Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

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Classics Editor's note: The original page numbers of the Judd translation are given in square brackets. The page numbers given in round brackets are Wundt's own references to earlier parts of the translation.

Outlines of Psychology

Wilhelm Max Wundt (1897)

Translated by Charles Hubbard Judd (1897)



1. Just as the psychical development of the child is the resultant of his interaction with his environment, so matured consciousness stands continually in relation to the mental community in which it has a receptive and an active part. Among most animals such a community is entirely wanting. [p. 297] In animal marriage, animal states, and flocks, we have only incomplete forerunners of mental communities, and they are generally limited to the accomplishment of certain single ends. The more lasting forms, animal marriage and the falsely named animal states (p. 279), are really sexual cornmunities. the more transient forms or flocks, as, for example, flocks of migratory birds, are communities for protection. In all these cases it is certain instincts that have grown more and more fixed through transmission, which hold the individuals together. The community, therefore, shows the same constancy as instinct in general, and is very little modified by the influences of individuals.

While animal communities are, thus, mere enlargements of the individual existence, aiming at certain physical vital ends, human development seeks from the first so to unite the individual with his mental environment that the whole is capable of development, serving at once the satisfaction of the physical needs of life and the pursuit of the most various mental ends, while permitting also great variations in these ends. As a result the forms of human society are exceedingly variable. The more fully developed forms, however, enter into a continuous train of historical development which extends the mental ties that connect individuals almost unlimitedly beyond the bounds of immediate spacial and temporal proximity. The final result of this development is the formation of the notion of humanity as a great general mental community which is divided up according to the special conditions of life into single concrete communities, peoples, states, civilized societies of various kinds, races, and families. The mental community to which the individual belongs is, therefore, not one, but a changing plurality of mental unions which are interlaced in the most manifold ways and become more and more numerous as development progresses. [p. 298]

2. The problem of tracing these developments in their concrete forms or even in their general interconnection. belongs to the history of civilization and to general history, not to psychology. Still, we must give some account here of the general psychical conditions and the psychical processes arising from these conditions that distinguish social from individual life.

The condition which is prime necessity of every mental community at its beginning, and a continually operative factor in its further development, is the function of speech. This is what makes the development of mental communities from individual existences psychologically possible. In its origin it comes from the expressive movements of the individual, but as a result of its development it becomes the indispensable form for all the common mental contents. These common contents, or the mental processes which belong to the whole community, may be divided into two classes, which are merely interrelated components of social life, not distinct processes any more than are the processes of ideation and volition in individual experience. The first of these classes is that of the mythological ideas, where we find especially the accepted conclusions on the question of the content and significance of the world -- these are the mythological ideas. The second class consists of the common motives of volition, which correspond to the common ideas and their attending feelings and emotions -- these are the laws of custom.


3. We obtain no information in regard to the general development of speech from the individual development of the child, because here the larger part of the process depends on those about him rather than on himself (p. 292 sq.) Still, the fact that the child learns to speak at all, shows that he [p. 299] has psychical and physical traits favorable to the reception of language when it is communicated. In fact, it may be assumed that these traits would, even if there were no communications from without, lead to the development of some kind of expressive movements accompanied by sounds, which would form an incomplete language. This supposition is justified 'by observations on the deaf and dumb, especially deaf and dumb children who have grown up without any systematic education. In spite of this lack of education, an energetic mental intercourse may take place between them. In such a case, however, since the deaf and dumb can perceive only visual signs, the intercourse must depend on the development of a natural gesture-language made up of a combination of significant expressive movements. Feelings are in general expressed by mimetic movements, ideas by pantomimetic, either by pointing at the object with the finger or by drawing some kind of picture of the idea in the air, that is, by means of indicative or depicting gestures (p. 173). There may even be a combination of such signs corresponding to a series of successive ideas, and thus a kind of sentence may be formed, by means of which things are described and occurrences narrated. This natural gesture-language can never go any further, however, than the communication of concrete sensible ideas and their interconnection. Signs for abstract concepts are entirely wanting.

