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London: Allen & Unwin; New York: Macmillan, 1916. Pp. xxiv+ 532. 1

The Monist, 28(Jan 1918) 159-60

Durkheim’s Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuseand Wundt’s Elemente der Völkerpsychologieappeared in the same year, 1912. 2 In the preface to the present work Professor Wundt states the difference in method between the earlier Völkerpsychologieand this shorter book. “Instead of considering successively the main forms of expression of the folk mind, the present work studies the phenomena, so far as possible synchronously, exhibiting their common conditions and their reciprocal relations. . . . The chief purpose of investigations in folk psychology must be found in a synthetic survey” [xiiixiv]. This is in accord with Durkheim’s theory that the religious phenomena must not be isolated by the investigator from the rest of the social life of a people. Otherwise the books of the two men are strikingly different. Durkheim’s psychology is metaphysics. Wundt’s psychology is descriptive anthropology. His method is descriptive and historical. He divides the stages of culture into four: (1) primitive man, including prehistoric man and such existing tribes as the Veddahs, Bushmen and Negritos; (2) the totemic stage, including the Australians and the Iroquois; (3) the “age of gods and heroes,” the age of the folk epic; (4) the “development to humanity,” which includes a discussion of “world-empires” and “world-religions.” In each of these stages he takes up cult, social organization, myth, art, language; except that in the last stage the treatment is vaguer and these divisions are abandoned.

In his account of primitive and savage society Wundt is in general sound, but unsatisfying. When we turn to totemism, for example, he gives the impression of painstaking common sense. He is certainly right in rejecting the “eugenic” theory of exogamy, and in combating the “conceptional” theory of the totem. But it is improbable that the group totem is (as Wundt apparently holds) an outgrowth of the individual totem. Wundt is an animist. “Totemic ideas arise as a result of the diremption of primitive soul ideas into the corporeal souland the breath-and shadow-soul” (192). The soul is regarded “as a moving form, particularly as an animal, a bird, a rapidly gliding snake, or a lizard” [192]. We are inclined to believe that this “breath-soul” which totemism introduces was at first, and in fully developed totemism, much more indefinite and impersonal than Wundt would lead us to suppose. And he does not succeed in showing the relation between totemism as a social organization and totemism as a religious cult.

For the rest, Wundt is less concerned with explaining motive and meaning than with explaining the development of forms. Thus, his account of art is taken up largely with the development of the stringed instrument out of the bow, and kindred problems; he engages in a discussion of the beginnings of domestication of animals. The major part of his subject matter, in short, is not psychological at all; it belongs, in the earlier stages, to descriptive anthropology, and in the later stages, to the philosophy of history. And of the role which the sexual instinct plays in the religion and mythology of primitive peoples (indeed in all religion) Wundt has almost nothing to say. The psychoanalysis of myths, pursued by some of Freud’s disciples, is surely capable of throwing considerable light on the primitive mind. It is possible that Wundt is still under the domination of a Hegelian conception of history. Although he criticises Hegel for applying a “logical schematism which is in large measure imposed upon history,” his own account is very rationalistic [520]. The book is a sound and valuable handbook, enriched by Wundt’s ideas. But we think that any further advance in folk psychology is conditioned by advance in individual psychology.


Published By:   Johns Hopkins University Press