Wundt and “Higher Cognition”: Elements, Association, Apperception, and Experiment

Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 10 (1):48-75 (2020)
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Throughout his career, Wundt recognized Völkerpsychologie (VP) as (at first) ancillary to experimental psychology or (later) as its required complement. New scholarship from around 1979 highlighted this fact while claiming to correct a picture of Wundt as a pure associationist, attributed to Boring’s History of Experimental Psychology, by instead emphasizing apperception in Wundt’s scheme (sec. 2). The criticisms of Boring, summarized by Blumenthal in 1980, overshot the mark. Boring’s Wundt was no pure associationist. Both Boring and the seventy-niner historians emphasized psychic activity in Wundt. Section 3 considers Wundt’s endorsements of mental chemistry, elements, association, and psychological explanation via combinations of elements. Section 4 follows Wundt’s changing conceptions of VP; looks into the relations between VP and experiment, especially as regards “higher” mental processes; examines the (sometimes cooperative) interactions between individual (including experimental) psychology and VP; and considers how method, not type of mental process, distinguishes the two branches of psychology. Finally, section 5 acknowledges Wundt’s unification of VP and individual psychology and concludes that although he objected to the Würzburgers’ experimental methods in treating higher mental processes, he did not generally exclude the latter from experimental investigation, contrary to the seventy-niner narrative, which has been widely adopted.

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Gary Hatfield
University of Pennsylvania


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