George Herbert Mead 1932/1938

tough looking guy with moustache

Science and the Objectivity of Perspectives

Source: George Herbert Mead On Social Psychology, Selected Papers, Edited and with an Introduction by Anselm Strauss, University of Chicago Press.
First Published: (1) in The Philosophy of the Act, 1938, (2) in The Philosophy of the Present, 1932;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

1. The Nature of Scientific Knowledge

WE HAVE reached certain points in the implications of the method of experimental science which may be summarily restated. In the first place, the scientist’s knowing is a search for the unknown, a discovery, but it is a search for what has disappeared in the conflicts of conduct, that is, for objects which will remove the antagonism — it is a search for the solution of a problem. This dissipates the Platonic puzzle of how we can seek to know what is unknown. Plato’s solution of the puzzle is found in the form of ignorance as a problem, that of recollecting what has been forgotten Unfortunately this theory could not apply to the discovery of new types of objects which were foreign to the world of past experience.

In the second place, experimental science implies a real world uninfected by the problem, which can be used to test the discoveries which science makes. If knowledge is discovery of the unknown, this world is not known — it is simply there.

In the third place, as the world that is there is not known and may not therefore as non-known have ascribed to it the logical necessity that does obtain in the logical structure of hypotheses, experimental science finds nothing contradictory in the later appearance of a problem which has been used to test the solution of a former problem. That a contradiction should appear in the hypothesis is proof of its faulty and, in that sense, unreal character, but that the sun ceases to be an object revolving about the earth in no way invalidates the world by which we test the hypothesis of the revolution of the earth on its axis by the shifting of the path of the pendulum’s swing. Logical necessity obtains in the field of reflective thinking. To transfer it to the world that is there, and within which thought is occupied in the solution of problems, would be to dismiss experimental science as a meaningless and pernicious discipline and to return to the science of dogma.

In the fourth place, in observation and in experiment, science finds a field that belongs both to the world that is there and to the reflective thought of discovery, that is, of knowledge. The problem does not exist in vacuo. It is in the world that is there, but a certain portion of the world that is there has disappeared. The disease that is conveyed by contact disappears in the evidence of sporadic cases, notwithstanding its epidemic character. But the scourge is all the more tragically there. The instances of the disease are now observed and recorded by physicians and health officers who are seeking to discover the mechanism of the spread of the infection. These data embodied in various hypotheses exist in the minds of the investigators. As the observations of competent investigators of the actual epidemic, they are there as parts of the experiences of these individuals and the records of them are parts of their biographies. The test case of the heroic scientist, who has remained immune to the fever after wearing the clothes of those who were sick and sleeping in their beds and who succumbs to it when stung by the mosquito, begins in the field of scientific data and personal biographies and ends in the impersonal world to which belongs the two-chaptered history of the yellow-fever parasite. Insofar as these data are embedded in the lives of these individuals, they are personal but hard facts. So long as they are tentatively suggestive of objects that would harmonise conflicting ways of cataloguing and treating the disease, they are in the minds of men as part of the structure of their ideas.

We must distinguish here between what belongs to the experience of the individual qua individual and what is in his mind and may be termed “subjective.” In the former sense the observation may be called private because the investigator alone observes it. Indeed it may be such an instance that he alone can observe it, if, for example, it is his own ache or pain, or if no one else has seen it, and it is an instance that is not repeated. This circumstance does not abstract it from the world that is there, since these men are there in that world together with the events that take place in their lives. But, insofar as the experience suggests what is known of the relation of the mosquito to malaria and a possible parasitic organism that may be the cause of yellow fever, we are in the presence of an idea and of what we will call “subjective.” Such an object is not as yet there and may never be there. It is an ideal object. Such objects have the same locus as erroneous objects after the error has been detected and are not to be confused, because they are placed in individuals’ minds, with individuals’ experiences, which are peculiar to them, but are objects in the world that is there. I am not ignoring the problems involved in this distinction. I am merely insisting that experimental science never take the position so common in philosophy, which confuses the two. To the experimental scientist the data of observation and experiment never lose the actuality of the unquestioned world because they can happen only in the lives of particular individuals or because they are fitted to serve in the mental processes of discovery. They are solid realities that can bridge the gaps between discredited theories and the discoveries of science.

It is the position of the positivist that what is observed is as a fact of experience, there in a sense in which it never can be false. He recognises that there may be false inferences drawn from the observation or the experiment, but as a fact of immediate experience it simply is and therefore is not open to possible question. This assumption does not answer to the procedure of science, for whatever may be the theory of sensation, the scientist’s observation always carries a content or character in what is observed that may conceivably he shown under other conditions to be erroneous, though the probability of this be very slight. In psychological terms, an observation is never a mere determination of a sensation (if there is any such thing in adult experience) but is a perception, and, whether all perceptions involve judgments or not, they are frequently illusory as in the perceptions of mirrored objects, and can never be free from the possibility of analogous errors.

What gives to the observation or experiment its validity is its position in the world that is there, that is not questioned. It is indeed carefully isolated from what has fallen into question, and this meticulous cleansing from all implications of the abandoned doctrine, and all as yet hypothetical interpretations, creates the impression of an experience which may not be subjected to any further question; but, as we know, there is no part or portion of the world that may not conceivably be the field of a scientific problem.

In the so-called exact sciences we seem to approach an object which is nearly free from all possibility of contingency — the physical particles. These particles are approximations to that which is unextended in space and time, but they carry a character — that of mass or of electrical energy — which does not approach zero, however minute it may become, and it is a character which is reached from numberless observations and not a little speculative theory. Furthermore, the procedures in our laboratories and observatories by which these characters are reached involve perceptual objects of the most complex nature, subject under other conditions to all sorts of conceivable questions. In other words, while the methods of mathematical analysis and extensive abstraction constitute a body of doctrines which in themselves are necessary, as long as the terms carry the same references, their applications are dependent upon their functioning within the problematic situations which arise in research science and appeal for their validity in practice to the court of observation and experiment.

