Essay Mead

The Philosophy of the Act

Essay I  Stages in the Act: Preliminary Statement

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ALL perception involves an immediate sensuous stimulation and an attitude toward this stimulation, which is that of the reaction of the individual to the stimulation. This reaction, in so far as the perception does not go out into instantaneous overt activity, appears in consciousness only as an attitude, but as such it is the first stage in the complete response or group of responses which the stimulation in question calls out. Furthermore, there accompanies this attitude of the response some imagery which is taken from past experiences in which the responses have been carried out, leading to the final experiences to which such a stimulation naturally leads. That is, a perception as such involves not only an attitude of response to the stimulation but also the imagery of the result of the response. A perception has in it, therefore, all the elements of an act —the stimulation, the response represented by the attitude, and the ultimate experience which follows upon the reaction, represented by the imagery arising out of past reactions.

Perception, however, must not be regarded simply from the standpoint of presentation, the presence of material. It is, even taken by itself and ignoring its relation toward later movement, a process of sensing under the conditions noted above, i.e., the conscious attitude of response, and the imagery of the result of the response. The process of sensing is itself an activity. In the case of vision this is most evidently the case. Here the movement of the eyes, the focusing of the lens, and the adjustment of the lines of vision of the two eyes require a complicated ac-

(4) -tivity which is further complicated by the movements of the eyes which will bring the rays of light coming from all parts of the object upon the center of clearest vision. The process of perceiving an object through the eyes (and this may be called the normal perception, since our perception through other organs of sense is so largely mediated through the imagery of vision itself) is thus an activity of considerable proportions. The perception by the hand is also one that involves such movement in the exploratory processes of hand and fingers and the movements of the skin. Hearing involves at least the fixing of the head (and the whole body as the basis for the movement of the head) and the innervation of the minute muscles which stretch the eardrum. Smelling involves the drawing of the air over the olfactory surfaces by means of the processes of inspiration plus the placing of the head in such a position as to make the smelling most effective. Tasting, in so far as it is to be distinguished from tactual perception, involves the bringing of the fluids of the mouth in continually changing contact with the taste buds through the processes of mastication. In normal perception, however, all the processes of hearing, smelling, tasting, and temperature-feeling are referred to some presentation of vision as that which is the source of the stimulations of the other senses. In the case of those congenitally blind or who have lost the imagery of vision, the imagery to which the sounds, odors, tastes, feels of temperature and touch are referred is that of the auditory, tactual, and in some degree, the temperature senses, which reveal the presence of an object at a distance. The sensing of the object as so located that the organism takes a definite attitude toward it, involving possible movement toward or away from the object, is thus a part of the process of perception.

Furthermore, the adjustment of the organism to the stimulation, as well as the movement of the body and its sense organs so that the process of stimulation may continue to the best advantage, involves an analysis of the stimulation. Back of each new content of stimulation lies a different attitude of response, interpreting this phase of the stimulation, and about

(5) these new attitudes gather the imagery of the past experiences which have accompanied such responses. The relation of these images to the analytical processes of sensing is of peculiar interest. It is the field of selective attention, and what we note in the process is that under these circumstances we are not simply subject to new stimulations but there is present the attitude of looking or feeling or smelling or tasting, which as active picks out certain characters of the field of stimulation. The mechanism of this selection is frequently found in the anticipatory presentation of the object which is of importance. These images are not by any means always consciously present. They are most evident when we are definitely looking for an object, when we are hearing a tone out of a clang, or detecting an odor which we are able in some degree to hold definitely in consciousness.

Between such consciously recognizable images and the attitude of hunger in which the system is predisposed by physiological conditions to be sensitive to certain stimulations there may be many degrees. In common perception this is most readily identified as a consciousness of familiarity with the characters which our process of sensing brings out. On the one hand, this familiarity may seem quite passive and merely to register the fact that we are ready to react to these features of the stimulation; on the other, the process becomes active when we are in that state which we are accustomed to call "curiosity." The characteristic of curiosity is found not simply in the restless process of sensing but in an excitation of the responses of the system to the stimulations received. The hunger for novelty is never a mere readiness to receive new stimulation or a search for that which is merely new. Novelty is always a fashion, a fad of some sort, with a very definite selection implied. The most striking illustration of this is found in the comparatively narrow fields within which the sensationalism of newspapers will run. Nothing is more striking to one who assumes that we are curious in regard to mere novelty than the very meager list of subjects which an experienced newspaperman recognizes as carrying with them the quality of news. We complain not of the richness

(6) of material which our sensational papers present but of the wearisome reiteration of the murders, scandals, and war scares which a popular taste seems to demand. Fresh stimulations of a slightly different nature from those to which the public is accustomed are demanded, but the field within which these stimulations may be sought is distressingly circumscribed. The explanation of this is to be found in a physical condition in which certain types of responses are stimulated, and through their stimulation render the reader peculiarly susceptible to the stimulation which will call out the response. While the detailed content of this stimulation soon loses its power of answering to this attitude of readiness to respond, the type of response remains the same, and the individual craves a new form of stimulation for the same sort of response. The psychology of ennui and of satiation, so far as it is wearying, is found in the irritability of certain types of response and the wearing-out of the particular stimulations which have aroused them. What is sought under these conditions are novelties in the form of the stimulation, not in the whole activity.


The situation out of which the difficulty, the problem, springs is a lack of adjustment between the individual and his world. The response does not answer to the demands which gave the stimulus its power over the organism. The object was there for the individual, but it has ceased to be the object that it was. The contents that were there as object, in so far as they fail to answer to the response, are referred to the individual-not the original individual, for the original individual has no part in the object; it is simply there for him. And yet the object is different for each individual, owing to his perspective And his possibility of response to the object. There are certain values selected out of the object not only by the sensuous avenues of approach but also by his past experience of the object. Even for the perceiving individual in immediate experience there is an object which represents him as distinguished from other

(7) individuals and as distinguished from the same individual under other conditions. Any object is thus always an expression of a peculiar relation between itself and the individual, but it is an objective relation. The character of the individual selects out of the object as it exists what answers to the nature of the individual in his present attitude a selection which answers both to his immediate sensitivities and to his experience. The material which failed to call out the appropriate response and that which was found in the object as that which would have answered to the response which has been inhibited-these remain and, with the appearance of a self, are referred to that self.

