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 Patristics, Scholastics, and Arabians; the Mystical Reaction.

I. Christian and Patristic Psychology.[l] -- The motive of dualism, fundamentally present in experience, was not permanently overcome by the mysticism of Alexandria. The voice of reason, no less than the demands of conduct, insisted upon the distinction between the self and the world. The achievement of the consciousness of personality only served to reinstate this distinction in more mature form. This appeared in the spiritual and logical dualisms that dominated Patristic and Scholastic thought, and culminated in the doctrine of "substances" of Descartes.

The point of view represented by the Founder of Christianity was ethical rather than psychological. It placed in a new light, however, certain essential truths of the subjective life. The "Sermon on tile Mount," the most sublime of moral discourses, places personal responsibility in motive, intention, rather than in obedience to authority or in explicit action; and so bases morals upon the innermost springs of conduct. It is a sharp rebuke to externalism and legalism. [p. 78]

New doctrines of justice and love are also taught: the justice of the "golden rule," and the love that turns the other cheek. The personal virtues of humility, charity, resignation, of the Stoic Moralists receive a new interpretation in the principle "out of the heart are the issues of life." In this practical subjectivism, Jesus may rightly be looked upon as a new and more enlightened Socrates.

The general theory of personality also had its advancement. The doctrine of the Fatherhood of God gave new force to that of the brotherhood of man. This figure of speech was employed by Jesus himself -- the figure by which a most intimate social bond was symbolized between men and between man and God. A personal individualism, tempered and sustained by universal moral justice and love -- as in the answer to the question, "who is my neighbour," in the Parable -- is the Christian substitute both for the naïve collectivism of early Greek thought and for the more conscious solidarity of Roman nationalism and civic pride.

The spiritualism of the Church Fathers was a view of the soul worked out in the interest of Christian eschatology. Developed into a message of salvation, the theory of Christianity involved statements as to the nature, origin, and destiny of the individual soul. It was to the single soul, also, in the person of the individual convert, that the message of the gospel made its appeal. The Fathers held in common to the view that the soul was "spirit," personal in its conscious nature, and immortal; that it was created by God, who was also a person; that demons and angels existed; and that the Saviour was a mediating person, partaking of both divine and human characters, by whom the human [p. 79] soul was restored or "saved." The differences among them began in the discussion of further philosophical questions, by which they endeavoured to rationalise this body of doctrines in a system of apologetics.

Under these limitations, of course, psychology and philosophy could not be motived [sic] by strict observation or by free speculation. Thought was conducted from a platform of divine revelation and dogma. In all growing religious tradition, the assumptions underlying belief consist in a body of revealed or decreed truths; and further thought is confined to the exposition and defence of these truths in a system of apologetic interpretations. This aspect of the Patristic thought does not directly concern us; its psychology is soon summed up.

The controversy between "creationism" and "traducianism" concerned the origin of the individual soul. Creationism was the view that the soul was created by a divine act at the moment of conception. According to traducianism, the soul was passed from parent to child, in a new individual form, all souls having been potentially created in the first man.

The concept of personality had acute discussion, carried to the extremes of refinement by the Scholastics. The relation between divine and human personality was taken up; especially the relation between the two aspects in the personality of Jesus and among the three persons in the Trinity. These subjects, although standing mysteries, were nevertheless topics for theological definition. The purely logical and ex parte character of the results points the way to the formalism of High Scholasticism.

In Saint Augustine (354-430), however, the greatest of the Fathers, we find a mind formed in the mould [p. 80] of Aristotle. St. Augustine gathered into one the scattered results of what was best in Greek psychological thought. He held that the soul was to be approached and known directly through consciousness; that it was immaterial in character and immortal; that inner observation was possible and necessary. Resulting from such observation, he found that the mental life was one of continual movement in the one spiritual principle, and showed itself in three fundamental functions : intellect (intellectus), will (voluntas), and "self-conscious memory" (perhaps the best rendering of memoria[2] as St. Augustine used the term). The fundamental moving principle of the entire mental life is will. The other functions manifest will.

This develops the Socratic tradition in the direction of the emphasis on conduct or activity, over against the rationalism of Plato. But in St. Augustine the emphasis on will is accompanied by a corresponding recognition of feeling; a position in which the religious interests and intuitions were no doubt involved,[3] but which was none the less new and fruitful. His argument for freedom of the will, within the broad concept of determinism, is classical.

