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Graham Wallas on Instincts and the Study of Politics (Part 1) February 17, 2015

Posted by Christopher Donohue in Uncategorized.

Here I introduce Graham Wallas who applied the study of instincts to the science of politics. Unlike many previous glosses of the rise of mass psychology as the eclipse of reason, careful reading and situation of Wallas’ within the developing field of the social sciences in Britain demonstrate that the application of human nature and biological instincts to the study of politics was an avowed attempt to render the inquiry more scientific. Here the discussion of instincts, an important element of the model Simon calls the ‘Cambridge Mind’, was not a species of anti-democratic thinking or illustrative of the ‘eclipse of reason’ in thought and philosophy, but a revision of the hedonic calculus of Bentham and others. I also discuss William James in all of this in order to underscore that the Cambridge Mind drew from a wide variety of sources, not merely in the UK.

The Grote Club

My posts on William McDougall and Simon’s on the “Cambridge Mind” underscores the emergence of a  model which sought to explain the varieties of human behavior in the civilized nations and savage climes.  This model underscored that the difference between instinct and intelligence was one of degree rather than one of kind.  Theorists who articulated this model all understood that it provided a far more robust explanation for human behavior than the hedonic calculus developed a generation earlier by utilitarians and their followers.

As importantly, writers in the emerging social science disciplines in the United States and Britain began to wrestle with a series of interlocking questions, the most important of which were: as instinctual behavior was plainly apparent in the action of everyday animals, what did this mean for the study of human nature?;  as human beings were part of the order of nature by virtue of their…

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