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German Idealism and the Development of Psychology in the Nineteenth Century DAVID E. LEARY THE BIRTHOF MODERNSCIENTIFICPSYCHOLOGYis generally placed in Germany around 1850. This birth is credited by the standard historiography to the dual parentage of the empirical school of philosophy and the experimental study of sensory physiology. There is also a tradition of giving a nod toward Kant and Herbart as predecessors, for varying reasons, of the rise of scientific psychology. ~Almost completely overlooked in the literature is the influence of post-Kantian German idealism upon the development of the concepts, subject matter, and methods of psychology. This is somewhat surprising since idealism was the dominant philosophical movement in Germany in the first half of the nineteenth century. The purpose of this article will be to present a general survey of the relationship between German idealism and the development of psychology in the nineteenth century. The article will be divided into three sections: (1) the idealistic conception of the science of psychology; (2) a survey of idealistic psychology; and (3) the contributions of idealistic psychology. The Idealistic Conception of the Science of Psychology To understand the idealistic conception of psychology as a science, it is necessary to review the philosophy of science proposed by the leading German idealists, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. "Science" meant something quite different for them than it did for Kant in Metaphysische Anfangsgriinde der Naturwissenschaft (Metaphysical foundations of natural science, 1786). 2 From this change in the definition of science there naturally followed a change in what it meant for psychology to be a science and a corresponding change in the attitude toward, and approach to, psychology. One of the most crucial changes in the definition of science resulted from the idealists ' abolition of things-in-themselves. Since they no longer considered natural objects as separate from, and prior to, the ego, the central Kantian distinction of a posteriori and a priori lost its significance for them. Knowledge, the idealists now maintained, does not result from the a posteriori experience of things-in-themselves; rather "things" are themselves manifestations of will (Fichte), imagination (Schelling), or reason (Hegel). i See my "PhilosophicalDevelopmentof the Conceptionof Psychologym Germany,1780-1850,"Journal of the Historyof the BehavioralSctences 14(1978):113-21, whereI arguethat Kantand Herbart,as well as Fries and Beneke,deservemorethanjust a nod 2MetaphystcalFoundationsofNaturalScience,trans JamesElhngton(Indianapohs:Bobbs-Merrdl,1970). [2991 300 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY There are not two spheres of knowledge, the rational and empirical. Rather all knowledge or "science" (Wissenschaft) is one; all knowledge can be reached by the same method; all knowledge can form a system. In fact, since reality is ultimately unitary, according to the idealists, knowledge must form a system if it is to be complete and whole. Only then can "science" be said to be certain. It is not by chance that two of the most common words in the titles of the works of the German idealists were Wissenschaft and System. These words, which became practially synonymous, represented the goal of the idealist philosophers. As Hegel wrote, voicing a conviction common to them all, "the truth is only realized in the form of system.''3 This system is the fullness of science. Obviously, there has been a change here in the meaning and significance of "science" and its relation to philosophy. With Kant, science---or as he defined it more narrowly, natural science--was an autonomous enterprise which philosophy must investigate in order to clarify the presuppositions that make it possible. Philosophy thus provides critical, second-order reflections upon the nature of science. To the idealists, philosophy itself is science, not simply a reflection upon science. It is not merely critical; it actually produces true knowledge. With this change a major intellectual revolution (in the etymological sense of "turn") has taken place. Once again philosophy has been made the ultimate "science," and natural science, which had been struggling for liberation from philosophy since at least the seventeenth century, is once more made subordinate to it. However, the idealists did not wish to eliminate natural science altogether. They granted it a place within their systems. Even though they thought that natural scientists mistakenly "reified...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 299-317
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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