Wilhelm Wundt (1897)

Outlines of Psychology

Source: Outlines of Psychology, publ. Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig 1897;
First Published: in German as Grundriss der Psychologie, Leipzig, 1896;
Translated: With the Cooperation of the Author By Charles Hubbard Judd;
First two chapters reproduced here.


§ 1. Problem of Psychology.

1. Two definitions of psychology have been the most prominent in the. history of this science. According to one, psychology is the "science of mind". Psychical processes are regarded as phenomena from which it is possible to infer the nature of an underlying metaphysical mind-substance. According to the other, psychology is the "science of inner experience": psychical processes are here looked upon as belonging to a specific form of experience, which is readily distinguished by. the fact that its contents are -known through "introspection", or the "inner sense" as it has been called to distinguish it from sense-perception through the outer senses.

Neither of these definitions, however, is satisfactory to the psychology of today. The first, or metaphysical, definition belongs to a period of development that lasted longer in this science than in others. But it is here too forever left behind, since psychology has developed into an empirical discipline, operating with methods of its own; and since the "mental sciences" have gained recognition as a great department of scientific investigation, distinct from the sphere of the natural sciences, and requiring as a general ground-work an independent psychology, free from all metaphysical theories.

The second, or empirical, definition, which sees in psychology a "science of inner experience", is inadequate because it may give rise to the misunderstanding that psychology has to do with objects totally different from those of the so-called "outer experience". It is, indeed, true that there are contents of experience which belong in the sphere of psychological investigation, but are not to be found among the objects and processes studied by natural science: such are our feelings, emotions, and decisions. On the other hand, there is not a single natural phenomenon that may not, from a different point of view, become an object of psychology. A stone, a plant, a tone, a ray of light, are, as natural phenomena, objects of mineralogy, botany, physics, etc.; but in so far as they arouse in us ideas, they are at the same time objects of psychology. For psychology seeks to account for the genesis of these ideas, and for their relations both to other ideas and to those psychical processes not referred to external objects, such as feelings, volitions, etc. There is, then, no such thing as an "inner sense" which can be regarded as an organ of introspection, and thus distinct from the outer senses, or organs of objective perception. Ideas, whose attributes psychology seeks to investigate, arise through the outer senses no less than do the sense-perceptions on which natural science is based; while the subjective activities of feeling, emotion, and volition, which are neglected in natural science, are not known through special organs, but are directly and inseparably connected with the ideas referred to external objects.

2. It follows, then that the expressions outer and inner experience do not indicate different objects, but different points of view from which we start in the consideration and scientific treatment of a unitary experience. We are naturally led to these points of view, because every concrete experience immediately divides into two factors: into a content presented to us, and our apprehension of this content. We call the first of these factors objects of experience, the second experiencing subject. This division points out two directions for the treatment of experience. One is that of the natural sciences, which concern themselves with the objects of experience, thought of as independent of the subject. The other is that of psychology, which investigates the whole content of experience in its relations to the subject and in its attributes derived directly from the subject. The standpoint of natural science may, accordingly, be designated as that of mediate experience, since it is possible only after abstracting from the subjective factor present in all actual experience; the standpoint of psychology, on the other hand, may be designated as that of immediate experience, since it purposely does away with this abstraction and all its consequences.

3. The assignment of this problem to psychology, making it an empirical science coordinate with natural science and supplementary to it, is justified by the method of all the mental sciences, for which psychology furnishes the basis. All of these sciences, philology, history, and political and social science, have for their subject-matter immediate experience as determined by the interaction of objects with the knowing and acting subject. None of the mental sciences employs the abstractions and hypothetical supplementary concepts of natural science; quite otherwise, they all accept ideas and the accompanying subjective activities as immediate reality. The effort is then made to explain the single components of this reality through their mutual interconnections. This method of psychological interpretation employed in the mental sciences, must also be the mode of procedure in psychology itself, being the method required by the subject-matter of psychology, immediate reality of experience.

3 a. Since natural science investigates the content of experience after abstracting from the experiencing subject, its problem. is usually stated as the acquirement of " knowledge of the outer world". By the expression outer world is meant the sum total of all the objects presented in experience. The problem of psychology has sometimes been correspondingly defined as "self-knowledge of the subject". This definition is, however, inadequate because the interaction of the subject with the outer world and with other similar subjects is just as much a problem of psychology as are the attributes of the single subject. Furthermore, the expression can easily be interpreted to mean that outer world and subject are separate components of experience or that they can at least be distinguished as independent contents of experience, whereas, in truth, outer experience is always connected with the apprehending and knowing functions of the subject, and inner experience always contains ideas from the outer world as indispensable components. This interconnection is the necessary result of the fact that in reality experience is not a mere juxtaposition of different elements, but a single organised whole which requires in each of its components the subject that apprehends the content, and the objects that are presented as content. For this reason natural science can not abstract from the knowing subject entirely, but only from those attributes of the subject which either disappear entirely when we remove the subject in thought, as, the feelings, or from those which, on the ground of physical researches, must be regarded as belonging to the subject, as the qualities of sensations. Psychology, on the contrary, has as its subject of treatment the total content of experience in its immediate character.

