Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

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History of Psychology: A Sketch and an Interpretation
Volume I

James Mark Baldwin (1913)


Greek Speculation, Second Period: Subjectivism.

Socrates, Plato, and the Minor Socratic Schools. -- The significance of "subjectivism " in racial and individual thought alike is this: it isolates the contents of the mind itself from their external references and discloses the possible interpretations that may be placed upon them. To say that the senses deceive, is to say that the interpretation put upon sensation is incorrect or false. To say that knowledge is relative, is to say that our percepts, images, etc., are capable on occasion of varying interpretations. To say that reason is ineffective, is to say that the beliefs, presuppositions, and processes in which are its tools are insufficient. All these misinterpretations turn upon the fact that consciousness possesses data which are taken to be subjective.

To take the subjective point of view is simply to recognise this in some measure; to acknowledge that we must deal first of all with what is in the mind, with percepts, images, hypotheses, etc., "made up" in consciousness; in short, with "ideas." It recognises that ideas intervene in some sense between the perceiver and the thing perceived; that ideas are the mediating or instrumental term in knowledge.

I. Socrates (469-399 B.C.). -- The Sophists denied in effect the possibility of passing beyond ideas. To them the interpretations made by the preceding philosophers [p. 47][figure][p. 48] were all alike false; all that was left for knowledge was the body of ideas itself. Man, the possessor of ideas, was "the measure of all things."

Now in the teaching of Socrates, we find a new sort of interpretation of ideas suggested. Recognising the subjective point of view of the Sophists, Socrates built positively upon it in two different directions, which we may call without violence the "social direction" and the "ethical direction."

First, Socrates opposed the Sophists' individualistic way of employing subjectivism. He attempted, by his celebrated questioning method (as seen in Plato's dialogue, Protagoras), to bring them to admit a general form of knowledge, a commonly received definition of a thing, which was more reliable and true than mere individual opinion (doxa). The criterion of truth thus comes to be found in collective or common acceptance; truth and knowledge are social. It is man in the sense of "humanity," not man the individual, in which the true subjective point of view resides. In this position, the foundation was laid for the theory of general and universal knowledge,[l] which was to be developed by Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. Socrates said, as Plato reports, that the only thing he knew -- being in this wiser than other men, as the Oracle had declared -- was that he knew nothing. This is, however, to know something of the meaning, limitations, and value of knowledge itself.

Second, Socrates connected truth with virtue, knowledge with duty. He said that virtue depended upon knowledge in the sense that with adequate knowledge, [p. 49] or insight into the results of action-called by him "wisdom" (sofia) -- one would never do wrong. This makes action, conduct, depend upon ideas, just as truth does; and carries the subjective point of view into the domain of practice. After this, mere external authority, social constraint, religious sanction, cannot replace the inner light of knowledge.

If all we have is a body of ideas, still this very point of view has results; for it is then our ideas that stand for things, and it is our ideas that guide our actions. Two processes of mediation play through ideas: ideas are the means of attaining both sorts of ends, ends of truth and ends of virtue.[2] In Socrates, the emphasis falls upon the latter sort of mediation, the practical. He establishes the eternal right of virtue; and makes ideas, in the forms of knowledge and truth, means to the ends of practical life.[3]

In this departure, the dualism whose history we are tracing, in the history of theories of the self, takes on a new and valuable phase. It becomes the dualism between the "subjective" and the "external"; between the mind, as a subjective principle and the seat of ideas, and the world of things and of practical interest and values.[4] In Socrates, this dualism appears in the [p. 50] immature form that it takes on at first also in the individual: it recognises the fallibility of individual perception and personal opinion, and seeks a method of converting the individual's ideas into socially confirmed and general knowledge. It thus saves itself from the pitfalls of sophistic relativity. And again it asserts the correspondence and interdependence of knowledge and virtue, with the result of securing the stability of practical interests and values. The child likewise learns to judge for himself, but according to an enlightened social conscience, which comes to replace the ipse dixit of an external authority.

The external term is not a purely objective and neutral system of controlling conditions over against the individual; on the contrary, it is the embodiment of practical values[5] over against the social body which is bent on pursuing these values as ends. This is the meaning of the external also to the child, before his prying curiosity develops into consistent reflection. The world is something to conquer and enjoy, and something to conform to, rather than something to understand; and the "self" is a body of collective social interests, rather than a personal being of mere desire, individual personal caprice, and private opinion.

