or force on one side, and disease as opposing agency or invading
influence upon the other. The teacher reacts _en bloc_, in a gross
wholesale way, to something which he takes in an equally undefined and
total way in the child. It is the inability to regard, upon occasion,
both himself and the child as just objects working upon each other in
specific ways that compels him to resort to purely arbitrary measures,
to fall back upon mere routine traditions of school-teaching, or to fly
to the latest fad of pedagogical theorists--the latest panacea peddled
out in school journals or teachers' institutes--just as the old
physician relied upon his magic formula.

I repeat, it is the fundamental weakness of our teaching force today
(putting aside teachers who are actually incompetent by reason either of
wrong motives or inadequate preparation) that they react in gross to the
child's exhibitions in gross without analyzing them into their detailed
and constituent elements. If the child is angry, he is dealt with simply
as an angry being; anger is an entity, a force, not a symptom. If a
child is inattentive, this again is treated as a mere case of refusal to
use the faculty or function of attention, of sheer unwillingness to act.
Teachers tell you that a child is careless or inattentive in the same
final way in which they would tell you that a piece of paper is white.
It is just a fact, and that is all there is of it. Now, it is only
through some recognition of attention as a mechanism, some awareness of
the interplay of sensations, images, and motor impulses which
constitute it as an objective fact, that the teacher can deal
effectively with attention as a function. And, of course, the same is
true of memory, quick and useful observation, good judgment, and all the
other practical powers the teacher is attempting to cultivate.

Consideration of the abstract concepts of mechanism and personality is
important. Too much preoccupation with them in a general fashion,
however, without translation into relevant imagery of actual conditions,
is likely to give rise to unreal difficulties. The ethical personality
does not go to school naked; it takes with it the body as the instrument
through which all influences reach it, and through control of which its
ideas are both elaborated and expressed. The teacher does not deal with
personality at large, but as expressed in intellectual and practical
impulses and habits. The ethical personality is not formed--it is
forming. The teacher must provide stimuli leading to the equipment of
personality with active habits and interests. When we consider the
problem of forming habits and interests, we find ourselves at once
confronted with matters of this sort: What stimuli shall be presented to
the sense-organs and how? What stable complexes of associations shall be
organized? What motor impulses shall be evoked, and to what extent? How
shall they be induced in such a way as to bring favorable stimuli under
greater control, and to lessen the danger of excitation from undesirable
stimuli? In a word, the teacher is dealing with the psychical factors
that are concerned with furtherance of certain habits, and the
inhibition of others--habits intellectual, habits emotional, habits in
overt action.

Moreover, all the instruments and materials with which the teacher deals
must be considered as psychical stimuli. Such consideration involves of
necessity a knowledge of their reciprocal reactions--of what goes by the
name of _causal mechanism_. The introduction of certain changes into a
network of associations, the reinforcement of certain sensori-motor
connections, the weakening or displacing of others--this is the
psychological rendering of the greater part of the teacher's actual
business. It is not that one teacher employs mechanical considerations,
and that the other does not, appealing to higher ends; it is that one
does not know his mechanism, and consequently acts servilely,
superstitiously, and blindly, while the other, knowing what he is about,
acts freely, clearly, and effectively.[3]

    [3] That some teachers get their psychology by instinct
    more effectively than others by any amount of reflective
    study may be unreservedly stated. It is not a question of
    manufacturing teachers, but of reinforcing and
    enlightening those who have a right to teach.

The same thing is true on the side of materials of instruction--the
school studies. No amount of exaltation of teleological personality
(however true, and however necessary the emphasis) can disguise from us
the fact that instruction is an affair of bringing a child into intimate
relations with concrete objects, positive facts, definite ideas, and
specific symbols. The symbols are objective things in arithmetic,
reading, and writing. The ideas are truths of history and of science.
The facts are derived from such specific disciplines as geography and
language, botany and astronomy. To suppose that by some influence of
pure personality upon pure personality, conjoined with a knowledge of
rules formulated by an educational theorist, an effective interplay of
this body of physical and ideal objects with the life of the child can
be effective, is, I submit, nothing but an appeal to magic, plus
dependence upon servile routine. Symbols in reading and writing and
number are, both in themselves and in the way in which they stand for
ideas, elements in a mechanism which has to be rendered operative
within the child. To bring about this influence in the most helpful and
economical way, in the most fruitful and liberating way, is absolutely
impossible save as the teacher has some power to transmute symbols and
contents into their working psychical equivalents; and save as he also
has the power to see what it is in the child, as a psychical mechanism,
that affords maximum leverage.

