previous
next

31 Psychological Moralism (1953)note

This work resembles other productions of the time of its publication, and especially other productions by psychologists, in professing to have a practical purpose, that of finding a way out of the “tragic tangle” in which society has become involved. The psychologist, recognising that “both the failures of the past and the problems of the present and the future are to a large extent psychological in nature”, may feel a certain shame at the failures but will also feel challenged by the problems to review the relevant facts and theories “with some hope that such a scrutiny of available data will reveal him, both to himself and to his fellow-men, as one who is not altogether doomed to gape idly and uselessly at the scene of human tragedy, but rather as one who can at least here and there make a promising suggestion or lend a helping hand in the work of salvage and reconstruction” (p. 9).

Flugel follows up this initial statement of the psychologist's responsibility by saying that it “is pretty generally agreed that the problem of rebuilding our tottering society upon a sounder basis is to some extent a moral problem, in the sense that its solution depends upon an appeal to the moral impulses of man”, and that, while some knowledge of the origin and nature of these impulses is required if the appeal is to be successful, recent psychology has in fact gained such knowledge of these impulses as it may be possible now to organise and fruitfully apply. With this may be compared the remark in the Preface (p. 5) that “it appears to be pretty generally agreed that the failure of our civilisation to solve so many of its greatest problems, and above all its involvement in two world wars within a quarter of a century, makes it more than ever necessary that we should think seriously about fundamental moral problems” — this book having the particular task (p. 6) of considering “the possible bearings of the recent psychology of moral motives upon the ethical problems of an admittedly distracted world”.

Flugel thinks it possible to make this response to the “urgent demand for a revision of ethical thought” without any “general treatment of the nature and problem of ethics” (and likewise of psychology and psycho-pathology). But, leaving that point aside for the moment, we may note particularly his conception of a problem and its solution — viz., not by finding that something is the case but by determining that something is to be done. This is the very opposite of the attitude of serious thinking on moral or other problems, the attitude of disinterested study which not merely stands aloof from practical urgencies but subjects them, and the


  ― 364 ―
conceptions in terms of which they are expressed, to rigorous examination. The only thing that could properly be called a failure in our civilisation would be a failure in criticism; and, of course, the serious or critical thinker knows that, whatever ups and downs criticism may have, it has in any case to maintain itself by struggle in an uncritical and “practical” environment, and that there is no question of a “solution” in which that struggle will disappear. But the raising or lowering of critical standards is not apparent to the vulgar, and the doctrine of a conspicuous breakdown or a conspicuous uplifting of civilisation is itself a vulgar view.

But while, without a “general treatment” of ethics, involving a criticism of ethical conceptions, no important contribution to ethical theory can be made, it is only fair to recognise that practicalist confusions have been very much encouraged by the mass of moral theorists, that they have treated ethics as a special kind of science whole propositions have a special kind of truth, practical truth, or a peculiar copula, the practical or preceptual copula. Thus, although Flugel uses when it suits him all the odds and ends of conventional ethics (desirability, rationality, altruism and so forth), although he never could succeed in substituting psychology for ethics, his efforts in that direction are at least attempts to substitute something which can be inquired into for something which, as conventionally conceived, simply blocks inquiry. To that extent, however he may from time to time smuggle in his own precepts, he casts light on the conditions under which ethics as a science (i.e., as a positive science, a subject of empirical investigation) can emerge.

Flugel's argument in the first chapter (“Psychology and Morals”) is of particular importance here. He is seeking to justify the contention that psychology can contribute to our understanding of “the field of values” by investigating “the motivations underlying values”, and, to that end, to discount the objection that psychologists, in professing to make such contributions, are going beyond their province. “Psychology, we are reminded, is a positive, not a normative, discipline, that is, its business is to describe, classify, and (if it can) explain the facts of mental life, just as physics and chemistry deal with the facts of the material universe. Like these latter sciences, it has no concern with values as such; it must take the facts as it finds them and must not presume to pass judgment on their desirability or undesirability” (p. 11). Flugel's remarks that this general position is one with which few if any psychologists would wish to quarrel — and then goes on to a series of considerations which, if they had any force at all, would require its abandonment. But the primary point is this, that if there were the supposed distinction between facts and values, then not only would investigation of facts cast no light on values but there could be no investigation of values at all, and any suggested connection between a fact and a value would be entirely arbitrary — the value would be somehow “annexed”note to the fact but would not


