Morgan, Conwy Lloyd

views updated May 17 2018


(b. London, England, 6 February 1852; d. Hastings, England, 6 March 1936)

comparative psychology, philosophy.

Lloyd Morgan, as he was usually called, was a pioneer of animal psychology and an outstanding contributor to the evolutionary understanding of animal behavior. He was the second son of James Arthur Morgan, a solicitor, and received his early education at the Royal Grammar School, Guildford. When he was seventeen he entered the School of Mines at the Royal College of Science in London, intending to become a mining engineer. His progress was brilliant and at the same time he studied philosophy and biology. After a spell of traveling in the Americas he worked under T. H. Huxley, who influenced him profoundly. From 1878 to 1883 he taught physical sciences, English literature, and constitutional history at the Diocesan College of Rondebosch, South Africa. On his return to England Lloyd Morgan took the chair of geology and zoology at University College, Bristol, and stayed there for the rest of his professional career. In 1887 he was elected principal of the college and when a university charter was granted in 1909 he became the first vice-chancellor, although he held the position for only a few months. On resigning from it he returned to his studies as professor of psychology and ethics. He retired in 1919. In 1899 he became the first fellow of the Royal Society to be elected for work in psychology. He was also the first president of the psychological section of the British Association (Edinburgh, 1921); in 1910 he received the honorary D.Sc. from Bristol Univer-sity. He married Emily Charlotte Maddock, the daughter of a vicar, and had two sons.

Lloyd Morgan’s academic activity comprised work in geology and general science, comparative psychol-ogy, and philosophy. His geological writings include Water and Its Teachings (1882) and Facts Around Us (1884). He also wrote introductions to books on the geology of the Bristol region. His chief accom-plishments, however, lie in the area of comparative psychology. Lloyd Morgan extended the work of G. J. Romanes and, together with E. L. Thorndike of the United States, helped to establish modern animal psychology. He was one of the first psychol-ogists to recognize the need for an experimental as well as an observational approach to learning. Instead of using casual, recorded observations (the “anecdotal method” of Romanes), Lloyd Morgan resorted to rigorously controlled experiments.

Like Romanes, Lloyd Morgan relied on the concept of continuity in evolution as a justification for comparative psychology. He argued that because mind evolved from a lower to a higher mental state, the existence of the latter means that all others below it in the evolutionary scale also exist. To fathom the minds of animals, therefore, it is necessary to proceed from the lowest and simplest to the highest and most complex forms, rather than assuming human mental processes for all animals. A dictum embodying this basic prerequisite, “a law of parsimony,” is now known as “Lloyd Morgan’s canon.” It states that “in no case is an animal activity to be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be fairly interpreted as the outcome of his exercise of one which stands lower in the psychological scale” (An Introduction to Comparative Psychology, p. 59). This was a salutary warning; like his insistence that new levels of adaptive response are not necessarily the sum of simpler processes, it is still useful to recall.

Lloyd Morgan’s literary output was astonishing. His experimental work, although not extensive, was nonetheless characterized by precise observations and vivid accounts of behavior. He advanced extremely cautious interpretations concerning instinctive behavior and its relationship to intelligence, and these appeared in Animal Life and Intelligence (1890–1891), Animal Sketches (1891), An Introduction to Compar-ative Psychology (1895), and Animal Behavior (1900). A more detailed consideration is in Instinct and Experience (1912). No one has written with more sense about the animal mind than Lloyd Morgan and although there is some disharmony and ambiva-lence in his writings, his contribution to psychology, especially in the area of methodology, is nevertheless important.

During this same period Lloyd Morgan published books on general biology and psychology; his influence spread to the United States, where he lectured in the 1890’s.

Following his retirement Lloyd Morgan became primarily concerned with general philosophy and metaphysical speculation. He developed the theory of “emergent evolution,” which maintained that evo-lution is not a steady, continuous process and that during it new properties suddenly emerge at certain levels of complexity. He developed this theory in a number of works—Emergent Evolution (1923), Life, Mind and Spirit (1926), Mind at the Crossways (1929), The Animal Mind (1930), and The Emergence of Novelty (1933).


