Citation: Charles A. Ellwood. "Prolegomena to Social Psychology: III: The Nature and Task of Social Psychology." American Journal of Sociology, (1900): 98-109.
THE chief distinction between individual and social psychology is simply one of point of view. The point of view in the one is the individual, in the other the social group. There are other distinctions, but this is the fundamental one. Were it possible to explain everything while maintaining the standpoint of the individual, there would be no demand for and no need of a social psychology. But throughout the organic world group-life is a fact no less tangible and real than individual life. If from one point of view it is possible to see only individuals in the world, from another, and not less objective, point of view it is possible to see only social groups in which the individual appears as an element. Likewise, in the realm of psychical phenomena, we may consider either the psychical life of the individual or the psychical life of the group in which the individual life has its being. Both points of view are necessary for any adequate understanding of human life on its psychical side; they are supplementary to each other, and yield a science which is philosophically a unity. The separation of social from individual psychology is, then, wholly a matter of convenience ; merely a division of labor which in no way implies a dualism between the two branches of the science. When the center of interest lies in explaining the psychical life of the group, many facts come into view which in explaining the mental life of the individual are unimportant or not prominent. On this account the existence of social psychology as a separate discipline is justified as a matter of practical convenience, although logically it is but a branch of the general science of psychology.
The individual cannot be isolated from the group in the real world, nor the group from the individual. They are related as the part is to the whole, as the cell is to the organism. Knowledge
If the above positions are correct, it is evident that the only social psychology which is possible is a psychology of the activities and development of the social group, a "functional psychology of the collective mind," as we shall see later that it may be termed. The genesis of the social feelings in the individual cannot possibly be made the subject-matter of social psychology, as some recent writers have attempted to do, if it be once admitted that individual psychology has the right to exploit the whole universe in order to explain the psychical nature of the individual. Nor can the psychology of the behavior of an individual in the presence of another of its own species be called social psychology, for the same reason. Both of these important fields of research, belonging as they do to individual psychology, must be carefully distinguished from social or group psychology, if the latter is not to be involved in unnecessary confusion with the former. Nevertheless, in these two provinces of investigation individual psychology approaches closely to the proper territory of social psychology, and there can be little profit in trying to set up a hard and fast boundary between them, since the one science is necessarily dependent upon the other for completeness of view.While social psychology may be thus comparatively easily
The beginnings of social psychology as it scientific discipline are to be found in the Volkerpsychologie of Lazarus and Steinthal. But the ambiguity  in the German word, as well as the semi-mystical philosophy associated with it by some, are not to be
The field of social psychology may be thus marked off with sufficient clearness from other fields of psychological investigation ; but the question, some may say, remains whether there is any portion or aspect of reality which corresponds to the territory assigned to the science ; whether or not social psychology is anything more than an imaginary, fictitious science without a basis of facts. Hitherto in our discussion it has been assumed that the psychical life of society is such an evident aspect of reality as to be hardly needful of any special process of proof ; and such we hold it to be. But the question is, of course, a legitimate one, and demands formal consideration. Is there, then, a collective psychical life, in which the psychical life of the individual is but a constitutive element ? Or is the psychical life of society but a figment of the speculative imagination of sociologists; a name for the mere sum total of individual psychical phenomena, not itself an organized unity ? In answer to such questions the older social psychologists have rightly pointed to such phenomena as public opinion, the Zeitgeist, national ideals, customs, and institutions, language, tradition, and mythologies. They have shown that these are organic growths, and in no sense mere summations or averages of the psychical expressions of individuals. They are, that is, products of a common life which is organically unified, though constituted of individual elements. Without group-life, without a general life-process which includes
Another argument that has been used to prove the reality of the psychical life of social groups, and especially of nations, has been the appeal to direct experience Every traveler, even under the homogeneous conditions of modern western civilization, has noted the immense difference between the psychical atmosphere of one country and that of another. He has found on crossing national boundaries, not only different institutions, customs, and beliefs, but he has found different ways of thinking, a different philosophy of life, different ideals, motives, and interests, all so fundamentally at variance with his own, and yet so uniformly manifested throughout the national group, as to suggest that nations as well as individuals have a psychical life, distinct from that of all other nations. These facts have been expressed in such sayings as, "Every nation is a state of mind," and in the common attribution of individuality to states. Of course, the appeal to direct experience in this case proves nothing ; it is only worthy of note because it indicates some truth
But the real proof of the existence of socio-psychical processes is found in the fact that social groups act, that they are functional unities capable of making inner and outer adjustments. The fact that the activities of individuals are constantly coordinated into larger group-acts or activities, and that these group activities vary and succeed one another according to observed uniformities, like the acts of an individual, necessitates the supposition of some principle of organization. This principle of organization can be no other on the psychological side than a psychical process which extends throughout the group and unifies it— though set up, of course, by the psychical interaction of its individual elements. It may be doubted if any group-act can take place without such a principle of organization. Even the simple impulsive reaction of a nation to an injury by a foreign foe presupposes an organized life ; and if organized at all, then necessarily on its psychical side. The fact that societies are functional wholes, then, is the fact upon which all proof of the existence of socio-psychical processes must rest ; for upon it depends the whole series of phenomena which social psychology investigates— social organization, social institutions, customs, tradition, language, public opinion, etc. Every recognition of the fact that societies are functional unities carries with it implicitly the recognition of the reality of socio-psychical processes. The effort of all sociological writers, for example, has been to prove the reality of a social process, while of late an increasing number have striven to show that this process is essentially or predominantly a psychical one. Thus the reality of socio-psychical processes has been implicitly recognized; anti there can be no more objection to framing a science to investigate their technique or mechanism than there is to a science of the technique of individual psychical processes. Such a science is, indeed, inevitable, call it what we may, sociology or social psychology, although the latter name will seem preferable to those who hold, with the writer, that the science is a part of general psychology.
