Social Psychology

By Ellwood, Charles A. An Introduction to Social Psychology. Appleton. $2.

SO far, there have been three great schools of thought on social problems, differing fundamentally in their definitions of society. The oldest of these bases its deductions upon the assumption that the social body is to be regarded as the result of agreement, explicit or implicit, between the individuals that compose the body. This is “the contract theory” as expounded by Rousseau. It is the theory that human institutions are arbitrarily produced, and that they may, therefore, be changed by mutual consent to suit the parties. The obvious fault with this theory is that it presupposes human society to be composed entirely of normal adult individuals of high intelligence.

Another school advocates the “organic theory” of society. This conception grew up as a result of the Darwinian theory and had its greatest advocate in Herbert Spencer. This school holds that society, instead of being an artificial construction, is merely the result of organic evolution. Naturally this theory led to a sort of fatalism, society being regarded as the chance production of blind forces, and therefore not to be interfered with by men. The laissez faire conception of economics was the result — a conception that has already been weighed and found wanting.

The third great school of social thought, advocating the “psychological theory” of society, is that to which Dr. Ellwood belongs; and his latest volume here listed expounds that theory. Dr. Ellwood has undertaken to show that the psychological view of social life offers a scientific basis for the combination of what is true in both the organic and contract conceptions. He contends that social life is a process made up essentially of psychic elements — interstimulation and response between individuals, “such as communication, suggestion, imitation, sympathy, conflict and of psychic processes within the individual, such as instinct, habit, feeling and intelligence.” Thus, social life is to be understood and manipulated by understanding and manipulating the underlying traits and dispositions of men, and the influences of environment.

There is much to indicate that social psychology will sooner or later come to be regarded as the supreme science; and therefore such contributions as this of Dr. Ellwood cannot receive too much attention.