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 II

James Mark Baldwin (1913)

[p. 54] CHAPTER IV.

Scientific Psychology in the Nineteenth Century.
General Points of View.

I. The Positive Method. -- We have now followed the development of the philosophical views which arose in opposition to the naturalistic interpretation of the mind: the speculative theories of Germany, and the psychological theories of England and France. The speculative theories allowed greater liberty to science as such, since they gave themselves to the interpretation of facts in a larger world-view, not to the observing or selecting of facts in the pursuit of special interests. On the other hand, such special interests -- the interests of spiritualism, morals, theology -- were controlling in the English and French movements; and for that reason their opposition to a thorough-going psychological naturalism was sharper and more persistent.

Understandings that these special motives were in a large sense practical, we may say that in France such practical interests, especially in their vested forms, ecclesiastical and political, suffered a destructive shock in the Revolution. As a consequence, radically new possibilities of reconstruction were opened up in science as in other lines of endeavour. The victory of psychological naturalism was accordingly more rapid in France than in England or Germany. The impulse given to thought in France by the subjectivism and romantic [p. 55] naturalism of Rousseau was lacking elsewhere. If we take the theological interest as typical for our purposes, we are not slow to observe this national difference in high relief. In France, the theological bias and restraint were done away with in scientific circles through the violent reaction from the Roman Church to free-thought; and positive methods of reconstruction were in demand. The Church survived as a practical cult -- a conventional and æsthetic instrument -- not as a theory nor as a restraint upon thought. Positive solutions were sought for everywhere, even substitutes for the deposed theology. Witness Comte's proposal of the Religion of Humanity.

In England, Germany and America, however, the relative satisfaction of the need of freedom of mind and conscience, achieved in the Reformation, left the citadel of theological interest still standing and still manned by defenders to whom the spiritual attributes of the soul were dear. Consequently the spirited and sustained opposition in these countries to naturalistic conceptions which seemed to endanger this view of the soul. The biological sciences encountered it in the form of an alliance of theology with vitalism in the interest of teleology; and in the opposition made to Darwinism in the interest of the dogma of  "special creation." [1]  How much the more did psychology have to fight its battles for a science of mind considered as a natural thing, found in the body, and subject to psycho-physical laws!

In Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 - 1778) two motives [p. 56] appear which are in a certain opposition to each other. The one is that of personal freedom, individualism, the larger naturalism of a full and unrestrained life. This is the dominant note of the "liberty, equality, fraternity," of the French Revolution. It showed itself in the Émile and the Confessions.  The second motive is a distinctly social and collectivistic one, represented in the Social Contract and the theory of the "general will."  It is the latter of these motives, the social, that remained so long undeveloped. To bring out its import was, and is, the task of later men.

In Auguste Comte (1798 - 1857) positivism of method reached its full statement. He called his first great work Cours de Philosophie positive, conceiving philosophy as the systematisation of "positive" or experimental science. Nothing beyond this, no metaphysics [2] as such, was possible. Philosophy being thus limited to the recognition of those sciences in which an experimental method could be employed, psychology considered as an independent science was excluded. [3]

Comte did not intend, however, to exclude the facts of psychology; he only insisted on their being referred to a science in which the positive method was possible. This led him to objectivise the inner world for scientific treatment, and to look upon it as it may be observed [p. 57] [figure - Rousseau] [p. 58]  in its actual operation in the social life. "Sociology" -- a word due to Comte -- was to comprise all the sciences of the intercourse and interaction of men, their minds being the centre of such interaction. Thus the mental as such, while not presenting a sphere open to positive treatment, nevertheless offered its data to the science of sociology.

In this programme of a sociology, we may forsee the re-establishment of the collective values jeopardised by the individualism of Rousseau.  Humanity was to be the summary of these values and sociology its theory.

An analogy of interests suggests itself between this procedure of Comte and the somewhat similar objective way of treating mental facts by Aristotle. The latter associated the mind not with society, but with the physical organism, in such a way that while the subjective point of view was not lost, it was still merged theoretically in the objective, in his case, the biological. Mental functions were classed with physiological. Comte treats the mind similarly, except that it is the social body, rather than the physical body, in which he finds the sufficient objective and positive support for the events of consciousness.

