Psychology old and new

In Thomas Baldwin (ed.), Cambridge History of Philosophy, 1870–1945. Cambridge University Press. pp. 93–106 (2003)
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During the period 1870-1914 the existing discipline of psychology was transformed. British thinkers including Spencer, Lewes, and Romanes allied psychology with biology and viewed mind as a function of the organism for adapting to the environment. British and German thinkers called attention to social and cultural factors in the development of individual human minds. In Germany and the United States a tradition of psychology as a laboratory science soon developed, which was called a 'new psychology' by contrast with the old, metaphysical psychology. Methodological discussion intensified. New syntheses were framed. Chairs were established and Departments founded. Although the trend toward institutional autonomy was less rapid in Britain and France, significant work was done by the likes of Galton and Binet. Even in Germany and America the purposeful transformation of the old psychology into a new, experimental science was by no means complete in 1914. And while the increase in experimentation changed the body of psychological writing, there was considerable continuity in theoretical content and non-experimental methodology between the old and new psychologies. This chapter follows the emergence of the new psychology out of the old in the national traditions of Britain, Germany, and the United States, with some reference to French, Belgian, Austrian, and Italian thinkers. While the division into national traditions is useful, the psychological literature of the second half of the nineteenth century was generally a European literature, with numerous references across national and linguistic boundaries, and it became a North Atlantic literature as psychology developed in the United States and Canada. The order of treatment, Britain, Germany, and the US, follows the center of gravity of psychological activity. The final section considers some methodological and philosophical issues from these literatures.

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Gary Hatfield
University of Pennsylvania


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