That is, the characteristic of what is referred to the self, what is in the mind, is that it is not a thing, though it had the character of a thing. It has failed to call out the response which gives the stamp of reality to experiences. It could, and in the experience of the lower animals it presumably does, disappear, while readjustments take place in a trial-and-error fashion.

That it does not disappear in the conduct of the human animal is sufficient evidence that its retention in experience serves a purpose, or at least does some good. Its new function is indicated in the attitude assumed toward it as contrasted with that which is assumed toward things. The attitude which we, and all forms called intelligent, take toward things is that of overt or delayed response. The attitude which we take toward the contents of mind in their relation to the world is that of explanation. From the standpoint of future conduct explanation is such a reconstruction of the object, toward which conduct has failed to elicit the proper response, that this defeat may be avoided in the future. That is, explanation is substituting another object, with which we will be en rapport, for that which confessed its unreality in the experimental test of conduct. The goat of this reconstruction is that of bringing out the other aspects of the object beside that which has led to defeat, and so co-ordinating them that the inhibition, which was the evidence of defeat, may cease and conduct may go on. The method is that of referring the invalidated aspects of the object to the individual

(8) in the form of the self. This can take place only when the individual has become an object to himself through the use of those gestures which can affect himself as they affect others, and only in so far as the individual acts toward himself as another , that is, takes the role of another toward himself. There is here the implication that, in the experience of the object by the individual, what is not object must be individual. It is the appearance of the self that makes it possible to carry out this implication, e.g., he indicates to himself his seeing an object at a certain distance with the object actually at another distance. In this fashion the false character of the object gets a local habitation and a name as the experience of the individual, and the true characters as tested by successful conduct are placed under this reflective attitude as in the same category; while the task of re~ organizing the object so that the individual with both tendencies (those to react unsuccessfully and successfully) may continue to act becomes that of so envisaging the object that conduct may go on. This attitude carries with it the implication that what was unreal may become real through reconstruction. As unreal, it is mere experience of the individual; as real, it becomes part of the object.



Perception is a relation between a highly developed physiological organism and an object, or an environment in which selection emphasizes certain elements. This relation involves a duration and a process. The process is that of action through media which affect the sense organs of the biologic individual. The process takes time and the effect produced upon the organism is later than the disturbance of the medium and still later than the influence of the object upon the medium. The customary interpretation of this statement identifies the perception with the effect within the organism, regarding these bodily effects as significant of the things that have mediately affected them, justifying this significance by the fact that any object or

(9) event such as an organism is significant of the rest of nature and therefore of the particular objects which are involved in the process of perception; the selection of this particular object being due to the sensitiveness of the organism to the relation, one relatum of which is found in the nervous excitement within the organism.

This overcondensed statement implies a nature which is in so far given that the objects which arouse the activity in the media, the sense organs, the central nervous system, and the motor apparatus of response are all within the field of experience. They are all the preconditions for the analysis of perception into these parts. The chair that is perceived is not there before the influence exerted on the medium, or before the waves in that medium. They are all simultaneously there, and this simultaneous presence is essential to the explanation which relates the succeeding stages of the perception. Even the objects which lie beyond the range of immediate experience are brought within that field by an extension of the field so that they are regarded as simultaneously there as a basis for the explanation of our knowledge of them. What is involved in the explanation is the bringing into relation of objects which are all there. Even when that to be explained is a process, the objects which are related in the process are there for the observation that explains them. That is, perceptual objects are assumed as given for the explanation of perception. It is evident, then, that the explanation that is given is not of the perceptual objects which are used in the explanation of perception. Rather, given a world of perceptual objects, we are determining what are the particular conditions Linder which a certain perception takes place. It is true that any of the perceptual objects which are parts of this perceptual world might he subject to a like explanation, or, rather, we might state the conditions under which any perceptual object may appear, but in making such a statement we must presuppose a perceptual world within which this explanation takes place. What this amounts to is that the so-called explanation, or statement of conditions of the perception,

(10) is not the perception itself, nor can the statement of the conditions of perception take the place of the perceptual objects. The analysis with its statement abstracts from the particular perception and leaves us, therefore, without this particular object of perception. It is, however, in terms of other perceptual objects.

The further implication of this statement is that the explanation, or statement of the conditions of perception, is in reality a statement of the method of discovering what the actual object of perception is. It cannot be a theory of perception, since we must assume objects of perception in order that we may state the theory; nor can it be an explanation of the perception of a particular object, for any explanation of a particular act would be also an explanation of any and all acts of perception. What we do actually in making such a statement of the conditions of perception of a particular object is to enable ourselves to identify a specific object and determine what the nature of the perceived object is. For this purpose we abstract from characters which inhere in particular objects and their situations and fasten our attention upon what is uniform in all objects and in all processes of perception. This enables us to identify the object of perception in its relation to the whole field and to account for the illusions of sense perception, such as reflected and refracted objects.


The unsophisticated person finds nothing contradictory in regarding red as a character of an object for the normal eye and some shade of yellow as the character of the same object to the color-blind eye. In each case the color is assumed to he a character of the object, though there seems to be here an ascription of two different qualities to the same object-and qualities which exclude each other. In explaining the seeming contradiction, the individual would refer to the difference in the vision of the two eyes, thus implying that the quality in question involves the structure of the object, the passage of light waves, and the

(11) reaction of the organism. This explanation does not make of the quality a relation. It assumes simply that the field within which the quality arises is not simply that of the structure of the object but is sufficiently enlarged so that it includes the medium and the affected organism. This does not define the quality as a relation any more than does the recognition that there are in the structure of the object parts related to one another as the conditions for the existence of the color. The identity of the object with these differing characters refers to certain identical characters, especially those of spatial and temporal position and those of contact experience. The goal of such an identification of the object as the same in the experience of both the normal and the abnormal individual will be a statement of the grounds for the color differences in terms of characters which are identical. The same theory that describes normal vision must describe abnormal vision, but such a theory does not take either the yellow or the red color off from the object any more than the interposition of colored glasses between the object and the eye deprives the object of the color.

