Psychology 301: ‘Psychology’ from the Ancient to the Modern World Fall 2010 Professor

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Psychology 301:

Psychology’ from the Ancient to the Modern World

Fall 2010

Professor: Dr. Scott Greer

Office: Memorial Hall 204

Office Hours: Mon. & Wed. 12:30–1:30



Phone: 566-0690


Hergenhahn, B.R. (2009). An introduction to the history of psychology, 6th edition. Belmont, CA.: Wadsworth.

Brennan, J. (ed.) (1998). Readings in the history of psychology. 2nd edition. Upper Saddle Creek, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Week Topics for Discussion H. Ch. Other


9 Introduction; Historiography: What is ‘History’? 1 1

14/16 Critical/revisionist history; Ionian Naturalism 2 R: Harris

21/23 Plato and Aristotle 2 2

28/30 Quiz 1 / Exam 1

Oct. 5/7 New Physics and & the Mind-Body Problem 4 6

12/14 Empiricism: The Authority of Experience 5 9

19/21 Empiricism & Rationalism 5 & 6

26/28 Rationalism: The Authority of Reason 6 11

Nov. 2/4 Quiz 2 / Exam 2

9 Rise of Experimental Psychology 8 12

16/18 The Origins of Psychology (in U.S. vs. Germany) 9 13

23/25 Origins Reconsidered: The Social Construction

of Psychology R: Danziger (x2)

30 Quiz 3

Key: H. Ch= chapters in Hergenhahn; Other= selections in Brennan reader or R= article on library Reserve

Psychology is a discipline with a long past but a short history.” H. v. Ebbinghaus

He who controls the past controls the future.” G. Orwell

Brief Course Overview:

This course is the first of a two-part look at the history of psychology. In following historian Graham Richards, I find it helpful to distinguish between the histories of Psychology and psychology. Capital “P” Psychology refers to the discipline of “Psychology,” which has only existed since the late 19th century. Small “p” psychology refers to what we think of today as “psychological subject matter,” or the discourse that describes and explains human conduct. One of the most important lessons we learn from examining the ideas, practices, and contexts of centuries past, is that the language we use to describe and explain our actions and thoughts, and even knowledge itself, are often very particular to a specific time and place. The historicality of psychological discourse means that our Psychology and our psychology are bound to historical and social context; this course introduces you to the idea that our ‘psychology’– rather than referring to some universal set of principles – continues to evolve and change with time and culture.

Although there was no discipline of “Psychology” or specific body of knowledge referred to as “psychological” until very recently, the topics of knowledge and human conduct predate the discipline in various forms and have been debated for centuries. The appearance of Psychology as a separate discipline not only brought tremendous changes to the ways these questions were asked, but in many respects literally created the “psychological,” transforming the very nature of how we think about the description and explanation of human condition. For instance, Psychology has created a popular lexicon for understanding the psychological (e.g., ‘being anal’), and has also, itself, responded to changes in society and culture (e.g., the ever expanding DSM). It is so very easy to read earlier writers in terms of the way we understand psychological questions and ideas, rather than attending to and building up the context for meaning that they had intended.

This course focuses on the history of the psychological before Psychology – or anything psychological (in the way we mean it) for that matter. In effect, we examine how different historical periods and societies understood questions concerning how we know what we know, how the mind works, what causes or reasons are there for the way things are, and what the basic nature of reality is. Psychology 302: The Emergence of Modern Psychology, which is offered next term, looks at the history of Psychology as a separate discipline and the myriad theories and schools that quickly formed.

We begin this course by considering the question “What is history?” and the issues of historiography, or how do we write history. History is not given through time, but is a product of consciousness, language, and culture – history is thus uniquely human. The fundamental lesson in this course is that history is not just about the past, but about how the past is connected and disconnected to the present.

