Organized Session

Scientific Method and the Sciences of Mind in the Nineteenth Century

Organizer

David Ivan Delano

University of California Berkeley

Chair

Henry Cowles

University of Michigan

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Session Abstract

This panel examines how nineteenth-century debates about the genesis, organization, and functions of mind produced new visions of proper scientific thinking and practice. Nineteenth-century epistemologists and theorists of scientific method needed to confront understandings of the human mind posited by the fledgling disciplines of evolutionary biology, experimental psychology, anthropology, and neurophysiology. Findings in these disciplines about how human beings acquire and order knowledge elicited new explanations for the sources of regularity in thinking, the boundary between human and animal cognition, and the relationship between method and the natural world. The nascent sciences of mind thus occasioned a reappraisal of the meanings, purposes, and deep origins of scientific inquiry amid the emergence of professionalized disciplines and societies.
The papers on this panel reflect the heterogeneity of the nineteenth-century sciences of mind in the U.S. and Europe, while also addressing the shared vocabularies and theoretical assumptions that gave these developments their transnational scope. Arnet shows how early comparative psychology's hierarchical vision of mental life and linear understanding of mind's evolution came to structure experimental practices and norms. Yu examines the confrontation between psychologism and logicism in 1880s German philosophy, explaining how discussions of the will in these debates generated new possibilities for grounding the rules of scientific thinking. Delano charts the migration of "intelligence" from evolutionary biology to psychology, showing how this concept entailed claims about not only the legitimate scope of the sciences of mind but also the purposes of inquiry as such. And Spiegel considers how differing conceptions of the mind in early nineteenth-century Germany arbitrated disputes about the primacy of natural versus bookish knowledge, laying a foundation that would fracture between the natural and human sciences.

Presenter 1

Hierarchy and Experimentalism in Early Comparative Psychology

Evan Arnet

Indiana University Bloomington

Abstract

I explore the role of hierarchical thinking in shaping early experimental and interpretive practice in comparative psychology. I investigate how it permeated early understandings of animal cognition and argue that, paradoxically, it led to the broadly deflationary approach to animal cognition that characterized much of early to mid 20th century psychology. No secret was made of the debt to hierarchical thinking. Morgan's canon, one of the founding principles of comparative psychology, was explicitly designed to help "gauge" the level to which an organism had risen. Levels here are understood as general stages in a linear and hierarchical mental evolution with humans at the top. This commitment to a broadly hierarchical vision of animal mental life structured scientific methodology and had a significant impact on experimental practices. I look to three major experimental approaches in early comparative psychology (rearing experiments, puzzle boxes, and maze running) and demonstrate how each approach was steeped in the hierarchical logic of the time. However, as theoretical considerations encountered concrete experiments, it became clear that, with sufficient creativity, more and more behavior could be explained with fewer and fewer postulates about animal cognition. Consequently, the hierarchy was flattened out. In prominent behaviorist approaches, cognition (and consciousness) disappeared, the emphasis on hierarchical animal cognition having somehow contrived to analyze away the animal mind entirely. I conclude by commenting on the effect a more deflationary animal psychology had on how the human mind and its engagement with the world was understood in the early 20th century.

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Presenter 2

Logic and the Laws of Willing

Gloria Yu

University of California Berkeley

Abstract

The study of logic has since antiquity served as the study of the rules of proper thinking. In the nineteenth century, logicians began to defend their authority on the grounds that they investigated not just rules of thinking but, in particular, the foundations of scientific thinking. This view was challenged when experimental psychologist Wilhelm Wundt proposed that laws of thinking were based on laws of the will and that logical rules were themselves grounded on organizing principles of the human psyche. In response to this challenge, logicians and mathematicians advocated for new ways of imagining objectivity that inhered in the nature of and relationships between ideas themselves. Truth was at stake, and Wundt's centralization of the will, they saw, was tantamount to a kind of "species relativism" that threatened the validity of the scientific enterprise. This paper traces how the discipline of logic confronted contemporary psychological views about the workings of the mind and the will. It examines the various notions of "objectivity" and accounts of the regularity of thinking proposed by proponents of these two camps. Between logicists and psychologists, thinking was figured either as a fundamental human tool in scientific pursuits or a quality of behavior based on other more primal psychological and physiological processes. This confrontation provoked twentieth-century psychology, philosophy, and logic to question not only the ways in which thought and truth could be expressed in language and the relationship between language and reality, but also whether and in what sense thinking could be considered free.

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Presenter 3

Framing Intelligence: Darwinian Psychology and the Ends of Inquiry

David Ivan Delano

University of California Berkeley

Abstract

The concept of intelligence is part of the basic vocabulary of our time for making sense of such disparate problems as the sources of individual difference, the status of non-human minds, and the repercussions of technological change. From animal intelligence to intelligence testing, from artificial intelligence to intelligent extraterrestrial life, intelligence supplies our tacitly accepted framework for understanding the nature of cognition and its role in the universe. Prior to the late nineteenth century, however, intelligence was virtually absent from scientific and philosophical discussions of mind. While intelligence would become enduringly tied to the psychometric indexing of human difference, its earliest formulations took place amid studies of animal cognition meant to clarify the impact of evolutionary theory on questions of what mind is, what it does, and the specificity of human thinking. This paper traces the late nineteenth-century migration of intelligence from biology to psychology in Britain and the United States. Before the spread of psychometric intelligence testing in the first decade of the twentieth century, intelligence designated a vision of behavioral plasticity and instrumental problem solving derived from a Darwinian rendering of the interface between animal and environment. Not merely a technology of measurement intelligible within the broad trajectory of quantification in science, intelligence also announced the reinvention of mind itself as an instrument for solving problems. This new vision of mind's nature and functions proved useful to a kaleidoscopic range of thinkers-from technocratic reformists, to animal psychologists, to psychometricians, to pragmatist theorists of democracy. In this talk, I focus on how experimental psychologists adopted the Darwinian concept of intelligence to answer questions about the meanings of scientific inquiry: its purposes, its legitimate scope, even its evolutionary antecedents.

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Presenter 4

Between Geist and Realis: The Creation of Compulsory Psychological Education in Early Nineteenth-Century Germany

Richard Spiegel

Princeton University

Abstract

This paper looks at the institutionalization of psychology in the first half of the nineteenth century in the context of the Humanismus-Realismus debate that raged during the renovation of German educational systems. The disagreement pitted defenders of a strictly classical curriculum against those who advocated for natural knowledge as part of Gymnaisum education. Those who defended a purely classical curriculum insisted on the primacy of ancient texts and grammar in developing the mind's faculties. They insisted that classical language and literature was the only means of delivering students formal education. I look at how early nineteenth-century psychology responded to a similar dispute from the late eighteenth century and tried to position itself as an arbitrator, offering a common language and framework in which to discuss the underlying logic of what counts as formal education. The nub of the argumentation revolved around whether mental faculties were real or not and whether the diverse interests of a well-rounded mind relied on exposure at a young age. Although the underlying dispute remained unresolved, psychology became accepted as the field of knowledge that regulated the relationship between the formal education of the Gymnasium and the positive Wissenschaft of the university. This helps to explain the creation of compulsory psychological training in both Gymnasium and university in the first half of the nineteenth century, a phenomenon that enshrined in German institutions of higher learning the idea of the mind stood at the nexus of natural and humanistic knowledge.

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