The question whether a certain object has a certain color or not (or any other character) arises only when the conduct which the characters of the object call out does or does not reach a successful conclusion. Up to this moment the object as it exists in the complex situation including object, medium, and organism is simply there, and is what it is. If the colors and sharpness of outline lead to a twenty minutes' excursion to a mountain that is ten miles distant, we consider the perception deceptive without questioning the fact that in the complex situation of object and organism such an object was there with its characters. If the inability to distinguish between the colors of two objects which are different to the vision of others leads the individual to recognize that his visual apparatus is different from that of others, he does not question that in his situation the object was there with the particular shade which he recognized. What is done in each of these instances is to take those characters which hold both for the immediate perception and for later conduct,

(12) for his visual apparatus and that of others, and identify the object. If in such an identification the conditions for the different characters ascribed to the same object can be harmoniously stated, the whole situation is taken into account.

It is only when this question has arisen that knowledge as such appears as an element in the experience. Otherwise the individual's perspective is simply the reality that is there. Such a selection of characters which are identical for all experience, or nearly so, and are identical for all individuals gives us the scientific object. They constitute an object of knowledge. The immediate perception is simply there and not an object of awareness or knowledge except as some question as to conduct or agreement with the perceptions of others arises to lead us to reflect upon it. It should be noted further that the whole method and apparatus of scientific analysis and experiment imply an unquestioned world of perception surrounding and validating the results of scientific procedure.


The object in perception is a distant object. It invites us to action with reference to it, and that action leads to results which generally accomplish the act as a biological undertaking. This does not necessarily imply past experience. In the case of young infants and certain lower animal forms, notably insects, actions which perception invites may lead to successful conclusions which cannot have been experienced.

It will be objected that these perceptions, notably perceptions of touch, are not distant objects. The reply to this objection is that the object perceived through contact experience is such only in so far as it possesses an outline and position with reference to the whole environment which give it the character of a distant object. The distance perception is, not necessarily that of vision or sound. It may be even that of tactile experience and the bodily experiences that go with this. For example, in a dark room one may with an outstretched arm locate the article of furniture which one wishes to avoid in moving through

(13) the apartment. The tactile response to currents of air and changes in temperature may reveal the distant object. In any case, however, the object in perception is an integral part of the environment. Perception focuses this whole in the object. Thus the tactile experience of a distant object provokes an action which gets its implied value in an ultimate contact experience. It may be that the seeming experience sought is not a contact experience. It may be that the seeming satisfaction of the suggested act is found in the sight of a face or the sound of a voice. Yet these perceptual experiences still have a reality behind them that, if pushed to the limit, would demand action that culminated in some contact experience. The "what a perceptual thing is" is found in the contact experience alone, but it is a contact experience which is the last term in an act which originates with an experience of something distant, though this distant experience may be found in the action of any sense, even that of touch.

There is a further objection that may be advanced against this statement. It is that many of the experiences in a perceptual environment are not of things in the sense here indicated. A sound may be heard, an odor sensed, or a temperature felt which is not located. We seem to have no definite location in perception toward which possible action is directed. Whitehead has referred to these contents as sense awarenesses rather than perceptions. I find in these experiences only indefiniteness of location, not an absence of it. They still belong to the perceptual environment and still imply possible location and identification with a something that could, if the conduct suggested by the experience were fully carried out, bring us into contact with something to be realized in contact experience, though this something were only the definite air waves or chemical substances floating in the atmosphere. The difference is only one of degree in definiteness of location and subtlety of the thing perceived.

There are two different attitudes which we assume toward these perceptual objects as parts of an organized environment.

(14) In the attitude of immediate experience the object as seen and then as felt is simply there. In this experience the individual may see and feel portions of his own organism, and these are simply parts of the whole perceptual field. In this immediate experience the distance characters of the object are not translated into contact terms. It is true that the reality of the seen object will be tested if need be by the completion of the acts which distance perception invites; but when the object is actually in the hand, it does not thereby lose its color or odor or sound, nor are these characters translated into contact terms. If one grasps a dimly seen friend in the twilight to be sure he is there, his seen color and form do not disappear in the contact experience. Nor would he be tempted to ascribe what he had seen to some process going on within his nervous system. He realizes that the eyes must be open and the hand in actual contact if the experience is to take place, but this fact does not lead him to locate the experience in a consciousness situated in his head or elsewhere. The perceiving individual in the experience is simply at the center of the perceptual field, located perhaps at the cyclopean eye, or in the throat, or in the chest. The rest of the organism is part of the field which he may see or feel but is not the effective center of perception. The reality of the object is what is seen or heard and actually or possibly felt, but keeping all its characters in the perception.

The second attitude, that of reflective analysis, does resolve the whole field, including the organism, into physical elements which could conceivably be the objects in a hypothetical perception; that is, their characters of location, effective occupation of space, inertia, and motion are those characters which appear in actual contact experience as the ultimate reality of objects in perception. This analysis substitutes for the color, sound, odor, taste, temperature, and even the feel of the object, structures and motions which cannot be any of the characters which they undertake to account for. This is true even of the contact experience, though the physical elements into which this analysis resolves things are those of contact experience.

(15) The actual contact experience, however, cannot be the characters of these physical elements, for their structure and motions are the preconditions for the experience itself. There are in these propositions two different implications which need to be carefully distinguished. It is certainly true that what is the precondition of an experience cannot be the experience itself. Thus the hardness of a stone may be said to be the precondition of John Smith's experiencing that hardness. The hardness that John Smith experiences is in some measure different from that which is experienced by James Brown. In this sense the color of the book as it exists before it comes to the eyes of John Smith, or before the eyes of anyone, is a precondition of its being experienced. In this sense it may well be that matter as effectively occupying space, its resistance, its inertia, its mobility, as we experience these characters, belong to matter in finer divisions than those which we actually do or could experience, and these particles could still be the preconditions of the existence of the physical bodies which we do experience and also the preconditions of our own organisms which are necessarily involved in this experience. We could not experience the characters of matter which are the preconditions of the actual experience which we have. In the first place, these particles of matter with their characters must have been there in advance of our experiencing them, even assuming an imaginable experience of these particles with these same characters, and, in the second place, the actual experience of these characters is in any particular case in some sense different from that which we could have in any other case. We could still ascribe to matter in its finer divisions, which enter into the structure of bodies which we experience and into the structure of our own bodies, the characters which we ascribe to matter in our actual experience of it. This is the assumption of the physicist when he thinks that he has attached an electron to an oil drop. He has added inertia, increased the volume of the whole, and the mobility of the whole includes that of the electron. The other implication, which does not apply to this case of the fundamental characters