4. The primitive development of articulate language can hardly be thought of except after the analogy of the rise of this natural gesture-language. The only difference is that in this case the ability to hear results in the addition of a third form of movements to the mimetic and pantomimetic movements. These are the articulatory movements, and since they are much more easily perceived, and capable of incomparably more various modification, it must of necessity follow that [p. 300] they, soon exceed the others in importance. But just as mimetic and pantomimetic gestures owe their intelligibility to the immediate relation that exists between the character of the movement and its meaning,-so here also we must presuppose a like relation between the original articulatory movement and its meaning. Then, too,, it is not improbable that articulation was at first aided by accompanying mimetic and pantomimetic gestures. As evidence for this view we have the unrestrained use of such gestures by savages, and the important part they play in the child's learning to speak.. The development of articulate language is, accordingly, in all probability to be thought of as a process of differentiation, in which the articulatory movements have gradually gained the permanent ascendency over a number of different variable expressive movements that originally attended them, and have dispensed with these auxiliary movements as they themselves gained a sufficient degree of fixity. Psychologically the process may be divided into two acts. The first consists in the expressive movements of the individual member of the community. These are impulsive volitional acts, among which the movements of the vocal organs gain the ascendency over the others in the effort of the individual to communicate with his fellows. The second consists in the subsequent associations between sound and idea, which gradually become more fixed, and spread from the centres where they originated through wider circles of society.

5. From the first there are other physical and psychical conditions that take part in the formation of language and produce continual and unceasing modifications in its components. Such modifications may be divided into two classes: those of sound and those of meaning.

The first class have their physiological cause in the gradual changes that take place in the physical structure of [p. 301] the vocal organs. These changes are, to a great extent at least, either physically or psycho-physically conditioned. They come partly from the general changes which the transition from a savage to a civilized condition produces in the physical organism, partly from the special conditions that result from increased practice in the execution of articulatory movements. Many phenomena go to show that the gradually increasing rapidity of articulation is of especially great influence. Then, too, the words that are in any way analogous effect one another in a way that indicates the interference of the psychical factor of association.

As the change in sound modifies the outer form of words, so the change in meaning modifies their inner content. The original association between a word and the idea it expresses is modified by the substitution of another different idea. This process of substitution may be several times repeated with the same word. The change in the meaning of words depends, therefore, on a gradual modification of the associative conditions determining the ideational complication that shall arise in the fixation-point of consciousness when a word is heard or spoken. It may, accordingly, be briefly defined as a shifting of the ideational component of the complications connected with articulate sounds (p. 234).

These changes in the sound and meaning of words operate together in bringing about the gradual disappearance of the originally necessary relation between sound and meaning, so that a word finally- comes to be looked upon as a mere external sign of the idea. This process is so complete that even those verbal forms in which this relation seems to be still retained, onomatopoetic words, appear to be, for the most part, products of a relatively late and secondary assimilative process which seeks to reestablish the lost affinity between sound and meaning. [p. 302]

Another important consequence of this combined action of changes in sound and meaning, is to be found in the fact that many words gradually lose entirely their original concrete sensible significance, and become signs of general concepts and means for the expression of the apperceptive relating and comparing functions and their products. In this way abstract thinking is developed. It would be impossible without the change in meaning of words upon which it is based and it is, therefore, a product of the psychical and psycho-physical interactions from which the progressive development of language results.

6. Just as the components of language, or words, are undergoing a continual development in sound and meaning, so in the same way, though generally more slowly, changes are going on in the combinations of these components into complete wholes, that is, in sentences. No language can be thought of without some such syntactic order of its words. Sentences and words are, therefore, equally primitive as psychological forms of thought. In a certain sense the sentence may even be called the earlier, for, especially in the more incomplete stages of language, the words of a sentence are so uncertainly distinguished that they seem to be nothing but the products of a breaking up of an originally unitary thought expressed by the whole sentence. There is no universal rule for the order of words, any more than there is for the relation of sound to meaning. The order that logic favors with a view to the relations of reciprocal logical dependence between concepts, has no psychological universality; it appears, in fact, to be a fairly late product of development, due in part to arbitrary convention, and approached only by the prose forms of some modern languages which are syntactically nearly fixed. The original principle followed in apperceptive combination of words is obviously this, the [p. 303] order of the words corresponds to the succession of ideas. Especially those parts of speech that represent the ideas which arouse the most intense feelings and attract the attention, are placed first. Following this principle, certain regularities in the order of words are developed in any given community. In fact, such a regularity is to be observed even in the natural gesture-language of the deaf and dumb. Still, it is easy to understand that the most various modifications in this respect may appear under special circumstances, and that the possible range of these modifications is very great. In general, however, the habits of association lead more and more to the fixation of particular syntactic forms, so that a certain rigidity usually results.

