« AnteriorContinua »
in possession of a certain amount of knowledge about the world and themselves; and (most remarkable!) this knowledge, though it might be limited, as of course children's knowledge must be expected to be, was yet so definite in each and uniform in all, that it had only to be expressed by a system of signs (which, after long doing without them, men had somehow agreed to use), and the children were turned into sociable creatures with whom it was possible to hold rational converse. Now it is not to be denied that, in working out their theory, the Sensationalists were the first to determine with some exactness the elements of sensible experience involved in many of our most important cognitions, and also those intellectual laws of association under which these elements are ordered or fused (as the case may be). But it cannot be allowed that they gave anything like an adequate analysis of knowledge generally, or, in particular, rendered a likely account of the way in which the swarm of jostling sensations and other strictly subjective experiences settled down and were transformed into the coherent and orderly mental representation of boys and girls beginning to communicate with one another and with their parents and friends. The least consideration, indeed, might have revealed the error of the point of view. Children are as little left to work out their knowledge for themselves as to nurture their bodies. If they were left to struggle alone against the world for bodily life, they would assuredly perish. If they were left to find out everything in the way of knowledge by themselves, they might (always supposing their bodily life sustained for the first year or two) come to combine sensible impressions for the guidance of muscular acts; but they would not be the rational educable creatures that even mudlarks, living the social life, are at the age of three.
"The social life-in these words is indicated the grand condition of intellectual development which the older psychologists are far more to be condemned for overlooking, than they can be blamed for not anticipating the notion of heredity that has grown out of the biology of the present century. In the last century, other sciences had not advanced far enough to make scientific biology possible; and psychology, in as far as it depends on true biological notions, could not but suffer accordingly. But in the last century, as at other times, it was sufficiently plain that children, in being born into the world, are born into society, and are under overpowering social influences, before (if one may so speak) they have any chance of being their proper selves. To say nothing of the bodily tendance they receive though this is really a fundamental condition of their ever having an intellectual development--let it be considered how determinate their experience is rendered by circumstances or the will of those about them. For long months-such are the conditions of human life-children are confined to the experience of but a few objects; and even these they become familiar with more through the
direct action of others, carrying them about, than through initiative of their own. Apparently a restriction, this first effect of the social relation is, in truth, a potent factor in the development of knowledge. It supplies the best conditions for that association and fusion of impressions on the different senses which in some form must unquestionably be got through at the earliest stage of intellectual growth. Being destined to enter into a fabric of general knowledge, the discrete sense-impressions received by children must be elaborated in quite another way, and to quite another extent, than if, as in animals, they were merely to be used for the guidance of immediate action. It is no small thing for children, that the range of their early experience is so narrowed as to give them a chance of becoming perfectly familiar with all the details of it.
It is not, however, till a stage after the earliest-though still a very early one-that the effect of social conditions upon the intellectual development of children becomes most marked. Before they are themselves able to speak and become full social factors, they begin to have the benefit of the spoken language that holds a society together. What can better help a child to identify as one object a complex of impressions appearing amid ever-varying circumstances, than hearing it always indicated by the sound of the same name? The first business of children, before they rise to comprehensive knowledge, is to have a definite apprehension of objects in space; and to this they are helped not least effectively by the fact that there is a current medium of social communication about things, the advantage of which is, strictly speaking, forced upon them. Constraint there is, when one thinks how people are for ever obtruding names upon the child's ear, both when they have occasion to speak among themselves, and when they take occasion (as some are always found ready) to lavish attention upon babies. And though it may well be doubted whether children always relish the outpourings of social tenderness to which they must submit, there can be no question as to the intellectual advantages that, even through suffering, they receive. Their chief end, on emerging from infancy with their little stock of knowledge, is to understand and be understood by others; and, meanwhile, they have entered, without effort of their own, into possession of a store of names adapted to all the exigencies of intelligent intercourse.
But this is only the first, and not the chief, intellectual gain that accrues to children from the existence of ready-made language. Whatever the occasion may have been that first called into play the expressive faculty between man and man, it is beyond dispute that language is required mainly for purposes of general knowledge. The language spoken by a race of men is an accurate index to the grade of intellectual comprehension attained by that race, and the intellectual progress of the race may be traced in the gradual development
of its speech. See, then, what comes to the opening mind of the child with the use of his mother-tongue. The words and sentences that fall upon his ear and are soon upon his lips, express not so much his subjective experience, as the common experience of his kind which becomes, as it were, an objective rule or measure to which his shall conform. Why, for example, does a child have no difficulty about the relation of substance and qualities that has given philosophers so much trouble? and why do all children understand or seem to understand it alike, whatever their experience may have been? Why? but because the language put into their mouths, and which they must e'en use, settles the point for them, one and all; involving, as it does, a metaphysical theory which, whether in itself unexceptionable or not, has been found serviceable through all the generations of men. Or, to take that other great uniformity or law of knowledge which has become so prominent in philosophical speculation since the time of Leibniz and Kant,-why do we all assume that every event must have a cause? Let it be granted-though this is, perhaps, doubtful-that all men do and must always make the assumption. The philosophical difficulty is how any human mind can so far transcend its own limited experience as to make an assertion about all possible experience in all times and places, and it is well known how it has been met by the opposite schools: those at one extreme declaring in various phrase that it is the mind's nature, before all experience, so to interpret any experience; and those at the other extreme making what shift they can to show how the conviction springs up with, or is developed from, the individual's experience. For my part, I can agree with neither. I cannot go with those who declare that no amount of experience, in any shape or form, can be the ground of such conviction as we do, in fact, have of universal causation. But I can as little go with the other class of thinkers, when they suppose that a conviction like that is left to the individual to acquire by private experience or effort. Long before children have the least occasion to try what they can do in the way of generalisation upon their incidental experiences, it is sounded in their ears that things in the world are thus and thus; and that child were indeed a prodigy of pure reason who should pause and gravely determine not to take on the yoke of social opinion till he could prove it, of himself, well founded. He does he must-accept what he is told; and in general he is only too glad to find his own experience in accordance with it. And if to this it be objected that children cannot understand the generalities they hear unless by reason of native principles in their intellectual consciousness, the answer is, that they do not by any means begin by understanding them. This comes only very gradually to the best of us, and to some comes hardly at all.
