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Social Mind

( Originally Published 1915 )

Primary Result of Association. Society has grown because of association ; for it was the coming together of people that made it possible for society to exist. One of the primary results of this association is " interstimulation and response," as Giddings calls it, between the various individuals of the group. Whenever there exists such reciprocal influence of one mind upon another, whether the minds agree or not, then you have the conditions antecedent to the formation of the social mind.' The end of the process is the development of sufficiently similar feeling, thinking, and willing, on the part of these associated individuals, to enable them to continue their association. With this growing likeness, however, there always develops mental differentiation the rise of new thoughts, feelings, and volitions.'

Ellwood has said, " The term social mind, in other words, is a convenient term to express the mental unity of our social life. This unity is a very real thing ; and even though the term social mind is open to many objections because of possible misunderstandings, it is certainly convenient to have such a term to describe the functional unity which arises from interaction between many minds."

This mental unity, then, is what goes by the name of the social mind. There is no transcendental ego over and above the action of individual minds ; nevertheless, there are mental results arising from interstimulation and response. These results manifest themselves in the unity of thought, sentiment, and feeling of the individual minds which come into contact in a community, and in the diversity of feeling, thought, and purpose just referred to. The popular expression for the results of this social mind is " the moral sense of the community," public will, or public opinion. While there is no independent and greater mind which somehow includes the individual minds, there is a relationship between each separate individual which conditions his thinking, feeling, and willing, and frequently coerces him into a certain line of action. This mind is brought into being by means of concerted action ; and once having developed, and once having been organized, it adds to society's present volitions the fund of experimental knowledge. This fund of " capitalized experience " produces steadiness and constancy of the social mind and makes us sometimes feel that its results are so like those of the individual mind, though grander and more impressive, that we are likely to think of the social mind as something separate and apart. As Cooley remarks, however, there are not " two kinds of mind, the social and the individual mind. When we study the social mind, we merely fix our attention on larger aspects and relations, rather than on the narrower ones of ordinary psychology."

In the case of the social mind, the process of formation, or " integration," as Giddings calls it, is very like the process of making up one's individual mind. The social mind, however, results not from the activity of an organism, the brain, in the case of the individual, but of an organization, society. The connections are not organic connections nerves but organized methods of communication. For example, when the flood burst upon the inhabitants of the Kansas River Valley, every one was surprised. The feeling of surprise was universal, not only with the afflicted, but with those who were in sympathy with them. Next came a feeling of consternation as loss of life and damage of property seemed imminent ; the feeling of sympathy for all those who suffered was universal, and the whole community felt as one man. After the expression of sympathy came the planning for relief. There were many diverse opinions as to methods to be pursued ; but, finally, through discussion at public gatherings, people came to an agreement as to the best course to pursue. This common thought about what was to be done was finally shared by a large majority of the community. Then came the will to put this plan into execution. Officers were elected, committees appointed, and funds raised, for the accomplishment of the desired relief. Thus was the social mind made up, or " integrated," in feeling, thought, and purpose ; and thus was social action produced. If, here and there, a different feeling prevailed in an individual, or different thoughts concerning methods appeared, these were lost sight of in the final result. Any opinion that was expressed entered into the sum total of considerations on which the final decision was based ; but it was modified by the weight of other feelings or opinions. Thus the social mind represents the organization of individual minds, and its products the organization of the feelings and thoughts of individuals. But the stimulation of the thoughts of individuals, in addition to making it more maturely deliberate, intensifies the social mind; for the purposes of individuals are more firmly held by reason of the common consciousness that like feelings, thoughts, and purposes are held by others.

Social Consciousness. While the social mind is composed of reflex activities of the individual minds of which society is composed, there is a marked difference between the conscious effort of the individual and the conscious efforts of society ; the former may, in fact, exist without the latter. Each individual may go about his vocation, knowingly seeking his own interests, interests which may be for or against those of society at large. Yet the individual always constitutes a part of the social life ; and a large number, choosing the same economic life, are working together to build up a given part of society or to exercise a special function. Most of the industries, for example, have been built up without regard to the welfare of the community. There is, indeed, no general judgment of society limiting the number of goods in a given line that shall be manufactured within a stated period of time, there are no laws limiting the number of railroads that shall be built or the number of stores that a town shall have ; but there are general laws of supply and demand, rather indefinite to be sure, which tell the manufacturer or the merchant what he shall do for his own interest. While he is serving society in a general way, there-fore, his primary object is, of course, to increase his income. And the fact that individuals seek their own interests, regardless of the general effect of their actions on social relations, has given rise to a sort of unconscious development of social institutions. In fact, society has been built largely by this unconscious cooperation. But society reaches a state in which it is conscious of what the whole group does for its welfare or its detriment; and being conscious, it seeks to shape the general course of social action by such carefully devised means as legislation, education, and police regulation. De Greef has shown that nearly all the human wants which have to do with economic production and distribution and with the perpetuation of the race, have risen through unconscious social conditions. Thus it is easy to infer that the activities dependent upon social consciousness are those having to do with the regulation of society and those relating to education. These two departments of social activity should be considered in their broadest conceptions.