  ― 365 ―
belong to it and might as well be annexed to any other fact. More exactly, if “values” have any content, any positive character, they must be studied by the same methods and in the same situations as other things; they must be found, like minds, in what Flugel calls “the material universe” (as if there could be several universes). i.e., as objective occurrences. It is the dualistic outlook, with the absurd attempt to attach something of one kind of reality to something of another, that has obstructed ethical study, while at the same time it permits everyone to “have his fancy”.

This is why Flugel does not throw over “values” altogether; he wants to retain a position in which anyone is expert, to be able to insinuate his values at any stage in his investigation of the facts. Thus the considerations by which he hopes to show the relevance of psychology to moral theory have to be expressed in such a way as to leave an opening for “annexings”. His points are (1) that values “happen to be facts of mental life”, (2) that a distinction must be made between pure and applied science, (3) that the distinction between means and ends “is nearly always relative”, and (4) that, in the substitution of the psychological for the moral point of view even in the sphere of “intrinsic values”, we are replacing moral judgment, “primarily an orectic process”, by scientific judgment, “primarily a cognitive process”. In these and other ways the psychological is “tending to replace the moral point of view, and there is little doubt that, in so far as the new approach proves effective, the process will continue” (p. 16). But either this is asking science to do something it cannot do or science does provide us with “norms”. Flugel straddles the issue by saying that science, while it “may never give us ultimate values”, may still, as it advances, “be of help in ever higher levels of the hierarchy of values”; but since he immediately goes on (beginning of ch. II) to say that moral action “is action in accordance with values” and that fundamentally “these values are determined by our biological nature and our innate psychological equipment”, it is clear that his reservations are merely such as to permit the scientist, with his equipment, to give upon occasion directives as well as findings.

On the first point we are faced with the common -ing and -ed confusion; it is not made clear whether the question is of what values or of what is valued, and it is quite possible to take the view that, while the former is mental, the latter is not and would not have its character in any way illuminated by psychological investigation. Of course, if it were a question of a definite quality good, it might well be held that both what observes goodness and what is good are mental processes, though it still would not follow that the study of the former would cast any light on the latter. But it is clear enough, from the phrases quoted above, that Flugel does not make these distinctions, that for him values exist in the processes which “annex” them to various things (cf. the remark, in the note to p. 111, that, in the last resort, “it can be maintained that all so-called objective values are ultimately subjective in origin, inasmuch as things in the outer world are good or bad only in virtue of our attitude to them”) — clear, too, that no amount of investigation of the positive


  ― 366 ―
characters of either mental processes or the things they are cognisant of can show what such “annexings” even mean. On the other hand, if we do take the positive view, if we consider, in particular, that goods (good things) are a species of mental activities, then psychological science can be of assistance to ethical science (a) by its formulation of general laws of mental process, (b) by bringing out characters of the other mental processes among which good activities exist and with which they interact; but psychological study which was not direct study of good activities could not itself be a substitute for such direct study — it could help ethics only if ethics were an independent study of certain facts.