(16) of matter, is this: that distance experience of any sort is of a different sort from that of ultimate contact and that the ultimate reality of the distance experience is to be found in that of contact experience. The physical explanation of the so-called secondary characters of bodies in terms of the so-called primary characters is, then, but an elaboration of the test of the reality which we may apply to any thing seen at a distance, i.e., actually handling it. In the elaboration of the test we extend the statement in terms of contact experience to the body at a distance and to the media by which the relation of the body and the organism is effected, thus obtaining an exact scientific statement of the controllable conditions under which the distance experience arises.

The reality of the distance experience, or of the object as experienced at a distance, or of its characters as those of a body at a distance, does not disappear even in this reflective analysis. The test of the completion of the act does not remove the reality of the distance characters of the object.



The perceptual object is primarily the organization of the immediate environment with reference to the organism. Perception here has no other significance than that of the sense apparatus in its adjustment to the environment, in its function in selection of the stimulation needed for the reaction of the organism through its relation to the central nervous system, and in its calling-out of the appropriate response. The "what" of the object is, then, the expression of the whole of which both environment and organism are essential parts. If the function of perception In Its immediacy were that of knowledge, it would be necessary to add to this object as it exists for the organism a capacity for awareness located in the organism. There seem to be two reasons for the assumption of this awareness. One is found in the reflective process in which knowing the perceptual object becomes a definite part of conduct, and the other is found

(17) in the identification of the organism with the social self. The process of identifying the object and correcting our attitudes in the presence of unsuccessful conduct through the use of significant symbols (social in origin) in inner conversation is itself only a form of conduct, and as conduct is as immediate as any other type. In its reference to the object which is being analyzed and reconstructed it is mediate, and in its imagery of past and future conduct it sets up a field of experience which is in sharp contrast with that of the surrounding world of perceptual objects. When we refer the perceptual world to the social self that functions in this reflective process, there has been postulated a consciousness which is the receptacle of the immediate perception. In making this assumption, we overlook the fact that reflection presupposes the immediate world as given and that the self arises within social conduct within this field. What has further confirmed thought in this assumption has been the appearance of the scientific object, which is not the object of immediate experience and yet has been regarded as the reality of that object. Thus the object of immediate perception has been placed in consciousness, as the experience of this social self, while the real object is placed outside experience, revealed only by thought.

The beginning of this separation of the object of immediate experience from the scientific object was found in the distinction between the primary and the secondary qualities. The primary qualities were those of extension, solidity, and motion; the secondary were those of color, sound, odor, taste, and temperature. The real object was that which existed and moved in space and time, occupying space to the exclusion of other things, while the other characters of the object were conceived as states of consciousness of the self or soul. There were two powerfully contributing considerations to this distinction. One was found in the fact that both the organism and the environment could be stated in terms of these primary qualities as a socalled fundamental matter. The second was the fact that it was possible to state the conditions in terms of matter and motion

(18) under which the secondary qualities arose. It became possible to regard the secondary qualities as effects produced in consciousness by the action on the organism of matter in motion. This still left extended inert matter in motion both in and out of consciousness. Locke and, later, the Scottish school assumed that there was an immediate awareness of this, while the secondary qualities were given only in presentation. Berkeley's and Hume's analysis easily showed that there was no passage from consciousness to an object outside consciousness in the case of the primary qualities if this passage had been denied in the case of the secondary qualities; and the Mills formulated the doctrine that our knowledge was solely of states of consciousness and that a world outside these was purely an assumption. In the meantime scientific analysis had carried the structure of matter far beyond the range of any immediate experience, and the mathematical analysis of space and time had substituted a conceptual space and time for that of immediate experience. Thus the real world was conceived of as made up of elements which by definition could not be objects of immediate experience, while the action of these elements was supposed to be the causes of the conscious experience, immediate and mediate. The scientist still uncritically assumed that the space and time of his experimental science was that of ultimate reality and that the elements of matter were but minute portions of the extended things of immediate experience. Thus we have been left with what has been called a "bifurcated nature." Its reality was found in the motions of physical particles endowed with inertia and exhibiting varying forces in their motions. With whatever epistemological justification, this matter and its motions seemed to belong to immediate experience, or could be so conceived -- at least all observation and experimentation went upon this assumption. But the color, sound, taste, odor, and temperature of this world was lodged in a consciousness. The most convincing justification for this division has been found in the statement of the scientific object. This object in its structure and in the effects which it produces on the or-

(19) -ganism directly, but chiefly through media, is conceived of as the cause of the secondary qualities. It could, therefore, not have these qualities themselves. Surfaces which reflect waves of ether cannot themselves be colored, since they are the preconditions of the experience of color. Extension and solidity may exist both in and out of consciousness; but color and sound, being caused by the action of extended things, cannot inhere in the things. This position is, of course, entirely uncritical. If physical objects must be thought of as the causes of color, sound, odor, etc., through their action directly or indirectly upon the nervous system, they must also be thought of as direct or indirect causes of the consciousness of extension, duration, and solidity in so far as these are characters of things; but physical theory seems itself to have already left immediate experience in its minute subdivisions of matter into molecules, atoms, and electrons, although for the imagination of the physicist these physical elements are nothing but smaller and smaller bits of the matter which he has under his hand. However, though these minute particles could not themselves be experienced and in their combinations are thought of as the causes of the sensations of extended, inert matter, pressure, and force, we can still think of these particles as not only smaller bits of the matter about us, but the characters of inertia, of pressure, and force can be also indefinitely subdivided in imagination without losing their characters of immediate experience.