The scientist’s attitude is that of a man in a going concern which requires at various points readjustments and reconstructions. The success of the readjustments and reconstructions is found in the triumph over the difficulty, as evidenced by the fact that the concern continues to operate. He finds his tests in the parts of the whole which still operate. This does not imply that readjustments cannot be called for later at these very points to which he now appeals for confirmation of the success of his solutions of the immediate problems before him. Surrounding the most profound analysis of the structure of matter, and the widest survey of the galaxies of the heavens, lies the field of things within which experiment and observation take place without question, and which gives its validity to cosmologies and electronic theories of matter. It may seem a misnomer to speak of the world within which lie the observation and experiment as surrounding such hypothetical constructions as the electrical theory of matter or the galactic form of the universe, since these hypothetical constructions so far transcend, in the subatomic world or in the indefinite stretches of the heavens, all the world of objects which includes our observations and experiments. We seem rather to be islanded in a very minute region occupied by perceptual objects that are in their constitution vague, indeterminate, and incurably contingent, surrounded from within and from without by a universe, that is occupied by objects that approximate exactness of definition and necessity in their forms and changes. And yet the scientist, when he times microscopic oil drops as they move toward or away from charged plates, or when he measures the distances of photographed stars from one another before and during an eclipse, has not at all the attitude of a man perched insecurely upon obscure and adventitious data. The world that is there has taken up into itself all the order, definition, and necessity of earlier scientific advance. It is not there as hypothesis, insofar as the hypotheses have justified themselves in experiment, nor is it there as analysed relations, events, and particles. These characters have passed into things, and for the time being at any rate, they are there unanalysed, with the same authority as that of the so-called sensible experience. It is only necessary to emphasise again the distinction of the data as parts of the mental process of anticipating hypothetical objects, and as embedded in the world of unquestioned reality in the experience of the individuals to whom the problem has come and who are trying to solve it, as well as in the impersonal world within which these individuals exist.

What renders such a statement of the world (not as known but as there) somewhat bizarre is that we enter the world of the scientist by the process of learning. In schools and institutions of higher learning we are taught the doctrines of modern science. Most of us take no part in the work of discovering what is there found out, but we acquire it by a process of learning, in which we may retrace some of the steps which research has followed, while in the main we accept it largely on faith in the men and their methods, especially faith in the checking-up of the results of certain individuals by all the others in the field. Scientific journalism as well as the daily press keeps us informed of the latest advances, and, having learned these facts, we say that we now know them. The world that stretches so far beyond our experience seems in this sense a world of knowledge.

It is true that all acquirement of information, insofar as it is more than a mere parrot-like facility in repeating what is read or heard, is a reflective process in which a problematic situation is met with discovery, though the hypotheses and their tests are those of others. Our own hypotheses and tests have to do largely with the competence of the sources upon which we draw. Admitting, however, all the criticism that the layman can bring to his education, this world of knowledge is evidently of quite a different character from the world that is there, the world that is seen and felt, whose reality is the touchstone of our discoveries and inventions and very different from the discoveries and inventions themselves, which are the knowledge par excellence of research science.

It is in the acquirement of information that the copy theory finds its explanation. There, what is known must answer feature for feature to its prototype. This field of so-called knowledge is that of the assimilation of the experience of others to one’s own experience. There may be involved in it the discovery of these other experiences by the individual, and it is insofar knowledge, but the content of that which is said to be learned is not discovered in the sense in which the other has discovered it.

In its simplest form what takes place here is the indication to one individual by another of an object which is of moment in their co-operative activity. This gesture becomes symbolic when it arouses in the individuals the attitudes which reaction to the objects involves, together, generally, with some imagery of the result of that action. It becomes communication when the individual indicating the object takes also the attitude of the individual to whom he is indicating it plus that of his response, while the individual to whom the object is indicated takes the attitude of him who is indicating it. We call this taking of one another’s attitudes consciousness of what we are doing and of what the other is doing, and we incorrectly apply the term “knowledge” to this. The mechanism and import of this social procedure will be discussed later. What I wish to point out is that this process in itself does not involve discovery, any more than does that of perception. When doubt and discrepancies arise in the process of communication, the necessity of establishing agreement between the symbols mutually used, and that which they symbolise and the results of the conduct they imply, calls for a one-to-one correspondence between the symbols and those things and characters symbolised in the experiences of the different individuals, and this gives rise to the theory of knowledge as an agreement between the state of mind and that which is known. Such a determination of mutual agreement in co-operative conduct is indeed essential, not only to this conduct, but to what is called “thinking” in the individual, but it is not a discovery of that which needs to be known. It is at most a part of the technique by which the discovery is made. When the discrepancy arises, we must discover what the import of the symbols is, and here real knowledge takes place. We find out what the other person is referring to — in common parlance, what he means — but the process can go on without discrepancies. The other indicates to us what is there, and our so-called consciousness of this need not introduce any reflective attitude in our conduct. To call the correspondence between the attitudes involved in pointing out a savage dog and the conduct which takes place “knowledge,” whether one points it out to one’s self or to another, is to give to “knowledge” an entirely different value from. that involved in discovery.

In any education that is worthy of the name, what is acquired does go toward the solution of the problems that we all carry with us, and is the subject of reflection, and leads to the fashioning of new hypotheses and the appearance of new objects; but this takes place after the communication which is the mutual indication of objects and characters by the use of gestures which are common symbols, that is, symbols with identical references. The correspondence theory of knowledge has grown up around the recognition of the relation between that which the symbol refers to in the object and the attitudes of response in others and in ourselves. There is here a one-to-one correspondence, but the relation of these objects and their characters to what we can infer from them in the discovery of the novel element which meets our problematic situations is of an entirely different sort.