So, if there were definite things describable as “values”, psychology could conceivably indicate conditions under which they come about, but this would imply no distinction between the kind of science that studied them and the kind of science that studied these conditions, and would, in particular, do nothing to justify a distinction between pure and applied science. According to Flugel (p. 12), whereas “pure science is concerned with things as they are, its only aim being knowledge for its own sake, applied science seeks to use this knowledge for the attainment of certain ends, ends which are assumed to be desirable and which therefore imply certain values (over and above the mere values of truth or knowledge). Thus medicine or engineering imply values in a way that physiology or physics do not; they imply that it is desirable to achieve and maintain a person's health or to construct and keep in order a machine.” This, of course, is not the case. True propositions of medical science imply further true propositions of medical science, but they do not imply anything in the way of a policy, nor is any such thing inherent in them. If we desire A, and if we know that it comes about under conditions B, and if we are able to bring about conditions B, then we are in a position to satisfy our desire; but this does not entitle us to speak of “applied knowledge” or “applied science” as if it were a special kind of knowledge or science. Granting, then, that psychological knowledge may be utilised “in the fields of medicine, education, and industry”, what is so utilised is “pure” psychology, not “applied” psychology. And if such utilisation is held to require that certain “ends” should be “assumed to be desirable”, then, if this is not a psychological assumption (the assumption that certain propositions in the field of psychology are true), either it is an assumption in some other, equally scientific field — but one taken to be continuous with the psychological field — or it is a mere confusion and in no way elucidates the conception of “application”.

In fact, continuity is the vital point. The ambiguity of “desirability” (a much-debated matter on which, it need hardly be said, Flugel does not touch) is one of the devices enabling the dualist to jump the chasm between his antithetical realities — or rather to appear to do so without inconsistency. But, as before, there can be no connection between a thing and its supposed “value” unless this is as much one of its characters, part of its “constitution”, as any of its other characters. Of course, the thing has various relations, but these will also be studied as matters of fact and


  ― 367 ―
within continuous situations, and there is still nothing here to support the sort of distinction suggested. The consideration of the relation of desiring or having ends, however, points to another form of discontinuity besides that which is masked by the annexing of “values”. This is the discontinuity between the agent and the act, between that which applies and that which is applied, between that which annexes and that which is annexed or that to which something is annexed. Unless the mind or person is of the same order as the phenomena in which it is taken to be involved and is subject to the same sort of (indeed, to the same) investigations, there can be no way of saying that any acts or processes are its, any more than of saying that the “value” of anything is its or can be really assigned to it. And, while psycho-analysis has done much to support a pluralistic and empirical view of mind, a residual dualism still appears in its individualism — in the conception of unique agency which, not merely in Flugel's work but in the great mass of psychological and sociological literature, appears in conjunction with voluntarism, i.e., in the substitution of such questions as “What are we to do?” (“How shall we apply our knowledge?” etc.) for “What are minds and how do they proceed?” The dualistic and discontinuous “agent” is perhaps the greatest barrier to the advance of both psychological and ethical science, and “desirability” is a good example of the confused conceptions by which it is bolstered up.

It will follow from what has been said that nothing is in itself (or in its own nature) an end and nothing is in itself a means. But Flugel's statement that the distinction between means and ends is “nearly always” relative is not (as indeed the reservation itself would show) based on logical considerations. It follows immediately upon the statement that it is the business of ethics to decide what the “higher values” are (so that applied psychology, like other applied sciences, “is concerned with ‘means’ rather than with ‘ends’”), and is the beginning of an attempt to whittle away that concession to ethics. Thus (p. 13): “At best there can only be a few unquestionably intrinsic values at the top of the hierarchy, such as Truth, Goodness, Beauty; or, if we press the matter further, there should strictly speaking be one only, a summum bonum or supreme value, to which all the rest are means — and, as we know, moral philosophers are not yet in agreement as to what this supreme value is.” There is no real obstacle, then, to psychology's supplying its own supreme values, and indeed the whole of Flugel's book is propaganda for a psychologists' morality, a morality of a weakly humanitarian type but one just as entitled as any other morality to annex its values to facts to which they are actually extrinsic.