Thus we can think of the electron even as a bit of matter pulling away from or toward electrically charged plates, just as we can feel a piece of iron pulling toward a powerful magnet. But we cannot think of the surface which absorbs certain light waves and reflects others as having the color which we say we are conscious of when the reflected ray has affected the retina and the central nervous system. Physical theory itself lifts the color, sound, and other secondary qualities off from the object, leaving in their place certain structures and motions which are the indirect causes of the sensations but are as structures and motions qualitatively different from the sensations themselves

(20) For current uncritical scientific imagination the physical particles have the same qualities which we call the primary qualities of sensation. They cannot even for an uncritical imagination have the characters which we call those of the secondary qualities because physical theory has substituted for the secondary qualities certain structures and motions which are the causes of the appearance of these sensations in consciousness. Physical theory may be said to be explaining secondary qualities in terms of the primary qualities.

An explanation of the secondary qualities in terms of the primary is compelled to present the distant object, seen or heard or smelled, in contact terms, for the ultimate three-dimensional physical thing exists for us as something that could be conceivably handled and broken up by a sort of crumbling process into smaller parts of the same material character. When we regard a colored object at a distance, its reality for physical explanation is found in the object as we could come into contact terms with it, but now at a distance sending out original or reflected waves through a medium to the organ of vision. This analysis breaks up the whole perceptual situation that includes the distant object, the medium, and the organism, and recognizes a temporal process with earlier stages that precede the completed process. In so far as these earlier stages are occupied with objects, they could not be colored, for the whole situation is not given. In the case of contact experience the whole situation is there whenever the experience is present. If we present a distant planet, its matter is presented as we would actually sense it if we could place our hands upon it. It is true that even in this case there is implied a process in the nervous system between the contact and the excitement of the central tract, but even here elements and motions are also presented in contact terms as molecules, atoms, or electrons. In the case of colors and sounds we present elements of contact experience which must be active before the experience of color or sound can arise, and these cannot be presented in terms of color or sound. Our explanation of color and sound, then, im-

(21) -plies objects as existing before the experience of color and sound can exist. This does imply, however, that as over against the whole mechanism of object, medium, and organism the object has not these characters as genuinely as contact objects have the characters of extension and solidity and motion.

It is important to recognize that, in our explanations in terms of physical science, the organism is a part of the physical world we are explaining. There is an uncritical tendency to identify the organism with a so-called "consciousness," to make it in some sense subjective as over against an objective world of things. There is a certain justification in speaking of the individual as perceiving the world and in identifying him with his organism. In this case we think of him as explaining his color experience in terms of the light waves reflected from an object through a medium to his retina and so exciting a central nervous system, all of which are stated in contact terms. The individual, however, who is making this explanation is not the organism in the abstract terms of physical science. At his end of the process of explanation, he is a social being in an unanalyzed perceptual world, only a small portion of which is brought within the range of his investigation. The full statement of the reality must replace what contents have been removed in the explanation and must replace them in the perceptual objects, not in a consciousness. The explanation states what a being with only contact experience would find if he could follow out the physical process from the object to the organism and its central nervous system; and also affirms that in the temporally extensive process of distance experience the earlier stages can only be presented in contact terms as the preconditions for the distance experience.

Does this analysis of physical science present us with a picture of the world as it exists In independence of perception? If color and sound express a situation involving the entire mechanism of object, medium, and peculiarly developed organism, can we say that extension, volume, motion, and inertia do not imply a situation in which are involved also objects and organisms of specially developed types? And that a world which is

(22) conceived of as independent of such situations may not be of an entirely different character? The most that physical science seems to accomplish in this direction is to free our perceptions and analyses of them from the idiosyncrasies and perspectives of particular observers. It finds uniformities which hold for all observers and thinkers. It does not transcend the fundamental conditions of contact observation itself. Ultimate physical particles in science are still in terms of the occupation of space, mass, and inertia. Ultimate space is that of the space of the measuring rod, the rod that can be applied by the hand; and the ultimate fact of physical reality in experience is that of the effective occupation of space by the physical individual, both in the experience of resistance to what invades his place and in the advance to occupy other places, together with the sense of boundary which comes with the tactile surface experience. The distinction between the distance experience of things and the contact experience of things, then, remains even when we present the physical conditions of contact experience in physical and physiological doctrine. The distinction lies in the logical relation between what the distance experience promises and the completion of the act which is involved in perception. When we undertake to give the physical conditions of contact experience, we place the apparatus of contact experience at a distance, directly in investigation of the physical stimulus and the dissection of the organism, or indirectly through the use of instruments of magnification, which the imagination may carry on indefinitely.

The essential fact is that, in the analysis of perception in reflective attitudes, this analysis must be carried on by perception. There seem to be two conditions for this analysis of perceptual objects by further perception; one is that just indicated, that any object of ultimate contact experience, which is the result of carrying out the act involved in distance experience, may be presented as itself at a distance and hence is capable of revealing other and more refined contact experiences implied in this distance attitude; the other is that in perception

(23) of the object we endow it with the reality of effective occupation of space which belongs to ourselves, thus giving the object an inside content which no surfaces revealed to the eye or the hand can give, and this placing of ourselves within other objects enables us to perceive other things, and notably ourselves, from the standpoint of the thing within which we have placed ourselves.

The analysis of perception does not, then, take us to a reality which lies outside an actual or possible perception. It does take us to contact experiences which may have any dimensions required. These imaginatively presented contact objects are freed from the peculiarities which different distance perceptions give them, both our own and those of others, and it gives to them the uniformities which all must recognize, since the contact experiences of different persons are identical in the superpositions of measurements and the effective occupation of space, and since we place ourselves in the places of other observers.



In the perceptual world the distance experiences are primarily stimuli to which the individual responds by approaching or withdrawing from the stimulus. The dominant stimulation from a distance is that of vision, and the organized spatial world of perception is in that sense a visual world. As Berkeley pointed out, the visual experience is or becomes a sign of the experience which results from the approach which the visual stimulus calls out. The full completion of the act which the distance stimulus initiates is found in some such consummation as that of eating.

It is not the consummation of the act, however, which is the perceptual thing that the distance stimulus sets going. One eats things. In other words, there is an experience of contact with the object which constitutes its perceptual reality and which comes in between the beginning of the act and its consummation. To this experience is referred both the visual experience

(24) and the consummatory. They both become characters or adjectives of the thing.

