[Paleopsych] James Hayden Tufts: Review of Folkways by William Graham Sumner

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James Hayden Tufts: Review of Folkways by William Graham Sumner

    Citation: James Hayden Tufts. "Review of Folkways. A study of the
    sociological importance of usages, manners, customs, and morals by
    William Graham Sumner." Psychological Bulletin, 4 (1907):384-388.

Folkways. A study of the sociological importance of usages, manners, customs
and morals. WILLIAM GRAHAM SUMNER. Boston, Ginn & Co., 1907. Pp. v + 692.

    Professor Sumner's former students will not need the implication in
    the preface that this book is built out of material gradually
    accumulated during years of instruction. The range of illustration,
    the crisp, clear English, the vigorous dicta on policies and current
    conceptions, bring back vividly the memories of what has been to many
    a stimulating and fruitful experience. Other readers will find the
    class-room genesis of the book equally apparent. The great
    accumulation of material, of which the present volume presents but a
    part, has evidently grown in the work of instruction. To some extent,
    at least, it might be easily organized under other titles. The book is
    far fuller and richer than a work aus einen Guss, but it is also less
    sure in the ordering and arrangement of its material.

    The central purpose of the author is to state and illustrate his views
    as to Folkways and Mores. Although the former is taken for the title
    the focus of interest is almost entirely in the latter. "The folkways
    are habits of the individual and customs of the society which arise
    from efforts to satisfy needs:" The struggle to maintain existence was
    carried on individually but in groups. Each profited by the other's
    experience; hence there was concurrence toward that which proved to be
    most expedient. All at last adopted the same way for the same purpose;
    hence the ways turned into customs and became mass phenomena. " The
    young learn them by tradition, imitation and authority." Although the
    above would suggest a rather definitely utilitarian, and in this sense
    rational origin for folkways, it is insisted that the habits arise
    from recurrent needs and are not themselves foreseen or intended. "
    They are not noticed until they have long existed, and it is still
    longer before they are appreciated." Moreover, a further

    (385) factor which the author calls 'irrational,' enters into the
    formation of folkways, namely, the aleatory interest, the element of
    good and bad luck. " One might use the best known means with the
    greatest care, yet fail of the result. On the other hand, one might
    get a great result with no effort at all. One might also incur a
    calamity without any fault of his own." All such good and bad luck was
    attributed to superior powers, hence ',the aleatory element has always
    been the connecting link between the struggle for existence and
    religion." It was only. by religious rites that the aleatory element
    in the struggle for existence could be controlled." [In view of this
    last statement and of various others like it, it is evident that
    Professor Sumner uses ' irrational' in the sense of ' mistaken,'
    rather than in the sense of ' not adapting means to ends.' If a savage
    believes that sympathetic magic will give him a good crop it is just
    as rational a process for him as a large part of human activities. To
    the next generation present methods of treating many diseases, or of
    guarding against commercial panics, or of educating children, may
    appear to be as far wide of the mark as the savage interpretation. So,
    when it is said ' The nexus between them (ghosts, demons, another
    world) and events was not cause and effect but magic,' it is obvious
    that the author must mean, ' Cause and effect as viewed by modern
    science.' For the savage believes profoundly that he is working for
    the cause of his good or ill luck when he looks to the other world,
    and seeks to control his welfare by the chain of what is to his mind
    cause and effect.] Another 'irrational' element in the folkways is due
    to accident or a mistaking of the post hoc for a propter hoc. Some
    customs formed in this way and also some formed by inference from the
    supposed will of the gods may be decidedly harmful.

    The Mores are the folkways raised to another plane. " The mores are
    the folkways including the philosophical and ethical generalizations
    as to societal welfare which are suggested by them, and inherent in
    them as they grow." The two elements out of which the conception of
    welfare is formed are ' right' and ' true.' The exact psychological
    root of ' right' is somewhat variously stated. The problem has
    evidently got its formulation in opposition to intuitionism, and
    without reference to the questions which now most interest the social
    psychologist. It is insisted that " the notion of right is in the
    folkways. It is not outside of them, of independent origin, and
    brought to them to test them." So far, it is easy to follow. But the
    precise element or elementsin the folkways that gives rise to the idea
    of 'right' is not so readily located. The following leaves it
    uncertain whether the