The soul has also the power of knowing itself; the faculties turn in upon themselves; we reflect upon our own states of mind. This was to St. Augustine the key to divine knowledge; for in reflecting upon ourselves we discover the characters of the spiritual principle and of God. This is the end of all knowledge.

In such teaching St. Augustine shows himself to be [p. 81][figure][p. 82] after Aristotle the second great pioneer in the history of psychology. By him, the sphere of fact which psychology is to make its own is clearly marked out: the sphere of conscious events, apprehended by introspection. He also develops further the dualism of mind and body by defining mind in terms of will and activity, terms which find their meaning only within thc conscious life itself.

It was no doubt only his theological interest that kept St. Augustine from taking the radically dualistic step taken later on by Descartes, who denied all interaction of mind and body inter se in view of their disparity as substances. The resurrection doctrine and the theory which attributed to demons and angels the power of acting on the physical world may have contributed to keep St. Augustine from raising the psycho-physical question of interaction, and from answering it in the Cartesian manner. It appears to be clear, however, after all reservations have been made in the case of St. Augustine, that the absolute substantive separation of mind and body is not reached in the Patristic writings, but rather a logical separation in the interest of the distinction between "spirit" and "flesh," between the "kingdom of heaven" and that of sin or "fleshly lust." Tertullian, another leading psychologist of the Latin Church, no less than St. Paul, argues for the resurrection of the body as part of the entire personality that is redeemed.[4] The risen Saviour preserves the same recognisable body, in the New Testament narrative. To certain of the Fathers (Tertullian among them) the soul is a sort of fine air-like stuff, diffused throughout the entire body -- one of the many absorptions [p. 83] from Greek thought of views which proved to be available in the service of Christian dogmatics.[5]

Further, according to St. Augustine, by the knowledge of self scepticism regarding the external world is refuted; for the self distinguishes itself from its objects. Whatever deception or illusion there may be in sense-perception, it arises in the judgment or interpretation of sensation; it is not in the sensation itself. The belief that something real is external is proved by the facts.

In this a further most important phase of dualism discloses itself: that between the subject and the object of thought. In establishing this dualism, reflection passes into the clearly logical period; that is, it becomes conscious of itself as an activity of judgment; it interprets its own contents. The full results of this step appear, as those of the "substantive" distinction just mentioned also appear, only in Descartes. But it is safe to say that Descartes occupies the conspicuous place he does, in both of these respects, in part certainly, because of his historical position as following after the great Patristic writer, St. Augustine.

In considering Aristotle, we saw that psychology was pursued by him in the spirit of natural history, but without entire theoretical justification; to him mind and body were still united in the one fusiV or " nature." St. Augustine took the further step that justified [p. 84] psychology as a science -- having its own body of data, the data of consciousness, and its own method of procedure, introspection -- by making the soul a principle different from matter, and known only in conscious personalities. The truth hinted at in the famous injunction, "know thyself," of Socrates, passed into the equally famous response of Descartes, "I think, therefore I am"; and coming between them, the mediating doctrine of St. Augustine might well have been framed in Cartesian fashion from the words, "volens, sum."

To sum up, we may safely say of St. Augustine the following three things: (1) he justified empirical psychology; by separating off and defining the inner world of mind as distinct from physical nature; (2) he developed the dualism of mind and body up to the point at which their actual separation as different substances could be made by Descartes; and (3) he established the function of reflection, by which the self distinguishes itself as subject from the objects of its thought, thus carrying dualism on to a new stage of development.

II. The Scholastics. -- The writers who are grouped under this title mere also men enlisted in the service of the Church. The Church was the guardian of learning during the long period from A.D. 400 to I400. The religious orders in Paris and Oxford, led by dominant spirits, became camps of doctrine devoted here and there to the defence of this or that philosophical tradition in theology. Of the great Scholastics, Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas were Dominicans, Duns Scotus a Franciscan.[6][p. 85]

The Aristotelian and Platonic directions of thought are plainly distinguishahle, together with the mystic influence of the Alexandrians. Platonism appears early in the movement in modes of idealism which place emphasis on reason, the validity of general knowledge, and the more mystic forms of intuition fathered by Plotinus. Aristotelianism, on the other hand, gained complete ascendency in the later writers, both in the shape of a logical formalism, and in emphasis upon the validity of particular knowledge, the subordination of the idea or form to matter. It was probably only the really vital psychology of St. Augustine, with its emphasis on will and the concrete life, that saved the Church for long periods from the sterile logic and degenerate, or at least casuistical, practice that finally came to mark its intellectual and moral life.