To illustrate the processes of social consciousness, it may be well to refer to the growth of the boy. When he partakes of food, he has no idea of doing it for the purpose of growing into manhood; he does so because he is hungry. When he engages in play he does so to satisfy a desire for amusement rather than any desire to strengthen his body or his faculties. But a time may come when he will realize that he has a body to control and a mind to develop; and he will then try to force his life in a certain direction, for a specific purpose. He may desire knowledge in order to change the character of his mind ; and finding that his habits are undesirable, he forces upon himself new ones. Thus by the aid of teachers, and by contact with the social world, he reconstructs his own life by the conscious efforts of his will. In the same way, society begins by per-forming certain acts in common, such as visiting retribution upon the criminal, stoning the adultress, or by means of initiation ceremonies teaching to the young certain traditions of the group ; but these acts are not performed with the desired end of building a society, changing a society, or even modifying its action. A time comes, however, when society discovers itself and its conditions, its defects and its power to overcome them. And it is then that there comes the conscious effort for the reconstruction of social life or the modification of that which already exists; for society does not attempt to tear down and build anew, but to modify and improve that which already exists. This tendency to move slowly may be observed in the public judgments of society concerning right and wrong, social acts, the laws which are formed to force society through certain channels, and the propaganda of doctrines by certain sects of reformers. We find, therefore, that the movements consequent upon social consciousness are slower than those dependent upon individual consciousness, because the various parts of society are not so closely articulated and coordinated as are the parts of the individual. Hence it is necessary to develop social consciousness by agitation, education, and methods of rapid communication in short, by organization of the group towards a conscious end. And if this consciousness is rather uncertain at first, it gradually becomes surer and more exact.

But since social direction cannot be given to all of the complex details of life, many of these are, through reflex action, left to the more economical operations of social automatism. That is, social life becomes automatic and does not need direction from the combined will of members of society. The socialists maintain, it is true, that this automatic action is a defect and that social organizations could be so perfected as to carry out minute details of the economic and social life a system which would leave comparatively little for the individual to do of his own free will. And after all, it is to be doubted whether there would be any improvement of the present system of economic life, were the government to order the number of bushels of corn, the amount of live stock, or the amount of wheat that could be raised in a given year, and were it to appoint certain groups of people to attend to the various crops. It is doubtful whether the government could, as an agent of the people, make the market any more exact or economical, by a formal attempt to regulate products and prices, than it is made under the voluntary activity of individuals who seek to obtain the largest return for the least sacrifice. Without any attempt to regulate them, therefore, society turns over the larger number of details to the unconscious cooperation of the individuals of a community. Systematically and consciously, however, the social mind occupies itself with the larger problems of the organization of society and devotes its energies to changing the trend of social movements movements, for example, toward the economic and social emancipation of women, the regulation of the liquor traffic, the control of the trusts, the elimination of vice, and, finally, the movements toward a better understanding of the problems of immigration and eugenics, in order that we may control the quality of our population.

Steps in the Formation of the Social Mind.1 The process by which the social mind is formed, or " made up," may now be analyzed more closely.

(a) Stimulation and Response. The first step in the process is stimulation, of some sort, and response thereto by the individuals composing the group. Ever acting upon individuals and producing social as well as individual activity, are stimuli from the physical world about, such as cold and heat, seasons and climate, day and night. Added to these are the stimuli provided by the presence and activities of other individuals, both those of the same group and those of other groups. Finally, there is the stimulation to mental and physical activity which is provided by the thoughts, ideals, and feelings of others.

(b) Likenesses and Differences Appear as a Result of Stimulation. All these stimuli excite some kind of response on the part of the stimulated individuals, some of whom will act alike, others not. While, therefore, by means of a similar response, there is formed a group of individuals who naturally act, feel, and think alike, there are, at the same time, some others who make a different response to the same stimulus. Some-times all of these, though acting differently from the first group, form a second group, which, within itself, acts, feels, and thinks alike. Then there are, of course, still others who, in response to the given stimulus, will vary from both the groups described. And it is this difference in the response which produces in society variation in the activities, feelings, and thoughts which make up the social mind. Thus types of mind and types of character are formed ; and people separate or combine according to these differences or resemblances.

(c) Mutual Consciousness of Likeness and Difference. The social mind is not formed until the interrelations of the people in the group develop to the point where all become mutually conscious of the fact that some resemble others and some do not.' This consciousness of likeness and unlikeness may not be shared to the same degree by all individuals in the group it probably never is. Throughout the group, nevertheless, there is a consciousness in this individual clear and certain, and in that dimly perceived that certain ones in the group act, feel, and think alike, while certain others do not.