I. Original Works. Lloyd Morgan published a great number of articles in journals of psychology and philos-ophy and numerous books based upon them. His works include Water and Its Teachings in Chemistry, Physics and Physiography. A Suggestive Handbook (London, 1882); Facts Around Us: Simple Readings in Inorganic Science; with Experiments (London, 1884); Springs of Conduct; an Essay in Evolution (London, 1885); Animal Biology. An Elementary Textbook (London, 1887; 2nd ed., 1889); Animal Life and Intelligence (London, 1890–1891); Animal Sketches (London, n.d. [1891], 1893); Psychology for Teachers (London, [1894], new ed., 1906); An Introduction to Comparative Psychology (London, 1895; 2nd ed., 1904); Habit and Instinct (London, 1896); Animal Behavior [rev. version of Animal Life and Intelligence] (London, 1900); The Interpretation of Nature (Bristol, 1905); Instinct and Experience (London, 1912); Eugenics and Environment (London, 1919); Emergent Evolution (London, 1923); Life, Mind, and Spirit (London, 1926); Mind at the Cross-ways (London, 1929); and The Emergence of Novelty (London, 1933).

II. Secondary Literature. On the development of Lloyd Morgan’s thought, especially concerning philosophic topics, see C. Murchison, ed., A History of Psychology in Autobiography, II (Worcester, Mass., 1932), 237–264. The best obituary notices are G. C. G., “Professor C. Lloyd Morgan 1852–1936,” in British Journal of Psychology, 27 (1936), 1–3, with portrait; J. H. Parsons, “Conwy Lloyd Morgan 1852–1936,” in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society of London, 2 (1936–1938), 25–27, with por-trait; and Dictionary of National Biography 1931–1940. There is an excellent account of Lloyd Morgan’s contribu-tions to psychology and philosophy in L. S. Hearnshaw, A Short History of British Psychology 1840–1940 (London, 1964), 96–100. Briefer assessments are E. G. Boring, A History of Experimental Psychology, 2nd ed., (New York, 1957), 472–476 and 497–498; R. Watson, The Great Psy-chologists (Philadelphia, 1963), 296–298; and R. J. Herrn-stein and E. G. Boring, eds., A Source Book in the History of Psychology (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), 462–468, which incorporates pp. 47–59 of Lloyd Morgan’s An Introduction to Comparative Psychology.

Edwin Clarke

Morgan, Conwy Lloyd

views updated Jun 08 2018

Morgan, Conwy Lloyd



Conwy Lloyd Morgan (1852–1936), habitually known as Lloyd Morgan because of his common surname, was a British comparative psychologist and psychological philosopher who, coming under the influence of Thomas H. Huxley, interested himself in the philosophy of evolution and of human conduct and in the intelligent behavior of animals in their relation to each other and to man.

Lloyd Morgan, the son of a solicitor, James A. Morgan, was born in London. He received his early education at the Royal Grammar School in Guildford near London, after his parents had moved from the city. He was already reading philosophy, but to prepare himself to earn a living he enrolled in the School of Mines in London, with the intention of becoming a mining engineer. By chance, at a dinner at the school he found himself seated next to the great Huxley, 27 years his senior. Huxley quizzed the young student of mining about his intellectual interests and recommended that he finish his present training and then shift to work in biology with Huxley at the Royal College of Science. Thereafter Huxley had a new disciple.

Lloyd Morgan was much more interested in science than in mining. On completing his training at the school, he accepted a post as a tutor, which took him on tour through North America and Brazil. After that he did indeed go to study with Huxley; Adolf C. Bastian, later the defender of the doctrine of the spontaneous generation of life, was a fellow pupil. In 1878 he obtained the post of lecturer at the Diocesan College at Rondebosch in South Africa. There he taught physical science, English literature, and constitutional history but devoted his leisure to studying geology and natural history. It was becoming clear that teaching was his forte.

In 1883 he was appointed a lecturer in geology and zoology at University College, Bristol, where he was to remain for the rest of his professional life. In 1887 he was made principal of the college, a post equivalent to appointment to a permanent chair. Much later, in 1910, when the college became a university, he acted as vice-chancellor for a year but thereafter returned to teaching, the occupation that he greatly preferred, as professor of psychology and ethics. In 1919 he retired, continuing in the suburbs of Bristol his active life of writing. Then finally he withdrew to Hastings on the English Channel, where he died in 1936.

For fifty years at Bristol, Lloyd Morgan, besides being concerned with teaching and college administration, lived the life of a philosopher of nature, an observer of animal behavior, and a writer of many essays and a dozen books on evolution, especially the evolution of mind, as well as on comparative psychology, especially the emergence of consciousness and the growth of intelligence in the evolutionary scale. (The term “comparative psychology” had been coined by G. J. Romanes in 1882, the year of Darwin’s death. Lloyd Morgan’s best-known book, An Introduction to Comparative Psychology, was published in 1894, the year of Romanes’ death.)

Lloyd Morgan was constantly on the alert for significant incidents in the behavior of animals: he brought together the reports of others on this topic, watched his own dogs and cats, and arranged little experiments with them and with newly hatched chicks and ducklings in order to study the distinction between instinctive and learned behavior. He wrote about instinct, learning, intelligence, association, imitation, reasoning, and the perception of relations. Always he compared animals with respect to one another and to man, with especial reference to the scale of mental evolution.

He is best known for what has come to be called Lloyd Morgan’s canon, which demands parsimony in the inference of an animal’s place on the scale of mind from its behavior: “In no case may we interpret an action [of an animal] as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one which stands lower in the psychological scale” (1894, p. 63). He used this canon consistently throughout his Comparative Psychology and his later books, always rejecting the inference of the more nearly human level of consciousness in favor of whatever simpler account seemed adequate.

Lloyd Morgan is also known for his support of the doctrine of emergent evolution, a view which he shared with his philosophical contemporary Samuel Alexander and which they derived in part from Henri Bergson’s concept of elan vital and in part from the concept of entelechy as advocated by the vitalist Hans Driesch. Lloyd Morgan tells how quite early he tried to convince a skeptical Huxley that evolution occurs by discrete steps. Evolutionary emergence is equivalent to chemical emergence: the various observable properties of water cannot be predicted from the observable properties of hydrogen and oxygen. Lloyd Morgan presented this view as applied to new biological organizations in his Gifford lectures, published as Emergent Evolution in 1923, shortly after his retirement from Bristol, and again in The Emergence of Novelty of 1933, his last publication of importance, for he was then 81.

Edwin G. Boring

[For the historical context of Morgans work, see Evolution; for discussion of the subsequent development of Morgan’s ideas, see Ethology; Instinct; Psychology, articles oncomparativepsychologyandphysiological Psychology.]


1885 The Springs of Conduct: An Essay in Evolution. London: Routledge.

1891 Animal Life and Intelligence. London: Arnold; New York: Scribner.

(1894) 1906 An Introduction to Comparative Psychology. London: Scott.

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

1900 Animal Behaviour. London and New York: Arnold.

1912 Instinct and Experience. London: Methuen; New York: Macmillan.

1923 Emergent Evolution: The Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of St. Andrews in the Year 1922. London: Williams & Norgate.

1926 Life, Mind and Spirit: Being the Second Course of the Gifford Lectures. London: Williams & Norgate.

1929 Mind at the Crossways. London: Williams & Norgate.

1930 The Animal Mind. London: Arnold; New York: Longmans.

1932 Autobiography. Volume 2, pages 237-264 in A History of Psychology in Autobiography. Worcester, Mass.: Clark Univ. Press.

1933 The Emergence of Novelty. London: Williams & Norgate; New York: Holt.


Conwy Lloyd Morgan. 1932 Volume 3, pages 952-955 in Psychological Register. Worcester, Mass.: Clark Univ. Press; Oxford Univ. Press.

Field, G. C. 1949 Morgan, Conwy Lloyd: 1852-1936. Pages 627–628 in Dictionary of National Biography: 1931-1940. Oxford Univ. Press.

Grindley, G. C. 1936 Professor C. Lloyd Morgan. British Journal of Psychology 27:1-3.