In this “meeting of minds” which takes place in conversation, learning, reading, and thinking, there are generally present problematic situations and discovery, though this is by no means always the case. If someone informs us that an expected acquaintance has arrived, there is no more of a problem, or discovery in the sense of a solution, than would be involved in the friend’s appearing around the corner. The varied landscape and hurry of events that sweep us along in books of travel and adventure embrace no more of reflection than the travel and adventure in which we are involved. A great deal of learning is a direct following of indications, or a gradual taking-over of the form and technique of others that goes on without inference. A good deal of thinking even, notably much of reverie and also straight-away ordering of conduct in an unquestioned situation, may be free from dubitation and ratiocination. A field of concentrated inferential thought does include the common reference of symbols in conversation, writing, and thinking — that part of logic which has to do with the technique of communication either with others or with one’s self — together with the epistemologies and metaphysics which have sprung from this and obscured it with their tangled and forest growth. Here lie the problems of successful reference to identical objects and characters through identical symbols mutually employed by different selves, and these problems are of peculiar interest and importance to those involved in the exact and mathematical sciences. These problems demand theories of definition and implication, insofar as this does not depend upon the concrete content of that to which reference is made.

The environment of living organisms is constantly changing, is constantly invaded with other and different things. The assimilation of what occurs and that which recurs with what is elapsing and what has elapsed is called “experience.” Without anticipating a later discussion of the social nature of the self and of thinking, I shall claim that the analysis of experimental science, including experimental psychology, never operates in a mind or an experience that is not social, and by the term “social” I imply that in the thought of the scientist the supposition of his mind and his self always involves other minds and selves as presuppositions and as standing upon the same level of existence and evidence. It may be that the scientist, in a self-centered moment, might think away all else but his self and its thinking, but even if in imagination he succeeded in annihilating all save the dot on the i, its having any thoughts at all would depend entirely upon its preserving its previous habits of conversing with others and so with himself; and, as this precious hoard of past experience wore away under incessant use and decay, the dot would follow the i into nonentity. The dividend that I wish to see declared on this social nature of mind and the self is the equal immediacy that may attach to the assimilation of others’ experience with that of our own. We so inevitably utilise the attitude of the other, which is involved in addressing ourselves and in attending to him, that we give the same logical validity to what he relates of his experience as that which we give to what we relate to ourselves of our own past experience, unless on other grounds we are occupying the seat of the critic. It has, of course, only the validity that attaches to a relation, and is one remove from the assurance that attaches to the so-called memory image. But this validity at this remove is all that we can claim for most of our memory. Memory images constitute but a minute part of the past that stretches out behind us. For most of it we depend upon records, which come back to one form or another of language, and we refresh our memory as surely in inquiring of a companion what took place on a certain occasion as in questioning ourselves. His testimony may not be as trustworthy as our own because of difference of interest and possible prejudice, but on other occasions for the same reason his testimony may outrank our own in reliability. While the actual image of the event has an evidential character that is peculiar, not infrequently it may be shown by the testimony of others to have been the product of imagination or to have been shifted from its proper place in the record. But still more fundamentally, the building-up of a memory record involves, in the first place, a social world as definitely as the physical world, within which the events took place, and involves, in the second place, experience which was actually or potentially social in its nature to the extent that whatever happens or has happened to us has its character over against actual or possible audiences or observers whose selves are essential to the existence of our own selves, the mechanism of whose conversation is not only as immediate as our replies but, when imported into the inner forum, constitutes the mechanism of our own thought.

I am anticipating the detailed presentation of this doctrine of mind to make clear my distinction between information and knowledge as discovery through inference. Information is the experience arising from the direction of attention through the gestures of others to objects and their characters, and cannot be called “knowledge” if that term is denied to perception as immediate experience under the direction of the attention springing from the organic interest of the individual. Perception is not itself to be distinguished from information, insofar as one uses a social mechanism in pointing out objects and characters to himself as another. The perceptions of a self may be already in the form of information. Logically stated they exist in a universe of discourse. Knowledge, on the other hand, deliberately fashions hypothetical objects whose reality it tests by observation and experiment. The justification for this is found in the actual disappearance of objects and their characters in the problems that arise in conduct.

Actually so much both of perception and of information is shot through with reflective construction and reconstruction that it is difficult to disentangle them. It is, however, a part of scientific technique to accomplish this disentanglement. Observations and experiments are always in the form of information, even while they are being made, but they are scrupulously teased out from the web of inference and hypothesis. From this purity depart in varying degrees our perceptions as well as our information. It is a commonplace that one may be very well informed and do very little thinking, indeed be quite helpless over against a situation in which the information must be used to suggest or test hypotheses. The reliability itself of the observation or information, however, does call for a certain sort of verification, that of its repetition, either in the experience of the individual or in the mouths of other witnesses, and here, as above remarked, we find the source of the copy or correspondence theories of knowledge. Indeed, if information is knowledge, the copy theory of knowledge is entirely legitimate.