The influence of St. Augustine showed itself in John and Richard of St. Victor in the twelfth century. The Abbots of St. Victor made out three avenues of knowledge -- called by them "eyes of the soul": sense, reason, and intelligence. But these were stages in the progress of the mystic apprehension or contemplation of God, and the recovery of the soul from sin. The problem of evil in the world, discussed by St. Augustine, was centred in that of the fall of man and the consequent reality of human sin. Error is the result of blindness due to sin; sin is not, as Socrates had supposed, due to error. In all this mystic turn of view, feeling held the prominent place.

The psychology of St. Augustine also served to give analogies by which logical "realism" could be defended: the doctrine that genus and species have real existence in nature. The three faculties were present in the one soul, which was their genus; so also in the Trinity, the three persons, each real, existed in [p. 86] the equal reality of the personality of God. On the other hand, "nominalism,"[7] the doctrine that the general, the genus, was only a mental representation, having merely nominal existence through the name attached to it, found reality only in the particular objects of external perception. The ideal form or type of Plato was replaced by the singular form of the object in which, on the Aristotelian view, it was embodied. This prolonged controversy had application, apart from formal logic, to theological problems mainly, such as those of the Trinity, the human race in general as involved in the fall and redemption, the nature of angels, etc.

This more psychological period of Scholasticism gave birth, however, to John of Salisbury (cir. 1150), a man who may properly be described as one of the forerunners of modern genetic psychology. This thinker worked out a theory of the continuous development of knowledge, pointing out the transitions of function as they actually take place from sense-perception to reason. First appears sensation, and in it the germ of judgment; then imaging, with a further development of judgment in the direction of the valuation of experience, from which arise pleasure and pain, the basis of desire. Out of imagination springs rational knowledge, and through it comes wisdom, the contemplation of God.

This remarkable anticipation of the genetic point of view, giving as it did specific content to the theories of mental activity, movement, and will of St. Augustine [p. 87] and the Monks of St. Victor, remained quite fruitless. It was swamped by the food of High Scholastic subtle ties that the swelling current of verbal logic bore with it.

Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus are the commanding figures of "High Scholasticism." With Albertus (1193-1280) We find the clear enunciation of the doctrine of "creation out of nothing" which broke once for all with theories of emanation and of the eternal existence of matter. Matter was the product of divine "fiat" -- whether intellectual or volitional, opinions differed. The human soul was included in the act of creation, but it was made in the likeness of God. That is, it was rational and personal.

Thomas Aquinas (1227-1274), the Angelic Doctor of modern Roman theology, developed an acute and modern-sounding theory of the mutual relation of reason and will. Each is dependent upon the other: knowledge is instrumental to action; and action contributes to knowledge. Thomas also confirmed the Aristotelian distinction between active and passive reason, as well as the doctrine of matter and form. The rational soul is a principle which has its form entirely within itself; it is not, like the sensitive and animal souls, subject to stimulation from the external world to which it reacts. In this theory, the doctrine of matter and form is revived and extended. The rational soul, like God and the angels, is pure form; and as such it is immortal. The lower soul is a sort of form which inheres in matter and constitutes the principle of vital organisation. The active reason or pure form, however, exists only along with the passive reason, and is always personal. Within the function of knowledge, the rôle of active reason is to reach general or abstract concepts, the logical species or kinds which underlie sense-percepts [p. 88] and images. Sensation itself is not due to the transfer of material images or effluvia, but is in principle a mental or spiritual impression.

The significance of Thomism for us would seem to reside in the truce it declared in the rivalry between the biological and theological conceptions of the soul. The soul is rational; but its life takes on a personal form, which includes the biological aspect of individuality. Preserving the psychological point of view of St. Augustine regarding personality, St. Thomas endeavoured to avoid a sharp dualism of person and matter by a return to the matter-form theory. Like other compromises of the sort, it has not had the influence, outside of Church circles, that the genius of its author deserved.

Catholic writers, however, justly cite it, and also the many isolated points in which St. Thomas anticipated the results of modern thought. Thomism also had the merit of so far justifying a naturalisrn in scientific point of view, and so of encouraging a tolerant. Attitude toward modern science.