Flugel's fourth point, however, is an attempt to have things both ways, to make his peculiar morality prior to morality as such. “The substitution of the psychological for the moral point of view in any matter implies also a change in mental attitude — a change from a relatively emotional attitude to a relatively intellectual one. Scientific judgment is primarily a cognitive process, moral judgment — in this respect like judgment in matters of religion and aesthetics — primarily an orectic process. But with


  ― 368 ―
regard to difficult and delicate problems, cognition is often more effective than orexis” (p. 14). Flugel goes on to say that we do not pass moral judgments on inanimate things and scarcely at all nowadays on animals, and adds that “this restriction of moral judgment and the substitution of judgments in terms of psychological insight is rapidly increasing, even in our dealings with fellow human beings, and for much the same reason as elsewhere, namely that it is so often more effective”. Among recent examples of this is the attempt in education “to substitute understanding for censure; it is recognised that it is better to find out why a pupil is lazy or stupid than to blame or punish him” (p. 15). The phrase I have italicised here (suggesting the question whether this is a scientific or a moral judgment) is not a mere slip; it exposes what is inadroitly covered up in the expression “effective”, where the question is clearly not just of having effects but of having “desirable” effects. But, quite apart from this smuggling in of what was supposed to be set aside, the major contrast proposed by Flugel will not stand up. If there is such a thing as “moral judgment” at all, then it is judgment that something is so, and it is just as “cognitive” as any other judgment. But to say that something is cognised, that some proposition is regarded as true, is not to say what are the characters of that which cognises and is nothing against its having such characters and relations as are conveyed by “feeling, striving, and wishing”. Thus no distinction between types of judgment has been brought out. The underlying point, of course, is that an “orectic” judgment is not a judgment that something is the case but a judgment that something is to be the case — and if we admitted such judgments, we certainly could not regard them as helping inquiry; we do not find out what X is by laying down what X is to be. But, in fact, “is to be” judgments, confused as they stand, are always elliptical, and it is the task of criticism to show what are the unstated purposes to be served or what are the forces concerned to make an X be Y. Flugel, however, cannot clear the matter up because, as we have seen, his “psychological point of view” is just another moral one, an attempt to annex a particular set of “values” to the facts, a treatment of science as saying what “is to be”.

The conception of a peculiarly “cognitive” judgment is akin to that of “rationality” in thought and behaviour. Rational cognition is that which knows the reasons for itself; rational action is that in which we at once know what we are doing and why we are doing it. These are to such an extent underlying presuppositions of Flugel's work, he is so far from imagining that they can be questioned, that he nowhere formulates them, let alone discussing them, but it is only in such terms that the distinction between the kinds of judgment or between reasonable and unreasonable procedures is intelligible. In fact, however, there is no such thing as rationality in the required sense. Whatever reasons are found for anything, the point of departure of the reasoning is always something that is simply found (without reasons); whatever we know about processes either in or out of ourselves, we never know “all about” them. The confused doctrine of “ideas”, of entities which are just what they are known


  ― 369 ―
as because “what they are known as” is precisely their nature or meaning as ideas — confused because the “they” here could have no content or, as it might alternatively be put, because the attempt to assign one would involve an infinite process — is paralleled by the confused doctrine of “conscious action”, action which, in carrying it out, we know all about because it is just our awareness of it that makes it conscious action. But, apart from formal objections (decisive though they are), the important point is that such self-wrapped entities could not be connected with anything else, could in particular have no transactions with other things, no history intertwined with other histories. The importance of the Freudian theory of the “unconscious” lay not just in its dispelling of formal confusions but in its indication of a concrete, continuing thing with its own characters, no matter how much or how little it might know or be known at any given time; and one condition of the working out of this theory, of the study of the transactions between the continuing mind and its surroundings, was the recognition of its complexity, of its internal transactions (including conflict) continuous with its external transactions. The rejection of the conception of the “unitary person” went with the rejection of the “conscious self”.