In presenting the world that is there as in some sense surrounding what is problematic, it was stated that what had in the past been approved by experiment and observation was taken up into this world and resided there as organised objects, things behaving toward one another in expected manners. Over against these unquestioned things lie the elements and relations of the working hypotheses of science. These are in a peculiar degree the objects of our knowledge. They are still lacking in complete verification. They are received only provisionally, and the objects which we constitute by means of them are complex hypotheses anticipating further tests in the use which we make of them. While they work, they pass as objects, but always with a proviso attached, which keeps the scientist’s attention alive to possible departures from the result which the hypothesis implies. He is looking for such departures and eager to find them. In such far-reaching speculations as those regarding the structure of matter this field of knowledge is enormously extended, though it does not actually include the world within which the observation and experiment themselves take place, though the analysis which the investigation involves extends into the world of unquestioned things. For the purposes of our calculations we state the apparatus of our laboratories, for example, in the same terms which we use in our hypothetical constructions and thus seem to bring them within the scope of the investigation. But the scientist is in no doubt in regard to the distinction between the finding of fact and the hypothetical form in which he has stated things which are there, irrespective of the validity of the expressions into which they have been translated. Such translations may be perhaps called “objects of knowledge,” though with the recognition that the success or failure of the hypothesis, into the terms of which we have translated these unquestioned things and their processes, does not affect their reality in the observation or experiment. In this sense there is no limit to the field of knowledge, for we may state the whole universe in terms of such working hypotheses, if we only remember the limits of this formulation. But it is also necessary to recognise that the raison d'etre for translation is found in the function of the apparatus of experimental science and not in the revelation of reality. What reveals this latter fact is the ineradicable difference between the immediate concrete event to which appeal is made in experiment and observation and any formulation of this in terms of a current working hypothesis. The actual position of the spectral line, or of the photographic image on the plate, is the brute fact by which the hypothesis is tested, and there is no methodological relation between the exactly determined position of these and a resolution of them into, say, electrons. It is conceivable that this should be done, but it would vastly confuse and delay the attainment of any knowledge from the measurement and would have no conceivable connection with getting that knowledge. To call such a translation “knowledge” is to depart from the significance which the term “knowledge” has in an experimental science.

The world, then, in which science operates has, at its core and in a certain sense surrounding its findings and speculations, the environment of immediate experience. At the point of its problems the immediate things are so analysed that they may pass into the formulations of the scientist’s hypothesis, while the finding of observation and experiment remains immediate experience, that is, located in the surrounding borderland. It is these two aspects of the world of immediate experience that call for especial attention. From the standpoint of the discovery of the new, from the standpoint of research, the world of immediate experience is a core and seems to be reduced to the island of vague, indeterminate, and contingent data that are contrasted with the clear-cut, sharply defined, and necessary elements and events of scientific theory; an apparently incongruous situation, for the acceptance of the clear-cut, sharply defined, and necessary world is dependent upon the findings in the island of vague, indeterminate, and contingent data, the field of observation and experiment. It is an apparent incongruity that has given birth to much philosophic speculation.

That the incongruity is only apparent is fairly evident, since the scientist, out of whose method and its achievements it has arisen, is not aware of it. If it were presented to him in the terms just used, he would presumably reply that one cannot both have his cake and eat it; that, if one is in search of definition and certainty at a point in experience at which they have disappeared, it is but natural that the definition of the problem should exhibit this fact of their disappearance and that the very data which will serve in the verification of a hypothetical order of defined and necessary things must he themselves infected with indeterminateness and contingency; that the home of experimental medicine is in the hospital; that the gospel of science summons not the logically righteous but sinners to repentance. He would likely add, however, that because, before the discovery of the germ of yellow fever, the clinical picture of the disease was indeterminate and its incidence contingent, there would have been no justification in ascribing the same indeterminateness and contingency to the clinical picture of diphtheria — in other words, that the form in which the data appear in any one problem is pertinent to that problem alone.

But while the statement of the problem, together with the observation and experiment that are involved in verification, constitutes a core of immediate experience whose analysed elements are indeterminate and contingent as compared with defined elements and necessary relations in a hypothetical scientific theory, these data do belong to objects in an immediate world that is a going concern, and as such is unquestioned. Such a world may be said to contain the problem within itself, and so to surround the problem. It has taken up into itself the solutions of past problems successfully solved. There is involved in it also a considerable apparatus of working hypothesis, which is not always distinguished from the world that is there. The distinction lies in the fact that back of the working hypothesis there is always a question mark, and in the back of the scientist’s mind in using the working hypothesis lies the problem implied in its being only a working hypothesis. The world that is there is the common world within which the intelligent community lives and moves and has its being. In physical diameter it may be a small world as compared with the scope of physical hypotheses which in a logical sense it surrounds. Its logical compass of the hypothesis is shown in the data of observation and experiment that must be brought to bear upon the hypothesis before it can be established.

This compass of the problem, and the hypothetical solution of it, is logical insofar as the analysis involved in the problem, the inference involved in the formation of the hypothesis, and the sufficiency of evidence involved in observation and experiment all rest upon a world of things that is there, not as known, but as containing conditions of knowledge. But the world that is there includes and surrounds the problem in the sense that the problem is also there within the field of conduct, for, as has been indicated, the problem arises in the conduct of individuals and out of the conflict of acts which inhibit one another because the same object calls out mutually antagonistic responses. When these problems pass into the field of reflection, they are so formulated that they would occur in any experience, that is, they take on a universal form. Such a formulation is essential to the reflective process of their solution. Their actual occurrence, however, in the world that is there awaits the advent of the conflict of responses in the experience of some individual; and the solution as well, inasmuch as it departs from the common or universal habits of the community, must be an individual achievement before it can become the attitude of all and be thus universalised. So located in its historical setting, the problem is evidently as completely surrounded by the world that is there as the hole left by a name that has been forgotten is surrounded by all the other names and things and happenings by which one attempts its recall. But while occurrence of the problem and of its solution must be in the field of conduct of some one individual, the things and events that constitute its border are matters of common and undisputed validity. The problem must happen to an individual, it can have no other locus than in his biography, but the terms in which he defines it and seeks its solution must be universal, that is, have common import.

This location of the problem in the experience of the individual in its historical setting dates not only the problem but also the world within which that problem arises. For a world within which an essential scientific problem has arisen is a different world from that within which this problem does not exist, that is, different from the world that is there when this problem has been solved. The world of Daltonian atoms and electricity (which was considered a form of motion), within which appeared the problem of the ion in electrolysis and the break-up of the atom in radioactive substances, is a different world from that whose ultimate elements are particles of electricity. Such worlds dated by the problems upon whose solutions they have appeared are social in the sense that they belong to the history of the human community, since reflective thought is a social undertaking and since the individual in whose experience both the problem and its solution must arise presupposes the community out of which he springs.

