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)



THE proposal to prepare the History of Psychology for this series appealed to me for other than the usual reasons. In the first place, singular as it may seem, :there is no history of psychology of any kind in book form in the English language.[l] Some years ago, I .projected as Editor a series of historical works to be written by various authorities on central psychological topics, the whole to constitute a "Library of Historical Psychology." These works, some twelve in number, are in course of preparation, and certain of them are soon to appear; but up to now no one of them has seen the light. The present little work of course in no way duplicates any of these.

In French, too, there is no independent history. The German works, of which there are several,[2] had become hat old when last year two short histories appeared, written by Prof. Dessoir and Dr. Klemm. refer to these again just below.

Another reason of a personal character for my entering this field is worth mentioning, since it explains scope and method of the present sketch. I had ready prepared much of the same material for a [p. xii] course of sixteen lectures, given in my capacity of Special Professor in the School of Higher Studies of the National University of Mexico (April to June, 1912). These lectures have been entirely made over, in being thrown into book form; but the original purpose appears both in the plan and in the essential idea ruling the historical interpretation itself. The point of view adopted -- that of a parallelism between racial reflection and individual thought, which leads to an account of the history of psychology considered as the rise and interpretation of the mind-term[3] in the dualism of mind and body -- this point of view I have been interested in carrying out. The merely narrative sort of history-writing-useful as its results are -- makes no appeal to many, among whom I count myself. In a subject like psychology it is peculiarly futile, since the views and theories of men cannot be ascertained and reported as earthquakes and battles can. They are themselves matter of interpretation.[4] Had it not been, therefore, for the larger interest in the principle of interpretation, I should not have cared to undertake the task. The [p. xiii] point of view itself is explained in the Introduction; and the results of its application are gathered up in the last chapter. It should be added, however, that the use of this principle of interpretation has in no way influenced the statement of historical fact or the exposition of theories. I hope the opinion of competent critics will confirm this assertion.

The book is to be looked upon as a sketch; no more than this. Two possible ways of treating the subject are well illustrated by the recent handbooks of Dessoir and Klemm, the former entitled Abriss einer Geschichte der Psychologie and the latter Geschichte der Psychologie.

Each has certain defects of its plan. Dessoir expounds the theories in their historical setting and with reference to their philosophical significance. The result, while on the whole of the highest competence, must perforce leave so much unreported or merely hinted at that the reader gets little idea of the richness of the sources. Moreover, from limitations of space, the author can give but a slight and impressionistic-seeming account of nineteenth-century scientific psychology, and that on national lines. Klemm, on the other hand, adopts the topical method, and gives us important notes on the development of views on this or that special subject. But anything like completeness in such a task is quite impossible in one small volume. As remarked above, the series projected to serve this purpose in English will have ten or twelve large volumes. Klemm's method results also in the omission of many topics, in this case naturally those in which the German psychologists have not had the leading part; as, for example, the subjects pertaining to the genetic method, its problems and results. Incidentally, it may be remarked that in these [p. xiv] and the other German works the contributions made to the science by Germans have not been given too little importance -- a remark not intended in a disparaging sense.

It follows that a rule of interpretation; such as that adopted here, to guide the selection and govern the estimation of particular facts and theories, is a real desideratum in a short sketch like this. I find, in the result, that the entire psychological development down to the nineteenth-century scientific movement is illuminated by it and given a larger interest. This is true, I take it, because the hypothesis adopted accepts as subject of the history just the problem about which all the minor topics arrange themselves: that of the theory of the soul or self. Omissions in particular fields, and even mistakes[5] in the report of particular results or theories, should not impair the essential truth of the account as a whole. I have found the work of Harms, Philosophie in ihrer Geschichte, I. Psychologie, very suggestive because of the author's constant recognition of the problem of dualism.

As I have already intimated, the principal embarrassment arises from the variety of problems and wealth of results of nineteenth-century psychology. The earlier works have generally brought the account down only to Kant or Herbart. If one includes the more recent work, the treatment must be selective. This I have frankly recognised; and in the chapters devoted to nineteenth-century psychology I have reported simply what are, in my opinion, the most significant features [p. xv] of the entire modern movement. The selection has been made, however, with a view to illustrating further the interpretation which looks upon psychology as a body of knowledge and theory about the mental principle or self.[6]

By preserving this conception one is able to pass in review nearly all of the relatively distinct new departures -- social, genetic, experimental, affective, aesthetic -- and by a partial statement of results illustrate at least their problems and methods.

January, 1913

J. M. B.

[1] Since this was written the History of Psychology, Ancient and Patristic, by G. E.[sic] Brett (1912), has appeared; and Prof. Dessoir's Abriss, mentioned below, has been translated into English.

[2] The titles are given in the list of "Sources " at the end of Vol. 2.

[3]It leads to the consideration of physical science as the development of the theory of the matter-term of the same dualism, a correlation merely hinted at in certain places in passing.

[4] The place of Socrates and Socratic views, to note a case in point, is a matter of wide divergence of opinion, although we have two able and almost contemporary expounders. From the important place assigned to the "subjectivism" of Socrates in the present volume, opinions vary to the extreme of the omission of Socrates altogether, as by Dessoir. It would seem, however, that any plausible hypothesis as to the course of reflection would restore "Socratism," if not Socrates, to an important place. One may cite the well-known saying as to the authorship of the Iliad: "if it was not written by Homer, then it must have been written by another man of the same name." We may recognise the Socratic contribution to thought, leaving aside the question of mere fact as to whether it is essentially doe to Socrates himself or to "another of the same name."

[5] Mistakes which could hardly be entirely avoided. No writer -- least of all the present author -- could pretend to be equally conversant with the literature of all the periods, ancient, mediæval, and modern. He should expect to see some of his authorities challenged, and should welcome expert correction.

[6] A radical definition of psychology, for its own purposes, as the "science of selves," has been advocated by Prof. W. M.[sic] Calkins; see her historical work, The Persistent Problems of Philosophy (1907).