1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Standpoint of Psychology

(Part 2)

(A) The Standpoint of Psychology (cont.)

Standpoint of Psychology

Paradoxical though it may be, we must then conclude that psychology cannot be defined by reference to a special subject-matter as such concrete science, for example, as mineralogy and botany can ; and, since it deals in some sort with the whole of experience, it is obviously not an abstract science, in any ordinary sense of that term. To be characterized at all, therefore, apart from metaphysical assumptions, it must be characterized by the standpoint from which this experience is viewed. It is by way of expressing this that widely different schools of psychology define it as subjective, all other positive sciences being distinguished as objective. But this seems scarcely more than a first approximation to the truth, and as, as we have seen incidentally, is apt to be misleading. The distinction rather is that the standpoint of psychology is what is sometimes termed "individualistic," that of the so-called object-sciences being "universalistic," both alike being objective in the true for all, consisting of what Kant would call judgement of experience. For psychology is not a biography in any sense, still less a biography dealing with idiosyncrasies, and in an idiom having an interest and a meaning for one subject only, and incommunicable to any other. Locke, Berkeley, and Hume have been of late severely handled because they regarded the critical investigation of knowledge as a psychological problem, and set to work to study the individual mind simply for the sake of this problem. But none the less their standpoint was the proper one for the science of psychology itself ; and, however surely their philosophy was foredoomed to a collapse, there is no denying a steady psychological advance as we pass from Locke to Hume and his modern representatives. By "idea" Locke tells us he means "whatsoever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks" (i.e., is conscious), and having, as it were, shut himself within such a circle of ideas he finds himself powerless to explain his knowledge of a world that is independent of it; but he is able to give a very good account of some of these ideas themselves. He cannot justify his belief in the world of things whence certain of his simple ideas "were conveyed" any more than Robinson Crusoe could have explored the continents whose products were drifted to his desert island, though he might perhaps survey the island itself well enough. Berkeley accordingly, as Professor Fraser happily puts it, abolished Locke’s hypothetical outer circle. Thereby he made the psychological standpoint clearer than ever—hence the truth of Hume’s remark, that Berkeley’s a rguments "admit of no answer"; at the same time the epistemological problem was a hopeless as before--hence again the truth of Hume’s remark that those arguments "produced no conviction." Of all the facts with which he deals, the psychologist may truly say that their esse is percipi, inasmuch as all his facts are facts of presentation, are ideas in Locke’s sense, or objects which imply a subject. Before we became we became conscious there was no world for us; should our consciousness cease, the world for us ceases too ; had we been born blind, the world would for us have no colour ; if deaf, it would have had no sounds ; if idiotic, it would have had no meaning. Psychology, then, transcends the limits of the individual ; even the knowledge that there is a real world, as common-sense assumes, is, when psychologically regarded, an individual’s knowledge, which had a beginning and a growth, and can have an end. In fact, for the psychologist it is not essentially knowledge, but presentations, partly possible, partly actual, in the mind of A, B, or C; just as this page is for the printer essentially "copy," and only for the reader essentially "discourse." But what the psychologist has to say about knowledge is, of course, itself knowledge, i.e., assuming it to be correct; the knowledge about which he knows is, however, for him not primarily knowledge, but "states of consciousness."

But now, though this Berkeleyan standpoint is the standpoint of psychology—as we find it occupied, say, by J.S. Mill and Dr Bain—psychology is not pledged to the method employed by Berkeley and by Locke. Psychology may be individualistic without being confined exclusively to the introspective method. There is nothing to hinder the psychologist from employing materials further by his observations of other men, of infants, of the lower animals, or of the insane ; nothing to hinder him taking counsel with the philologist or even the physiologist, provided always he can show the psychological bearings of those facts which are not directly psychological. Nor, again, are we bound, because we take the individualistic standing-point as psychologists, to accept the philosophical conclusions that have been reached from it, unless, indeed, we hold that it is the right point of view for philosophical speculation. A psychologist may be an idealist in Berkeley’s sense or in Fichte’s, but he need not; he is just as free, if he see reason, to call himself, after Hamilton, a natural realist; only psychology will afford him no safe warrant for the realism part of it. The standpoint of psychology, then, is individualistic ; by whatever methods, from whatever source its facts are ascertained, they must—to have a psychological import—be regarded as having place in, or as being part of, some one’s consciousness. In this sense, i.e., as presented to an individual, "the whole choir of heaven and furniture of earth" may belong to psychology, but other wise they are psychological nonentities. The problem of psychology, in dealing with this complex subject-matter, is in general—first, to ascertain its constituent elements, and secondly, to ascertain and explain the laws of their combination and interaction.

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