We have styled social psychology the science of the mechanism or technique of socio-psychical processes. Just as individual psychology does not investigate directly the psychical elements of individual consciousness, but rather the mechanism of psychical processes, so the task of social psychology is to examine, not public opinion, language, customs, institutions, and the like, as products of the collective psychical life, but tire mechanism of the socio-psychical processes through which these products arise and change. This is no arbitrary limitation of the field of social psychology, but a necessity. Just as it has been found in individual psychology that only the mechanism of psychical processes can be reduced to scientific formulation, so it will be found in social psychology. The work of the latter, then, is the formulation of the method of socio-psychical processes. If it be asked with what portion of the psychical nature of the individual social psychology will particularly deal, when the group is regarded as constituted of individual elements rather than as a unity, the answer is, with the instinctive, impulsive. affective side of the individual. The reason for this reply is plain. The intellectual side of the individual represents the choice of means and, therefore, can be, without danger to the group, individual; but the impulsive, affective side represents the choice of ends, and, therefore, must be, and is, organized more fully into the life of the group. The impulsive, habitual, emotional side of the life of the individual, in other words, is normally submerged, as it were, in the life of his group ; while the rational, cognitive side is left freer and so is more peculiarly individual. Social psychology, accordingly, will deal especially with the former, in so far as it considers the individual as an element in the social whole; and while it may not encroach upon the field of individual psychology in its consideration of the impulsive, affective side of the individual, it is just here that an enrichment of the latter science may he expected from the development of a social psychology.
We do not shrink from stating and defending the parallelism between the individual and society which has been freely implied throughout the argument of this series of papers. The
Social psychology, then, in regarding social groups as functional unities, necessarily regards them as individualities or individuals. It does not say that they are individuals ; it is not called upon to enter upon the metaphysical question as to what constitutes an individual. It holds to the empirical standpoint, and merely says that for purposes of interpretation social groups may be regarded as individuals, because they are found to exhibit the same general laws of function and development. But, while a parallelism in functioning and development may be demonstrable, the social psychologist must ever bear in mind the vast difference between the psychical life of the individual and that of society, especially on the side of structure. The psychical life of the individual is highly unified, both structurally and functionally. In all the higher reaches of organic life individual organisms usually present a unified consciousness ;
In all that has just been said the organic nature of society is plainly implied. The psychical parallelism asserted between the individual and the social group may, indeed, from cane point of view, be regarded as a corollary of the theory that the social group is an organism. We are evidently, then, under the burden of defending the organic theory of society. Just at present this theory is in disrepute, perhaps justly so, because of the absurd extremes to which it has been carried by some of its supporters. But that society is an organism, in the broad sense of that term, no one who has examined all the facts in the case can reasonably doubt. The organic nature of the societary life is as much a fact as the chemical nature of physiological processes, and is just as demonstrable. Properly understood, the proposition should be indeed self-evident. The arguments in favor of this view have been ably stated by several writers, and need not be repeated here ; but one or two points may be noted. One is the well-known biological fact that the tendency of living matter is to assume functional, and so organic, relations with other living matter with which it comes into contact. Probably it was thus that multicellular forms arose from the original unicellular forms. Now, it would seem that this principle would continue to act in the case of rnulticellular forms coming into more or less functional contact with each other through living together in groups. We should expect the individuals of the group to become organically related among themselves and the group as
While social psychology must rest upon the organic nature of society as the presupposition of all its investigations, it must distinguish carefully between the fact of the organic nature of society and analogies with biological organisms which may as often be misleading as helpful. The differences between social groups and biological organisms are obvious, and fundamental. Not only are the latter more highly unified, both structurally and functionally, than the former, but there is also a qualitative difference. In the biological organism consciousness is resident in the organism as a whole, while in the social group consciousness is resident in the individual elements, giving these a large degree of autonomy. The result is that, while in the biological organism the principle of organization is entirely physiological, in social groups the principle of organization tends to become more and more psychological as we pass from lower to higher stages of development. In the lowest societies of the animal world only the physiological principle of organization is visible,
The value of a social psychology worked out front the point of view of society as a functioning whole, as a "psychical organism," may be questioned. But the value of any science lies in what it can do. What such a social psychology can do in the way of explaining the life of society, and ultimately in contributing principles for the guidance of practical social activity, is the only answer to those who question the value of the science. We have tried to show in a former paper what social psychology can do in the way of explaining a few of the phenomena of society ; but its full value and justification as a science will be evident only when it can show the technique of the entire socio-psychical process. When it can do this, it will be among the most practical of the science, anal will win the gratitude of humanity, even as the physical sciences have done. The social psychologist seeks no other justification of his labors than such a practical result ; and until it is attained he has faith enough in his science to be willing " to labor and to wait."
CHARLES A. ELLWOOD.
The UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO.