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Morgan, C. Lloyd (1852–1936)


C. Lloyd Morgan, an English biologist and philosopher, was born in London. His early education "was almost exclusively literary," but he later became attracted to scientific studies, attended the Royal School of Mines, and received a diploma in metallurgy. His deepest interest, however, was in the bearing of science on philosophical issues. This interest was given encouragement and direction by T. H. Huxley, under whom he studied biology. Henceforth, Morgan's vocation was to be that of an investigator of "borderland problems of life and mind" and the expositor of a philosophy of "emergent evolution." After teaching for five years at a small college near Cape Town, South Africa, he was appointed in 1884 to the chair of geology and zoology at University College, Bristol. When the college received a university charter in 1909, Morgan agreed to serve temporarily as its first vice-chancellor. At his own request, however, he resigned the next year and resumed his chair, now designated the chair of psychology and ethics. He retired in 1919. During his career at Bristol, Morgan devoted himself to the study of animal psychology and published such books as Animal Life and Intelligence, Habit and Instinct, Animal Behavior, and Instinct and Experience.

When he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1899, he became the first person to be thus honored for scientific work in psychology. After his retirement he was invited to deliver the Gifford Lectures and used the occasion to expound his philosophical ideas, which subsequently appeared in Emergent Evolution and Life, Mind, and Spirit. Two other works, Mind at the Crossways and The Emergence of Novelty, contain elaborations of his position.

Morgan's psychological studies had a Darwinian background. Accepting the view that evolution is a continuous process, he sought to trace the development of mental characteristics in the world of living things. The focal point of his investigations was the behavior of those organisms that showed some capacity to learn from experience. He contended that the rudiments of intelligence are to be found wherever learning results from "the method of trial and error"a phrase that he coined in 1894. Much of his experimental work was designed to show how this method is employed, even by relatively simple forms of life. Unlike his predecessors in animal psychology, Morgan was alert to the dangers of using casual reports of animal behavior, especially reports from untrained observers. He urged the importance of a methodological "law of parsimony," according to which we should never interpret what an animal does as the outcome of a higher psychical power if the action "can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of a power which stands lower in the psychological scale." Morgan's experiments usually were not strictly laboratory ones but involved artificially produced situations in the natural habitat of animals. His accurate and detailed observations of their behavior in these situations, however, gave comparative psychology a new scientific status.

The conceptual background of Morgan's work was neither mechanistic nor finalistic. He rejected the view that biological processes are to be understood in physicochemical terms and that physiology can give an adequate account of animal behavior. Radical behaviorism was likewise unacceptable to him. On the other hand, he rejected the view that teleology is operative throughout the living world and that even reflex action and instinctive responses must be explained teleologically.

In Instinct and Experience Morgan criticized Henri Bergson's teleological speculations. Morgan's own position, which he described as "naturalism," was that in all behavior there occurs an "unrestricted concomitance" of physical and psychical events. Hence, each behavior episode is susceptible of interpretation in both physiological and psychological terms. There are two stories to be told, each throwing light on the other, "but neither story as such makes the other what it is."

Philosophically, Morgan adopted the hypothesis that the twofold story was really about one natural order of events. Moreover, that one order of events has a progressive natural history designated by the word evolution. An adequate description of this process requires us to recognize that evolution has not been uniformly continuous, as Charles Darwin believed, but has involved from time to time major discontinuities or "critical turning points." These turning points are marked by the abrupt appearance of certain phenomena that Morgan called emergents, a term used by G. H. Lewes in 1874. An emergent (1) supervenes upon what already exists, (2) arises out of what already exists, (3) is something genuinely new in the history of the universe, (4) occurs in a manner that is unpredictable in principle since it conforms to no general laws, and (5) cannot be naturalistically explained but must be accepted "with natural piety." The successive emergents in the panorama of evolution mark stages of progress from lower to higher. Hence, Morgan followed Samuel Alexander in picturing the totality of nature as "a pyramidal scheme."