The result is that, in the school of Socrates, Physics, or the science of objective nature (fusiV of the pre-Socratics), gives place to Logic and Ethics, pursued by the dialectical method. The gain coming from the human point of view is far from being lost: it is now made positive and lasting. [p. 51]

It is thus that the famous motto of the Socratic school, "know thyself " (gnwqi seauton) is to be understood. It is an exhortation to examine man-the social, active, virtuous man-and understand his place in the network of external things and social interests. By such knowledge is virtue advanced; for virtue is taught and learned with the teaching and learning of truth. Freedom is found in intelligent action.

The principal ambiguity that remains -- one that reappears in the system of Plato -- attaches to the relation of truth to practice, what is known as the "Socratic paradox." Socrates, as we have seen, made the "good" the absolute end, and knowledge the means to it. But the relation thus barely stated may be understood quite differently. It may be taken to mean that virtue is contingent upon knowledge; that the truth of ideas must be established before virtue can be reached or the good conceived.[6] Such a turn would give supremacy to the reason, and lead on to systematic intellectualism in the theory of morals.[7] The empirical question involved -- that of the relation between cognition [p. 52] and will -- is one of modern psychology. Its answer in later thought will concern us further on.

Although put to death for "impiety," Socrates held to the existence of a supreme God. His belief in the spirits of the earlier theogonies is attested by his claim that he himself was guided by the prohibitions and restraint of a "demon" which, however, never guided him positively.

II. Plato. -- In the philosophy of Plato (427-347 B.C.), the factors of earlier thought have explicit development. We will indicate only those aspects which bear upon the problem of psychology.

Plato's thought centres in the celebrated "theory of ideas." Its meaning in brief is that ideas or concepts are not merely subjective states of mind, but absolute realities existing in themselves. Every actual thing in nature has its absolute-prototype or model in "idea." What degree of reality things have comes only from the presence of this prototype, of which the thing is a mere "shadow." The ideas constitute a hierarchy or ascending series, the supreme idea being God or the Good. The idea of the Good must be the highest idea, and it must be divine.

In this theory there is a further advance in the direction of the Socratic teaching. The starting-point is the idea, but it is now not only not an individual state, but also not merely a subjective thing; its meaning is what is important, its existence as reality per se. This is the beginning of a typical form of rationalism, one that considers the mediating term, the idea, not as the instrument of knowledge, but as itself revealing the real. A further thing -- a second real something -- reached through the idea, is given up: such apparent [p. 53][figure][p. 54] realities are mere shadows, reflections, pseudo-ideas. In the intuition of the idea, the absolute itself is directly apprehended.

By this step, the dualism of the earlier philosophy is carried forward and enriched. The "spirit" of Anaxagoras and the formal "number" of Pythagoras are given the quality of the idea. The absolute is enriched by the gain accruing from the Socratic subjectivism; it becomes a rational principle. Furthermore, its highest embodiment in the idea of God makes it, in the final interpretation, something spiritual.

Again the ethical significance of the Socratic point of view is not lost in the rationalism of Plato. To Socrates, all things exist for the sake of the Good; ideas are means of attaining virtue; all cause in nature is final cause, a process working to a desirable end. Plato is true to his master here; and in his doctrine of ideas he justifies the thought by a metaphysics. Instead of being a mere belief, a pious hope, the absolute Good is really present in the supreme idea. The rational principle culminates in God, the supreme reason, and the ethical principle in the Good, the supreme end. These two are one: the idea Good is God.

The process of mediation involved in the Socratic method -- the mediation of ends or "goods" by concepts -- is therefore not superseded in the Platonic process of mediation of realities by ideas. Both are recognised in their culmination, in the final synthesis of God and the Good. In this the motives of individual thought are again exhibited in their integrity. The individual finds that truth is reached through ideas, and also that ideas lead to satisfactions; both processes of mediation hold good. He does not find it necessary [p. 55] to deny one of them in making use of the other. It is only when his further reflection leads him to inquire into it, that he finds that he himself, following social leading, has already united the two results in a further synthesis and embodiment in personal form. Father, priest, God, each may become in turn the being in whom knowledge and goodness are alike and together realised. The hero is at once the wise man and the good man; God is the great Hero, the eternal Good. We are all naturally to this degree Platonic in our definition of God.

