Popular Science Monthly/Volume 54/February 1899/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


There are a great many different ways of conceiving the science of society, and until the study of the subject is more advanced than it is as yet, it would be rash to set up any one method as superior to all others. All that can reasonably be asked is that the subject should be approached with a competent knowledge of what has previously been thought and written in regard to it, that the aspects presented should possess intrinsic importance, and that the treatment should be scientific. The work which Professor Giddings has published under the title of Elements of Sociology[1] fulfills these conditions entirely, and we consider it, after careful examination, as admirably adapted to the purpose it is meant to serve—namely, as "a text book for colleges and schools." For use in schools—that is to say, in secondary schools of the ordinary range—the treatment may be a little too elaborate, but for college use we should say that it is, so far as method is concerned, precisely what is wanted. We do not know any other work which gives in the same compass so interesting and satisfactory an analysis of the constitution and development of society, or so many suggestive views as to the springs of social action and the conditions of social well-being. Professor Giddings writes in a clear and vigorous style, and the careful student will notice many passages marked by great felicity of expression. In a text-book designed to attract the young to a subject calling for considerable concentration of attention, this is an advantage that can hardly be overestimated.

In the first chapter the writer gives us his definition of society as "any group or number of individuals who cultivate acquaintance and mental agreement—that is to say, like-mindedness." The unit of investigation in sociology is declared to be the individual member of society, or, as the writer calls him, in relation to the investigation in hand, the "socius." Whether in strict logic the unit of investigation in sociology can be the individual, even granting, as must be done, that he is born social, is a point on which we are not fully satisfied. We should be disposed to think that the study of the individual was rather what Mr. Spencer would call a "preparation" for sociology than an integral part of the science itself. From a practical point of view, however, it must be conceded that a treatise on sociology would begin somewhat abruptly if it did not present in the first place an adequate description of the "socius," especially setting forth those qualifications and tendencies which fit and impel him to enter into relations with other members of the human race. Chapter V of the present work deals with The Practical Activities of Socii, and shows in an interesting manner what may be called the lines of approach of individuals to one another in society. Sometimes the approach is by means of conflict, and the writer shows how this may be a preparation for peaceful relations through the insight it gives into opposing points of view. He distinguishes between primary and secondary conflict—the first being a smuggle in which one individual violently strives to suppress or subdue an opposing personality, the second a mere trial of differing opinions and tastes, leading often to a profitable readjustment of individual standpoints.

Chapter X, entitled The Classes of Socii, is an excellent one. The author classifies socii with reference (1) to vitality, (2) to personality—i. e. personal resource and capacity—and (3) to social feeling. Under the third classification he distinguishes (1) the social class, (2) the non-social class, (3) the pseudo-social class, and (4) the anti-social class. The first of these, the "social class," is well characterized as follows: "Their distinguishing characteristic is a consciousness of kind that is wide in its scope and strong in its intensity. They are sympathetic, friendly, helpful, and always interested in endeavoring to perfect social relations, to develop the methods of co-operation, to add to the happiness of mankind by improving the forms of social pleasure, to preserve the great social institutions of the family and the state. To this class the entire population turns for help, inspiration, and leadership, for unselfish loyalty and wise enterprise. It includes all who in the true sense of the word are philanthropic, all whose self-sacrifice is directed by sound judgment, all true reformers whose zeal is tempered by common sense and sober patience, and all those who give expression to the ideals and aspirations of the community for a larger and better life." The Pre-eminent Social Class is further discussed in Chapter XII; and the subsequent chapters, as far as, and including, XIX, describe the processes by which social results in the balancing of interests, establishment of rights, assimilation of characters, and general improvement of social conditions, are realized. The limits which expediency sets to the pursuit of "like-mindedness" are well shown, and the advantage and necessity for social progress of free discussion and wide toleration of individual differences are strongly insisted on. Chapter XX deals with The Early History of Society, and contains the statement that "from an apelike creature, no longer perfectly represented in any existing species, the human race is descended."

The subject of Democracy is well treated in a special chapter (XXIV). The author is of opinion that, if the natural leaders of society do their duty, they will wield a moral influence that will give a right direction to public policy, and secure the continuous advance of the community in prosperity and true civilization. The "if" is an important one, but the author has strong hope, in which ail his readers will certainly wish to share, that in the main everything will turn out well.