Unfortunately the Freudians, including Freud himself, were unable to maintain this position or to work out the consequences of the initial revolution. The question became one not of the rejection of consciousness or self-awareness (the assertion of the distinction between a thing's own characters and its relations) but of the restriction of consciousness to a particular mental region, and the doctrine of “ego, id, and superego” which finally emerged, and which now dominates the work of the Freudian school, was largely a reinstatement of individualistic or atomistic thinking. Almost two-thirds of Flugel's book (chs. IV to XV) is devoted to consideration of “these three main parts or aspects” of the mind, with special emphasis on the superego as “the source of our moral control”, i.e., as exercising a mandatory, and especially prohibitory, function. The consideration is not, of course, critical; it is mainly a setting out, in orthodox Freudian fashion, of types of mental conflict or difficulty, leading up to the major problems which “the human race must solve or perish”. There is, in particular, no criticism of functional definition, no suggestion of the possibility that the very same thing could function in the various ways taken to be characteristic of the main mental agencies. Thus, even when it is admitted (p. 198) that there can be “righteous indignation” against an “authority”, this is taken to indicate “a split in the superego” and not to undermine the whole conception of the superego. The argument throughout is dominated by the conception of the individual agent, exemplified in the personification by which the superego is said to “oppress” the ego or the ego to “defend itself” against the superego, and in the acts of the individual, acts of “introjection” and “projection” in particular, by which the superego, the “moral authority”, is built up.

Flugel does not appear to find any difficulty in recognising such


  ― 370 ―
processes; jumping across barriers, throwing a content out or in — these are just things that the individual can do. But in fact it is only in terms of continuity among lives, of participation in social activities, that they are even conceivable. Just how important is the part played by authority in moral life is another question. The main point is that a person's development of moral characters and his recognition of them depend alike on his coming to participate in continuing “ways of life”, forms of activity, which do not depend on him either for their existence or for their character. And just as the egoistic treatment of these questions, the postulation of a separate agent with his distinct acts of acceptance and rejection, is unintelligible, so is the treatment of good, in particular, as something which “I” select or pursue. It would, in the first instance, be a low moral view which made good subject to the choice of something else which was presumably not good; and the alternative is to treat good not as something which this or that person does or pursues but as something which itself operates in characteristic ways, something which may indeed operate within a person but which does so as being of some positive quality or content and not as an empty “agent”. If such a positive view is not taken, then the subject “ethics” simply disappears and there is nothing for psychology to illuminate. But if it is a question of types of activity with their distinctive qualities, then we can see not merely that such activities do not stop at the boundaries of a person, that they pass continuously between persons, but that the understanding of them casts light on psychology, that the operations of a mind are strikingly illuminated by a knowledge of the “ways of life” among which it exists and develops. It is perhaps just because ethics casts more light on psychology than psychology does on ethics that psychologists are led to fabricate an ethics or to make their psychology stand for ethics. But at least there will be no coherent theory on the supposition that either moral forces or ethical conceptions are manufactured by “the individual” — or indeed, as seems to be the position of the Freudian school, by the infant. The question is of participation, of the ways in which things and persons belong together in concrete forms of activity or ways of living.

Religion and punishment (each of which bulks fairly large in Flugel's discussion) are examples of social phenomena which are not accounted for, or even illuminated, by the attribution to the infant mind of processes of “introjection”, “projection” and so forth, but which, as features of the life in which that mind is embedded, help to determine the character of its interchanges with its surroundings or exhibit forms of such interchange. It is in terms of the social (not the individualist) theory of religion that we can understand its history and its impact on particular minds — in terms, that is, of the distinct departments of social life and of the conditions of keeping them going, of the rites which were originally part of the type of activity in question but became separated off as symbols of all that they “belonged together” with, of the “spiritual agencies” which became increasingly personified as being presiding over the various departments though their objective content was just


  ― 371 ―
these “provinces”, these continuing forms of social activity, themselves. If “the needs underlying religion” were of “infantile origin” (p. 271), if the “projection of the superego” (ch. XIII, esp. pp. 186 ff.) were relevant to the formation of religious systems, we should expect monotheism to be religion's primitive form. But in fact polytheism is prior to monotheism, just as participation (or social function) is prior to individualism.

