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. Every empirical science has, as its primary and characteristic subject of treatment, certain particular facts of experience whose nature and reciprocal relations it seeks to investigate. In solving these problems it is found to be necessary, if we try not to give up entirely the grouping of the facts under leading heads, to have general supplementary concepts that are not contained in experience itself, but are gained by a process of logical treatment of this experience. The most general supplementary concept of this kind that has found its place in all the empirical sciences, is the concept of causality. It comes from the necessity of thought. that all our experiences shall be arranged according to reason and consequent, and that we shall remove, by means of second" supplementary concepts and if need be by means of concepts of a hypothetical character, all contradictions that stand in the way of the establishment of a consistent interconnection of this kind. In this sense we may regard all the supplementary concepts that serve for the interpretation of any sphere of experience, as applications of the general principle of causation. They are justified in so far as they are required, or at least rendered probable, by this principle; they are unjustifiable so soon as they prove to be arbitrary [p. 311] fictions resulting from foreign motives, and contributing nothing to the interpretation of experience.

2. In this sense the concept matter is a fundamental supplementary concept of natural science. In its most general significance it designates the permanent substratum assumed as existing in universal space, to whose activities we must attribute all natural phenomena. In this most general sense the concept matter is indispensable to every explanation of natural science. The attempt in recent times to raise energy to the position of a governing principle, does not succeed in doing away with the concept matter, but merely gives it a different content. This content, however, is given to the concept by means of a second supplementary concept, which relates to the causal activity of matter. The concept of matter that has been accepted in natural science up to the present time, is based upon the mechanical physics of Galileo, and uses as its secondary supplementary concept the concept of force which is defined as the product of the mass and the momentary acceleration. A physics of energy would have to use everywhere instead of this the concept energy, which in the special form of mechanical energy is defined as half the product of the mass multiplied by the square of the velocity. Energy, however, must, just as well as force, have a position in objective space, and under certain particular conditions the points from which energy proceeds may, just as well as the .points from which force proceeds, change their place in space, so that the concept of matter as a substratum contained in space, is retained in both cases. The only difference, and it is indeed an important one, is that when we use the concept force, we presuppose the reducibility of all, natural phenomena to forms of mechanical motion, while when we use the concept of energy, we attribute to matter not only the property of motion without a change in the form of [p. 312]energy, but also the property of the transformability of qualitatively different forms of energy into one another without a change in the quantity of the energy.

3. The concept of mind is a supplementary concept of psychology, in the same way that the concept matter is supplementary concept of natural science. It too is indispensable in so far as we need a concept which shall express in a comprehensive way the totality of psychical experiences in an individual consciousness. The particular content of the concept, however, is in this case also entirely dependent on the secondary concepts that give a more detailed definition of psychical causality. In the definition of this content psychology shared at first the fortune of the natural sciences. Both the concept of mind and that of matter arose primarily not so much from the need of explaining experience as from the effort to reach a systematic doctrine of the general interconnection of all things. But while the natural sciences have long since outgrown this mythological stage of speculative definition, and make use of some of the single ideas that originated] at that time, only for the purpose of gaining definite starting-points for a strict methodical definition of their concepts, psychology has continued under the control of the mythological, metaphysical concept of mind down to most modern times, and still remains, in part at least, under its control. This concept is not used as a general supplementary concept that serves primarily to gather together the psychical facts and only secondarily to give a causal interpretation of them but it is employed as a means to satisfy so far as possible the need of a general universal system, including both nature and the individual existence.

4. The concept of a mind-substance in its various forms is rooted in this mythological and metaphysical need. In its development there have not been wanting efforts to meet [p. 313] from this position, so far as possible, the demand for a psychological causal explanation, still, such efforts have in all cases been afterthoughts; and it is perfectly obvious that psychological experience alone, independent of all foreign metaphysical motives, would never have led to a concept of mind-substance. This concept has beyond a doubt exercised a harmful influence on the treatment of experience. The view, for example, that all the contents of psychical experience are ideas, and that these ideas are more or less permanent objects, would hardly be comprehensible without such presuppositions. That this concept is really foreign to psychology, is further attested by the close interconnection in which it stands to the concept of material substance. It is regarded either as identical with the latter or else as distinct in nature, but still reducible in its most general formal characteristics to one of the particular forms of the concept matter, namely to the atom.

5. Two forms of the concept mind-substance may be distinguished, corresponding to the two types of metaphysical psychology pointed out above (§ 2, p. 6). The one is materialistic and regards psychical processes as the activities of matter or of certain material complexes, such as the brain-elements. The other is spiritualistic and looks upon these processes as states and changes in an extended and therefore invisible and permanent being of a specially spiritual nature. In this case matter is thought of as made up of similar atoms of a lower order (monistic, or monado-logicial spiritualism), or the mind-atom is regarded as specifically different from matter proper (dualistic spiritualism) (comp. p. 7).