This contact experience is not the bare contact with the surface of the organism. This, as in the case of feeling for a thing or in contacts of currents of air, may be a distance experience which leads to the thing itself. The physical thing arises in manipulation. There is in manipulation the greater fineness of discrimination of the tactual surfaces of the hand, the three-dimensional experience which comes from grasping, and, of more critical importance, there is the instrumental nature of the manipulatory experience. This instrumental nature involves bringing the act to a temporary pause. It does not go through to its consummation at once. In the case of the ape, almost all of the manipulatory processes are simply steps in approach or withdrawal. There is no arrest of the ongoing act as initiated by the distance stimulus. In the human animal this preliminary termination of the act in the contact of the hand is or may be the starting-point of a more complex process in which a physical thing appears as a mediation of the entire act. The arrest affords the opportunity for competing tendencies to response to arise within the act. The critical importance of this stage is indicated in the fact that we come very early to experience the distant field by means of the attitudes of manipulatory contact.

We approach the distant stimulus with the manipulatory processes already excited. We are ready to grasp the hammer before we reach it, and the attitude of manipulatory response directs the approach. What we are going to do determines the line of approach and in some sense its manner. It is the later process already aroused in the central nervous system, controlling the earlier, which constitutes the teleological character of the act. Into this situation there enter the alternative manipulations that the distant stimulus arouses. For the time being they inhibit one another and so the act. Different stimuli compete for setting free the act. If a nail has to be driven in the absence of a hammer, the eye wanders from a stone to the heel of a boot or to an iron bar. Finally, one or the other assumes

(25) control of the act which is thus directed by this distant stimulus rather than the other. The human animal thus sees physical things, i . a., the initiated manipulatory response in the distant stimulus that sets free the activity of the organism.

Such an aroused future act has always a hypothetical character. It is not until this initiated response is carried out that its reality is assured. The experimental method is imbedded in the simplest process of perception of a physical thing. In this sense the future is already in the act.

And the past is also in the act, for facility and familiarity are products of past reactions. The physical thing, then, as distinct from a stimulus, is a hypothetical, hence future, accomplishment of an initiated process, to be tested by the contact experience. If it sets free the initiated process, e.g., driving the nail, it is a hammer. The environment around an individual is a set of such hypotheses, in so far as it is made up of physical objects. The assurance arising from facility and familiarity constitutes them objects which are there, but it is after all a provisional assurance which may be shaken at any moment.

Every act, however, is moving on from its physical objects to some consummation. Within the field of consummation all the adjectives of value obtain immediately. There objects are possessed, are good, bad, and indifferent, beautiful or ugly, and lovable or noxious. In the physical things these characters are only mediately present.

Physical things are means, and means for ends which often have to be discovered. They have an existence which is indifferent, therefore, to ends, and constitute the field of mechanism. Their hypothetical character is to be distinguished from that of the attainment of the end. In scientific method they are the indication in distance experience of a contact experience -which constitutes the ultimate reality of what is given in an observation or an experience-the reality, that is, of the physical thing, not of what it may imply; in other words, the reality of scientific data.

Mind Self and Society

Supplementary Essay IV Fragments on Ethics[1]

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I. It is possible to build up an ethical theory on a social basis, in terms of our social theory of the origin, development, nature, and structure of the self. Thus, for example, Kant's categorical imperative may be socially stated or formulated or interpreted in these terms, that is, given its social equivalent.

Man is a rational being because he is a social being. The universality of our judgments, upon which Kant places so much stress, is a universality that arises from the fact that we take the attitude of the entire community, of all rational beings. We are what we are through our relationship to others. Inevitably, then, our end must be a social end, both from the standpoint of its content (that which would answer to primitive impulses) and also from the point of view of form. Sociality gives the universality of ethical judgments and lies back of the popular statement that the voice of all is the universal voice; that is, everyone who can rationally appreciate the situation agrees. The very form of our judgment is therefore social, so that the end, both content and form, is necessarily a social end. Kant approached that universality from the assumption of the rationality of the individual, and said that if his ends, or the form of his acts, were universal, then society could arise. He conceived of the individual first of all as rational and as a condition for society. However, we recognize that not only the form of the judgment is universal but the content also-that the end itself can

(380) be universalized. Kant said we could only universalize the form. However, we do universalize the end itself. If we recognize that we can universalize the end itself, then a social order can arise from such social, universal ends.

2. We can agree with Kant that the "ought" does involve universality. As he points out, that is true in the case of the Golden Rule. Wherever the element of the "ought" comes in, wherever one's conscience speaks, it always takes on this universal form.

Only a rational being could give universal form to his act. The lower animals simply follow inclinations; they go after particular ends, but they could not give a universal form to acts. Only a rational being would be able so to generalize his act and the maxim of his act, and the human being has such rationality. When he acts in a certain way he is willing that everyone should act in the same way, under the same conditions. Is not that the statement we generally make in justifying ourselves? When a person has done something that is questionable, is not the statement that is first made, "That is what anyone would have done in my place"? Such is the way in which one does justify his conduct if it is brought into question at all; that it should be a universal law is the justifiable support that one gives to a questioned act. This is quite apart from the content of the act, as one can be sure that what he is doing is what he wants everyone else to do under the same circumstances. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; that is, act toward other people as you want them to act toward you under the same conditions.

3. In general, when you are taking advantage of other people, the universalizing of the principle of the act would take away the very value of the act itself. You want to be able to steal things and yet keep them as your own property; but if everyone stole, there would not be any such thing as property. just generalize the principle of your act and see what would follow with reference to the very thing you are trying to do. This Kantian test is not a test of feeling but a rational test that does

(381) meet a very large number of acts which we recognize as moral. It is valuable in its way. We try to decide whether we are making ourselves exceptions or whether we should be willing to have everyone else act as we are doing.

If a man will set up as a maxim for his conduct the principle that everybody else should be honest with him while he would be dishonest with everybody else, there could not be a factual basis for his attitude. He is commanding the honesty of other people, and he is in no position to command it if he is dishonest. The rights one recognizes in others one can demand in others; but we cannot demand from others what we refuse to respect. It is a practical impossibility.