In Thomism, however, we see the logically opposing concepts of biological form and rational spirit held together by the recognition of the unity of personal experience as being subjective. This is the gain to thought that St. Thomas received from St. Augustine and confirmed by his own authority.

Duns Scotus (Duns, the Scot) (cir. 1265-1308), a Franciscan, reasserted vigorously the subjective point of view and insisted upon the primacy of the will. Creation is an act of divine will; and the world is constantly renewed by the continuing will of God. Further, the individual will is back of knowledge, even knowledge of self. The end of existence is the Good, which is reached by will; intelligence is instrumental, [p. 89] the servant of action. Sin is a perversion of will, causing intellectual blindness, and sin is possible because the will is free.

A "suggestion" or "first thought" enters consciousness, serving as stimulus to the will; the will responds to it, embracing or rejecting it; it thus becomes a "second thought." It is this second thought, the object of will, to which the agent's freedom and responsibility attach. Good and evil do not belong to things in themselves, but to the use made of them in the voluntary "second thought" of the agent.

Duns Scotus, following the leading of St. Augustine, distinguished the emotions or "passions" as a fundamental class of mental phenomena. Before him the Scholastic leaders had looked upon feeling as a modification of impulse and desire, following the Aristotelian division.

An interesting variation upon the discussion of realism and nominalism, already spoken of, arose regarding the relation of the faculties to the "inner sense" or consciousness as a whole. Aristotle had asserted the oneness of mental function in the common sense, the Platonic "parts" or divisions of the soul being merely powers or activities of the one conscious principle. This became one of the burning questions of late Scholasticism. William of Occam maintained that all the "representations" -- sense-perceptions, memories, concepts, etc. -- were merely mental signs or symbols of varying orders, arising at different stages of mental function;[8] they were not pictures of different realities perceived by fundamentally different faculties or powers. [p. 90]

This raised in turn the more subtle question as to the sorts of reality arising respectively in percipi and in re, in the mental symbol and in the external world. Aristotle had held that the objects of sensation and thought were really, that is formally, present in the sensation and thought. To Plato, the idea was itself the true existence or reality in se. Thomas Aquinas developed a view according to which existence was "intentional" in thought; and Anselm of Canterbury based his famous argument for the existence of God on the proposition that the idea of a perfect being must imply his existence; for otherwise, lacking existence, the perfection presupposed in the idea would be impaired.

Summing up the characters of Scholasticism, we may say: (1) that the philosophical and psychological treatment of the problems of mind yielded to a logical and theological treatment; (2) that the points of view developed in these discussions -- those of realism and nominalism, of traducianism and creationism, of determinism and accidentalism,[9] of emanation and creation, of secondary spiritual existences, such as spirits and demons -- all proceeded upon the presupposition of the authority of the Scriptures; (3) that, so far as progress was made in psychology, it was made by bringing to explicit recognition the data of earlier thought which lent themselves to such presuppositions; namely, the nature of thought and will and their relation to each other, the essentially empirical unity of consciousness, the theory of conscious personality; (4) that the dualism of mind and body received a temporary and dogmatic interpretation in the doctrine of creation, matter being [p. 91] "made of nothing," while soul arose from the "breath of God" and took form in his image.

III. Arabian Physiological Psychology. -- Contemporaneously with the earlier Scholasticism, a movement of interest developed among the Arabians who received, especially in Syria, the tradition of Western learning.

Avicenna (Ibn Sina), the physician of Ispahan (died 1037), was the first to investigate the actual relation of mind and body, especially as shown by movement. He distinguished the movements of the body which were variable and uncertain as being caused by the rational soul, which thus showed itself to be a force foreign in principle to the body. He enumerated five inner senses, located in the brain, in correlation with the five outer or physical senses: they were "common sense," "imagination" (located in the frontal region of the brain), "sense judgment," "memory " (in the posterior region), and "fancy" (in the middle region) -- the last having the value of warning in the presence of good and ill. Sense knowledge issues in movement; and movement in turn contributes to rational knowledge, which is of the absolute. The rational soul, being a simple substance, is out of space and time and independent of the body.

Goodness and truth are reached by the denial and subjection of the body, by abstraction of the self from sensible experience, in order that illumination may come into the soul. Here a strain of oriental mysticism shows itself.