It is in these terms too — it is in that precise connection — that we can understand punishment or “sanctions”. The question is of resistance to “encroachment” or of the rectification of boundaries, of the bringing together again of things which “belong together” when some breach of their connection has been made. How far sanctions should go, how far the repairing of injuries to the continuity of social processes requires the imposition of penalties on the offender, is a special question. The offender himself may make good the damage, or official custodians of continuity may do so by “making an example” of the offender. The point is, in any case, that the offence itself has involved a loss of participation, a breaking up of established connections, in social life and not merely on the part of a particular offender; and it is natural enough that the situation of the invasion of rights should be met by a certain disfranchisement or curtailment of rights, a loss, greater or less, temporary or permanent, of the privileges of participation. But the set of social phenomena which can be rendered coherent by the notion of disfranchisement or loss of participation, remain unilluminated if the fundamental feature of punishment is taken to be the infliction of pain.

The notion of “belonging together” is not, of course, a universal solvent. It is precisely characteristic of primitive thought to identify things which are merely associated in social activity and thus (as in magic and fetishism) to treat each thing as embodying the whole power of its province — though this will at least stand comparison with atomistic doctrines of individual entities with their separate powers. Again, it is impossible to maintain boundaries and avoid encroachment, if only because things and persons belong to different departments of social life or have many “social functions”; and while primitive thought dimly realises this (as in stories of wars among the gods) and tries to counter it (as in the conception of Moira, or proper apportionment, which “governs even the gods”), it cannot really grapple with what this implies — the inevitability of social change, the impossibility of the indefinite continuance of the forms of social (tribal) activity in existence at any time. But this is only to indicate the unsoundness of a totalistic view, not the soundness of an atomistic view. Participation is fundamental alike to a scientific ethics and to the confused ethical conceptions of the fitting or proper, the obligatory and the desirable — that which has such characters as make it a proper thing to desire, as enable it to fit into a certain scheme.

The point is that communication is limited, that there will always be forces opposed to it, that there will always be social conflict — conflict, in particular, between an objective and critical attitude to things and a


  ― 372 ―
subjective and uncritical attitude. This is something which Flugel with his humanitarian and progressivist outlook cannot admit, and that is why he cannot really get to grips with ethics, why he has to try to turn it into something else. In his summarising chapter (XVI) on “The Psychology of Moral Progress” he takes as “guiding notions concerning the main lines of moral progress and development” (1) from egocentricity to sociality [but it is only to altruism], (2) from unconscious to conscious, (3) from autism to realism [i.e., in both cases, to “knowing what we are doing”], (4) from moral inhibition to spontaneous ‘goodness’, (5) from aggression to tolerance and love, (6) from fear to security, (7) from heteronomy to autonomy, (8) from orectic (moral) judgment to cognitive (psychological) judgment. These are treated in an essentially preceptual and thus subjectivist manner. Autonomy, e.g., is conceived simply as independence of judgment and not as the objectivity, the independent working, the irreducibility to anything else (as Kant half saw), of the subject-matter of ethics itself — the objectivity of goods. Aggression, again, is dealt by precepts and pious hopes; on the one hand, if it is a need like hunger, the most we could do “would be to discourage [how?] the aggressive equivalent of gluttony and to find [how?] the least harmful and destructive channel for the remaining irreducible aggression”; on the other hand, if it “is purely a reaction to frustration, we can, in theory at least, hope to diminish it by reducing [how?] the frequency and intensity of frustration” (p. 249). The appeal is never to the laws of social science; the assumption is always that whatever the right-minded resolutely decide to do has at least a good chance of coming about.