Probably I shall now hear that at present the danger is not of dealing
with acts and persons in a gross, arbitrary way, but (so far as what is
called new education is concerned) in treating the children too much as
mechanism, and consequently seeking for all kinds of stimuli to stir and
attract--that, in a word, the tendency to reduce instruction to a merely
agreeable thing, weakening the child's personality and indulging his
mere love of excitement and pleasure, is precisely the result of taking
the psycho-mechanical point of view. I welcome the objection, for it
serves to clear up the precise point. It is through a partial and
defective psychology that the teacher, in his reaction from dead routine
and arbitrary moral and intellectual discipline, has substituted an
appeal to the satisfaction of momentary impulse. It is not because the
teacher has a knowledge of the psycho-physical mechanism, but because he
has a _partial_ knowledge of it. He has come to consciousness of certain
sensations and certain impulses, and of the ways in which these may be
stimulated and directed, but he is in ignorance of the larger mechanism
(just as a mechanism), and of the causal relations which subsist between
the unknown part and the elements upon which he is playing. What is
needed to correct his errors is not to inform him that he gets only
misleading from taking the psychical point of view, but to reveal to him
the scope and intricate interactions of the mechanism as a whole. Then
he will realize that, while he is gaining apparent efficacy in some
superficial part of the mechanism, he is disarranging, dislocating, and
disintegrating much more fundamental factors in it. In a word, he is
operating, not as a psychologist, but as a poor psychologist, and the
only cure for a partial psychology is a fuller one. He is gaining the
momentary attention of the child through an appeal to pleasant color, or
exciting tone, or agreeable association, but at the expense of isolating
one cog and ratchet in the machinery, and making it operate
independently of the rest. In theory, it is as possible to demonstrate
this to a teacher, showing how the faulty method reacts unhappily into
the personality, as it is to locate the points of wrong construction and
of ineffective transfer of energy in a physical apparatus.

This suggests the admission made by writers, in many respects as far
apart as Dr. Harris and Dr. Münsterberg, that scientific psychology is
of use on the pathological side, where questions of "physical and mental
health" are concerned. But is there anything with which the teacher has
concern that is not included in the ideal of physical and mental health?
Does health define to us anything less than the teacher's whole end and
aim? Where does pathology leave off in the scale and series of vicious
aims and defective means? I see no line between the more obvious methods
and materials which result in nervous irritation and fatigue, in
weakening the power of vision, in establishing spinal curvatures, and
others which, in more remote and subtle, but equally real, ways leave
the child with, say, a muscular system which is only partially at the
service of his ideas, with blocked and inert brain paths between eye and
ear, and with a partial and disconnected development of the cerebral
paths of visual imagery. What error in instruction is there which could
not, with proper psychological theory, be stated in just such terms as
these? A wrong method of teaching reading, wrong, I mean, in the full
educational and ethical sense, is also a case of pathological use of the
psycho-physical mechanism. A method is ethically defective that, while
giving the child a glibness in the mechanical facility of reading,
leaves him at the mercy of suggestion and chance environment to decide
whether he reads the "yellow journal," the trashy novel, or the
literature which inspires and makes more valid his whole life. Is it any
less certain that this failure on the ethical side is repeated in some
lack of adequate growth and connection in the psychical and
physiological factors involved? If a knowledge of psychology is
important to the teacher in the grosser and more overt cases of mental
pathology, is it not even more important in these hidden and indirect
matters--just because they are less evident, and more circuitous in
their operation and manifestation?

The argument may be summarized by saying that there is controversy
neither as to the ethical character of education, nor as to the
abstraction which psychology performs in reducing personality to an
object. The teacher is, indeed, a person occupied with other persons. He
lives in a social sphere--he is a member and an organ of a social life.
His aims are social aims; the development of individuals taking ever
more responsible positions in a circle of social activities continually
increasing in radius and in complexity. Whatever he as a teacher
effectively does, he does as a person; and he does with and toward
persons. His methods, like his aims, when actively in operation, are
practical, are social, are ethical, are anything you please--save merely
_psychical_. In comparison with this, the material and the data, the
standpoint and the methods of psychology, are abstract. They transform
specific acts and relations of individuals into a flow of processes in
consciousness; and these processes can be adequately identified and
related only through reference to a biological organism. I do not think
there is danger of going too far in asserting the social and
teleological nature of the work of the teacher; or in asserting the
abstract and partial character of the mechanism into which the
psychologist, as a psychologist, transmutes the play of vital values.