Parsons, J. H. 1936 Conwy Lloyd Morgan. Royal Society of London, Obituary Notices of Fellows 2:25-27.

Conway Lloyd Morgan

views updated May 14 2018

Conway Lloyd Morgan

The English comparative psychologist and social evolutionist Conway Lloyd Morgan (1852-1936) was one of the first to consistently apply the experimental method in observing animal behavior. To interpret animal behavior he formulated his "law of parsimony."

On Feb. 6, 1852, C. Lloyd Morgan was born in London. He attended the Royal School of Mines in London, the Royal College of Science, and the University of Bristol, receiving doctorates in science and in law. He taught for five years at the Diocesan College in Rondesbosch, South Africa. On his return to England in 1884 he joined the University of Bristol as professor of geology and zoology, and three years later he became principal. In 1910 he assumed the chair of psychology and ethics.

One of the major problems raised by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was that of animal psychology. There was need for a continuity based on similarities between different animal forms, including similarities between man and the animals. At that time workers dealing with animal behavior ascribed complex and complicated humanlike motivations to the behavior of the nonhuman animals they observed, tending to "read" animal behavior motivations that were in the workers' minds but not necessarily in the minds of the animals they observed. This was called the anthropomorphic or anthropopsychic interpretation of animal behavior.

These early workers also relied on reports of animal behavior from untrained and uncritical observers. Imagination and superstition distorted their accounts. This careless way of collecting information, relying on stories instead of establishing criteria to distinguish fact from fancy, was called the anecdotal method.

It was to these two offenses against scientific accuracy and integrity that Morgan addressed himself. Somewhat unjustly he singled out George John Romanes, a friend of Darwin, as a primary target. Romanes, who coined the phrase "comparative psychology," attributed to animals as much intelligence as their acts would justify. His Animal Intelligence (1882) was the first comparative psychology ever written. Morgan reacted against Romanes in Animal Life and Intelligence (1890-1891), later revised and retitledAnimal Behavior (1900); he held that "one should, in such a situation, attribute as little intelligence as their acts would justify."

In his best-known work, Introduction to Comparative Psychology (1894), Morgan sought to counteract the errors inherent in the anecdotal method, particularly the error of anthropopsychic interpretation. In this book is his famous canon of interpretation: "In no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one which stands lower in the psychological scale." He derived this "law of parsimony" from William of Ockham's razor. Considered by some to be of little value as a scientific tool, Morgan's canon had some validity in offsetting a bias of interpretation. He used it as a corrective to the inaccuracies resulting from the twin evils of anthropopsychic interpretation and the anecdotal method, as exemplified in Romanes's works.

In 1920 Morgan became emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Bristol. He was the first person honored by the Royal Society for scientific work in psychology. In his Gifford Lectures he expounded his philosophy of emergent evolution, basing the books Emergent Evolution (1923) and Life, Mind and Spirit (1926) on them. Mind at the Crossroads (1929) and The Emergence of Novelty (1933) followed.

As a philosopher or social evolutionist, Morgan was interested in the relation of science to philosophic issues. He felt that it was essential to create a metaphysical system within which the naturalistic demonstration of evolution might be placed. He believed that there was one continuous process called evolution, which at irregular intervals was interrupted by discontinuities or critical turning points. These points are distinguished by the abrupt appearance of "emergents." Successive emergents progress evolutionarily as a "pyramidal scheme." This evolution is jumpy rather than uniformly continuous. The emergence of consciousness, he believed, came about not by design or plan but by chance.

On March 6, 1936, Morgan died at Hastings, England.

Further Reading

Excerpts from Morgan's Introduction to Comparative Psychology are in William S. Sahakian, Psychology: A Source Book in Systematic Psychology (1968). His autobiography is in History of Psychology in Autobiography, vol. 2, edited by Carl Murchison (1932). For Morgan's place in psychology see Edwin G. Boring, History of Experimental Psychology (1929), and Boring's "The Influence of Evolutionary Theory upon American Psychological Thought" in Stow Persons, ed., Evolutionary Thought in America (1950). □