In both its materialistic and spiritualistic forms, the concept mind-substance does nothing for the interpretation of psychological experience. Materialism, does away with psychology entirely and puts in its place an imaginary brain- [p. 314] physiology of the future, or when it tries to give positive theories, falls into doubtful and unreliable hypotheses of cerebral physiology. In thus giving up psychology in any proper sense, this doctrine gives up entirely the attempt to furnish any practical basis for the mental sciences. Spiritualism allows psychology is such to continue, but subordinates actual experience to entirely arbitrary metaphysical hypotheses, through which the unprejudiced observation of psychical processes is obstructed. This appears first of all in the incorrect statement of the problem of psychology, with which the metaphysical theories start. They regard inner and outer experience is totally heterogeneous, though in some external way interacting, spheres.

6. It has been shown (§ 1, p. 3) that the experience dealt with in the natural sciences and in psychology are nothing but components of one experience regarded from different points of view: in the natural sciences as an interconnection of objective phenomena and, in consequence of the abstraction from the knowing subject, as mediate experience; in psychology as immediate and underived experience.

When this relation is once understood, the concept of a mind-substance immediately gives place to the concept of the actuality of mind as a basis for the comprehension of psychical processes. Since the psychological treatment of experience is supplementary to that of the natural sciences, in that it deals with the immediate reality of experience, it follows naturally that there is no place in psychology for hypothetical supplementary concepts such as are necessary in the natural sciences because of their concept of an object independent of the subject. In this sense, the concept of the actuality of mind does not require any hypothetical determinants to define its particular contents, as the concept [p. 315] of matter does, but quite to the contrary, it excludes such hypothetical elements from the first by defining the nature of mind as the immediate reality of the processes themselves. Still, since one important component of these processes, namely the totality of ideational objects, is at the same time the subject of consideration in the natural sciences, it necessarily follows that substance and actuality are concepts that refer to one and the same general experience with the difference that in each case this experience is looked at from a different point of view. If we abstract from the knowing subject in our treatment of the world of experience, it appears, is a manifold of interacting substances; if, on the contrary, we regard it as the total content of the experience of the subject including the subject itself, it appears as a manifold of interrelated occurrences. In the first case, phenomena are looked upon as outer phenomena, in the sense that they would take place just the same, even if the knowing subject were not there at all, so that we may call the form of experience dealt with in the natural sciences outer experience. In the second case, on the contrary, all the contents of experience are regarded as belonging directly to the knowing subject, so that we may call the psychological attitude towards experience that of inner experience. In this sense outer and inner experience are identical with mediate and immediate, or with objective and subjective forms of experience. They all serve to designate, not different spheres of experience, but different supplementary points of view in the consideration of an experience which is presented to us as an absolute unity.

7. That the method of treating experience employed in natural science should have reached its maturity before that employed in psychology, is easily comprehensible in view of the practical interest connected with the discovery of regular [p. 316] natural phenomena thought of as independent of the subject; and it was almost unavoidable that this priority of the natural sciences should, for a long time, lead to a confusion of the two points of view. This did really occur as we see by the different psychological substance-concepts. It is for this reason that the reform in the fundamental position of psychology, which looks for the characteristics of this science and for its problems, not in the specifically distinct nature of its sphere, but in its method of considering all the contents presented to us in experience in their immediate reality, unmodified by any hypothetical supplementary concepts - this reform did not originate with psychology itself, but with the single mental sciences. The view of mental processes based upon the concept of actuality, was familiar in these sciences long before it was accepted in psychology. This inadmissible difference between the fundamental position of psychology and the mental sciences is what has kept psychology until the present time from fulfilling its mission of serving as a foundation for all the mental sciences.

8. When the concept of actuality is adopted, a question upon which metaphysical systems of psychology have been long divided is immediately disposed of. This is the question of the relation of body and mind. So long as body and mind are both regarded as substances, this relation must remain an enigma, however the two concepts of substance may be defined. If they are like substances, then the different contents of experience as dealt with in the natural sciences and in psychology can no longer be understood, and there is no alternative but to deny the independence of one of these forms of knowledge. If they are unlike substances, their connection is a continual miracle. If we start with the theory of the actuality of mind, we recognize the immediate reality of the phenomena in psychological experience. Our physiological [p. 317] concept of the bodily organism, on the other hand, is nothing but a part of this experience, which we gain, just as we do all the other empirical contents of the natural sciences, by assuming the existence of an object independent of the knowing subject. Certain components of mediate experience may correspond to certain components of immediate experience, without its being necessary, for this reason, to reduce the one to the other or to derive one from the other. In fact, such a derivation is absolutely impossible because of the totally different points of view adopted in the two cases. Still, the fact that we have here not different objects of experience, but different points of view in looking at a unitary experience, renders necessary the existence at every point of relations between the two. At the same time it must be remembered that there is an infinite number of objects that can be approached only immediately, through the method of the natural sciences: here belong all those phenomena that we are not obliged to regard as physiological substrata of psychical processes. On the other hand, there is just as large a number of important facts that are presented only immediately, or in psychological experience: these are all those contents of our subjective consciousness which do not have the character of ideational objects, that is, the character of contents which are directly referred to external objects.