Apart from the general laws presented in the discussion of apperceptive combinations, and there shown to arise from the general psychical functions of relating and comparing (p. 264), the detailed discussion of the characteristics of syntactic combinations and their gradual changes, must be left, in spite of their psychological importance, to social psychology, because they depend so much on the specific dispositions and conditions of civilization in a given community.


7. The development of myths is closely related to that of language. Mythological thought is based, to be sure, just as language itself, upon certain attributes that are never lost in human consciousness; still, these attributes are modified and limited by a great variety of influences. As the fundamental function which in its various forms of activity gives rise to all mythological ideas, we have a characteristic kind of apperception belonging to all naive consciousness and suitably designated by the name personifying apperception. It consists in the complete determination of the apperceived [p. 304] objects through the nature of the perceiving subject. The subject not only sees his own sensations, emotions, an voluntary movements reproduced in the objects, but even his momentary affective state is in each case especially influential in determining this view of the phenomena perceived, and in arousing ideas of their relations to his own existence. As a necessary result of such a view the same personal attributes that the subject finds in himself are assigned to the object. The inner attributes, of feeling, emotion, etc., are never omitted, while the outer attributes of voluntary action and other manifestations like those of men, are generally dependent on movements actually perceived. The savage may thus attribute to stones, plants, and works of art, an inner capacity for sensations and feelings and their resulting effects, but he usually assumes immediate action only in the case of moving objects, such as clouds, heavenly bodies, winds, etc. In all these cases the personification is favored by associative assimilations which may readily reach the intensity of illusions of fancy (p. 268).

8. Myth-making, or personifying, apperception is not to be regarded as a special form or even as a distinct sub-form of apperception. It is nothing but the natural incentive stage of apperception in general. The child shows continually obvious traces of it, partly in the activities of his imagination in play (p. 293), partly in the fact that strong emotions, especially fear and fright, easily arouse illusions of fancy with an affective character analogous to that of the emotion. In this case, however, the manifestations of a tendency to form myths are early checked and soon entirely suppressed through the influences of the child's environment and education. With savage and partly civilized peoples it is different. There the surrounding influences present a whole mass of mythological ideas to the individual consciousness. These, too, originated [p. 305] in the minds of individuals, and have gradually become fixed in some particular community, and in continual interrelation with language have, like the latter, been transmitted from generation to generation and become gradually modified in the transition from savage to civilized conditions.

9. The direction in which these modifications take place, is determined in general by the fact that the affective state of the subject at the time is, as above remarked, the chief. influence in settling the character of the myth-making apperception. In order to gain some notion of the way in which the affective state of the subject has changed from the first beginnings of mental development to the present, we must appeal to the history of the development of mythological ideas, for other evidences are entirely wanting. It appears that in all cases the earliest mythological ideas referred, on the one hand, to the personal fate in the immediate future, and were determined, on the other, by the emotions aroused by the death of comrades and by the memory of them, and also in a high degree by the memories of dreams. This is the source of so-called "animism", that is, all those ideas in which the spirits of the dead take the parts of controllers of fortune and bring about either weal or woe in human life. "Fetishism" is a branch of animism, in which the attribute of ability to control fate is carried over to various objects in the environment, such as animals, plants, stones, works of art, especially those that attract the attention on account of their striking character or of some accidental outer circumstance. The phenomena of animism and fetishism are. not only the earliest, but also the most lasting, productions of myth-making apperception. They continue, even after all others are suppressed, in the various forms of superstitions among civilized peoples, such as belief in ghosts, enchantments, charms, etc. [p. 306]

10. After consciousness reaches a more advanced stage personifying apperception begins to deal with the greater natural phenomena which act upon human life both through their changes and through their direct influence such as the clouds, rivers, winds, and greater heavenly bodies. The regularity of certain natural phenomena, such as the alternation of night and day, of winter and summer, the processes in a thunderstorm, etc., gives occasion for the formation of poetical myths, in which a series of interconnected ideas are woven into one united whole. In the way the nature-myth arises, which from its very character challenges the poetic power of each individual to develop it further. It thus becomes gradually a component of popular and then of literary poetry, and undergoes a change in meaning through the fading out of some of the features of the single mythical figures and the appearance of other new features. This change, in turn, makes possible a progressive inner change of the myth, analogous to the change in words, by which it is always accompanied. As the process goes on, single poets and thinkers gain an increasing influence.

