Page images




LL who take an intelligent interest'in the movement of contem

porary thought—whether it ke philosophy more strictly socalled, or the advance of science-are aware of the great activity which has been shown of late years in the department of psychology. Till within the last half century, or thereabouts, psychology had been an appanage of the philosophers, and it cannot be said that they neglected this province of their dominion. In this country in particular--in England and Scotland-psychology has formed the bulk of our philosophic treatises ; and Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Hartley, Dr. Thomas Brown and the Mills, Reid, Stewart and Hamilton, must always remain among the classics of the science. But it may be admitted that their work often shows a crossing of interests and of points of view. Questions of logic and theory of knowledge were mixed up with the more properly psychological inquiry. And at other times, the investigation was subordinate to the establishment of some metaphysical theory. The distinguishing note of most recent psychology has therefore been insistence on the separation of psychology from philosophy, and on the maintenance of a purely psychological standpoint. In psychology, it is argued, we have a realm of phenomena, a moving world of causes and effects, which it is our business to investigate in the ordinary scientific way, with all the resources of observation and experiment, and without any arrière pensée as to the bearing of our results on the ultimate problems of philosophy.

No advice could be more excellent; disinterestedness is the very watchword of science. But it seems to me that a good many of those who talk most loudly of “the new psychology” are exposed to the usual danger of reaction. The rise of this 56 scientific” psychology,

as it also calls itself, connects itself with the great development of science, especially of the natural sciences, which has marked the present century. The growth of biology and physiology has naturally reacted powerfully upon the whole conception and method of psychological investigation. And it is worth observing that the general scientific movement referred to, coincided, especially in Germany, with a revulsion against the idealistic speculation which marked the beginning of the century. Probably the two were partly connected as cause and effect; the hunger for hard facts and patient detail-work being a healthy protest of the human spirit against overhasty and over-confident attempts at universal synthesis. Any way, the new psychology, as I have said, has its roots in this movement. And therefore its absorbing concern was and is to keep itself clear of metaphysics, and of every hypothesis which it imagines to savour of that region of mysteries. To a large class of scientific, and would be scientific thinkers, metaphysics is what clericalism is to the French Liberal; it is the enemy to be fought at all points. These two characteristics of this militant psychology—its renunciation of metaphysics and its affiliation to biology are concisely put by Ribot, ona of its standard-bearers: “The new psychology differs from the old in its spirit: it is not metapbysical. It differs in its aim : it only studies phenomena. It differs in its methods : it borrows them as far as possible from the biological sciences. Consequently the sphere of psychology specifies itself; it bas for its subject nervous phenomena accompanied by consciousness."

Hence, in shaking the dust of metaphysics off their feet, the pew psychologists accepted from Lange as their badge the somewhat paradoxical motto, “Psychology without a soul." As Ribot puts it triumphantly: “The soul and its faculties, the great entity and the little entities, disappear; and we have to do oply with internal events-events which, like sensations and images, are translations (:50 to speak) of physical events, or which, like ideas, movements, volitions and desires, translate themselves into physical events.”

In this respect, however, the new psychology was not so original as it perhaps imagined. The attempt to dispense with a soul had been systematically made by Hume and the Associationists long before the second half of the nineteenth century. It was not simply the determination to discard the soul that stamped the new movement. The physiological method is the really distinctive mark of the new departure, and “physiological psychology” is the name very generally given to the recent developments of "psychology as a natural science."

Let me say at once that it is far from my intention to object to this intimate linking of the psychological and the biological. The physiological method of study does indeed promise, as its votaries

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

say, to be most fruitful in its application. It alone furnishes the basis for introducing experiment into mental science; and though it can only lay siege, as it were, to the outworks of the mental citadel, to the phenomena of sense-perception and movement, and a few of the simpler aspects of the mental processes, yet the amount of patient detail-work accumulated in these departments, and the light thrown on other departments by the scientific study of abnormal mental states in their physiological relations, are already enriching the science in no ordinary degree, and transforming the very look of our psychological text-books. The philosopher would be singularly cross-grained who did not welcome this accumulation of material, and who did not congratulate himself that all this detail-work was taken out of his hands by those who, from their training and aptitudes, can do it so much better. But he will reserve to himself as philosopher the ultimate verdict on the validity and sufficiency of the theory on which physio-logical psychology proceeds. For it is the most indefeasible function of philosophy to act as critic of the sciences. The philosopher has to examine the conceptions which each science accepts withont criticism, and on which it proceeds in working out its results; he has to point out the limits or conditions within which the conception or theory holds true. In other words he has to restrain the ardour of the specialist who would build upon his results a philosophic theory of the universe, by showing that the results which the investigation seems to establish are really involved in the conceptions or standpoint from which it started, and are therefore in no sense to be accepted as an independent proof of the theory. I propose to show that this is pre-eminently the case with the main thesis of the “new” psychology—at least in the hands of its most advanced representatives. In abjuring the soul, and limiting itself to the concomitance of physical and psychical events, it is really dominated by a very definite theory which dictates the character of its results beforehand.

