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William McDougall on Psychology, Rationality, Childhood and Civilization (Part II) December 27, 2014

Posted by Christopher Donohue in Uncategorized.

Another Grote Club post- this time connecting the Cambridge Mind with ideas that should be very familiar to readers of Etherwave- differential fertility and the specter of the decline of the upper classes in Britain and the United States. In the post, I outline through a close reading of the work of William McDougall how a narrow debate about the distinctions between instinct and intelligence quickly shifted into a inquiry into the course and fate of ancient and modern civilizations.

The Grote Club

In my previous post for The Grote Club, I outlined McDougall’s account of instincts and intelligence among both humans and animals.  McDougall’s characterization of the power of instincts in everyday life as well as the guiding role of intelligence underscored that far from being distinct faculties,  instincts and intelligence was one of degree rather than one of kind.  This contention was held by held by many who studied in Cambridge and who accompanied W.H.R. Rivers and McDougall on the Torres Straits Expedition of 1898, including Charles S. Myers, one of the key figures in the development of  applied and industrial psychology, who in 1910, proclaimed the “presence of intelligence throughout instinct.”

How else, Myers questioned, could instincts become more and more perfected and sharpened in their application through time? The modification of instincts through the counsel of experience counted greatly against the received notion of them as “fixed innate activities”…

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