In this result, too, the "ejective" process in the growth of reflection, individual and racial alike, reaches its full statement. The rational-ethical postulate of God, in Plato, follows upon the animistic and anthropomorphic postulates of early religious mysticism. It secures deliberately, in terms of reflection, what the earlier movements secured spontaneously, in terms of ejection: the presence of personality in the divine nature.

Psychologically, this is of great interest, because it shows us the gradual freeing of the hidden motives of the dualistic thought. Both the processes of mediation, each working through ideas, set the inner life over against the outer; the world of reason. order. and the good, over against that of appearance, plurality, disorder, and. imperfection. So far we have dwelt upon against the outer; the world of reason, order, and the good, over against that of appearance, plurality, disorder and imperfection. So far we have dwelt upon Plato's theory as it affects the first of the opposed terms of the dualism; we will now look at his treatment of the second.

In the human person, according to Plato, reason or the idea is involved in matter, or the body, through the presence of the soul. The soul as common principle partakes of the nature of both. It has an immortal [p. 56] or rational part, coming from God; and also a mortal part (epiqumetikon), the seat of appetite and sensation, belonging to the body. Lying between these and making their interaction possible, there is a third part (qumoV) by means of which reason conquers desire. Plants have the lowest part; animals the two lower, but not reason, which is exclusively human. In man, the head, breast, and abdomen are the respective seats of the three.

The rational soul pre-existed and also survives the body. It is immortal, gradually freeing itself from its non-rational parts through transmigration into new lives separated from one another by periods -- each of a thousand years -- of the penalties of purgatory.[8] Nature shows an upward progress, whose end is represented by man (but not by woman!), since in man the rationality is achieved in which the absolute good is freed from the corruptions of matter. Matter ('ulh) is not a positive substantial principle, but one of limitation and confinement. It is the "matrix," the "nurse," the "mother," of the generation of reason. The world as a whole is a living being (zwon) of whose life living organisms partake. The world-soul takes form in individual souls. In all this, we see the return to a mystic or psychosophic point of view. The objective loses its exact content, reverting from the naturalism of Democritus back to the hylozoism of the Ionics.

The service of Plato, accordingly, in the doctrine of ideas, consists in having developed the subjectivism of Socrates and in having rationalised the spiritualism of Anaxagoras; not certainly in having clarified the concept of nature or in having hastened the advent [p. 57] of scientific method. Psychology, understood in the empirical sense, remains a part of "physics,'' which treats of the shadow-world.

In discussing the reason, Plato held that the knowledge awakened in the mind -- all learning and research -- comes by a "reminiscence" (anamnhsiV[9]) from some earlier existence. He formulated the two laws of association, known as "resemblance" and "contiguity," to explain the play of ideas.

Finally, we should remark that two great directions are represented in Plato's views. In the first place, he started out from Socrates' instrumental theory of knowledge; concepts are the instruments and means of attaining practical and moral ends. But in making ideas themselves realities, Plato goes over to a more rationalistic point of view. Instrumentalism passes into absolutism. The. point of unity of the two is, as we have already noted, the identification of the highest idea or God with the absolute Good. The question arises, then, by what mental process-whether idea, feeling, intuition-this identification is effected.

We here reach the apex of this extraordinary structure of thought. While in his later life (in the Timæus), Plato emphasised rationalism by making existence the outcome of ideas of identity and difference -- the soul having existence in this sense -- still his characteristic view is more mystical. Plato the poet, the artist, was as profound in sensibility as Plato the philosopher was in thought. The divine reason in man, he says, responds to the divine good in God; by love and contemplation the soul realises the union of wisdom and goodness in God, and attains its own proper immortality. [p. 58] Plato's doctrine of divine love (epoV), exercised by immediate contemplation of God, is a recognition of the synthesis of knowledge and value, of thought and practice, in a higher immediacy which is contemplative and æsthetic -- " pancalistic" -- in character.[10]

It makes the æsthetic the fundamental reconciling category. This is the first appearance in the history of philosophy of another movement which clearly appears at the same relative place in normal individual reflection. The individual presses the two modes of mediation, cognitive and active, each to its limit; and at the limit, each of them by an outgo of the imagination postulates its own ideal. Then, overcoming this final opposition, the two ideals become fused together in the one immediate and ineffable object of contemplation. The æsthetic mode of apprehension is thus called into play; it reaches the reconciliation of the terms of the dualism of thought and action; its object is one of beauty, one to love and adore.[11]

It was this form of Platonism, not the developed rationalism of Aristotle, that first gained currency, through the Neo-Platonists of Alexandria, and held its own for more than two centuries.

