Antecedents in Psychology

Darwin's evolutionary theory emphasized differences in degree, not in essence. Thus, the most complex human psychological attributes could, in principle, be examined in a more systematic fashion by studying their simpler, but kindred, manifestations in nonhuman animals. Studies of this sort, it was assumed, would establish psychology's own independent scientific status. As Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) declared:

The claims of Psychology to rank as a distinct science ... are not smaller but greater than those of any other science. If its phenomena are contemplated objectively, merely as nervo-muscular adjustments by which the higher organisms from moment to moment adapt their actions to environing coexistences and sequences, its degree of specialty, even then, entitles it to a separate place. (Principles of Psychology, p. 141)

In the patrimony of Darwin, and influenced chiefly by his Descent of Man (1871), specialists in animal psychology appeared before the end of the nineteenth century and made their own contributions toward a behavioral science. For all his anthropomorphic tendencies, George Romanes (1848-1894), in his Animal Intelligence (1882) and Mental Evolution in Animals (1883), put the study of animal behavior on the map of the new psychology. All that was needed to prepare this Darwinian psychology for adoption by the forthcoming generations of behaviorists was to strip it of just this anthropomorphism. C. Lloyd Morgan, in his Introduction to Comparative Psychology (1894), delivered his famous canon:

In no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychic faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one which stands lower in the psychological scale. (p. 53)

Thus, with this insistence on explanatory parsimony, did the "ism" in behaviorism begin to take shape.

It is customary, if misleading, to date the birth of experimental psychology with Wilhelm Wundt's founding of the discipline's first university laboratory at Leipzig in 1878-1879. Wundt (1832-1920) was perhaps the discipline's most prolific writer. His texts, which were wideranging and immensely influential at the time psychology departments were being formed in Europe, England, and the United States, emphasized experimental over ethological (naturalistic) modes of inquiry. But the reading of Wundt was rather selective. In his less-consulted multivolume Völkerpsychologie (best rendered as "anthropological psychology") he developed and defended the nonexperimental and essentially historical anthropological mission of psychology, drawing attention to the limits of reductionistic strategies and explanations. Even with this broadened perspective, Wundt remained loyal to the scientific views of his age, acquired in his medical education and as he assisted the great Hermann von Helmholtz. In these respects he was representative of an entire generation of thinkers committed to the scientific study of psychology and the abandonment of purely philosophical modes of analysis, wherever the scientific and experimental alternative was practicable.

In the Wundtian tradition, however, the subjects of scientific inquiry were taken to be mental processes and functions—those now generally dubbed cognitive. Moreover, although he did much to advance comparative psychology in his textbooks, the bulk of his theoretical writings, and all of the research undertaken in the Leipzig laboratory, focused on human psychology and the development of a science of mental life. To this extent, Wundtian psychology formed a path distinct from that so heavily trod by the neurophysiologists, anatomists, and clinicians, a path more readily associated with the introspective philosophical psychologists (e.g., John Locke and David Hume). Nor was it clear that Wundtian psychology had a place within the larger naturalistic context of Darwinian science.

Labels offer useful shortcuts, but they can be misleading. It may be said, with ample qualifications, that the Wundtian perspective, at least in the hands of his most influential students (e.g., Edward B. Titchener), was structuralist. Any number of passages and entire chapters in books by Wundt are devoted to the (hypothetical) constituents or components of thought. And, if structuralism (according to which the task facing a scientific psychology requires an analysis of the structure of consciousness) and functionalism (which focuses instead on the functions served by the behavior of animals or the functions of the nervous system itself) are to be understood in essentially dialectical terms, it is also the case that Wundt's major works are not beholden to the idiom of functionalism. But his attention to the workings of the nervous system, his attempts to provide a loosely evolutionary framework for both human and animal psychology, and his problem-centered cognitive psychology are all anticipations of the functionalist psychology so explicit in the works of William James (1842-1910).

What is relevant here in the tension (real or apparent) between structuralism and functionalism in the history of modern psychology is the claim later made by John B. Watson (1878-1958) that behaviorism was to replace both. In significant respects, it may be said to have replaced both by merging the two rather than by fully rejecting either. Structuralism, which was never a central feature of Wundt's own agenda for the discipline, has this much in common with behaviorism: It is a reductionistic theory or strategy, according to which complex and psychologically significant ensembles can be analyzed into more elementary components. Further, both posit that the only valid evidence is the observable and repeatable evidence gleaned by laboratory investigations. For all their differences, then, behaviorism and structuralism, in their mechanistic and reductive commitments, were faithful to that "religion of science" launched in the seventeenth century.

Functionalism, of course, is the immediate precursor to behaviorism and even a version of it, depending on how the term is to be understood. One account of it is defended by Alexander Bain (1818-1903), the founder of the journal Mind and intimate friend of John Stuart Mill. In The Senses and the Intellect (1855) and The Emotions and the Will (1859), Bain argued that the discipline of psychology was to be advanced by merging its issues and findings with the science of physiology in such a way as to ground psychological processes in the functions of the nervous system. Func-tionalism, in this sense, is a function-based psychology whose general laws are derived from neurophysiology. From still another (but quite compatible) perspective, such as that defended by William James, the question to ask of any psychological process or phenomenon is what function it serves in the larger context of the organism's (person's) overall and long-term interests. The psychological event is explained when the functions it serves are delineated. These, in the most general sense, are adaptive functions, rendering the organism more successful in its transactions with the environment. In the writings of William James, this orientation is tied to a pragmatism that anticipates the central tenets of modern behaviorism.

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