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Psychical Activities

( Originally Published 1915 )

Psychic Forces. In the last two chapters we have emphasized the psychological aspects of social life. Since mind, in so far as it affects his social relations, is man's most important possession, the psychical relations are by far the most constant of all the factors in the organization and development of human society. In cooperation, coordination, or organized effort of any kind, it is the psychological relationships that hold men together. It is, therefore, easy to recognize that social psychology is an important part of general sociology. Now we have seen that the social mind has a positive influence in directing the members of the social body ; but the social mind is really something more than the sum of the combined minds of the individuals in the group. It is the coordination of the feelings, thoughts, and purposes of all the individuals associated together either intensified by the consciousness of the agreement of many minds or subdued as a result of the recognition of some disagreement among them. Thus while, as has been before stated, there is no distinct ego entirely disconnected from the individual ego, this restraining or inspiring influence of the social mind operates forcefully upon the individual. The social mind, therefore, acting as an independent self-constituted power, and regarding not the single individual, but the community as a whole, is a force whose effects we can observe and de-scribe. And the psychical activities of society are an expression of this social force.'

Feeling. The sociopsychic activities manifest themselves through much the same channels as do the activities of the individual mind. We may call them the social feelings, the social thoughts, and the social will.

The emotional element expresses itself in a variety of ways.

In the feelings of a community concerning its own life, the emotional element is strong, but it is in the relations of one society to another that social emotion is most clearly manifested ; for, in its contact with other groups, a community has a double reaction. Baldwin has pointed out, from the psychological, and Ross and Tarde from the ethical and social, point of view, the important function of " opposition " or reaction against the idea of another or that of a group of strangers.

By forcing definition and stimulating an interest in points of contrast, such opposition clears thought. Then, too, a reaction of this sort greatly stimulates the feelings ; for, strangely enough, hate of others generates affection for one's own fellows and gives rise to that racial feeling which is such a persistent force in the social affairs of men. As a matter of fact, the chief cause of conflicts between two peoples is a difference in feeling about matters in which both are interested, but from different points of view. Thus contact always stimulates emotion, but what emotion is stirred whether it be that of sympathy and fellowship or that of hate depends upon likeness or unlikeness, identity, or difference of interests. Yet not only is it true that opposition clears the thought and stimulates the feelings of two groups ; the very feeling of one group toward another has great influence on this second group. And the reaction from the feelings of different groups or tribes brings about a reciprocal relationship which modifies the conduct of both.

Since, therefore, feeling is the driving force among the psychical elements affecting social life, we must not be surprised to find that social activities are more often affected by the feelings than by careful deliberation. Moreover, as we shall see, the will is more closely allied to the feelings than to the intellect. And, finally, the very fact that social activity is social provides the circumstances in which feeling may dominate over reason. Now it is a well-known fact that the action of groups of people unless they are carefully organized to prevent mob-action is less moral, less rational, than the actions of individuals who are not carried along by a crowd. In that social activity, which is spontaneous or instinctive, therefore, the element of feeling is quite certain to predominate. Thus it is that the emotional element prevails in their united action, when people are brought together in a large, heterogeneous mass, since their united action depends more upon feeling than upon reason or judgment. The crowd is, to all purposes, a young, undeveloped society, in which, as in the young, undeveloped individual, the emotional element prevails ruled by an impulse as instinctively fierce and strong as the instinct of a savage beast. But the moment a crowd begins to respond to reason it is ready to disperse and go about its business if it does not organize itself into a more or less permanent group ruled by deliberate judgment. All mobs, therefore, are dangerous elements in a community ; and in spite of the fact that they sometimes act with precision and rapidly moving justice, they should be re-pressed because they do not represent a high order of social purpose and are very apt to be characterized by antisocial acts.

The mob has, it is true, a keen sense of justice and the courage to execute it ; the rapidity with which it passes judgment on an outrage committed against individual or society proves its possession of these qualities. The evil of mob action consists in the method of procedure which the mob employs. If only, along with its desire to administer justice, it could substitute self-restraint for violence and patience for impulse, it would accord to every offending individual the right to an impartial trial before the law. Thus the tremendous social importance of feeling as a dynamic force can be judged by its work in a mob ; but this mighty social impulse must be directed for the welfare of society, for, unrestrained by reason and calm judgment, it is an agency of destruction rather than of constructive social activity.

