Self-observation, an umbrella term for a number of methods associated with first-order accounts of mental activity (e.g. introspection) and first-person reporting, has been a part of psychology’s investigative procedures since the inception of the discipline. It remains an integral, albeit contested, tool for psychologists to use across essentially every sub-field. In areas such as phenomenology, memory research, psychological assessment, and ethnography, among others, self-observation has been deployed to access information not readily acquired through alternative methods. Other names for introspective methods include self-report, retrospection, inner perception, and self-reflection.
Donald V. Brown Jr., Karyna Pryiomka, and Joshua W. Clegg
Saulo de Freitas Araujo
Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) is one of the most famous names in the history of psychology. After passing into oblivion for nearly 60 years, in recent decades he has been celebrated in general psychology textbooks as the founding father of scientific psychology. However, this traditional portrait is incomplete and can lead to misunderstandings, as his psychological program is primarily understood in terms of experimental psychology. In order to complete this traditional picture, two aspects of his work must be emphasized and clarified: the role of Völkerpsychologie as the counterpart of experimental or individual psychology, and the interaction between his psychological program and his philosophical project. The ultimate meaning of Wundt’s conception of scientific psychology cannot be understood in isolation from his broader philosophical goals. Reading Wundt from the point of view of such interaction offers a deeper understanding of his work.
Deborah Brown and Brian Key
Few practitioners or researchers in psychology would think of the 17th-century French philosopher, René Descartes, as the founding father of their discipline. Yet, it is difficult to see how psychology could have emerged as a discipline in its own right without the contributions of Descartes. Descartes’ theoretical and experimental contributions to our understanding of rationality, consciousness, sensation, feeling, attention, psychological self-regulation and voluntary action, and indeed the very concept of mind that lies at the heart of his philosophy, have been pivotal to the evolution of psychology since its emergence as a special science in the 19th-century. These contributions tend to get overshadowed by the unpalatable aspects of his dualism of mind and body and his denial of animal consciousness, doctrines for which he was and still is much pilloried. However, both doctrines are relevant to understanding how from its inception the subject matter and scope of psychological investigation was framed, for underlying the Cartesian concept of mind is not one dualism but two: a dualism of mind and body and a dualism of life and mind. The mind, for Descartes, could not be theorized on its own terms without conceiving of it at least to some extent independently of the physiological processes of the human body, on the one hand, and the life functions of biological organisms, on the other. Descartes’ legacy for psychology as a discipline is thus twofold. It created the conceptual space for the concept of mind to emerge as a threshold concept in its own right, distinct from the concept of matter that defined mechanics, and it demarcated those uniquely human capacities that enabled psychology to differentiate itself from the newly emerging evolutionary biology of the 19th-century, even though it would remain more closely aligned with biology than physics thenceforth. Without both dualisms of mind and body and life and mind, it is difficult to envisage how psychology as a special science distinct from anatomy and the life sciences could have emerged, and for this the discipline of psychology owes Monsieur Descartes a considerable debt.
Saulo de Freitas Araujo and Lisa M. Osbeck
James’s work is admittedly cross-disciplinary to the extent that it defies traditional scholarly boundaries. One of the best examples is the cross-fertilization between his philosophical and psychological ideas, although the precise relation between them is not easy to frame. Notwithstanding this difficulty, one can say that James’s early psychology, developed between the 1870s and 1880s, illuminates many aspects of his later philosophical positions, including pragmatism, radical empiricism, and pluralism. First, James defends the teleological nature of mind, which is driven by subjective interests and goals that cannot be explained by the immediate interchange with the external environment. They are spontaneous variations that constitute the a priori, properly active nature of the human mind. This idea helps him not only explain important features of scientific and philosophical theories, but also reject certain philosophical doctrines such as materialism, determinism, agnosticism, and so on. It represents, so to speak, the relevance of the subjective method for deciding moral and metaphysical issues. Second, James claims that certain temperaments underlie the choice of philosophical systems. Thus, both pragmatism and pluralism can be seen as philosophical expressions of subjective influences. In the first case, pragmatism expresses a temperament that combines and harmonizes the tender-minded and the tough-minded. In the second, pluralism reflects the sympathetic temperament in contrast with the cynical character drawn to materialism. Finally, James proposes a distinction between the substantive and the transitive parts of consciousness, meaning that consciousness has clearly distinguishable aspects as well as more obscure points, although human beings tend to focus only on the first part, ignoring the other. This idea plays a decisive role in the elaboration of radical empiricism. Such illustrations, far from exhausting the relations between James’s psychology and philosophy, invite new insights and further scholarship.
Ekaterina Zavershneva and René van der Veer
Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (real name Lev Simkhovich Vygodsky; Orsha 1896–Moscow 1934) was a Russian psychologist who created cultural-historical theory, which proved influential in developmental psychology and other psychological disciplines. Vygotsky characterized his approach as “height psychology” (as opposed to “depth psychology”) and posited that the higher forms of mind should be the starting point for the study of human development. In his view it was essential to study psychological processes in their historical dynamics; these dynamics could be unraveled with the causal-genetic approach he developed, which involved the guided formation of mind in the course of its study or the experimental unfolding of ontogeny. Vygotsky claimed that the mechanisms of human development are not genetically determined and that we must find its source in culture and the social environment. Human development is mediated by cultural artifacts and sign systems, which are mastered in a dialogue with other people in spontaneous or guided interaction, which stimulates development by creating a zone of proximal development. The major means of the transformation of innate mind into higher mind is language, which enables us to preserve and transmit the experience of generations. In this process of cultural development the person develops a system of higher psychological functions that are social in origin, voluntary and mediated in nature, and form part of a systemic whole. The process of ontogeny goes through a series of stable periods and crises that correspond with specific conditions of the social situation of development and the developmental tasks. Age periods are completed with the development of neoformations, which do not just form results but are also prerequisites for further development. With the development of verbal thinking and the mastery of cultural means of behavior the person masters her/his innate mind and becomes a personality, whose main characteristic is freedom of behavior.