Does it follow from this that any attempt on the part of the teacher to
perform this abstraction, to see the pupil as a mechanism, to define his
own relations and that of the study taught in terms of causal influences
acting upon this mechanism, is useless and harmful? On the face of it,
I cannot understand the logic which says that because mechanism is
mechanism, and because acts, aims, values are vital, therefore a
statement in terms of one is alien to the comprehension and proper
management of the other. Ends are not compromised when referred to the
means necessary to realize them. Values do not cease to be values when
they are minutely and accurately measured. Acts are not destroyed when
their operative machinery is made manifest. The statement of the
disparity of mechanism and actual life, be it never so true, solves no
problem. It is no distinction that may be used off-hand to decide the
question of the relation of psychology to any form of practice. It is
a valuable and necessary distinction; but it is only preliminary. The
purport of our discussion has, indeed, led us strongly to suspect any
ideal which exists purely at large, out of relation to machinery of
execution, and equally a machinery that operates in no particular

The proposition that a description and explanation of stones, iron, and
mortar, as an absolutely necessary causal nexus of mechanical
conditions, makes the results of physical science unavailable for
purposes of practical life, would hardly receive attention today. Every
sky-scraper, every railway bridge, is a refutation, compared with which
oceans of talk are futile. One would not find it easy to stir up a
problem, even if he went on to include, in this same mechanical system,
the steam derricks that hoist the stones and iron, and the muscles and
nerves of architect, mason, and steel worker. The simple fact is still
too obvious: the more thoroughgoing and complete the mechanical and
causal statement, the more controlled, the more economical, are the
discovery and realization of human aims. It is not in spite of, nor in
neglect of, but because of, the mechanical statement that human activity
has been freed, and made effective in thousands of new practical
directions, upon a scale and with a certainty hitherto undreamed of. Our
discussion tends to suggest that we entertain a similar question
regarding psychology only because we have as yet made so little
headway--just because there is so little scientific control of our
practice in these directions; that at bottom our difficulty is local and
circumstantial, not intrinsic and doctrinal. If our teachers were
trained as architects are trained; if our schools were actually managed
on a psychological basis as great factories are run on the basis of
chemical and physical science; if our psychology were sufficiently
organized and coherent to give as adequate a mechanical statement of
human nature as physics does of its material, we should never dream of
discussing this question.

I cannot pass on from this phase of the discussion without at least
incidental remark of the obverse side of the situation. The difficulties
of psychological observation and interpretation are great enough in any
case. We cannot afford to neglect any possible auxiliary. The great
advantage of the psycho-physical laboratory is paid for by certain
obvious defects. The completer control of conditions, with resulting
greater accuracy of determination, demands an isolation, a ruling out of
the usual media of thought and action, which leads to a certain
remoteness, and easily to a certain artificiality. When the result of
laboratory experiment informs us, for example, that repetition is the
chief factor influencing recall, we must bear in mind that the result is
obtained with nonsense material, _i. e._, by excluding the conditions of
ordinary memory. The result is pertinent if we state it thus: The more
we exclude the usual environmental adaptations of memory, the greater
importance attaches to sheer repetition. It is dubious (and probably
perverse) if we say: Repetition is the prime influence in memory.

Now, this illustrates a general principle. Unless our laboratory results
are to give us artificialities, mere scientific curiosities, they must
be subjected to interpretation by gradual reapproximation to conditions
of life. The results may be very accurate, very definitive in form; but
the task of re-viewing them so as to see their actual import is clearly
one of great delicacy and liability to error. The laboratory, in a word,
affords no final refuge that enables us to avoid the ordinary scientific
difficulties of forming hypotheses, interpreting results, etc. In some
sense (from the very accuracy and limitations of its results) it adds to
our responsibilities in this direction. Now the school, for
psychological purposes, stands in many respects midway between the
extreme simplifications of the laboratory and the confused complexities
of ordinary life. Its conditions are those of life at large; they are
social and practical. But it approaches the laboratory in so far as the
ends aimed at are reduced in number, are definite, and thus simplify
the conditions; and their psychological phase is uppermost--the
formation of habits of attention, observation, memory, etc.--while in
ordinary life these are secondary and swallowed up.