The result supposed to be proved, it had best be stated at once, is the complete parallelism of the bodily and the mental—the denial, therefore, of any real causality to consciousness, which remains the inert accompaniment of a succession of physical changes over which it has no control. In a word, the result is the doctrine of human automatism. The doctrine of conscious automatism has been ventilated a good deal since 1870, or even earlier, by Mr. Shàdworth Hodgson, Professor Huxley, Professor Clifford, and others; but though, no doubt, definitely embraced by a few, it is safe to say that by the most it has been rather talked about and toyed with than fully conceived, much less believed. The doctrine bas, however, been recently expressed with great clearness and force by Dr. Münsterberg, who is perhaps the ablest and most stirring of the younger generation of physiological psychologists, and one whose theories have been

[ocr errors]

much discussed within the last two years, both in England and on the Continent. He teaches in the most unequivocal fashion that consciousness is simply, as he calls it, a “Begleitererscheinung,” a concomitant phenomenon or inactive accompaniment of a series of mechanical changes.

Münsterberg's work, which has appeared in a succession of pamphlets since the year 1888, takes largely the form of a polemic against Wundt's doctrine of Apperception. Wundt, it is hardly necessary to say, stands at the head of the physiological psychologists of Germany. His “Physiologische Psychologie," first published in 1874, remains, in its later editions, the chief standard work on the subject; and the psychological laboratory established by him in Leipzig in 1879 was the first of its kind, and is still probably the chief centre of experimental work. But although he may thus fairly be called the father of the whole movement, inasmuch as he has organised experimental psychology, and induced the world to accept it as a new science, Wundt has never lent his countenance to the automatist conclusions which the young bloods are now drawing from their experimental labours. His doctrine of apperception is far from clear, and its precise meaning has given rise to considerable controversy ; but apperception seems to correspond in the main to what Dr. Ward calls attention. If the direction and fixation of attention is a centrally initiated function, then it may be held to be the essence of what we mean by the activity of the subject. If we possess such a selective power, then all is not fatally determined ; we count for something in directing the course of

own lives. Wundt's doctrine of apperception seems to amount to this, especially when it is taken together with the general philosophical position which he has elaborated in bis recently published “System of Philosophy.” At any rate, it is certain that he has been attacked by the upholders of thoroughgoing mechanism as an inconsistent and retrograde thinker for attributing activity to the subject. This explanation was necessary for the right understanding of Münsterberg's work. His first paraphlet in this controversy was “ Die Willenshandlung," an analysis of the act of will, published early in 1888. This was followed in 1889-90 by three instalments of “Contributions to Experimental Psychology," in which, after an elucidation of principles, he endeavoured, by a series of carefully devised experiments, to assimilate the apperceptive process to the type of reflex action and reduce the whole conscious action to a play of association. Finally, he published last year an introduction to the study of psychology (“Uber Aufgaben und Methoden der Psychologie"), in the course of which we get a re-statement of his own position. The standpoint does not vary throughout the different expositions, and therefore, though illustrating freely from all, so far as they throw light upon my points, I will


[ocr errors]

+6 That

draw chiefly from the first and fullest statement the very acute analysis of the act of will.

The treatise is divided into three parts, the first treating of the voluntary act as movement-process” (Bewegungsvorgang); the second treating of it as a phenomenon or appearance in consciousness (Bewusstseinserscheinung); and the third, which is intended to .combine the results of the preceding parts, considering the act of will in its totality as “conscious movement” (bewusste Bewegung) . Münsterberg makes a start from the well-known saying of Kant :

my will moves my arm is no whit more intelligible to me than if any one were to tell me that it could hold back the moon in its orbit.” He accepts thé problem as thus indicated : How does my will move my arm ? The first part of his treatise deals with the voluntary act exclusively from the physiological side, and analyses it into a series of movements. We may say analyses it necessarily into a series of movements, for the succession of bodily movements, whether visible movements of the limbs or molecular movements of the nerves and brain, are all of the process that could by any possibility be seen ; and reduction to processes which are intelligible in the sense of being pictorially presentable, is the postulate of explanation which he lays down. There is not much that is peculiar to Münsterberg in this first section, the saine has been vividly put by many writers; and in a sense this purely physical explanation is true from the physiological side, though I think it is possible to show that even from the physiological standpoint, it is not the whole truth. Meanwhile it is enough to note the purely mechanical point of view and the explicit reduction of all physiological facts to physico-chemical processes. Passing to the more characteristic psychological analysis contained in the second part of the treatise, we find that Münsterberg is at some pains at the outset to define the problem he sets himself. It is purely a problem of empirical pyschology, and does not raise the metaphysical question as to the ultimate ground of phenomena, or as to how consciousness exists at all. His investigation seeks “only to establish the conscious phenomena which are peculiar to the voluntary act” (p. 56). " Wherein consists the content of our inner experience, empirically given to each of us, which we designate will ” (p. 60). Or, again, “ For our investigation, limited as it is to facts, the will is a phenomenon like other phenomena; and accordingly we have only to ask in what it consists, what regularly precedes it in consciousness and what follows it” (p. 61). This strictly empirical character of the inquiry has one important consequence according to Münsterberg. “Modern psychology, it is well-known," he proceeds, “designates the ultimate irreducible constituents into which the content of consciousness (Bewusstseinsinhalt) may be analysed as sensations, ascribing to sensations a quality, an intensity, and a tone

« EelmineJätka »