5. Confronting the Multivalent Self, 1880–1914
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chapter five Confronting the Multivalent Self, 1880–1914 199 Among readers of guidebooks, the Universal Exposition of 1900 is usually remembered for giving Paris the Pont Alexandre III and the Grand Palais. It is less well-known for having inspired a flurry of international conventions. The Fourth International Congress of Psychology was among the most important of these gatherings, both for its size and for its position in the larger history of the field. Psychology had only recently emerged as an autonomous scientific discipline—its first international convention had been held in Paris in 1889, a scant eleven years before. The 1900 Congress, a return to Paris after meetings in London and Munich , further cemented psychology’s hard-earned status as an empirical pursuit, based not on philosophical speculation but on data gathered from controlled experiments. When psychologists discussed the evolution of their discipline during this period, they generally spoke in terms of its changing relation to metaphysics . In his address to the Second International Congress, for example, Charles Richet asserted that psychology had come into its own in the last quarter of the nineteenth century by striving to “disengage itself from scholastic formulas, theology, metaphysics, and deductive reasoning,” instead concentrating exclusively on empirical observation.1 For commentators focused on the German-speaking world, this shift was primarily the work of Wilhelm Wundt and his intellectual descendents, who developed a “physiological psychology” based on experiments conducted on 1 Reprinted in Annales des sciences psychiques 2 (1892): 343. normal subjects.2 The French account of psychology’s abandonment of metaphysics, in contrast, gave a prominent place to the controlled study of pathological cases.3 This current began with the clinical psychiatrists Jean-Martin Charcot and Hippolyte Bernheim, who transformed hypnosis—a set of techniques appropriated from Mesmerism—into both a treatment for hysteria and a means of analyzing the disease experimentally . For thinkers such as Richet, Théodule Ribot, and Pierre Janet, this clinical use of hypnosis served as the foundation of a new empirical approach to the psyche. French experimental psychology, therefore, emerged from a collaboration with clinical psychiatry, but also differed crucially from it. Psychiatrists, whose earliest professional organization in France dated from 1852, were predominantly affiliated with hospitals and focused on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, while psychologists , largely university-based, sought to discover the general principles that governed the workings of the mind.4 In France, the emergence of experimental psychology roughly coincided with the steadily increasing ideological polarization of Catholic right and republican left that had begun in the late 1870s. French medical psychiatry had a long-standing reputation for hostility to Catholicism, and indeed to religious faith in all forms. Charcot, for example, was famous for his ability to “diagnose” the ecstatic saints in Renaissance paintings: By looking at facial expressions and gestures, he could identify the precise symptoms of hysteria that earlier viewers had mistaken for mystical transport. For the French psychologists who gathered in Paris in 1900, the primary mission of their new discipline derived from this intellectual precedent. Their task, as they saw it, was to elaborate an empirical and secular understanding of consciousness. At the same time, however, the range of opinions presented at the 1900 Congress revealed that the precise terms of psychology’s abandonment of metaphysics had yet to be fully negotiated.5 The fluidity of the discipline’s boundaries came to the fore in the sessions of the Congress devoted to Laboratories of Faith 200 2 See e.g. Edwin G. Boring, A History of Experimental Psychology, 2nd ed. (New York: AppletonCentury -Crofts, 1950). 3 For descriptions of this difference, see Jacqueline Carroy and Régine Plas, “The Origins of French Experimental Psychology: Experiment and Experimentalism,” History of the Human Sciences 9, no. 1 (1996): 73–84; Laurent Mucchielli, “Aux Origines de la psychologie universitaire en France (1870–1900): enjeux intellectuels, contexte politique, réseaux et stratégies d’alliance autour de la Revue philosophique de Théodule Ribot,” Annals of Science 55 (1998): 263–289. 4 Matthew Brady Brower, “The Fantasms of Science: Psychical Research in the French Third Republic, 1880–1935” (Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University, 2005); Sofie Lachapelle, “A World outside Science: French Attitudes toward Mediumistic Phenomena, 1853–1931” (Ph.D. diss., University of Notre Dame, 2002). 5 Ann Taves is preparing a manuscript on these disputes, which she graciously allowed me to consult in draft form. “hypnosis, suggestion, and related questions.” In these meetings, academic psychologists read papers alongside...


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