History of modern psychology

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 4 November 2016

History of modern psychology

Psychology’s history cannot be understood adequately without knowing something of philosophy’s history. All of the important issues that concern modern psychologists have been addressed by philosophers (2008). I will discuss how the philosophers: Descartes, Locke, Hume, Mill, and Berkley. These individuals life work greatly influenced the development of modern psychology. The End of the Renaissance and the 17th century brought to history, the man who is “sometimes considered the father of modern philosophy, mathematics, physiology and psychology”, the great philosopher, Rene’ Descartes (Goodwin, 2008).

Descartes was born in La Haye on March 31, 1596 of Joachim Descartes and Jeanne Brochard. He was one of a number of surviving children (two siblings and two half-siblings). His father was a lawyer and magistrate, which apparently left little time for family. Descartes’ mother died in May of the year following his birth, and he, his full brother and sister, Pierre and Jeanne, were left to be raised by their grandmother in La Haye. At around ten years of age, in 1606, he was sent to the Jesuit college of La Fleche.

He studied there until 1614, and in 1615 entered the University of Poitiers, where a year later he received his Baccalaureate and License in Canon & Civil Law (2012). Goodwin (2008) summarized that, Descartes was a rationalist, believing that the way to true knowledge was through the systematic use of his reasoning abilities. Because he believed that some truths Were universal and could be arrived at through reason and without the necessity of sensory experience, he was also a nativist. In addition, he was a dualist and an interactionist, believing that mind and body were distinct essences, but that they had direct influence on each other.

It is Descartes’ who is most likely responsible for many of the themes that came from the late Renaissance that are incorporated into the science of psychology today, but since that time there are many philosophers in the Western tradition that contributed to the formation of psychology as a discipline. Western Philosophers that Contributed to the Formation of Psychology as a Discipline John Locke (b. 1632, d. 1704) was a British philosopher, Oxford academic and medical researcher. Locke is often classified as the first of the great English empiricists.

Locke, according to Goodwin (2008) “is important to psychology as a consequence of the concepts expressed in two of his books, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690/1963) and Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693/1963) (p. 38). Goodwin (2008) explains further that the “former explains Locke’s views on how knowledge is acquired, how we as humans come to understand our world” (p. 38) and the “latter is based on a series of letters to a friend and shows how empiricist thinking could be applied to all aspects of a child’s education” (p. 38).

David Hume was born near Edinburgh, Scotland. David Hume, was an empiricist/associationist that Goodwin (2008) summarizes was “known for making a distinction between impressions, which result from sensation, and ideas, which he said were faint copies of impressions” (p. 59). It is also said that he “identified the rules of association as resemblance, contiguity, and cause/effect” and “he believed that we cannot know causality absolutely, only that certain events occur together regularly” (Goodwin, 2008, p. 59). George Berkeley was born in or near Kilkenny, Ireland on 12 March 1685.

He was raised in Dysart Castle (Flage, 2005). He was a bishop of the Anglican Church in Ireland and was one thinker that was especially concerned about the materialistic implications of seventeenth-century science (Goodwin, 2008, p. 43). Berkeley was one of the three most famous British Empiricists. (The other two are John Locke and David Hume. ). George Berkeley wrote a detailed analysis of visual perception based on empiricist arguments, in the process describing visual phenomena such as convergence, accommodation, and the effects of the inverted retinal image.

He rejected Locke’s primary/secondary qualities distinction, and to counter materialism, he proposed (subjective idealism) that we cannot be sure of the reality of objects except through our belief in God, the Permanent Perceiver (Goodwin, 2008). Nineteenth-Century Development of the Science of Psychology John Stuart Mill was a child prodigy and one the leading British philosopher of the nineteenth century (Goodwin, 2008). Mill’s politics derived from and contributed to his psychology. As an empiricist, he believed that all knowledge came through experience and that under the proper circumstances, anyone could become knowledgeable.

Thus, he favored government support for universal education and was appalled at the traditional English system that favored the landed gentry, an elite minority (Goodwin, 2008). According to Goodwin (2008), He brought British associationism to its zenith and he provided an analysis of scientific thinking that guides psychological research to this day. He was a key transition figure in the shift from the philosophy of the mind to the science of the mind. Immanuel Kant agreed with the empiricists that our knowledge is built from experience, and he argued that the more important question was how the process occurs.

Kant derived the fundamental principles of human thought and action from human sensibility, understanding, and reason, all as sources of our autonomy; he balanced the contributions of these principles against the ineliminable inputs of external sensation and internal inclination beyond our own control; and he strove both to demarcate these principles from each other and yet to integrate them into a single system with human autonomy as both its foundation and its ultimate value and goal (Guyer, 2004).

Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) is known as the founder of experimental psychology. He founded the first “school” of psychology, called structuralism. The main goal of Wundt’s school was to analyze the contents of the mind into its basic structural components or elements, using introspection of mental contents as the chief method (Goodwin, 2008).

According to Goodwin (2008), Wundt is justifiably considered the first true psychologist of the modern era and although it is difficult to identify a single Wundtian among the early American psychologists, he had a strong influence on the origins of American psychology. Psychology, as a science is rooted in its origin of philosophy. Descartes, Hume, Mill, Berkeley, Locke, Kant, and Wundt were some of the brightest of their time. The development of modern psychology and its many branches would not be possible without the hard work and contributions of these individuals.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 4 November 2016

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