This process in epitome may be actually observed today when boys come together who have not hitherto known each other. At first there is reserve and caution ; each is closely observing the others. Then each makes up his mind provisionally that he likes certain of the group and that he dislikes others. The boy who is first to come to such a conclusion approaches another boy, perhaps, and proposes a game. If the other agrees to the proposal, stratification of the group begins. In the process of play, the stratification proceeds even further, perhaps. Concurrently, however, there goes on a further sifting. New discoveries of likeness and difference are made, and new alignments occur, as new angles of personality are observed, and the primary antipathies are perhaps softened. A process of socialization, of growing likeness, sets in. More and more, through the give-and-take of social intercourse, similarities are discovered, great enough to warrant cooperation; and such adjustments are made that finally the members of the group can perhaps play together without a quarrel. The boys have not only discovered and developed like tastes, feelings, ideals, and ambitions, but they have become conscious of the fact that they are alike. They end, perhaps, by reporting to their parents that they like the other boys. Again, there is a similar process in the development of the social mind when-ever people from many different places gather together in a new country and begin to associate with one another.

(d) A Common Purpose Develops. Once the group has become conscious of likenesses and differences, the former greater than the latter, once common sentiments, feelings, and thoughts are consciously held and enjoyed by members of the group, the dynamic condition of the development of the social mind has been reached. It is " made up " and ready for action. Common feelings and sentiments consciously held inevitably lead to common purposes directed toward certain ends. Public opinion has been formed ; public feeling has been aroused ; and now the public will can express itself.

We have not analyzed the possible ways in which the " making up " of the social mind may be brought about. There is space only to suggest that it may occur as a result of an appeal to the intelligence by means of deliberate debate, covering a long period of time ; or it may be precipitated. suddenly by some event which stirs the common feelings, such as the blowing up of the Maine in Havana harbor, or the shooting of the Austrian crown prince. In the one case you have the expression of public opinion, in the other of public feeling.

The Readjustment of Society. Just as the individual adapts himself to the conditions of nature and his social surroundings, so the social mind is ever alert to readjust society and adapt it to the requirements of nature and the will of man. Thus while the social organization represents a close interdependence and a continuity of parts, still there is a constant readjusting of these parts to each other and of the whole to the natural environment. This adaptation is the chief function of the social mind. It finds expression in the common feeling, general will, public opinion, and moral sense of the people, as well as in formulated law and rules of action.

Formal Expressions of the Social Mind. -- Everywhere we find evidences of this action of the social mind, whether we consider the whole national life or its important parts. There are public policies that become so well established that they are stronger in their influences than they would be if they were formulated in public law, with penalties attached. There are policies of political parties which are expressions of the common thought and will of those parties. There are creeds of church organizations, there are types and ideals of society in general, which have been built up by means of a common expression of the social mind. The ideal of " liberty, equality, and fraternity," the ideal of " justice," and the ideal of " economic independence," are all products of the social mind, having the force of law without its sanctions. The estimate of social values and their arrangement in relative degrees of desirability are expressions of the social mind ; they are the combined product of the community. And the notion of a common Bible, a common religion, or a common country gives rise to the universal sentiments or actions of individual minds. Thus does the social mind, through action and reaction, demonstrate its superiority to the individual.


COOLEY, C. H. Social Organization, Chaps. I and II.

DAVIS, M. M., JR. Psychological Interpretations, Chap. V.

DE GREEF, GUILLAUME. Introduction d la Sociologie, Chap. XIII.

DURKHEIM, EMILE. Les regles de la methode sociologique, pp. 623.

ELLWOOD, C. A. Sociology in its Psychological Aspects, Chap. XV.

FAIRBANKS, ARTHUR. Introduction to Sociology, pp. 7691.

GIDDINGS, F. H. Principles of Sociology, pp. 132152.


SMALL and VINCENT. Introduction to the Study of Society, pp. 215236, 305331.

TARDE, GABRIEL. La logique sociale, pp. 92, 96, IOI, 201-204.

WARD, LESTER F. Dynamic Sociology, pp. 400-469, 305331; Psychic Factors of Civilization, pp. 291312 ; Pure Sociology, pp. 150-159.


1. Make a table of the differences between the individual mind and the social mind. Make one of the similarities.

2. Explain what Ellwood means when he says that "The mental life of groups is unified only functionally." See Ellwood, Sociology in its Psycho-logical Aspects, p. 330.

3. Describe the steps by which the United States made up its mind to declare war on Spain; to build the Panama Canal; to revise the tariff.

4. Is the process by, which we secure enough food to supply the needs of one hundred millions of people in this country the result of social consciousness? State your reasons.

5. Is the process by which we keep up our population a socially conscious one?

6. Is the process by which we defend our country from possible invasion, by building forts and battleships, and by training an army, a sign of social consciousness?

7. Analyze the steps by which a state "makes up" its mind to regulate railroad rates.

8. Observe a group of college students recently come together in a hall or rooming house, and analyze the steps in the development of a social mind among them.

Outlines Of Sociology:
Theory And Function Of The State

Social Phases Of Production And Consumption Of Wealth

Exchange As A Social Function

Evolution Of Ethics

Social Origin Of Religion

Development Of Religion

Processes Of Socialization

Social Forces

Social Laws

Social Mind

Read More Articles About: Outlines Of Sociology

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