In Comte as in Bacon the practical and the methodological were prominent; and he was urged on to justify the sort of naturalism in which these two motives issued. This led him to assert the essential fragmentariness and capriciousness of the psychic as such; [4] while he should have held to a larger natural- [p. 59] ism, within the conception of which the external and the psychic might develop each its own positive method. Of course, it is no reconciliation of two terms to deny one of them; and such a procedure has not the merit of the æsthetic synthesis which we find in the great monistic systems.  Nevertheless, the assertion of the universal range of positive method was of the first importance.  It carried forward one of the great motives of the history of science.

The gain of the Positivism -- now technically so named -- of Comte, accrued to science in general, not directly to psychology.  The spirit of his teaching awaited its working out in a later generation. It was to the profit of sociology; for the negative answer to the question of a positive psychology went with the affirmative answer to that of a social science. The "positive" bearing of Positivism comes out, therefore, in two ways: first, as announcing a general method; and second, as preparing the way for a social science including social psychology. Comte was original mainly on the latter point, since in the former he followed Francis Bacon, suggesting for his own time the method that Bacon had described as that necessary for the "restoration  of  science."

II. Psycho-physical Parallelism. -- It is evident that no permanent adjustment of interests as between spiritualism and materialism is possible so long as a theory of causal interaction between mind and body prevails. If pure spiritualism is right, a science of uniformities in mental process is impossible -- as is also a physiology of the brain. The capricious interferences of the soul could not be reduced to law.  But on the other hand, if brain states and their laws of organisation are to [p. 60] impose their mode of necessity upon the inner life, then psychology may at once close its doors. Mental phenomena would vacate their claim to any characters or procedures worth investigating. Why observe them? -- why not go directly to the brain? The automaton theory of Descartes is extended to the entire human animal.

The only possible way, therefore, to secure a truce, in which psychology may retain a strip of neutral territory for its own independent use, is that which adopts, or pretends to adopt, complete agnosticism on the question of the psycho-physical relation. Giving up or ignoring altogether the question of cause as between mind and body, we may investigate the mental and the physiological each for itself, grounding the two sciences respectively in the two distinct points of view.

This is the positive programme of which the theory of psycho-physical parallelism is a part. The mental life runs parallel to the cerebral, term for term in a "one to one correspondence," so to speak; but intercourse across the line is limited to a fraternal hand shake.

This principle has taken on various forms of statement.  The "double-aspect theory" of the English positivists, Clifford, Lewes, H. Spencer, makes the empty reservation that after all the basis of the parallelism is a substantial unity of some sort, itself perhaps unknowable -- a reservation that "saves the face" of Positivism by seeming to ward off the charge of materialism. This charge is frankly accepted, on the other hand, by those, such as Maudsley, who accept the "epiphenomenon" theory of consciousness; to them consciousness is merely a by-product, a spark thrown [p. 61] off by the engine, the brain. [5]  Later phases of scientific monism -- seen in K. Pearson, Mach, Poincaré -- reduce all science to formulas of phenomenal and instrumental value. The data of psychology and physiology alike are merged in a larger whole of relative and utilitarian import.

With the evolution theory, involving a racial descent of mind and body together in the tree of life, the demand has come for the extension of the principle of parallelism to the entire series of animal forms, each type of brain having just and only the mind that goes with that brain. So evolution becomes psycho-physical in its character. Darwin and Romanes proceeded upon this assumption, which has since had explicit formulation. [6]

In such a parallelism, psychology avails itself of the liberty allowed by the old doctrine of "occasionalism" of Malebranche, and that of the identity of modes of the theory of Spinoza. Other late philosophical attempts to interpret the principle are those of Herbart and Lotze, the one in the spirit of Leibnitz, the other in the interest of a refined spiritualism.