Alhacen was the author of a remarkable book on "Optics," written quite in the spirit of the latest treatises on the physiology and psychology of vision. [p. 92] He treats of visual sensation proper, colour, visual space perception, the perception of depth, the dependence of size upon the visual angle, the assimilation of memory images to visual percepts (finding here the basis of resemblance, conception, and thought), the time required for the propagation of the impulse from the eye to the brain, indirect vision, eye-movements, etc. -- problems which stand foremost in the contents of our most modern treatises. He anticipated the Helmholtz theory of "unconscious judgments" in visual space-perception. He also investigated various problems of time, as well as of space, as revealed by visual phenomena, and from such questions went on to consider the problems of apperception and illusion.[10] Alhacen's influence appears sporadically in later thinkers. He was cited by the more empirical Scholastics, such as Roger Bacon.

In Averroes (died 1198), finally, the psycho-physical relation was interpreted in a materialistic sense. But, on the other hand, a general and impersonal existence was attributed to the rational principle, to which the individual soul might attain by abstract thought. This combination of pantheistic impersonal reason, with naturalism or materialism in the domain of empirical knowledge, also anticipates a mode of very recent speculation.

The advance, psychologically speaking, made by the Arabian psychologists is in the direction of a statement of the psycho-physical problem as one demanding actual research. The dependence of the mind upon the body, together with the laws of correlation of the two classes [p. 93] of phenomena, is the main problem of modern physiological psychology. Besides this new conception of method, they reached -- Alhacen especially -- valuable positive results.

IV. Thc Mystical Reaction. -- The reaction against the logical refinements of the Scholastics -- which often degenerated into barren verbal distinctions -- showed itself strongly in the various groups of Mystical writers and in the rise of empirical science. The latter will be spoken of again below.

Meister Eckhard (cir. 1260-1327), the mystic, answered the question of the primacy of principle as between intelligence and will, by including them both in a state of feeling -- the German Gemüth. By the apprehension of God in an ecstasy of feeling, knowledge and aspiration are fused and completed. This reinstated, in view of the alternatives of the time, the immediateness reached in their day by the Neo-Platonists; and it represented about the same motives of reconciliation. It was made logically less difficult by the Thomist revival of the doctrine of matter and form, which reduced the opposition between mind and body, and by the Augustinian emphasis on will. Eckhard was a disciple of Thomas, and a fellow Dominican. The unity of the conscious functions in feeling he called the "spark" of divine light which directed man to God; in it the dualisms and oppositions of human faculty were submerged and overcome.

The name of John Tauler (cir. 1290-1361) is associated with that of Eckhard. He also shared the doctrine of feeling or Gemüth. Both alike drew inspiration from their great predecessor in mystic apprehension, Plotinus.[p. 94]

Like the Neo-Platonic movement, this turn to mysticism showed the demand of the mind for an escape from the partial mediations of reality effected by thought and action, together with the satisfaction of this demand in n mode of higher unity achieved when the whole personality pours itself out in feeling.


[1] See the well-documented article on Patristic Philosophy by E.T. Shanahan in the writer's Dict. of Philosophy and Psychology

[2] In '' memoria" St. Augustine found the consciousness of self as identical (with Plotinus), as persisting (not self-forgetting -- hence memoria), and as eternal. In memory, the distinction of past, present, and future are annulled in an intuition of eternity.

[3] A mediated through the Alexandrian tradition.

[4] "If the dead rise not ... then our faith is vain; ye are still in your sins." -- I Cor. xv. 16-17.

[5] Harms, loc. cit.. p. 208, probably goes a little too far in intimating that nothing in St. Auaustine's recognition of the facts of consciousness is in contradiction with such a view of the soul. For St. Augustine not only argues against the corporeality of the soul, but finds its essence in the will, much as Descartes found it in "thought." In Nemesius, Bishop of Emesa (about 430, Peri FisewV Anqropou; Latin De Natura Hominis), we find a sharp dualism insisted upon, in opposition to the "entelechy " theory of Aristotle.

[6] Full treatment of this period is to be found in the Histories of Philosophy. Especially authoritative are the detailed articles by Siebeck in Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, Bd. I-III, and Bd. X.

[7] Between Roscellinus and Anselm, nominalist and realist respectively, the controversy was joined. The middle or "conceptualist" view holds that general concepts contain knowledge of general realities.

[8] See the exposition of Siebeck, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, Bd. X.

[9] Renewed later on as between "Calvinism" and "Arminianism."

[10] Alhacen's work was translated from the Arabic in 1269. A concise list of the main topics treated by Alhacen is to be found in Klemm, loc. cit., pp. 327 ff.