Feeling, however, as Ward has so well demonstrated, is essential to normal social action ;1 it is the great motive power which sends society forward toward a given end. Without feeling, there could be, in truth, no positive work for social well-being. And if it is sympathy for one another that is the chief contributor to the betterment of a community, hatred of others has been only less powerful in producing social activity and developing social cooperation and organization. Was it not, for example, hatred of her oppressors that made a unity out of the few gathered remnants of exiled Israel? It is this " ethical dualism," as Professor Ross styles it, which, striving at the same time to promote sympathy for the members of a group and hatred for its enemy, has had so much to do with the development of social consciousness and the creation of social sentiment. Thus, while we honor reason, knowledge, and judgment and realize that no well-ordered society can exist without the proper exercise of each, still we must not ignore that emotional side of life which gives us both good and bad impulses. Without these impulses, reason and judgment would have little cause to act. Without feeling, there is not there never has been any social unity.

In its relation to social activity, social feeling manifests itself in two ways; through certain beliefs and through tradition. Beliefs have an emotional foundation. Let us first take up the consideration of individual beliefs. A boy hears other boys telling about their exploits in swimming or fighting desirable achievements to the listening boy. Soon feeling within himself untried capabilities, the boy ventures to believe that he, too, can do these desirable things, and acting upon the courage engendered by this belief, he tries. Sometimes he succeeds. Then is his desire achieved; his belief justified. And his consequent satisfaction generates in him such an emotional state as will serve to create in him, when the occasion arrives, the belief that he can do other desirable things. What is true of a boy is true of a man. Because of experiences which began in early boyhood, he has believed in himself ; and acting upon what he has believed, he has often succeeded. And as a result of action which accomplishes what he desires and what he believes himself capable of doing, he experiences a fine emotion. Nor does he lose confidence in himself because, at times, he did not succeed in accomplishing what he believed possible to himself, for these occasions are soon pushed beyond the horizon of memory.

In much the same way, social beliefs, such as a belief in the " manifest destiny " of a people, or the coming greatness of the " fatherland," are developed by groups of men. These beliefs grow by precept upon precept, by shibboleths, and by the other vague symbols of deep emotion ; they grow until they sweep a whole nation or a whole race, into the range of their profound emotional appeals. They call to their aid feelings based on reverence for the past or aroused by glorious hopes for the future. They appeal to emotions belonging to the historic activities of the past ; they lure men to war by suggesting glory, plunder, perhaps undying fame. Finally, it is social emotions, stirred to reality in some such ways, that develop into those impelling forces which we call the " spirit " of a country, forces which so often enable a tyrant or a puppet king to hood-wink the common people and anaesthetize them with the specious argument of those who must get others to, fight their battles for them : " Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori." And how often is the name of God upon the lips of the militarist ! It is no accident, as Giddings has pointed out, that an age of militarism is ever an age of strong beliefs.

Closely allied with belief, as a means whereby emotion is intensified in its expression, is tradition and reverence for authority. Because of the necessity for social order, tradition and reverence have a secure foundation in the emotions. Tradition has all the glamour of the illusively distant past, in which, somewhere, the golden age lies buried. And only as we return to something approaching the ideals of the past, so we say, shall we ever have a civilization worth while. The norms of conduct, of social relations, were established in that long ago by wise men, who are never to return to this earth. In their words lies authority ; and it is tradition that preserves those words for us. " The greatness that once was Rome " lays its dead hand upon the living present and offers certain guidance ; and in sharp contrast to the vices of the leaders of to-day, are the vague virtues of the dead. But coupled with man's reverence for the mysterious is his natural wish for the certainty which only dogmatic assertion can supply. In his restless struggle with new forces and new situations he finds great release from the strain of attention, in a return to the attitude of submission to authority. What emotions, then, do tradition and authority call forth? They arouse awe for the authoritative and aged ; they give peace to the struggling and wearied spirit, for, with the release from doubt, most powerful inhibitor of action, comes the certainty of faith and the emotions which action, in the face of uncertainty, always brings. And what more than these feelings of confident certainty can be desired? Yes, there is something more the certainty of critically tested truth, the joy of victory through struggle. But these only the heroic soul can know.