Any constructive act is, however, something that lies outside of the scope of Kant's principle. From Kant's standpoint you assume that the standard is there; and then if you slip around it yourself while expecting other people to live up to it, Kant's principle will find you out. But where you have no standard, it does not help you to decide. Where you have to get a restatement, a readjustment, you get a new situation in which to act; the simple generalizing of the principle of your act does not help. It is at that point that Kant's principle breaks down.

What Kant's principle does is to tell you that an act is immoral under certain conditions, but it does not tell you what is the moral act. Kant's categorical imperative assumes that there is just one way of acting. If that is the case, then there is only one course that can be universalized; then the respect for law would be the motive for acting in that fashion. But if you assume that there are alternative ways of acting, then you cannot utilize Kant's motive as a means of determining what is right.

4. Both Kant and the Utilitarians wish to universalize, to make universal that in which morality lies. The Utilitarian says it must be the greatest good of the greatest number; Kant says that the attitude of the act must be one which takes on the form of a universal law. I want to point out this common attitude of these two schools which are so opposed to each other in

(382) other ways: they both feel that an act which is moral must have in some way a universal character. If you state morality in terms of the result of the act, then you state the results in terms of the whole community; if in the attitude of the act, it must be in the respect for law, and the attitude must take on the form of a universal law, a universal rule. Both recognize that morality involves universality, that the moral act is not simply a private affair. A thing that is good from a moral standpoint must be a good for everyone under the same conditions. This demand for universality is found in both the Utilitarian and Kantian doctrines.

5. If the categorical imperative is obeyed as Kant wishes, everyone will make a universal law of his act, and then a combination of such individuals will be one that is harmonious, so that a society made up out of beings who recognize the moral law would be a moral society. In that way Kant gets a content in his act; his statement is that there is no content, but by setting the human being up as an end in himself, and so society as a higher end, he introduces content.

This picture of a kingdom of ends is hardly to be distinguished from Mill's doctrine, since both set up society as an end. Each of them has to get to some sort of an end that can be universal. The Utilitarian reaches that in the general good, the general happiness of the whole community; Kant finds it in an organization of rational human beings, who apply rationality to the form of their acts. Neither of them is able to state the end in terms of the object of desire of the individual.

Actually, what you have to universalize is the object toward which desire is directed, that upon which your attention must be centered if you are going to succeed. You have to universalize not the mere form of the act but the content of the act.

If you assume that what you want is just pleasure, you have a particular event, a feeling which you experience under certain conditions. But if you desire the object itself, you desire that which can be given a universal form; if you desire such an object, the motive itself can be as moral as the end. The break

(383) which the act puts between the motive and the intended end then disappears.

6. There is the question of the relation of endeavor and achievement to will, the question as to whether the result is something that can have anything to do with the morality of the act. You do have to bring the end into your intention, into your attitude. You can, at every stage of the act, be acting with reference to the end; and you can embody the end in the steps that you are immediately taking.

That is the difference between meaning well and having the right intention. Of course, you cannot have the final result in your early steps of the act, but you can at least state that act in terms of the conditions which you are meeting.

If you are going to be successful, you have to be interested in an end in terms of the steps which are necessary to carry it out. In that sense the result is present in the act. A person who is taking all the steps to bring about a result sees the result in the steps. It is that which makes one moral or immoral, and distinguishes between a man who really means to do what he says he is going to do, and one who merely "means well."

7. All of our impulses are possible sources of happiness; and in so far as they get their natural expression they lead up to happiness. In the moral act there will be pleasure in our satisfactions; but the end is in the objects, and the motives are in the impulses which are directed toward these objects. When a person, for example, becomes extremely interested in some undertaking, then he has impulses that are directed toward certain ends, and such impulses become the motives of his conduct. We distinguish such impulses from the motive that the Utilitarian recognizes. He recognizes only one motive: the feeling of pleasure that will arise when the desire is satisfied. In place of that we put the impulse which is directed toward the end itself and maintain that such impulses are the motives of moral conduct.

The question then becomes the determination of the sort of ends toward which our action should be directed. What sort of a standard can we set up? Our ends should, first of all, be ends

(384) which are desirable in themselves, that is, which do lead to the expression and satisfaction of the impulses. Now there are some impulses which lead simply to disintegration, which are not desirable in themselves. There are certain of our impulses which find their expression, for example, in cruelty. Taken by themselves they are not desirable because the results which they bring are narrowing, depressing, and deprive us of social relations. They also lead, so far as others are concerned, to injury to other individuals.

In Dewey's terms, the moral impulses should be those "which reinforce and expand not only the motives from which they directly spring but also the other tendencies and attitudes which are sources of happiness. "[2] If a person becomes interested in other persons, he finds the interest which he has does lead to reinforcing that motive and to expanding other motives. The more we become interested in persons the more we become interested in general in life. The whole situation within which the individual finds himself takes on new interest. Similarly, to get an intellectual motive is one of the greatest boons which one may have, because it expands interest so widely. We recognize such ends as particularly important.

So, looking at happiness from the point of view of impulses themselves, we can set up a standard in this fashion: the end should be one which reinforces the motive, one which will reinforce the impulse and expand other impulses or motives. That would be the standard proposed.

We are free now from the restrictions of the Utilitarian and Kantian if we recognize that desire is directed toward the object instead of toward pleasure. Both Kant and the Utilitarian are fundamentally hedonists, assuming that our inclinations are toward our own subjective states -- the pleasure that comes from satisfaction. If that is the end, then of course our motives are all subjective affairs. From Kant's standpoint they are bad, and from the Utilitarian's standpoint they are the same for all

(385) actions and so neutral. But on the present view, if the object itself is better, then the motive is better. The motive can be tested by the end, in terms of whether the end does reinforce the very impulse itself.

Impulses will be good to the degree that they reinforce themselves and expand and give expression to other impulses as well.

8. All the things worth while are shared experiences. Even when a person is by himself, he knows that the experience he has in nature, in the enjoyment of a book, experiences which we might think of as purely individual, would be greatly accentuated if they could be shared with others. Even when a person seems to retire into himself to live among his own ideas, he is living really with the others who have thought what he is thinking. He is reading books, recalling the experiences which he has had, projecting conditions under which he might live. The content is always of a social character. Or it may pass into those mystical experiences in religious lift-communion with God. The conception of the religious life is itself a social conception; it gathers about the idea of the community.