It is the double aspect of these worlds that has been the occasion of so much philosophic speculation. On the one hand, they have provided the tests of reality for experimental science, and, on the other, they have successively lost their validity and have passed away into the realm of ideas. I have already indicated the scientist’s rejoinder to this apparent assault upon his method. His method implies not that there has been, is, or will be any one authentic world that constitutes the core and envelope of his problems, but that there always have been, and are, and will be facts, or data, which, stated in terms of these different worlds by the individuals in whose experience they have appeared, can be recognised as identical; and that every world in which problems appear and are attacked by the experimental method is in such a sense a going concern that it can test hypothetical solutions. I have further insisted that as a scientist his goal in the pursuit of knowledge is not a final world but the solution of his problem in the world that is there.

There have existed two different attitudes toward these so-called facts or data. Because it has been assumed that old watchers of the heavens in the valley of Mesopotamia, and of Hipparchus, and of Tycho Brahe, and present astronomers possessed a certain identity, there has arisen a picture of the world made up of that which can be regarded as common to all, a picture made of abstractions. It is a picture through which we can look before and after and determine the date of Thales when he predicted an eclipse, and what eclipses will take place a thousand years hence. If we assign a metaphysical reality to these facts, then we reach a universe which has been the subject matter of popular and technical philosophies. If, on the other hand, we restrict ourselves to the determinations of experimental science, then we have nothing but the common indication of things and characters in a world that is there, an indication that abstracts from all but that which is there when a problematic situation has robbed it of some object and concentrates attention upon those characters and things which are the stimuli to mutually inhibiting responses. As I have already insisted, it is only in the experience of the individual, at some moment in that experience, that such a conflict can take place. Non-problematic things are there for everyone. But while these observations took place in individual experiences, in the experiences of those individuals for whom these problems arose, it is the assumption of experimental science that a like experience would have arisen for any other individual whose experience had been infected with the same problem and that, insofar as successive problems have involved identical problematic elements, it is possible to identify the same observation in the experience of different individuals.

The Mesopotamian soothsayer who had hit upon the succession of the eclipses and enshrined it in the Great Saros and the Greek astronomer who by a scientific explanation of the eclipses had worked out the same succession, and the modern Copernican astronomer who substitutes the motion of the earth in its orbit for that of the sun about the earth and dates these eclipses still more accurately, were all observing the same phenomenon. For each there was a different world that was there, but in these worlds there were actual or identical observations of individuals which connect these worlds with one another and enable the later thinker to take up into his own the worlds that have preceded his. The common content of these observations, by means of which different worlds are strung together in human history, depends upon the assumption that different individuals have had or would have the same experiences. So far as there is any universality in these contents, it goes back to an actual or implied indication of the same things and characters by different individuals, in the same or like situations, that is, it goes back to implications in regard to social behavior in inferential processes, especially to the social nature of the knowledge or evidential import of observation.

However, the experimental scientist, apart from some philosophic bias, is not a positivist. He has no inclination to build up a universe of such scientific data, which in their abstraction can be identified as parts of many different worlds. The reference of his data is always to the solution of problems in the world that is there about him, the world that tests the validity of his hypothetical reconstructions. Nothing would more completely squeeze the interest out of his world than the resolution of it into the data of observation.

2. The Objective Reality of Perspectives

THE grandiose undertaking of Absolute Idealism to bring the whole of reality within experience failed. It failed because it left the perspective of the finite ego hopelessly infected with subjectivity, and consequently unreal. From its point of view, the theoretical and practical life of the individual had no part in the creative advance of nature. It failed also because scientific method, with its achievements of discovery and invention, could find no adequate statement in its dialectic. It recognised the two dominant forces of modern life, the creative individual and creative science, only to abrogate them as falsifications of the experience of the absolute ego. The task remained unfulfilled, the task of restoring to nature the characters and qualities which a metaphysics of mind and a science of matter and motion had concurred in relegating to consciousness, and of finding such a place for mind in nature that nature could appear in experience. A constructive restatement of the problem was presented by a physiological and experimental psychology that fastened mind inextricably in an organic nature which both science and philosophy recognised. The dividend which philosophy declared upon this restatement is indicated in William James’s reasoned query, “Does Consciousness exist?” The metaphysical assault upon the dualism of mind and nature, that has been becoming every day more intolerable, has been made in regular formation by Bergson’s evolutionary philosophy, by neo-idealism, by neo-realism, and by pragmatism. And no one can say, as yet. that the position has been successfully carried.

I wish to call attention to two unconnected movements which seem to me to be approaching a strategic position of great importance — which may be called the objectivity of perspectives. These two movements are, first, that phase of behaviouristic psychology which is planting communication, thinking, and substantive meanings as inextricably within nature as biological psychology has placed general animal and human intelligence; and second, an aspect of the philosophy of relativism which Professor Whitehead has presented.

Professor Whitehead interprets relativity in terms of events passing in a four-dimensional Minkowski world. The order in which they pass, however, is relative to a consentient set. The consentient set is determined by its relation to a percipient event or organism. The percipient event establishes a lasting character of here and there, of now and then, and is itself an enduring pattern. The pattern repeats itself in the passage of events. These recurrent patterns are grasped together or prehended into a unity, which must have as great a temporal spread as the organism requires to be what it is, whether this period is found in the revolutions of the electrons in an iron atom or in the specious present of a human being. Such a percipient event or organism establishes a consentient set of patterns of events that endure in the relations of here and there, of now and then, through such periods or essential epochs, constituting thus slabs of nature. and differentiating space from time. This perspective of the organism is then there in nature. What in the perspective does not preserve the enduring character of here and there, is in motion. From the standpoint of some other organism these moving objects may be at rest, and what is here at rest will be, in the time system of this other perspective, in motion. In Professor Whitehead’s phrase, insofar as nature is patient of an organism, it is stratified into perspectives, whose intersections constitute the creative advance of nature. Professor Whitehead has with entire success stated the physical theory of relativity in terms of intersecting time systems.