9. As a result of this relation, it follows that there must be a necessary relation between all the facts that belong at the same time to both kinds of experience, to the mediate experience of the natural sciences and to the immediate experience of psychology, for they are nothing but components of a single experience which is merely regarded in the two cases from different points of view. Since these facts belong to both spheres, there must be an elementary process on the physical side, corresponding to every such process on the psychical [p. 318] side. This general principle is known as the principle of psycho-physical parallelism. It has an empirico-psychological significance and is thus totally different from certain metaphysical principles that have sometimes been designated by the same name, but in reality have an entirely different meaning. These metaphysical principles are all based on the hypothesis of a psychical substance. They all seek to solve the problem of the interrelation of body and mind, either by assuming two real substances with attributes which are different, but parallel in their changes, or by assuming one substance with two distinct attributes that correspond in their modifications. In both these cases the metaphysical principle of parallelism is based on the assumption that every physical process has a corresponding psychical process and vice versa; or on the assumption that the mental world is a mirroring of the bodily world, or that the bodily world is an objective realization of the mental. This assumption is, however, entirely indemonstrable and arbitrary, and leads in its psychological application to in intellectualism contradictory to all experience. The psychological principle, on the other hand, as above formulated, starts with the assumption that there is only one experience, which, however, as soon as it becomes the subject of scientific analysis, is, in some of its components, open to two different kinds of scientific treatment: to a mediate form of treatment, which investigates ideated objects in their objective relations to one another, and to an immediate form, which investigates the same objects in their directly known character, and in their relations to all the other contents of the experience of the knowing subject. So far as there are objects to which both these forms of treatment are applicable, the psychological principle of parallelism requires, between the processes on the two sides, a relation at every point. This requirement is justified by the fact that both [p. 319] forms of analysis are in these two cases really analyses of one and the same content of experience, On the other hand, from the very nature of the case, the psychological principle of parallelism can not apply to those contents of experience which are objects of natural-scientific analysis alone, or to those which go to make up the specific character of psychological experience. Among the latter we must reckon the characteristic combinations and relations of psychical elements and compounds. To be sure, there are combinations of physical processes running parallel to these, in so far at least as a direct or indirect causal relation must exist between the physical processes whose regular coexistence or succession is indicated by a psychical interconnection, but the characteristic content of the psychical combination can, of course, in no way be a part of the causal relation between the physical processes. Thus, for example, the elements that enter into a spacial or temporal idea, stand in a regular relation of coexistence and succession in their physiological substrata also; or the ideational elements that make up the process of relating or comparing psychical contents, have corresponding combinations of physiological excitation of some kind or other, which are repeated whenever these psychical processes take place. But the physiological processes can not contain anything of that which goes most of all to form the specific nature of spacial [sic] and temporal ideas, or of relating and comparing processes, because natural science purposely abstracts from all that is here concerned. Then, too, there are two concepts that result from the psychical combinations, which, together with their related affective elements, lie entirely outside the sphere of experience to which the principle of parallelism applies. There are the concepts of value and end. The forms of combination that we see in processes of fusion or in associative and apperceptive processes, as well [p. 320] as the values that they possess is the whole interconnection in of psychical development, can only be understood through psychological analysis, in the same way that objective phenomena, such as those of weight, sound, light, heat, etc., or the processes of the nervous system, can be approached only by physical and physiological analysis, that is, analysis that makes use of the supplementary substance-concepts of natural science.

10. Thus, the principle of psycho-physical parallelism in the incontrovertible empirico-psychological significance above attributed to it, leads necessarily to the recognition of an independent psychical causality, which is related at all points with physical causality and can they come into contradiction with it, but is just as different from it's physical causality as the point of view adopted in psychology, or that of immediate, subjective experience, is different from the point of view taken in the natural sciences, or that of mediate, objective experience due to abstraction. And just as the nature of physical causality can be revealed to us only in the fundamental laws of nature, so the only way that we have of accounting for the characteristics of psychical causality is to abstract certain fundamental laws of psychical phenomena from the totality of psychical processes. We may distinguish two classes of such laws. The laws of one class show themselves primarily in the processes which condition the rise and immediate interaction of the psychical compounds; we call these the psychological laws of relation. Those of the second class are derived laws. They consist in the complex effects that are produced by combinations of the laws of relation within more extensive series of psychical facts; these we call the psychological laws of development.