Herbart, J. F. (1776 - 1831), worked out a doctrine which, superficially considered, suggests a new eclecticism.  But this is only on the surface; for in the result his psychological views became of great influence. Adopting an atomistic point of view, similar to that of the monad theory of Leibnitz, Herbart postulated what [p. 62] he called "reals" or first elements. The soul is a "real," whose original active inertia (Selbsterhaltung) shows itself in presentation. The entire phenomenal world is one of presentation (Vorstellen). Having thus a common character, nature and mind are subject to the same system of laws and principles of organisation. From this it follows that strictly mechanical processes -- cause and effect, composition and resolution of forces, etc. -- are operative in the play of presentations or ideas (Vorstellungen). We thus reach a somewhat surprising result -- surprising considering the nature of the " reals" -- a "mechanics of ideas," developed mathematically, which has become the typical case of pure "presentationism " in modern psychology. The apparent inconsequence is due, of course, to Herbart's having gone to mechanical science for the method and principle of organisation, while advocating the point of view of the psychical in the theory of the matter of the science.

It is in its view of the method of mental organisation, therefore, that the psychology of Herbart has its great interest. It  is the legitimate successor of associationism. But it "goes the associationists one better" since it brings into the play of ideas a dynamic and quantitative factor. Like associationism, it also bears destructively on all forms of the faculty psychology; the one  "mechanics" replaces the different powers and activities of the mind. Memory, for example, is only the reappearance of presentations under dynamic and mechanical conditions. Herbart passed a destructive criticism upon the faculty theory.

On this conception, ideas become "forces" that push and pull. When forced out of the lime-light of the attention -- the focus of greatest intensity -- an idea still [p. 63] [figure - Herbart] [p. 64] remains active, creating its force and ready to appear when the inhibitions from other ideas are released and a new equilibrium is established. No experience is ever lost; all presentations are persistent (selbsterhaltend) in  the  unconscious,  the  dark  cavern  of  the  soul. The state of mind of the moment is one of relative equilibrium among these "idea-forces;" [7] it may be, will be, changed by any new experience that modifies the equilibrium. Some other idea will be reinforced, a new set of tensions and inhibitions set up, and the process will again repeat itself. The mental life is thus a constant play of forces in action.

The principles operative, according to Herbart, in this play of ideas are those of  "persistence," or inertia (Selbsterhaltung), "fusion" (Verschmelzung), and "inhibition" (Hemmung). Under the rule of these principles the ideas form systems, which cohere in masses (Apperceptionsmassen) in the mental life, and assimilate to themselves incoming ideas. The higher states are complexes, showing varying degrees of fusion among their constituent parts. A new idea, entering into a mass to reinforce it, is said to be "apperceived" by that mass. By this mechanical view, Herbart replaces the functional conception of apperception of Leibnitz and Kant; it is now not the "self" or mental  principle that apperceives a content, but one content that apperceives another.

The other great feature of Herbartianism is its strict "intellectualism."  By presentation or idea (Vorstellung) Herbart means, as German psychology always means, a cognitive unit, image, or idea; something [p. 65] presented to the mind, having objective character, not something felt or willed. These latter aspects of the mental life, covered in German by the term Gemüth, are for Herbart derived, not original: they are functions of the play of presentations and depend upon that. Will is the consciousness of the dynamic side of the play of ideas -- the tension of the idea toward clear presentation, its reaction against inhibition. When such a tension exists below the "threshold" of consciousness, there is "impulse" (Streben); when the idea is consciously inhibited, there is "desire" (Begehen); when it is released by the idea of the end of satisfaction, desire passes into "volition" (Wollen).

Feeling is the consciousness of the resulting conditions -- of success, failure, equilibrium, compromise or balance, in this continuous rivalry of ideas. The functions of feeling and will have no laws of independent movement and organisation; they merely reflect the stage of movement, the status quo, of the intellectual forces at work. Here we see the extreme rationalising of feeling and emotion from which modern psychology is only just now freeing itself, through the organic and autonomous theories of James and Ribot spoken of below.