The remarks on the State in Chapter XXIII are, as far as they go, judicious; but we could have wished that the author, who we are sure desires to make his treatise as practically useful as possible, had dwelt somewhat on the dangers of over-legislation, and had brought into fuller relief than he has done the difference between state action and voluntary enterprise, arising from the fact that the former always involves the element of compulsion. We pass a law when we can not get our neighbor to co-operate or agree with us in something, and consequently resolve to compel him. Surely this consideration should suffice to make parsimony the first principle of legislation. We agree with our author that it is not well to "belittle" the state (page 214), but it is hardly belittling the state to wish to be very sparing in our appeals to it for the exercise of coercive power.

We miss also in the work before us such a treatment of the family as might have been introduced into it with advantage. The family certainly has an important relation to the individual, and in all civilized countries it is specially recognized by the state. Mr. Spencer, in the chapter of his Study of Sociology entitled Preparation in Psychology, has dwelt on the encroachments of the state on the family; and Mr. Pearson, in his National Life and Character, published half a dozen years ago, sounded a note of alarm on the same subject. What position Professor Giddings would have taken as to the importance of family life and the rights and duties of the family we do not, of course, know; but we are disposed to think he could have increased the usefulness and interest of his book by some discussion of these points. We would only further say that, while the book is specially intended for scholastic use, it is well adapted for general reading, and that it could not be read carefully by any one without profit.

Prof. Wesley Mills holds the opinion that in the present stage of the study of animal life,[2] facts are much more desirable than theories. Experiment and observation must go on for many years before generalizations will be worth the making. Putting this belief into practice, he has bred and reared a large number of animals, making most careful notes on their physical and mental development, and furnishes in his book, resulting from these studies, a contribution of unquestionable value to comparative psychology.

In his investigation of the habits of squirrels, he finds the red squirrel, or chickaree, much more intelligent than the chipmunk. The latter is easily trapped, but the former profits by experience and is rarely secured a second time. These little creatures are also adepts in feigning. Two examples are cited in which squirrels apparently ill recovered rapidly when. left alone and made their escape in vigorous fashion. Many instances of animals shamming death are judged to be cases of catalepsy induced by excessive fear. The chickaree is also credited with some musical capacity, one being observed, when excited, to utter tones that were birdlike; whence it is concluded "likely that throughout the order Rodentia a genuine musical appreciation exists, and considerable ability in expressing states of emotion by vocal forms."

While experimenting with hibernating animals, Professor Mills kept a woodchuck in confinement five years, and noted that it had a drowsy or torpid period from November to April. Another specimen subjected to the same conditions did not hibernate for an hour during the entire season. Bats began to hibernate at 45° to 40° F., and were so affected by temperature that they could be worked like a machine by varying it. The woodchuck, however, was comparatively independent of heat and cold, but very sensitive to storms. This is found to be true of many wild animals, that they,l have a delicate perception of meteorological conditions, making them wiser than they know, for they act reflexly."

Some records are given of cases of lethargy among human beings, and in regard to these, as well as normal sleep and hibernation, it is suggested that their conditioning and variability throw great light upon the evolution of function.

In order to observe closely the psychic development of young animals, Professor Mills raised families of dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, guinea-pigs, and pigeons. The data obtained by him, given in the form of diaries with comparisons and conclusions, constitute Part III, the larger half of the book, unquestionably first in importance and interest. It is scarcely possible to overvalue careful studies like these, undertaken not to justify theories, but to bring to light whatever truths may be apprehended of the nature of growth and connection of mind and body.

The last division of the book contains the discussions on instinct by Professors Mills, Lloyd Morgan, Baldwin, and others, first published in Science. The beginning of the volume, devoted to a general consideration of the subject, consists of papers on methods of study and comparative psychology which have appeared in various scientific periodicals, including this magazine.

  1. The Elements of Sociology. By Franklin Henry Giddings. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1898. Pp. 358. Price, $1.10.
  2. The Nature and Development of Animal Intelligence. By Wesley Mills, F. R. S. C. N:w York: The Macmillan Company. Pp. 307. Price, $2.