Hermann Ebbinghaus once said, “Psychology has a long past, yet its real history is short” (Goodwin, 2008, p 28). Ebbinghaus was referring to the fact that the questions in psychology have been around as long as humans. Philosophers have been studying these questions just as long. Rene Descartes, John Locke, George Berkley, David Hume, David Hartley, and John Stuart Mill were early philosophers that attempted to study these questions of basic human nature. Philosophers were the earliest scientists that formed the discipline of psychology. Later in the nineteenth century, scientists such as Francois Magendie, Hermann von Helmholtz, Franz Josef Gall and Pierre Flourens furthered psychology as science with their research on the brain and its functions.
Early Philosophers and the Beginnings of Psychology
Rene Descartes was a scientist and philosopher and considered the father of modern psychology. Descartes was a realist and believed that the way to truth was through human reasoning (Goodwin, 2008). In 1637, Descartes wrote Discourse on Method, which explained his four basic rules to learn the truth of some things. Descartes was the best known dualist. In being a dualist, he believed that the mind and body were completely separate. He believed that the body was a “machine” and was combined with a mind that could reason. Descartes was also regarded as a machinist, meaning that he believed the body does operate as a complex machine (Goodwin, 2008). Descartes was considered an interactionist. Descartes believed that the mind can has an influence on the body and the body can have an influence on the mind. Descartes created a model of nervous system activity in an effort to explain the interaction between mind and body (Goodwin, 2008). Descartes was also the first person to explain the reflex as a mind – body interaction. Descartes contributed many views to the early formation of psychology.
John Locke was important to psychology because of concepts he expressed in two books. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding explained how humans learn and understand. Some Thoughts Concerning Education explains how this thinking can be applied to teaching a child. Locke was a pioneer for epistemology, or the study of human knowledge and how it’s acquired. Locke rejected the belief of innate ideas and instead believed that our knowledge came from our experiences in the world. Locke was a major pioneer in the field of education by using the concepts he learned about thinking and knowledge.
George Berkley rejected Locke’s ideas. Instead, Berkley believed in subjective idealism. Subjective idealism contends that minds and mental contents exist. Subjective idealism rejects the theories of both dualism and materialism. Where materialism states that physical things exist, subjective idealism states that physical things do not exist; only mental. Berkley was a pioneer of the analysis of visual perception.
Major Philosophers' Contributions to Psychology
David Hume believed that we can never be certain what causes an event, only that certain events occur together on a regular basis (Goodwin, 2008). Hume did not deny the existence of reality; he just believed one could not be certain of them. Hume tried to discover the mind’s basic elements. He concluded there were two basic elements: impressions and ideas. Impressions are the basic sensations one has. These sensations are raw data from experience (Goodwin, 2008). Ideas are not as vivid as sensations and are just faint copies of our impressions. Hume believed that one’s understanding is based upon his or her experiences. Hume also developed the rules of association: resemblance, contiguity and cause/effect.
David Hartley was a contemporary of Hume; however, was not influenced by Hume (Goodwin, 2008). Hartley proclaimed himself as a dualist, even by including “Man consists of two parts, body and mind” (Hartley, 1749, p. i) in the opening of his book. Hartley took the psychophysical parallelism approach to the mind – body issue. This meant that he believed that psychological and physical events were separate but often were in parallel to one another. Hartley was considered the founder of associationism. He theorized that association was contiguity and repetition (Goodwin, 2008). Hartley also developed a model of nervous system action. His model was based upon the Newtonian concept of vibrations.
John Stuart Mill strayed away from the previous view of the mechanical mind. Instead he saw the mind as more holistic. Mill viewed complex ideas as greater than their individual simple ideas (Goodwin, 2008). Mill was on the nurture side of the long standing nature – nurture debate. In 1842, Mill argued for psychology to be named as one of the known sciences (Cahan & White, 1992). Because of Mill’s argument, the final list included psychology.
Nineteenth Century Developments in the Science of Psychology
In the nineteenth century, scientific psychology evolved. Included in this evolvement were the philosophical questions of earlier researchers and research on the nervous system. Francois Magendie was famous for his research on the roots of the spinal cord. Through experiments, he concluded that the posterior roots controlled a being’s sensation and the anterior roots controlled the motor responses. This revelation furthered the study of the reflex. Hermann von Helmholtz was eulogized as being the builder of the “bridge between physiology and psychology…” (Goodwin, 2008, p 69). Helmholtz was the authority on visual and auditory systems during the nineteenth century. Franz Josef Gall was credited with developing the contralateral function. This function means that each side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body. Gall was also the founder of phrenology, which was rejected by the scientific community and labeled as a pseudoscience until the middle of the nineteenth century. Gall was the first to argue that the brain contained both the intellectual and emotional components of a person’s mind. Pierre Flourens set out to disprove phrenology. He used a procedure called ablation to conduct his experiments. Flourens discovered the relationship between the cerebral cortex and bodily function.
Psychology can trace its roots back to early philosophy. Through research and experiments, philosophers and scientists advanced what many believed to be an act of paranormal to an official science. These philosophers related how a person comes to think by using their brains. The scientists showed how the brain works and functions to produce these thoughts. Together, these early pioneers of science created what is known as modern day psychology.
Cahan, E. D., & White, S. H. (1992). Proposals for a Second Psychology. American Psychologist, 47(2), 224-335. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.47.2.224
Hartley, D. (1749). Observations on man, his frame, his duty, and his expectations (Vol. I). New York, NY: Garland.Using someone else's work without giving proper credit, is plagiarism. If you use my work, please reference it.