Consciousness becomes again, as in British empiricism, the mere theatre or Lokal of the mechanical play of presentations. It has a high degree of clearness in the conditions of intensity attaching to the presentation mass at the time in the focus of attention; it is relatively obscure at the margin, where presentations are held in check; and it has a threshold [8] -- a sort of "stoop" -- below which presentations sink into the un- [p. 66] conscious. Consciousness is not functional; it is not a character of an active self. On the contrary, the self -- the empirical self known in consciousness -- is a complex like other complexes, a mass of contents, a system of presentations, acting like other systems. Attention to this mass gives it standing in the limelight, like attention to other masses; but attention itself is merely evidence of the dynamic activity of the mass attended to. Here we find Hume's "bundle of ideas" consciously and deliberately tied up with the mechanical cord. [9]

Among the special theories of Herbart, that of the empirical origin of space perception (a case of fusion of spaceless data) is important; it leads on to the genetic and local-sign theories of Helmholtz and Lotze.

With Herbart, a school was founded -- its members called Herbartians -- in whose writings the systematic exposition of empirical psychology in general textbooks began to be made. George, Waitz, Drobisch, Volkmann, [10] and from a modified point of view Lipps, published important works going systematically over the field of psychology. With them -- as with Bain in English and Taine in French [11] -- the domain of the descriptive science becomes so broad, and its details so complex, that a brief summary is impossible. We [p. 67] accordingly confine ourselves -- as in other cases to be mentioned below -- to the summary indication of the general characteristics of the school.

Herbart's psychology has become influential also in educational theory. A large group of writers have followed his leading in applying the theory of apperception as he conceived it to pedagogy. Within the Herbartian circle also -- particularly in the writings of Waitz [12] and Steinthal -- an early attempt was made to isolate the problem of racial psychology (Völkerpsychologie).

Hermann Lotze (1817 - 1881) represents the form taken on by modern spiritualism when founded upon inductive and analytic psychology. [13]  He discusses the alternative solutions of the great problems of interpretation raised by scientific knowledge and method with remarkable balance, fairness, and judicial acumen: space, time, cause, substance, the self. His philosophical conclusions are those of a man who has not only contributed to scientific psychology, but who emphasises its role as the fundamental science. His book on Logic is one of the classics of the new "psychologistic" treatment of thought.

Lotze's work on "medical psychology" [14] entitled him to be called one of the founders of physiological psychology. He held to a theory of the relation be- [p. 68] tween mind and body by which, as he thought, the criticisms brought against the interaction theory could be met without adopting a strict parallelism. The act of will was causally effective in voluntary movement, as was the stimulation of sense upon the mind; but both were limited in their effects to the restricted system of psycho-physical changes.

In a noteworthy analysis of cause and effect, including all change in the physical world, [15] he showed the impossibility of purely mechanical action, that is, action due to impact as such. The mere contact of two spatially separated bodies cannot result in the transfer of anything from one to the other; and the same is true of the ultimate organisation of the elements or atoms which constitutes physical mass. All physical action requires the assumption of  some bond of union or organisation already established. The only analogy available for the interpretation of physical change is that drawn from the organisation of mental contents, especially in the form it assumes in social relations.

Lotze thus reaches -- or at least suggests -- a new point of view; that according to which the monads of which the world is made up are in their intrinsic nature psycho-physical. On the basis of this view, to be described as a pan-psychic atomism, Lotze develops the psychological theories of his important work, The Microcosm. [16]  It is evident that he reverses Herbart's essential procedure.  Instead of findings in mechanical laws the ultimate ground of mental change, he makes the mental the ground of the physical.

Of his original psychological views, one of the most [p. 69] [figure - Lotze] [p. 70] important is the theory of "local signs."  According to this theory visual space, while native to the mind, is provoked by means of qualitatively different "signs" or marks attaching to or stimulated with the retinal elements which are locally distributed. The sensational equivalent of each such sign -- whether considered as something intrinsic to vision or as a muscular factor -- comes to be referred to its proper optical element. The retina, as thus plotted out in its entire area, becomes the organ of discrimination of external spatial position and arrangement. Similarly for tactile space perceived through the skin, where the local signs are circles of radiation. This theory led on to the "extensity" theory of James and Ward, according to which the local signs were themselves extensive, not merely intensive or qualitative, marks of visual (or other) sensation.