On the whole, then, the description I would give of our early progress in knowledge-and the early progress is decisive of our whole
manner of knowing till the end-is something like this: that we use our incidental, by which I mean our natural subjective, experience mainly to decipher and verify the ready-made scheme of knowledge that is given to us en bloc with the words of our mother-tongue. This scheme is the result of the thinking, less or more conscious, and mainly practical, of all the generations of articulately speaking men, passed on with gradual increase from each to each. For the rest, I should be the last to deny, having before asserted, that the part we are intellectually called to play is predetermined for each of us by a native constitution of mind, which, on one side, assimilates us in way of thinking to all other men of our race and time, if also, on another side, it marks us off from all other men and contains the deepest ground of what is for each of us our proper self. But I desire to express the opinion that there is no explanation of any mind's knowledge from this position, even when account is taken also of all the modes of natural experience noted by psychologists, unless there is added, over and above, the stupendous influence of social conditions, exercised mainly through language. How far would his native mental constitution (whether regarded as an inheritance or not) with all his senses and all his natural activities carry a child in the direction of knowledge, supposing him to grow up face to face with nature in utter loneliness? I believe it would need an effort which none of us can so far abstract from the conditions of our knowledge as to be able fully to make to conceive how insignificant such a creature's knowledge would be.
It should be understood that the question raised in this short paper (written originally as a mere thesis for discussion) is a strictly psychological one. The psychologist's concern in knowledge is to show how it is generated in the mind. For this, he must carefully analyse knowledge, as it appears in himself and others, so as to have insight into the matter he would explain, and his work is done when he then shows how knowledge arises in each of us naturally. It is another and very different question-what knowledge is to be held as objectively true or valid for all minds alike. When is my knowledge such that I may claim your assent to it? To answer this question, or, in other words, to determine the conditions of scientific knowledge, belongs to philosophy in general or logic in particular, and remains an imperative task after any amount of psychological inquiry. But the psychological question, within its own limits, is a very real one, and it is indeed the natural, if not the necessary, preliminary to the other.
Even as psychological, however, the question is here in various ways narrowed. It is a question referring only to knowledge, to the exclusion of feeling and willing, and to knowledge only as it appears (naturally) with a character of uniformity among different men.
The social influence insisted upon does nothing to explain the intellectual idiosyncrasies of each individual: these, if explicable at all in their variety, must be traced to special inheritance (as suggested above) or incidental experience. On the other hand, it is plain that the influence extends beyond intelligence proper to the other great mental phases of feeling and willing. The tendency of men to feel and act alike is indeed even more apparent than to think alike, and assuredly has its explanation not least from the social tie which, from the first, is as a spell upon the individual; though here again, it may be remarked, there is an ulterior question--whether the feelings and acts naturally excited in men, from association with their fellows, are justifiable in the sight of philosophic reason. The effect of the social relation on the mental development of the individual is, I repeat, a purely natural factor for the psychologist to reckon with; or, at least, it is so in the first instance, however it may afterwards seem, on evolutionist principles, to carry its justification with it. Yet it has by psychologists generally been quite ignored.
The same century that has seen the development of the historical sense' has first begun to comprehend the relation of perfect solidarity subsisting between the individual and society, and for a very good reason. It is, in fact, but one conception differently applied-when the varied life or history of a nation is viewed as growing out of its past, and when the mental life-history of individuals is seen to be determined by the social conditions and traditions into the midst of which they are born. Nor is the doctrine of general organic evolution itself, the latest outcome of thought in the century, aught but a more extended and intenser reading of the same conception. So far as concerns the social relation in particular, it may truly be said that to no one thinker or school of thinkers belongs the exclusive credit of having grasped its import for psychological theory. The notion of man as never separable (except by abstraction) from the social organism has emerged at the most different planes of thought, and been suggested by various lines of scientific inquiry. Yet it were almost an injustice not to recognise the peculiar impressiveness with which it was proclaimed by Comte, considering where he stands between those who went before him and those who have come after. If he had much to learn in the matter of psychological analysis from the ideologists' whom his soul abhorred, the lesson contained in his protest against their individualism has in turn been too little or too slowly regarded. It is remarkable how much of the celebrated English work of the present century in philosophy or psychology has continued to be done from the individualistic point of view. Mill's theory of knowledge, for example, greatly as it is in advance of Hume's as a serious constructive effort, is yet only such a doctrine (whether of everyday experience or of organised science) as Hume himself might have set forth a hundred years ago, had he been really