It is only in so far as you can identify your own motive and the actual end you are pursuing with the common good that you reach the moral end and so get moral happiness. As human nature is essentially social in character, moral ends must be also social in their nature.

9. If we look at the individual from the point of view of his impulses, we can see that those desires which reinforce themselves, or continue on in their expression, and which awaken other impulses, will be good; whereas those which do not reinforce themselves lead to undesirable results, and those which weaken the other motives are in themselves evil. If we look now toward the end of the action rather than toward the impulse itself, we find that those ends are good which lead to the realization of the self as a social being. Our morality gathers about our social conduct. It is as social beings that we are moral beings. On the one side stands the society which makes the self possible, and on the other side stands the self that makes a highly or

(386) -ganized society possible. The two answer to each other in moral conduct.

In our reflective conduct we are always reconstructing the immediate society to which we belong. We are taking certain definite attitudes which involve relationship with others. In so far as those relationships are changed, the society itself is changed. We are continually reconstructing. When it comes to the problem of reconstruction there is one essential demand that all of the interests that are involved should be taken into account. One should act with reference to all of the interests that are involved: that is what we could call a "categorical imperative."

We are definitely identified with our own interests. One is constituted out of his own interests; and when those interests are frustrated, what is called for then is in some sense a sacrifice of this narrow self. This should lead to the development of a larger self which can be identified with the interests of others. I think all of us feel that one must be ready to recognize the interests of others even when they run counter to our own, but that the person who does that does not really sacrifice himself, but becomes a larger self.

10. The group advances from old standards toward another standard; and what is important from the standpoint of morality is that this advance takes place through the individual, through a new type of individual -- one who conceives himself as individuals have not conceived themselves in the past. The illustrations are those of the Prophets among the Hebrews and the Sophists among the Greeks. The point that I want to emphasize is that this new individual appears as the representative of a different social order. He does not appear simply as a particular individual; he conceives of himself as belonging to another social order which ought to take the place of the old one. He is a member of a new, a higher, order. Of course, there have been evolutionary changes that took place without individual reaction. But moral changes are those that take place through

(386) the action of the individual as such. He becomes the instrument, the means, of changing the old into a new order.

What is right arises in the experience of the individual: he comes to change the social order; he is the instrument by which custom itself may be changed. The prophet becomes highly important for this reason, since he represents the sort of consciousness in which one decides to change the conception of what is right. By asking what is right, we are in that same situation, and we are helping in this way toward the development of the moral consciousness of the community. Values come into conflict with each other in the experiences of the individual; it is his function to give expression to the different values and help to formulate more satisfactory standards than have existed.

11. When we reach the question of what is right, I have said that the only test we can set up is whether we have taken into account every interest involved. What is essential is that every interest in a man's nature which is involved should be considered. He can consider only the interests which come into his problem. The scientist has to consider all of the facts, but he considers only those facts involved in the immediate problem. A scientist trying to find out whether acquired characteristics can be inherited does not have to take into account the facts of relativity, but only those facts which apply to his problem. The moral problem is one which involves certain conflicting interests. All of those interests which are involved in conflict must be considered.

In moral judgments we have to work out a social hypothesis, and one never can do it simply from his own point of view. We have to look at it from the point of view of a social situation. The hypothesis is one that we present, just as the Prophets presented the conception of a community in which all men were brothers. Now, if we ask what is the best hypothesis, the only answer we can make is that it must take into account all of the interests that are involved. Our temptation is to ignore certain interests that run contrary to our own interests, and emphasize those with which we have been identified.

(388) You cannot lay down in advance fixed rules as to just what should be done. You can find out what are the values involved in the actual problem and act rationally with reference to them. That is what we ask, and all we ask, of anyone. When we object to a person's conduct, we say that he has failed to recognize the values, or that in recognizing them he does not act rationally with reference to them. That is the only method that an ethics can present. Science cannot possibly tell what the facts are going to be, but can give a method for approach: recognize all the facts that belong to the problem, so that the hypothesis will be a consistent, rational one. You cannot tell a person what must be the form of his act any more than you can tell a scientist what his facts are going to be. The moral act must take into account all the values involved, and it must be rational-that is all that can be said.

12. The only rule that an ethics can present is that an individual should rationally deal with all the values that are found in a specific problem. That does not mean that one has to spread before him all the social values when he approaches a problem. The problem itself defines the values. It is a specific problem and there are certain interests that are definitely involved; the individual should take into account all of those interests and then make out a plan of action which will rationally deal with those interests. That is the only method that ethics can bring to the individual. It is of the greatest importance that one should define what those interests are in the particular situation. The great need is that one should be able to regard them impartially. We feel that persons are apt to take what we call a selfish attitude with reference to them. I have pointed out that the matter of selfishness is the setting-up of a narrow self over against a larger self. Our society is built up out of our social interests, Our social relations go to constitute the self. But when the immediate interests come in conflict with others we had not recognized, we tend to ignore the others and take into account only those which are immediate. The difficulty is to make ourselves recognize the other and wider interests, and then to bring

(389) them into some sort of rational relationship with the more immediate ones. There is room for mistakes, but mistakes are not sins.

13. A man has to keep his self-respect, and it may be that he has to fly in the face of the whole community in preserving this self-respect. But he does it from the point of view of what he considers a higher and better society than that which exists. Both of these are essential to moral conduct: that there should be a social organization and that the individual should maintain himself. The method for taking into account all of those interests which make up society on the one hand and the individual on the other is the method of morality.


  1. [Cf. "Suggestions toward a Theory of the Philosophical Disciplines," Philosophical Review, IX (1900), 1 ff.; "The Social Self," Journal of Philosophy, X (1913), 374 ff ; "The Social Settlement: Its Basis and Function," University of Chicago Record, XII (1908), 108 ff. "The Philosophical Basis of Ethics," International Journal of Ethics, XVIII (1908), 311 ff., "Scientific Method and the Moral Sciences," ibid., XXXIII (19-23), 229 ff.; "Philanthropy from the Point of View of Ethics," in Intelligent Philanthropy, ed. by Ellsworth Paris et al. (1930).]
  2. [Dewey and Tufts, Ethics (1st ed.), p. 284.]

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