If the biological and evolutionary attitude is right in looking at mind
as fundamentally an instrument of adaptation, there are certainly
advantages in any mode of approach which brings us near to its various
adaptations while they are still forming, and under conditions selected
with special reference to promoting these adaptations (or faculties).
And this is precisely the situation we should have in a properly
organized system of education. While the psychological theory would
guide and illuminate the practice, acting upon the theory would
immediately test it, and thus criticise it, bringing about its revision
and growth. In the large and open sense of the words, psychology becomes
a working hypothesis, instruction is the experimental test and
demonstration of the hypothesis; the result is both greater practical
control and continued growth in theory.


I must remind myself that my purpose does not conclude with a statement
of the auxiliary relation of psychology to education; but that we are
concerned with this as a type case of a wider problem--the relation of
psychology to social practice in general. So far I have tried to show
that it is not in spite of its statement of personal aims and social
relations in terms of mechanism that psychology is useful, but because
of this transformation and abstraction. Through reduction of ethical
relations to presented objects we are enabled to get outside of the
existing situation; to see it objectively, not merely in relation to our
traditional habits, vague aspirations, and capricious desires. We are
able to see clearly the factors which shape it, and therefore to get an
idea of how it may be modified. The assumption of an identical
relationship of physics and psychology to practical life is justified.
Our freedom of action comes through its statement in terms of necessity.
By this translation our control is enlarged, our powers are directed,
our energy conserved, our aims illuminated.

The school is an especially favorable place in which to study the
availability of psychology for social practice; because in the school
the formation of a certain type of social personality, with a certain
attitude and equipment of working powers, is the express aim. In idea,
at least, no other purpose restricts or compromises the dominance of the
single purpose. Such is not the case in business, politics, and the
professions. All these have upon their surface, taken directly, other
ends to serve. In many instances these other aims are of far greater
immediate importance; the ethical result is subordinate or even
incidental. Yet as it profiteth a man nothing to gain the whole world
and lose his own self, so indirectly and ultimately all these other
social institutions must be judged by the contribution which they make
to the value of human life. Other ends may be immediately uppermost, but
these ends must in turn be means; they must subserve the interests of
conscious life or else stand condemned.

In other words, the moment we apply an ethical standard to the
consideration of social institutions, that moment they stand on exactly
the same level as does the school, viz., as organs for the increase in
depth and area of the realized values of life. In both cases the
statement of the mechanism, through which the ethical ends are realized,
is not only permissible, but absolutely required. It is not merely
incidentally, as a grateful addition to its normal task, that
psychology serves us. The essential nature of the standpoint which calls
it into existence, and of the abstraction which it performs, is to put
in our possession the method by which values are introduced and effected
in life. The statement of personality as an object, of social relations
as a mechanism of stimuli and inhibitions, is precisely the statement
of ends in terms of the method of their realization.

It is remarkable that men are so blind to the futility of a morality
which merely blazons ideals, erects standards, asserts laws without
finding in them any organic provision for their own realization. For
ideals are held up to follow; standards are given to work by; laws are
provided to guide action. The sole and only reason for their conscious
moral statement is, in a word, that they may influence and direct
conduct. If they cannot do this, not merely by accident, but of their
own intrinsic nature, they are worse than inert. They are impudent
impostors and logical self-contradictions.

When men derive their moral ideals and laws from custom, they also
realize them through custom; but when they are in any way divorced from
habit and tradition, when they are consciously proclaimed, there must be
some substitute for custom as an organ of execution. We must know the
method of their operation and know it in detail. Otherwise the more
earnestly we insist upon our categorical imperatives, and upon their
supreme right of control, the more flagrantly helpless we are as to
their actual domination. The fact that conscious, as distinct from
customary, morality and psychology have had a historic parallel march is
just the concrete recognition of the necessary equivalence between ends
consciously conceived, and interest in the means upon which the ends
depend. We have the same reality stated twice over: once as value to be
realized, and once as mechanism of realization. So long as custom
reigns, as tradition prevails, so long as social values are determined
by instinct and habit, there is no conscious question as to the method
of their achievement, and hence no need of psychology. Social
institutions work of their own inertia, they take the individual up into
themselves and carry him along in their own sweep. The individual is
dominated by the mass life of his group. Institutions and the customs
attaching to them take care of society both as to its ideals and its
methods. But when once the values come to consciousness, when once a
Socrates insists upon the organic relation of a reflective life and
morality, then the means, the machinery by which ethical ideals are
projected and manifested, comes to consciousness also. Psychology must
needs be born as soon as morality becomes reflective.