The reverence for authority is, in fact, one of the prime influences in the development of concerted social action. A member of a community who knows a given subject and has a reputation for authority can influence the whole community by the expression of his judgment. But the influence of authority is not confined to an individual ; it sometimes exerts its influence from certain parts of a community. Thus, in the states of the Federal Union, the opinion of people from certain regions in regard to the choice of a President, the decision of a court, or the passing of a law, would have much greater weight than that of others. While the way in which tradition, authority, and custom affect social ideals and institutions will be treated in the chapter on social control, it should be observed at this point that this trinity of influences are products of man's mind struggling with the problem of how to secure psychical and social adjustments in a community composed of " men of many minds." The reverence for the traditional and the customary, to be found so universally in early society, is, as Bagehot has remarked, " the cement of society " which holds it together.1 Even science, with its well earned reputation, to give the exact truth, has a strong influence on the community ; speaks for it with the authority of knowledge.

Knowledge. Knowledge becomes the directing power of the mind. If feeling is the dynamic social agent the social steam knowledge is the great throttle which regulates the flow of this energizing power. The contemplation of facts will have a tendency to calm impulsive social action, provided all the varied conditions are brought into view. Contemplation has this tranquilizing effect because, by allowing all sides of a question to be considered, by calmly facing consequences, it inhibits activity, the natural expression of emotion ; and feeling cools quickly, once its outflow in activity has been interrupted. Important as feeling is, therefore, it is sometimes a dangerous social agent when unchecked; knowledge and calm deliberation are, indeed, essential to the concerted action of the various parts of society.

Social knowledge is dependent upon communication for its dissemination throughout the social group. If the community is so sparsely settled as to render individuals, or even small groups, isolated in their life, there can be no concerted social activity of the whole group. Indeed, many of the difficulties of socialization are due simply to a lack of understanding ; we cannot, therefore, estimate the power of universal knowledge in the development of common thought. The influence of the telegraph has often been commented upon. That a message can now be flashed around the world in nine and one half minutes, giving the happenings of the Orient to the Occident almost as soon as they occur, and causing people to think the same thoughts at the same time, is of inestimable value in making social knowledge universal. Not less remarkable is the influence of the telephone, which spreads knowledge of all kinds so thoroughly that anything which goes on in a community may quickly be known by every one. Through the influence of these great inventions, together with the postal system and wireless telegraphy, a community is receiving the same information at the same hour ; and to a large extent each individual is forming the same judgment about any important movement. More-over, in such methods of communication as the telegraph, telephone, and newspaper, the stimulation of personal contact especially the mass stimulation of the crowd is lacking. Each member of a community receives the information and can calmly consider it. These means of communication, then, give an opportunity for the rapid and exact formation of social judgments and manifestation of the social will.

Before the time of modern inventions, however, when new and sparsely settled communities had little or no communication with each other, things were different indeed. It took months, sometimes even years, to communicate with the distant parts of a community. And when such conditions prevailed, there could be no common social knowledge.' But since the introduction of the rural free delivery system and the telephone the farming communities of the West are responding to a new life. These new methods of communication increase the size of the social group which may now share the same opinions and feelings that is, they enlarge the social mind and make the common sentiments more rational than they could otherwise have been. Much still remains to be done to perfect the machinery whereby the North and the South, the East and the West, shall have the same mind ; yet that possibility is much nearer to-day than ever before. And increased travel, made possible by cheap railroad fares and the automobile and motor cycle, and the increase in student migrations from one section of the country to another, will gradually supply the personal contact which the newspaper cannot supply.

The effect of this widespread knowledge, in the interaction and reaction of the individuals of a social group, is very great. Let the market report that wheat has advanced five cents a bushel, and many a farmer will start for the market to dispose of his surplus grain. Acting independently of others, the individual may forget that others are possibly doing what he is; but if, perchance, each farmer should stop to think that others may be influenced by the same idea, he would remember that the sudden rushing to market of so much grain would cause the price to fall. Again, if a farmer acquires a new quality of seed, a new method of cultivating the soil, or a new machine, his neighbor will desire to have the same knowledge and the same advantage ; and what he acquires will soon be desired by yet another. In this way does knowledge, passing from one to another, influence the whole group. For its dissemination broadens the consciousness of kind; and the realization that all possess the same knowledge stimulates not only individual action, but also the action of the group. Widespread knowledge of a thing is, therefore, most important in the establishment of a social judgment, the starting point of rational social action.