Flugel himself appears to support the second view of the nature of aggression. At any rate, he ends the last chapter (“The Problem of War and Peace”) with a clarion call for the turning of aggression into the battle of man against nature and not against his fellow-man. “It has been chiefly in war that they [men] have sought and found the sense of high adventure; and brotherhood in arms has up to now been the supreme form of co-operation. It is only in quite recent times that they have been able to see at all clearly the possibilities and implications of the goal of Progress; and even now they have hardly begun to realise that Progress can be an ideal embracing and inspiring all mankind — an ideal that still calls upon men to be brothers-in-arms, not against their fellows, but against the forces of nature which, in so far as they threaten, restrict, and embitter human life, are the enemies of all. If we wish to be dramatic (and it is perhaps well that we should be so, if we would compete against the lure of war), we can say that the stage is set for the epic struggle of Man versus the Universe — a spectacle surely no less breath-taking in its audacity and splendour than the most famous exploits of purely inter-human warfare” (p. 321). Flugel wonders whether those who have shown heroism in war will also have the courage and the insight to enter on the struggle “in which all mankind can be allied”, and, allowing that what is primitive and sinister in human nature might make us doubt whether “such a thing is possible”, he concludes that “we can but try”.


  ― 373 ―
This, however, is a mere setting aside of the theoretical question whether such a thing is possible; there is no merit in stopping inquiry in case it should extinguish a particular hope. And, as regards the content of Flugel's hope, it, on the face of it, falsely divides man from nature and begs the question whether there can be any struggle with “the forces of nature” which is not also (or does not involve) a social struggle. Here, as elsewhere, the appeal would be to history, to social facts and not to hopes — or to the dialectic of Engels. And I should say that the appeal would have to be decided against Flugel, unless “human nature” is to be taken as indefinitely variable — unless, indeed, this is what his conception of Progress means — in which case there is no such thing as human nature or as human (psychological and social) science.

Something of the looseness of Flugel's writing will have been apparent from the quotations given above, but there are a number of points that call for special remark. There are such errors in English as “cannot help but”, “compensate” in place of “compensate for” (more than once), the projection of something “on to” something else (repeatedly). There is the statement (p. 108) about the ‘English School’ that it “centres round the pioneer work of Melanie Klein, who developed a play technique which enabled something resembling psycho-analytic treatment as employed with adults to be adapted to the use of very young children of from 2 to 6 years old” — where clearly the “something resembling” is not what is adapted but is the outcome of the adaptation in question. With this may be compared the statement (p. 226) that the system of magic and superstition “endeavours, as Freud showed, to prolong infantile ‘omnipotence of thought’ and is indeed mankind's most desperate and thoroughgoing attempt in this direction, actually seeking to convert wishful thinking into something like an exact pseudo-science”, and the remark (p. 164), regarding the difficulty, in the present state of psycho-analytic knowledge, of accounting for or predicting reactions to punishment: “All that we can safely say is that, as often happens at a certain stage in the progress of scientific thought, improved insight has revealed a somewhat bewildering confusion of factors at work behind familiar phenomena” (my italics in both cases). The constant and irritating use of hedging or modifying expressions reaches its climax in the statements in three successive sentences (pp. 179, 180) that a certain strength “seems to emanate from the loved object”, that the superego “seems, as we might be inclined to say, to embrace, attract, and elevate the ego”, and that “in mania also the distinction between the ego and the super-ego seems in some way to be obliterated”. Again, the spurious relationships “corresponds to”, “represents”, “reflects”, and the vague “is connected with”, are regularly introduced as if they were quite specific and important forms of connection. Finally, we may take the following as the best illustration of the personification referred to earlier: “guilt having been removed and the super-ego satisfied by suffering, the ego is free to turn a favourable ear to the solicitations of the id towards forms of gratification that would be unacceptable as long as guilt remained” (p. 159).




  ― 374 ―
Heaviness of style is at least partly accounted for by heaviness of purpose — by the author's meliorism or salvationism. But, concerned though it was with questions of cure, there was nothing in the original or “classical” doctrine of psycho-analysis which required the adoption of a voluntarist or salvationist view. What was striking about it was its objective and determinist treatment of mental facts, and such a treatment, while opposed to the more recent conception of a peculiar “psychic reality”, would harmonise with an objective and determinist treatment of ethics. It would have been possible to give a much more detailed exposition and criticism than I have attempted here of Flugel's ethical relativism, particularly in the form of biologism. But this would have been only incidental to the issues on which I have concentrated — the objective character of ethics and the positive conditions of the working out of ethical theory.

previous
next