What I wish to pick out of Professor Whitehead’s philosophy of nature is this conception of nature as an organisation of perspectives, which are there in nature. The conception of the perspective as there in nature is, in a sense, an unexpected donation by the most abstruse physical science to philosophy. They are not distorted perspectives of some perfect patterns, nor do they lie in consciousnesses as selections among things whose reality is to be found in a noumenal world. They are in their interrelationship the nature that science knows. Biology has dealt with them in terms of forms and their environments, and in ecology deals with the organisation of environments, but it has conceded a world of physical particles in absolute space and time that is there independent of any environment of an organism, of any perspective. Professor Whitehead generalises the conception of organism to include any unitary structure whose nature demands a period within which to be itself, which is therefore not only a spatial but also a temporal structure, or a process. Any such structure stratifies nature by its intersection into its perspective and differentiates its own permanent space and time from the general passage of events. Thus the world of the physical sciences is swept into the domain of organic environments, and there is no world of independent physical entities out of which the perspectives are merely selections. In the place of such a world appear all of the perspectives in their interrelationship to each other.

I do not wish to consider Professor Whitehead’s Bergsonian edition of Spinoza’s underlying substance that individualises itself in the structure of the events nor his Platonic heaven of eternal objects where lie the hierarchies of patterns that are there envisaged as possibilities and have ingression into events, but rather his Leibnizian filiation, as it appears in his conception of the perspective as the mirroring in the event of all other events.

Leibniz made a psychological process central in his philosophy of nature. The contents of his monads were psychical states, perceptions, and petites perceptions, which were inevitably representative of the rest of the reality of the universe of which they were but partially developed expressions. The represented content of all monads was identical, insofar as it was clear and distinct, so that the organisation of these perspectives was a harmony pre-established in an identity of rational content. Professor Whitehead’s principle of organisation of perspectives is not the representation of an identical content, but the intersection by different time systems of the same body of events. It is, of course, the abandonment of simple location as the principle of physical existence, that is, the existence of a physical object is found in its occupancy of a certain volume of absolute space in an instant of absolute time; and the taking of time seriously, that is, the recognition that there are an indefinite number of possible simultaneities of any event with other events, and consequently an indefinite number of possible temporal orders of the same events that make it possible to conceive of the same body of events as organised into an indefinite number of different perspectives.

Without undertaking to discuss Professor Whitehead’s doctrine of the prehension into the unity of the event of the aspects of other events, which I am unable to work out satisfactorily, from the summary statements I have found in his writings, I wish to consider the conception of a body of events as the organisation of different perspectives of these events from the standpoint of the field of social science, and that of behaviouristic psychology.

In the first place, this seems to be exactly the subject matter of any social science. The human experience with which social science occupies itself is primarily that of individuals. It is only so far as the happenings, the environmental conditions, the values, their uniformities and laws enter into the experience of individuals as individuals that they become the subject of consideration by these sciences. Environmental conditions, for example, exist only insofar as they affect actual individuals, and only as they affect these individuals. The laws of these happenings are but the statistical uniformities of the happenings to and in the experiences of A, B, C, and D. Furthermore the import of these happenings and these values must be found in the experiences of these individuals if they are to exist for these sciences at all.

In the second place, it is only insofar as the individual acts not only in his own perspective but also in the perspective of others, especially in the common perspective of a group, that a society arises and its affairs become the object of scientific inquiry. The limitation of social organisation is found in the inability of individuals to place themselves in the perspectives of others, to take their points of view. I do not wish to belabour the point, which is commonplace enough, but to suggest that we find here an actual organisation of perspectives, and that the principle of it is fairly evident. This principle is that the individual enters into the perspectives of others, insofar as he is able to take their attitudes, or occupy their points of view.

But while the principle is a commonplace for social conduct, its implications are very serious if one accepts the objectivity of perspectives and recognises that these perspectives are made up of other selves with minds; that here is no nature that can be closed to mind. The social perspective exists in the experience of the individual insofar as it is intelligible, and it is its intelligibility that is the condition of the individual entering into the perspectives of others, especially of the group. In the field of any social science the objective data are those experiences of the individuals in which they take the attitude of the community, that is, in which they enter into the perspectives of the other members of the community. Of course, the social scientist can generalise from the standpoint of his universe of discourse what remains hopelessly subjective in the experiences of another community, as the psychologist can interpret what for the individual is an unintelligible feeling. I am speaking not from the standpoint of the epistemologist, nor that of the metaphysician. I am asking simply what is objective for the social scientist, what is the subject matter of his science, and I wish to point out that the critical scientist is only replacing the narrower social perspectives of other communities by that of a more highly organised and hence more universal community.

It is instructive to note that never has the character of that common perspective changed more rapidly than since we have gained further control over the technique by which the individual perspective becomes the perspective of the most universal community, that of thinking men, that is, the technique of the experimental method. We are deluded, by the ease with which we can, by what may be fairly called transformation formulae, translate the experience of other communities into that of our own, into giving finality to the perspective of our own thought; but a glance at the bewildering rapidity with which different histories, that is, different pasts have succeeded each other, and new physical universes have arisen, is sufficient to assure us that no generation has been so uncertain as to what will be the common perspective of the next. We have never been so uncertain as to what are the values which economics undertakes to define, what are the political rights and obligations of citizens, what are the community values of friendship, of passion, of parenthood, of amusement, of beauty, of social solidarity in its unnumbered forms or of those values which have been gathered under the relations of man to the highest community or to God. On the other hand, there has never been a time at which men could determine so readily the conditions under which values, whatever they are, can be secured. In terms of common conditions, by transformation formulae, we can pass from one value field to another, and thus come nearer finding out which is more valuable, or rather how to conserve each. The common perspective is comprehensibility, and comprehensibility is the statement in terms of common social conditions.