    (386) stress is to be placed on the habitual factor or on the
    ancestral source. " The right way is the way the ancestors used which
    has been handed down. The tradition is its own warrant." The next
    citation seems to make the ancestral the ultimate source; " In the
    folkways, what-ever is, is right. This is because they are traditional
    and therefore contain in themselves the authority of the ancestral
    ghosts." The question then arises, What is meant by ' authority of the
    ancestral ghosts ' ? Certain passages seem to use the term as
    equivalent to ' ghost fear.' " Thus (p. 28 f.) it may well be believed
    that notions of right and duty and of social welfare were first
    developed in connection with ghost fear and other worldliness, and
    therefore that in that field also, folkways were first raised to
    mores." So in the preface : " They (the folkways) are intertwined with
    goblinism and demonism and primitive notions of luck, and, so they win
    traditional authority." On the other hand we read that " the ways of
    the older and more experienced members of a society deserve great
    authority in any primitive group" and this is spoken of as a '
    rational authority' (p.11). Again, four elements are enumerated (p.
    30), as ' ghost fear, ancestral authority, taboos, and habit.' The
    authority in the reference is apparently rational chiefly in the sense
    that it is more skilful in the use of means to ends. The question as
    to whether authority is also based in part upon a will or purpose
    directed toward the good of the group is not raised. The author's
    categories for explanation are on the whole frankly individualistic,
    although sentiments of ' loyalty to the group, sacrifice for it' are
    recognizedphrases which certainly imply the metaphysics,' of

    By the other element involved in the mores, namely, that they are true
    is meant that they fit into a consistent view of the world and its
    powers natural or supernatural, and therefore give to-the particular
    the value of a place in a system, a world philosophy. Thus the
    folk--ways take on larger meaning and value. They are also reinforced
    by reflection on pleasures and pains that follow according as they
    succeed well or ill. The notion of welfare was a resultant from the
    mystic and the utilitarian generalizations combined. When this has
    been formed the folkways become mores. The valuable in this is chiefly
    its emphasis upon the fact that in customs or mores we have not only
    habits but also judgments of value. So far he agrees with Hobhouse
    (Morals in Evolution, p. 13 ff.). But whereas Hobhouse starts the
    approval or disapproval largely in some sympathy or antipathy,
    although speaking also of ' impulses social and selfish,' Professor
    Sumner relies on, (1) a more definitely rational or utilitarian con-

    (387) -ception, (2) a mystic sanction of ghost fear, (3) possibly also
    a conception of ' authority' in ancestors, and (4) connection with a
    world-system. There seems little doubt to the reviewer that the
    element stressed by Hobhouse enters in; it finds expression in all the
    various organs of group opinion. Further, it seems evident that the
    conception of authority implies a conception of social unity which may
    be backed by fear but is never to be derived from it.

    An ethical philosopher, jealous for his profession, might find ground
    for criticism in the apparently conflicting doctrines as to the
    relation of reflective thought or ethical criticism to the mores. On
    the one hand, philosophy and ethics seem to be regarded as invariably
    noxious; on the other, the author not only criticizes unhesitatingly
    and unsparingly the present mores, using for [']the purpose standards
    and principles which are certainly ethical . and philosophical, but he
    provides also for a legitimate function of such critical reflection.
    On the one hand, he writes that philosophy and ethics " often
    interfere in the second stage of the sequence --- act, thought, act.
    Then they produce harm." So, too, ' great principles' are usually
    referred to in quotation marks and with the imputation that they are
    neither great nor worthy to be followed as principles. On the other
    hand, it is said, that ' free and rational criticism of traditional
    mores is essential to societal welfare.' The solution for such
    contradictory statements is doubtless found in the author's conviction
    that most philosophy and ethics have been formed in an abstract and
    speculative fashion, without regard to the guiding principle of social
    welfare. Nevertheless a large number of the author's own keen sarcasms
    and judgments are not reasoned; they doubtless rest on general
    principles of the author's and are presented in as categorical form as
    any of the theories which he considers as ' ethics' and ' philosophy.'

    But it is ungracious to dwell upon matters of this sort. Every student
    of social psychology, morality, and the history of civilization will
    be grateful to Professor Sumner for the wealth of material which is
    here presented. The illustrative material is grouped under such
    headings as Labor, Wealth, Slavery, Cannibalism, Codes of Manners,
    Primitive Justice, Uncleanness, Sex, Marriage, Sacral Harlotry, Child
    Sacrifice, Sports, Drama, Asceticism. It has been gathered from a
    great range of authors, and although the student misses the names of
    some important workers in the field, he will be grateful that many
    sources have been laid under contribution which are not usually drawn
    upon in similar works. The author's earlier studies in the field of
    economic history have doubtless served a purpose here, and the obiter

    (388) dicta on various sentiments and conceptions current in the
    political, educational, social and religious field, enliven the pages.
    Such themes as ' Missions,' 'Democracy, The People, Pensions,' call
    out vigorous expressions. Every reader will hope that the author will
    soon be able to carry out the further plan announced in the preface of
    publishing another volume or volumes of similar material upon other


    The Mead Project,
     Department of Sociology,
    Brock University,
    St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada L2S 3A1
    (905) 688-5550 x 3455 Please direct written communications to
    Dr. Lloyd Gordon Ward
    4501 - 44 Charles Street West
    Toronto Ontario Canada M4Y 1R8
    Phone: (416) 964-6799
                                  Last edited: 12/15/2004

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