In this way, there gradually results a division of the whole content of mythological thought into science (philosophy) and religion, while, at the same time, the nature-gods in religion give place more and more to ethical ideas of deity. After this division has taken place, the two departments influence each other mutually in many important ways. Still, these facts must be left to social psychology and the history of civilization, for they must be discussed in the light of special social conditions as well as of general psychological laws.


11. The development of customs is related to that of myths in the same way that outer volitional acts are related [p. 307] to inner motives. Wherever we can trace out the origin of ancient and wide-spread customs with any degree of probability, we find that they are remnants or modifications of certain cult-forms. Thus, the funeral feasts and burial ceremonies of civilized peoples point to a primitive ancestor-worship. Numerous feasts and ceremonies connected with particular days, with the change of the seasons, the tillage of the fields, and the gathering of the harvest, all point back to nature-myths. The custom of greeting, in its various forms betrays its direct derivation from the ceremonies of prayer.

This does not exclude the possibility that other motives, also, especially those of practical utility, have given rise to what were at first individual habits, but gradually. spread throughout a community and thus became laws of custom. The predominant feature of this development, however, is the fact that primitive customs, even when they incidentally serve practical needs, as, for example, the custom of wearing a uniform pattern of clothes, of having meals at a regular time etc., still depend more or less on particular mythological ideas. In fact, it would be hard to think of it as otherwise at a time when consciousness was under the complete control of a myth-making apperception.

12. With customs, as with language, the change in meaning has exercised a modifying influence on their development. As a result of this change, two chief kinds of transformation have taken place. In the first, the original mythical motive has been lost and no new one has taken its place. The custom continues as a consequence of associative habit, but loses its imperative character and becomes much weaker in its outward manifestations. In the second class of transformations of a moral-social purpose takes the place of the original mytho-religious motive. The two kinds of change may in any single case be most intimately united; and even [p. 308] when a custom does not serve any particular social end directly, as is the case, for example, with certain rules of deportment, of etiquette, on the manner of dressing, eating, etc., still it may do so indirectly in that the existence of some common rules for the members of a community is favorable to their united life and therefore to their common mental development.

13. The psychological changes in customs as pointed out, constitute the preparation for their differentiation into three spheres, namely those of custom of law, and of morality. The last two are to be regarded as special forms of custom aiming at moral-social ends. The detailed investigation of the psychological development and differentiation of customs in general is, however, a problem of social psychology, and the discussion of the rise of law and morality belong also to general history and ethics.

14. We have here, in mental communities, and especially in their development of language, myths, and customs, mental interconnections and interactions that differ in essential respects from the interconnection of the psychical compounds in an individual consciousness, but still have just as much reality as the individual consciousness itself. In this sense we may speak of the interconnection of the ideas and feelings of a social community as a collective consciousness, and of the common volitional tendencies as a collective will. In doing this we are not to forget that these concepts do not mean something that exists apart from the conscious and volitional processes of the individual, any more than the community itself is something besides the union of individuals. Since this union, however, brings forth certain mental products, such as language, myths, and customs, for which only the germs are present in the individual, and since it determines the development of the individual from a very early [p. 309] period, it is just as much an object of psychology as the individual consciousness. For psychology must give an account of the interactions which give rise to the products and attributes of collective consciousness and of the collective will.

14a. The facts arising from the existence of mental communities have only recently come within the pale of psychological investigation. These problems were formerly referred either to the special mental sciences (philology, history, jurisprudence, etc.) or, if of a more general character, to philosophy, that is to metaphysics. If psychology did touch upon them at all, it was dominated, as were the special sciences, history, jurisprudence, etc., by the reflective method of popular psychology, which tends to treat all mental products of communities, to as great an extent as possible, as voluntary inventions aimed from the first at certain utilitarian ends. This view found its chief philosophical expression in the doctrine of a social contract, according to which a mental community is riot something original and natural, but is derived from the voluntary union of a number of individuals. This position is psychologically untenable, and completely helpless in the presence of the problems of social psychology. As one of its after-effects we have even to-day the grossest misunderstandings of the concepts collective consciousness and collective will. Instead of regarding them simply as expressions for the actual agreement and interaction of individuals in a community, some still suspect that there is behind them a mythological being of some kind, or at least a metaphysical substance.