It is the relation of the individual perspective to the common perspective that is of importance. To the biologist, there is a common environment of an anthill or of a beehive, which is rendered possible by the intricate social relationships of the ants and the bees. It is entirely improbable that this perspective exists in the perspectives of individual ants or bees, for there is no evidence of communication. Communication is a social process whose natural history shows that it arises out of co-operative activities, such as those involved in sex, parenthood, fighting, herding, and the like, in which some phase of the act of one form, which can be called a gesture, acts as a stimulus to others to carry on their parts of the social act. It does not become communication in the full sense, that is, the stimulus does not become a significant symbol, until the gesture tends to arouse the same response in the individual who makes it that it arouses in the others. The history of the growth of language shows that in its earlier stages, the vocal gesture addressed to another awakens in the individual who makes the gesture not simply the tendency to the response which it calls forth in the other, such as the seizing of a weapon or the avoiding of a danger, but primarily the social role which the other plays in the co-operative act. This is indicated in the early play period in the development of the child, and in the richness in social implication of language structures in the speech of primitive peoples.

In the process of communication, the individual is an other before he is a self. It is in addressing himself in the role of an other that his self arises in experience. The growth of the organised game out of simple play in the experience of the child and of organised group activities in human society, placed the individual then in a variety of roles insofar as these were parts of the social act, and the very organisation of these in the whole act gave them a common character in indicating what he had to do. The individual is able then to become a generalised other in addressing himself in the attitude of the group or the community. In this situation, he has become a definite self over against the social whole to which he belongs. This is the common perspective. It exists in the organisms of all the members of the community, because the physiological differentiation of human forms belongs largely to the consummatory phase of the act.

The overt phase within which social organisation takes place is occupied with things, physical things or implements. In the societies of the invertebrates, which have indeed a complexity comparable with human societies, the organisation is largely dependent upon physiological differentiation. In such a society, evidently, there is no phase of the act of the individual in which he can find himself taking the attitude of the other. Physiological differentiation, apart from the direct relations of sex and parent hood, plays no part in the organisation of human society. The mechanism of human society is that of bodily selves who assist or hinder each other in their co-operative acts by the manipulation of physical things. In the earliest forms of society these physical things are treated as selves, that is, those social responses, which we can all detect in ourselves to inanimate things which aid or hinder us, are dominant among primitive peoples in the social organisation that depends on the use of physical means. The primitive man keeps en rapport with implements and weapons by conversation in the form of magic rites and ceremonies. On the other hand, the bodily selves of members of the social group are as clearly implemental as the implements are social. Social beings are things as definitely as physical things are social.

The key to the genetic development of human intelligence is found in the recognition of these two aspects. It arises in those early stages of communication in which the organism arouses in itself the attitude of the other and so addresses itself and thus becomes an object to itself, becomes in other words a self, while the same sort of content in the act constitutes the other that constitutes the self. Out of this process thought arises, that is, conversation with one’s self, in the role of the specific other and then in the role of the generalised other, in the fashion I indicated above. It is important to recognise that the self does not project itself into the other. The others and the self arise in the social act together. The content of the act may be said to lie within the organism, but it is projected into the other only in the sense in which it is projected into the self, a fact upon which the whole of psychoanalysis rests. We pinch ourselves to be sure that we are awake as we grasp an object to be sure that it is there. The other phase of human intelligence is that it is occupied with physical things. Physical things are perceptual things. They also arise within the act. This is initiated by a distant stimulus and leads through approximation or withdrawal to contact or the avoidance of contact. The outcome of the act is in consummation, for example, as in eating, but in the behaviour of the human animal a mediate stage of manipulation intervenes. The hand fashions the physical or perceptual thing. The perceptual thing is fully there in the manipulatory area, where it is both seen and felt, where is found both the promise of the contact and its fulfilment, for it is characteristic of the distant stimulation and the act that it initiates that there are already aroused the attitudes of manipulation — what I will call terminal attitudes of the perceptual act, that readiness to grasp, to come into effective contact, which in some sense control the approach to the distant stimulation. It is in the operation with these perceptual or physical things which lie within the physiological act short of consummation that the peculiar human intelligence is found. Man is an implemental animal. It is mediate to consummation. The hand carries the food to the mouth, or the child to the breast, but in the social act this mediation becomes indefinitely complicated, and the task arises of stating the consummation, or the end, in terms of means. There are two conditions for this: one is the inhibition, which takes place when conflicting ways of completing the act cheek the expression of any one way, and the other is the operation of the social mechanism, which I have described, by which the individual can indicate to others and to himself the perceptual things that can be seized and manipulated and combined. It is within this field of implemental things picked out by the significant symbols of gesture, not in that of physiological differentiation, that the complexities of human society have developed. And, to recur to my former statement, in this field selves are implemental physical things just as among primitive peoples physical things are selves.

My suggestion was that we find in society and social experience, interpreted in terms of a behaviouristic psychology, an instance of that organisation of perspectives, which is for me at least the most obscure phase of Professor Whitehead’s philosophy. In his objective statement of relativity the existence of motion in the passage of events depends not upon what is taking place in an absolute space and time, but upon the relation of a consentient set to a percipient event. Such a relation stratifies nature. These stratifications are not only there in nature but they are the only forms of nature that are there. This dependence of nature upon the percipient event is not a reflection of nature into consciousness. Permanent spaces and times, which are successions of these strata, rest and motion, are there, but they are there only in their relationship to percipient events or organisms. We can then go further and say that the sensuous qualities of nature are there in nature, but there in their relationship to animal organisms. We can advance to the other values which have been regarded as dependent upon appetence, appreciation, and affection, and thus restore to nature all that a dualistic doctrine has relegated to consciousness, since the spatio-temporal structure of the world and the motion with which exact physical science is occupied is found to exist in nature only in its relationship to percipient events or organisms.