The child's preparation for the enjoyment of beauty undoubtedly involves the play-functions, as current [p. 59] æsthetic theory admits. By these functions mental material becomes detached and disposable for "semblant" and imaginative uses. Something analogous is seen in the course of Greek reflection in the sophistic "play" of ideas.

In the Minor Socratic Schools, the "Megarics" (Euclid of Megara), the "Cyrenaics " (Aristippus), and the "Cynics" (Antisthenes, Diogenes), the Socratic reading was dominant, with little further result for psychology. The beginning of "hedonism" appears in Aristippus, who, on this point, prepared the way for the Epicureans. He taught that pleasure was positive, not the mere removal of pain; also that pleasure, defined in sensuous terms, constituted the good and afforded the criterion of truth. Virtue was prudential in character. In the Cynics, we have similar suggestions of the philosophical positions reached later on by the Stoics; nature and fate were the great realities, to which man was to subject himself with simplicity and without pretence.


[1] This interpretation of Socrates follows that of Zeller, The Philosophy of the Greeks. Cf. also Boutroux, "Socrates " in Historical Studies in Philosophy, Eng. trans. (1912).

[2] In the author's work, Thought and Things, or Genetic Logic, Vol. III, "Interest and Art," it is shown that individual thought and action always proceed by this twofold process of mediation. Cf. also below, Chap. VII, ad fin.

[3] This point is made the capital one by Harms, loc. cit., who expounds Socrates' psychology under the heading "Ethical Determinism."

[4] It has not yet become a dualism between "subject and object" as such, in which both terms are set up consciously in experience itself, or within the self. This is achieved only later on, when thought becomes reflective. But it affords the foundation for it, by supplying once for all the refutation of pure externalism either as materialism of nature or as legalism of morals.

[5] Socrates explicitly added to the intelligent moving principle of Anaxagoras, the idea of "final cause" the intelligence works for the good. See Fouillée, La Philosophie de Socrate. Vol. I, p. 25.

[6] It is the virtue (eupraxia) that is founded on knowledge or wisdom that is "teachable," not the virtue (eutucia) which rests on mere opinion.

[7] Of course, Socrates could not foresee the use later speculation was to make of his intuitions. And it is worth saying, though it is not new, that the "Socrates" of Plato's Dialogues (the Menon especially) is, in this matter as in others, a Platonic Socrates. However well intended by the author, we must suppose Socrates' opinions to have been developed somewhat in the direction of Plato's. On the matter before us, the following is the decision of Fouillée : "Socrates was not exclusively moralist, as the reading of Xenophon would lead us to believe, nor as much of a metaphysician as Plato represents him. His proper point of view is that of the unity of ethics and metaphysics in the notion, at once practical and speculative, of final cause" (Fouillée, loc. cit., Vol. I, p. 34). In his opinion also Socrates is an ethical determinist, assuming that he discarded free-will (a question, however, which he did not discuss).

[8] For the worst offenders, being everlasting, it is no longer "purgatory" but hell."

[9] This doctrine is found in Plato's exposition of Socrates' views in the Menon.

[10] See below, Chap II of Vol II on Kant's Pancalism. Plato, however, proscribed most forms of art from his ideal Republic, holding that they had too "softening" an effect in education.

[11] An analogous interpretation of Plato is presented, with psychological insight and great learning, in Prof. J. A. Stewart's book, Plato's Doctrine of Ideas. He uses, as I do here, the terms "instrumental" and "æsthetic" for the two Platonic points of view. For the analogy with the individual's process, one may note the suggestion made in the author's article, "Sketch of the History of Psychology," Psychological Review. May 1905 (developed in University lectures). See also W. D. Furry, The Æsthetic Experience (1908.)