Our narrative of the history of ‘psychology’ begins with the early Greek philosophers and the foundational ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. We also consider the ideas and importance of many of the pre-Socratics as well. We then turn to the beginning of the modern era and various philosophies of mind from the 17th and 18th centuries. We pay particular attention to the influence of the Enlightenment upon the concept of mind and other mentalistic concepts, and how this set the stage for the “naturalistic turn” in the late 19th century. As the mind became an object for investigation by the experimental sciences, it became part of a larger set of explanations about how the rest of the world works – thus the mind became ‘naturalized’ (vs. super-natural, or explained by metaphysical entities like the soul). This naturalistic turn set the stage for the emergence of Psychology as a separate discipline that would attempt to explain human conduct.

I believe that history can provide a critical perspective on current psychological theory and practice. Unlike a course where you learn about a specialty area of psychology (e.g., abnormal, social, etc.), this course challenges your understanding about all of Psychology.

About the course:

  • Students often find the nature and amount of material in this course challenging. One of the biggest challenges I feel is for students to feel engaged by the ideas, which are often abstract. Toward this end, students are required to keep a ‘journal’ with summaries of all readings and responses to the take-home questions, which are given in class periodically (usually once per chapter). Each Wednesday class will be devoted to a group discussion of the chapter and/or the take-home questions. Summaries of the readings should be approximately 1 - 1 1/2 pages (@ 250 - 350 words). Journals will be collected the day of the two mid-term exams and again on the date of the final.

‚ The course grade will be determined by a combination of three exams, the best 2 out of 3 quizzes, and your journal. Mid-term exams consist of multiple choice and essay questions, and the (non-cumulative) final also includes short answer questions. The three exams and the journal are all worth 20% each. The class before each exam there will be a short “diagnostic quiz” on the material (15 multiple choice and 1 essay); each is worth 10% of your final grade – the lowest of the three is dropped.

‚ On the exams, the essay questions will be primarily based on material presented in the lectures (and films), with the text as a supplement. Multiple choice questions will more or less draw equally on both class material and the text. There will be a fair amount of overlap between the text and class in some cases. However, be aware that some of the material covered in class will not be found in the text, and vice versa. If you (must!) miss a class, you are responsible for finding out what you missed from other students, including any lecture notes, discussion, and announcements.

‚ The exact dates of the exams will be confirmed in class. Students are required to write the quizzes and exams for this course when they are scheduled. Make-up exams will only be granted under extreme circumstances and with supporting documentation. There will be no make up quizzes, rewrites of exams, or extra credit.

‚ Helpful Hints: Some students find this course difficult due to the amount of reading and information required, and the philosophical aspects of the course can be hard to grasp. To help handle these concerns, regular attendance is required, as is reading the assigned material BEFORE class. Outlines of lectures and slideshow presentations are available for download from the “Teaching” page of my website. It is recommended that you download these before class as well, since this will make note-taking in class easier. Participation in class discussion is also essential--question everything!

Additional Required Readings for Psychology 301:

Psychology’ from the Ancient to the Modern World
Danziger, K. (1979). The social origins of modern psychology. In A.R. Buss (Ed.), Psychology in social context. pp. 27-45. New York: Irvington.
Danziger, K. (1985). The origins of the psychological experiment as a social institution. American Psychologist, 40, 133-140.
Harris, B. (1997). Repoliticizing the history of psychology. In Fox, D. and Prilleltensky, I. (eds). Critical psychology: An introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  • Plus the following selections from Brennan, J. (ed.) (1998). Readings in the history of psychology. 2nd edition. Upper Saddle Creek, NJ: Prentice Hall.

  • Kuhn, T. from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

  • Plato, The Republic, Book VII, “Story of the Cave”

  • Descartes, R. The Passions of the Soul, Part I, “About the passions in general...”

  • Locke, J. from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II.

  • Kant, I. from The Critique of Pure Reason

  • Wundt, W. from Outlines of Psychology

  • Brentano, F. from Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint

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