Moreover, psychology, as an account of the mechanism of workings of
personality, is the only alternative to an arbitrary and class view of
society, to an aristocratic view in the sense of restricting the
realization of the full worth of life to a section of society. The
growth of a psychology that, as applied to history and sociology, tries
to state the interactions of groups of men in familiar psychical
categories of stimulus and inhibition, is evidence that we are ceasing
to take existing social forms as final and unquestioned. The application
of psychology to social institutions is the only scientific way of
dealing with their ethical values in their present unequal distribution,
their haphazard execution, and their thwarted development. It marks just
the recognition of the principle of sufficient reason in the large
matters of social life. It is the recognition that the existing order is
determined neither by fate nor by chance, but is based on law and
order, on a system of existing stimuli and modes of reaction, through
knowledge of which we can modify the practical outcome. There is no
logical alternative, save either to recognize and search for the
mechanism of the interplay of personalities that controls the existing
distributions of values, _or_ to accept as final a fixed hierarchy of
persons in which the leaders assert, on no basis save their own supposed
superior personality, certain ends and laws which the mass of men
passively receive and imitate. The effort to apply psychology to social
affairs means that the determination of ethical values lies, not in any
set or class, however superior, but in the workings of the social whole;
that the explanation is found in the complex interactions and
interrelations which constitute this whole. To save personality in all,
we must serve all alike--state the achievements of all in terms of
mechanism, that is, of the exercise of reciprocal influence. To affirm
personality independent of mechanism is to restrict its full meaning to
a few, and to make its expression in the few irregular and arbitrary.

The anomaly in our present social life is obvious enough. With
tremendous increase in control of nature, in ability to utilize nature
for the indefinite extension and multiplication of commodities for human
use and satisfaction, we find the actual realization of ends, the
enjoyment of values, growing unassured and precarious. At times it seems
as if we were caught in a contradiction; the more we multiply means, the
less certain and general is the use we are able to make of them. No
wonder a Carlyle or a Ruskin puts our whole industrial civilization
under a ban, while a Tolstoi proclaims a return to the desert. But the
only way to see the situation steadily, and to see it as a whole, is to
keep in mind that the entire problem is one of the development of
science, _and of its application to life_. Our control of nature, with
the accompanying output of material commodities, is the necessary result
of the growth of physical science--of our ability to state things as
interconnected parts of a mechanism. Physical science has for the time
being far outrun psychical. We have mastered the physical mechanism
sufficiently to turn out possible goods; we have not gained a knowledge
of the conditions through which possible values become actual in life,
and so are still at the mercy of habit, of haphazard, and hence of

Psychology, after all, simply states the mechanism through which
conscious value and meaning are introduced into human experience. As it
makes its way, and is progressively applied to history and all the
social sciences, we can anticipate no other outcome than increasing
control in the ethical sphere--the nature and extent of which can be
best judged by considering the revolution that has taken place in the
control of physical nature through a knowledge of her order. Psychology
will never provide ready-made materials and prescriptions for the
ethical life, any more than physics dictates off-hand the steam-engine
and the dynamo. But science, both physical and psychological, makes
known the conditions upon which certain results depend, and therefore
puts at the disposal of life a method for controlling them. Psychology
will never tell us just what to do ethically, nor just how to do it. But
it will afford us insight into the conditions which control the
formation and execution of aims, and thus enable human effort to expend
itself sanely, rationally, and with assurance. We are not called upon to
be either boasters or sentimentalists regarding the possibilities of our
science. It is best, for the most part, that we should stick to our
particular jobs of investigation and reflection as they come to us. But
we certainly are entitled in this daily work to be sustained by the
conviction that we are not working in indifference to or at
cross-purposes with the practical strivings of our common humanity. The
psychologist, in his most remote and technical occupation with
mechanism, is contributing his bit to that ordered knowledge which alone
enables mankind to secure a larger and to direct a more equal flow of
values in life.


  page    original text           correction
  34      II                      II.
  40      reciprocal influence    reciprocal influence.

The following sentence on page 26 is left unchanged: "... he gets only
misleading from taking the psychical point of view," A reprint of the essay
in Educational Essays by John Dewey (edited by J. J. Finlay) has "... he
is only misled by taking the psychical point of view,"

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