This important idea of signs was later on extended to time-perception, in the theory of "temporal signs"; which were qualitative marks attaching to the passing events in consciousness, whereby they were redistributed in time-order and arranged as before and after. As in the case of local signs, these qualitative marks were replaced by temporal. Each instant or "now," looked upon as a section of conscious content, was considered as having a certain temporal thickness or duration.

Lotze's judicious spiritualism sharpened the opposition between the mechanical interpretation of consciousness of Herbart and the functional, which was still to have its full development. Presentationism, the purely structural psychology of content, was opposed by apperceptionism in the functional form, which recognised a synthetic function or activity of mind.

[p. 71] Put on the defensive in the matter of determining the fundamental functions or faculties, Lotze accepted the consequences of his view.  Herbart and Brentano had argued that if once we admit different faculties, there is no stopping anywhere; every distinguishable mode of mental process may be ascribed to a separate faculty: colour-perception and piano-playing no less than feeling and will. Lotze did not deny this, but claimed that certain generalisations were possible which permitted the valid demarcation of the great functions recognised in the Kantian threefold division. He was one of the few Germans who opposed the current untempered claims made on behalf of "unconscious" presentations, the existence of which he denied.


[1] Mr. A. W. Benn makes the suggestion that it was an analogous influence, the currency of the theogony of Hesiod, that prevented the spread of the evolution theory after its early start among the Greeks (History of Ancient Philosophy, p. 38).

[2] The epoch of positive science follows that of metaphysics, as this in turn follows that of theology, according to Comte's "law of the three stages" in the evolution of thought. Metaphysics is a premature, and in its results abortive, effort to interpret the world. In this, Comte gave to later Positivists a sort of excuse, but not a reason, for the shallow verbal anathemas directed by some of them against speculative thought. See the Biographical History of Philosophy, by G. H. Lewes, for an example of this attitude.

[3] We cannot dwell upon Comte's famous classification of the sciences. He had the advantage of knowing Bacon's scheme, which had been adopted by the editors of the Encyclopædia.

[4] His inconsistency is seen in his appeal to Kant's relativism of knowledge to refute metaphysics, while using the objective order to refute the subjective point of view of Condillac and the spiritualists.

[5] H. Maudsley, Physiology and Pathology of Mind (1867): "The unity of the mind is merely the organic unity of the brain." See also Maudsley in Mind, No. 54, examined the present writer in Mind. Oct., 1889.

[6] Cf. the writer's Development and Evolution (1902), Chap. I.

[7] The expression used by Fouillée, La Psychologie des Idées-forces, a writer who interpreted the dynamics of ideas less mechanically and also less intellectualistically than Herbart.

[8] A conception made more definite in later experimental research.

[9] The presentationist view of to-day -- as seen for example in the theory of the self of F. H. Bradley -- essentially restates Herbart's view, leaving out, however, the terms of the strictly mechanical conception. See F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, 2nd ed. (1897), Chaps. IX, X.

[10] The Lehrbuch der Psychologie of Volkmann von Volkmar (4th ed., 1894 - 5) has an additional element of permanent value in its rich literary citations and book lists.

[11] Both are associationists and empiricists. See H. Taine, L'intelligence (1870), and A. Bain, Senses and Intellect (1855), and Emotions and Will (1859).

[12] Th. Waltz, Anthropologie der Naturvölker, 6 vols. (1870 - 1877).

[13] It is the beginning of the series of attempts to construct a spiritualist metaphysics upon empirical psychology -- as those of James Ward (Naturalism and Agnosticism, 1899) in England, and those of G. T. Ladd (Philosophy of Mind, 1895), and A. T. Ormond (Foundations of Knowledge, 1900), in the United States.

[14] H. Lotze, Die medizinische Psychologie, oder die Physiologie der Seele (1852).

[15] Lotze, Metaphysik.

[16] Der Mikrokosmus (1856 - 1864).