The full significance of emergent evolution cannot be grasped, however, as long as one remains at the level of "a philosophy based on the procedure sanctioned by the progress of scientific thought." It was essential, Morgan thought, to construct a metaphysical system within which the naturalistic version of evolution could be set. This system would formulate certain fundamental concepts and presuppositions by whose aid an "ultimate explanation" of the evolutionary process could be given. Nothing affirmed in this constructive scheme was to be at variance with science, but it would "complete the otherwise incomplete delivery of strictly scientific thought."

A necessary basic presupposition of the system Morgan proposed was the existence of a physical world that "is nowise dependent on being perceived or thought of by any human or sub-human mind." Since no conclusive proof of this contention had ever been given, it was simply "accepted under acknowledgment." Morgan then elaborated a psychophysiologically oriented theory of how organisms perceive the external world. Physical events exert an "advenient influence" on the sense receptors of organisms. By virtue of their psychical power, the organisms respond by referring the signs arising within the psychophysical system to regions of physical space in a process Morgan called "projicient reference." The result is an emergent object correlated with the external event in such a way as to be biologically useful to the organism.

Morgan's second presupposition was that the pyramid of emergent evolution is a hierarchy of kinds of relatedness. Four basic concepts are needed to unfold its consequencesstuff, substance, quality, and property. The ultimate stuff consists of psychophysical events, and the mode of their relatedness in a given system is that system's substance. Each system has intrinsic qualities grounded in its substance and extrinsic properties grounded in its relation to other systems. Besides the emergents there are resultants, or phenomena that are repetitive, predictable, and the source of quantitative continuity. Emergence generates progress in continuity, but through resultants there is continuity in progress.

The third presupposition that Morgan acknowledged was the universal correlation of physical and psychical events. He recognized a similarity between his system and that of Benedict de Spinoza in this respect, yet Morgan's view that "mind" is "a quality emergent at a high level of evolutionary advance" would have been quite unacceptable, or possibly unintelligible, to Spinoza. Even that from which mind in this sense emergesthe pervasive psychical correlateis scarcely to be compared with a Spinozistic attribute.

The last presupposition introduced by Morgan affirmed that a directing activity, otherwise called "spirit" or "God," is manifested everywhere. Thus, "the whole course of events subsumed under evolution is the expression of God's purpose," which embraces all that has been and all that will be brought about in the course of evolutionary advance. This postulate can be neither proved nor disproved but only adopted to satisfy the need for an ultimate explanation of things.

Morgan's philosophy of evolution gave wide currency to the idea of emergence. Yet when compared with later discussions, his treatment of the idea lacks precision. He was not a close reasoner, and his speculative scheme was much less carefully worked out than that of Alexander, to whom he was indebted. A hostile critic might well question Morgan's policy of "acknowledging," rather than arguing for, important principles in his system. And, although he opposed Darwinism by insisting that evolution is "jumpy" and not continuous, each jump is, in Morgan's view of evolution, a mystery, unexplained and inexplicable except, perhaps, to God.

See also Alexander, Samuel; Animal Mind; Bergson, Henri; Darwinism; Emergence; Emergent Evolutionism; Huxley, Thomas Henry; Lewes, George Henry; Spinoza, Benedict (Baruch) de; Teleology.


works by morgan

Animal Life and Intelligence. London: Arnold, 1890.

An Introduction to Comparative Psychology. London: W. Scott, 1894.

Habit and Instinct. London and New York: Arnold, 1896.

Animal Behaviour. London: Arnold, 1900.

Instinct and Experience. New York: Macmillan, 1912.

Emergent Evolution. London: Williams and Norgate, 1923.

Life, Mind, and Spirit. London, 1926.

Mind at the Crossways. London: Williams and Norgate, 1929.

The Animal Mind. London: Arnold, 1930.

The Emergence of Novelty. London: Williams and Norgate, 1933.

works on morgan

McDougall, William. Modern Materialism and Emergent Evolution. New York: Van Nostrand, 1929.

MacKinnon, Flora I. "The Meaning of 'Emergent' in Lloyd Morgan's 'Emergent Evolution.'" Mind 33 (1924): 311315.

T. A. Goudge (1967)

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