But rest and motion no more imply each other than do objectivity and subjectivity. There are perspectives which cease to be objective, such as the Ptolemaic order, since it does not select those consentient sets with the proper dynamical axes, and there are those behind the mirror and those of an alcoholic brain. What has happened in all of these instances, from the most universal to the most particular, is that the rejected perspective fails to agree with that common perspective which the individual finds himself occupying as a member of the community of minds, which is constitutive of his self. This is not a case of the surrender to a vote of the majority, but the development of another self through its intercourse with others and hence with himself.

What I am suggesting is that this process, in which a perspective ceases to be objective, becomes if you like, subjective, and in which new common minds and new common perspectives arise, and is an instance of the organisation of perspectives in nature, of the creative advance of nature. This amounts to the affirmation that mind as it appears in the mechanism of social conduct is the organisation of perspectives in nature and at least a phase of the creative advance of nature. Nature in its relationship to the organism, and including the organism, is a perspective that is there. A state of mind of the organism is the establishment of simultaneity between the organism and a group of events through the arrest of action under inhibition as above described. This arrest of action means the tendencies within the organism to act in conflicting ways in the completion of the whole act. The attitude of the organism calls out or tends to call out responses in other organisms, which responses, in the case of human gesture, the organism calls out in itself, and thus excites itself to respond to these responses. It is the identification of these responses with the distant stimuli that establishes simultaneity, that gives insides to these distant stimuli, and a self to the organism. Without such an establishment of simultaneity, these stimuli are spatio-temporally distant from the organism and their reality lies in the future of passage. The establishment of simultaneity wrenches this future reality into a possible present, for all our presents beyond the manipulatory area are only possibilities, as respects their perceptual reality. We are acting toward the future realisation of the act, as though it were present, because the organism is taking the role of the other. In the perceptual inanimate object, the organic content that survives is the resistance that the organism both feels and exerts in the manipulatory area. The actual spatio-temporal structure of passing events with those characters which answer to the susceptibilities of the organism are there in nature, but they are temporally as well as spatially away from the organism. The reality awaits upon the success of the act. Present reality is a possibility. It is what would be if we were there instead of here. Through the social mechanism of significant symbols, the organism places itself there as a possibility, which acquires increasing probability as it fits into the spatio-temporal structure and the demands of the whole complex act of which its conduct is a part. But the possibility is there in nature, for it is made up of actual structures of events and their contents and the possible realisations of the acts in the form of adjustments and readjustments of the processes involved. When we view them as possibilities, we call them mental or working hypotheses.

I submit that the only instance we have of prehension in experience is this holding together of future and past as possibilities — for all pasts are as essentially subject to revision as the futures, and are, therefore, only possibilities — and the common content which endures is that which is common to the organism and environment in the perspective. This in the organism is identified with the spatio-temporally distant stimuli as a possibly real present, past, and future. The unity lies in the act or process, the prehension is the exercise of this unity, when the process has been checked through conflicting tendencies, and the conditions and results of these tendencies are held as possibilities in a specious present.

Thus the social and psychological process is but an instance of what takes place in nature, if nature is an evolution, that is, if it proceeds by reconstruction in the presence of conflicts, and if, therefore, possibilities of different reconstructions are present, reconstructing its pasts as well as its futures. It is the relativity of time, that is, an indefinite number of possible orders of events, that introduces possibility in nature. When there was but one recognised order of. nature, possibility had no other place than in the mental constructions of the future or the incompletely known past. But the reality of a spatio-temporally distant situation lies ahead and any present existence of it beyond the manipulatory area can be only a possibility. Certain characters are there, but what things they are can only be realised when the acts these distant stimulations arouse are completed. What they are now is represented by a set of possible spatio-temporal structures. That these future realisations appear as present possibilities is due to the arrest of the act of the organism and its ability to indicate these possibilities.

That these possibilities have varying degrees of probability is due to the relation of the various inhibited tendencies in the organism to the whole act. The organisation of this whole act, the human social organism can indicate to others and to itself. It has the pattern which determines other selves and physical things, and the organism as a self and a thing, and the meanings which are indicated have the universality of the whole community to which the organism belongs. They constitute a universe of discourse. It is the fitting in of the particular tendencies into this larger pattern of the whole process that constitutes the probability of the present existence of the things which any one act implies.

Its full reality is still dependent upon the accomplishment of the act, upon experimental evidence. It is then such a coincidence of the perspective of the individual organism with the pattern of the whole act in which it is so involved that the organism can act within it that constitutes the objectivity of the perspective.

The pattern of the whole social act can lie in the individual organism because it is carried out through implemental things to which any organism can react and because indications of these reactions to others and the organism itself can be made by significant symbols. The reconstruction of the pattern can take place in the organism, and does take place in the so-called conscious process of mind. The psychological process is an instance of the creative advance of nature.

In living forms lower than man, the distant perspective may through sensitivity exist in the experience of the form and the grasping of this in the adjustments of conduct answer to the formation of the stratification of nature, but the reconstruction of the pattern within which the life of the organism lies does not fall within the experience of the organism. In inanimate organisms, the maintenance of a temporal structure, that is, of a process, still stratifies nature, and gives rise to spaces and times, but neither they, nor the entities that occupy them, enter as experiential facts into the processes of the organisms. The distinction of objectivity and subjectivity can only arise where the pattern of the larger process, within which lies the process of the individual organism, falls in some degree within the experience of the individual organism, that is, it belongs only to the experience of the social organism.