Social Will. Social will arises primarily out of social feeling. It is an expression of choice, combined with persistent desire to accomplish a given object. If " the will is the active expression of the soul's meaning," the social will is an assertion of the determination of society to perform certain actions, which it believes in. And wherever there is a general determination instinctive, dimly conscious, or clearly conscious to promote the interests of society at large, to avoid evil influences, and to adopt the forms of progress necessary to advance the social life, we have an expression of the social will. In the primal movements of society, will asserted itself as a result of a blind impulse ; but in modern society it is guided by knowledge, and finds expression in a thousand ways through public law. Some-times, even now, however, the social will, incited to action by mob stimulation, results in mob action rushing to its object in a blind fury, and as swiftly dissolving when the fury is past. But science has made it more and more possible to the social will to turn the whole force of society toward the accomplishment of a great social end, for the scientific spirit has introduced patient search for facts before a decision is reached, diligent and careful consideration of these facts, and deliberate purpose formed only upon the findings. Thus the whole rational mental process of each individual has a chance to act. The whole tendency of civilization is, in fact, to impose upon action such checks as will make for deliberation, for the curbing of unrestrained feeling by careful thought. To take one kind of ex-ample, assemblies have devised safeguards against the results of mob psychology like the parliamentary devices of motions to table, to adjourn, to refer matters to a committee, and to require several readings of a bill and on different days before its final passage. The sole purpose of these various devices is to secure deliberation, in order that the social will, instead of being stimulated by uncontrolled feeling, may be directed by deliberate thought and calm judgment.

The Power of Psychical Forces. We find, then, by close observation of society as it exists today, that the psychical forces are the essential bonds of union and those to which we must look for all of our higher social culture. Thus the conservation of these psychic forces and their proper direction are of the utmost importance. Professors Small and Vincent have pointed out that at a given moment in any community, psychical force is a fixed quantity.' That is, if we take a statical view of the relationships of society in all of its varied parts, we observe that there is only a certain amount of power being exerted; and if this energy is directed at one point, it will be with-drawn from another. If social attention is concentrated on war, commerce and culture must be neglected ; if it is centered on money getting, the spiritual interests must suffer. The physicist's principle of the conservation of energy and the transmutation of power can therefore be applied to the psychical forces of society. These writers further maintain that psychical energy cannot long be concentrated on a single object. As this theory has been demonstrated to be true of the individual mind, it is probably true of the social mind. Yesterday tuberculosis, today the vice problem, and to-morrow infant mortality absorbs the popular attention. At any rate, in the history of social life we find a constant succession of centralization and decentralization of this social energy. If it flows steadily in one direction for a given time, it is not long before the ebb tide sets in; and while it is thus centered in one point temporarily, it is withdrawn from other points. There is a possibility, too, that the moral energy of man is subjected to these same laws of constant quantity and of centralization. It would be well, therefore, if reformers and legislators would devise more methods to cure a trouble while interest is aroused. If the movement can be institutionalized with a large enough constituency to support it, after the popular enthusiasm wanes, the social emotion aroused will not be in vain.


BALDWIN, J. MARK. Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development, 5th ed., pp. 194302.

GIDDINGS, F. H. Principles of Sociology, pp. 376399.


SMALL and VINCENT. Introduction to the Study of Society, pp. 331365.

SPENCER, HERBERT. Principles of Sociology, Vol. I, pp. 483485, 507536.

WARD, LESTER F. Dynamic Sociology, Vol. II, pp. 540633; Pure Sociology, pp. 119144.


1. Make a list of the social feelings which operate to produce social action in your community. Which one, if any, is predominant?

2. Name three instances in the history of the United States of social action in each of which feeling, rather than thoughtful consideration, led to the action.

3. Cite four cases of social action by a nation in which reason predominated.

4. Show, by citing and analyzing, an instance in which belief stirred strong emotions and led to social action.

5. What type of leader appears when the mental condition of a people is such that it is moved by feeling rather than by reason?

6. Cite an instance showing how tradition or reverence for authority stirred deep feelings and incited social action.

7. What effect upon the quality of the social mind will the coming of large numbers of immigrants have upon a country? That is, will it tend to be moved more by feelings than by reason, or vice versa?

S. What bearing would the development of social centers used as places for the discussion of public questions, probably have upon the character of the social mind and upon social action?

Outlines Of Sociology:
Psychical Activities

Social Control

Aims Of Society

Ideals Of Government

Control By Force

Educational Method

Social Inequalities

Ideal Of Justice

Estimation Of Progress

Nature Of Social Pathology

Read More Articles About: Outlines Of Sociology

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