The only ground, then, for the division between natural science on the one hand, and psychology and the mental sciences on the other, is to be found in the fact that all experience contains as its factors a content objectively presented, and an experiencing subject. Still, it is by no means necessary that logical definitions of these two factors should precede the separation of the sciences from one another, for it is obvious that such definitions are possible only after they have a basis in the investigations of natural science and of psychology. All that it is necessary to presuppose from the first, is the consciousness which accompanies all experience, that in this experience objects are being presented to a subject. There can be no assumption of a knowledge of the conditions upon which the distinction is based, or of the definite characteristics by which one factor can be, distinguished from the other. Even the use of the terms object and subject in this connection must be regarded as the application to the first stage of experience, of distinctions which are reached only by developed logical reflection.

The forms of interpretation in natural science and psychology are supplementary not only in the sense that the first considers objects after abstracting, as far as possible, from the subject, while the second has to do with the part the subject plays in the rise of experience; but they are also supplementary in the sense that each takes a different point of view in considering the single contents of experience. Natural science seeks to discover the nature of objects without reference to the subject. The knowledge that it produces is therefore mediate or conceptual. In place of the immediate objects of experience, it sets concepts gained from these objects by abstracting from the subjective components of our ideas. This abstraction makes it necessary, continually to supplement reality with hypothetical elements. Scientific analysis shows that many components of experience - as, for example, sensations - are subjective effects of objective processes. These objective processes in their objective character, independent of the subject, can therefore never .be a part of experience. Science makes up for this lack by forming supplementary hypothetical concepts of the objective properties of matter. Psychology, on the other hand, investigates the contents of experience in their complete and actual form, both the ideas that are referred to objects, and all the subjective processes that cluster about them. Its knowledge is, therefore, immediate and perceptual: perceptual in the broad sense of the term in which not only sense-perceptions, but all concrete reality is distinguished from all that is abstract and conceptual in thought. Psychology can exhibit the interconnection of the contents of experience as actually presented to the subject, only by avoiding entirely the abstractions and supplementary concepts of natural science. Thus, while natural science and psychology are both empirical sciences in the sense that they aim to explain the contents of experience, though from different points of view, still it is obvious that, in consequence of the character of its problem, psychology is the more strictly empirical.

§ 2. General Theories of Psychology.

1. The view that psychology is an empirical science which deals, not with specific contents of experience, but with the immediate contents of all experience, is of recent origin. It still encounters in the science of today oppositional views, which are to be looked upon, in general, as the remnants of earlier stages of development, and which are in turn arrayed against one another according to their attitudes on the question of the relation of psychology to philosophy and to the other sciences. On the basis of the two definitions mentioned above (§ 1, 1) as being the most widely accepted, two chief theories of psychology may be distinguished: metaphysical and empirical psychology. Each is further divided into a number of special tendencies.

Metaphysical psychology generally values very little the empirical analysis and causal synthesis of psychical processes. Regarding psychology as a part of philosophical metaphysics, its chief effort is directed toward the discovery of a definition of the "nature of mind" that shall be in accord with the whole theory of the metaphysical system to which the particular psychology belongs. After a metaphysical concept of mind has thus been established, the attempt is made to deduce from it the actual content of psychical experience. The characteristic that distinguishes metaphysical from empirical psychology is, then, its attempt to deduce psychical processes, -not from other psychical processes, but from some substratum entirely unlike themselves: either from the manifestations of a special mind-substance, or, from the attributes and processes of matter. At this point metaphysical psychology branches off in two directions. Spiritualistic psychology considers psychical processes as the manifestations of a specific mind-substance, which is regarded either as essentially different from matter (dualism), or as related in nature to matter (monism and monadology). The fundamental metaphysical doctrine of spiritualistic psychology is the assumption of the supersensible nature of mind and, in connection with this, the assumption of its immortality. Sometimes the further notion of preexistence is also added. Materialistic psychology, on the other hand, refers processes to the same material substratum natural science employs for the explanation of natural phenomena According to this view, psychical processes, like physical vital processes, are connected with certain organisations of material particles which are formed during the life of the individual and broken up at the end of that life. The metaphysical character of this trend of psychology is determined by its denial of the supersensible nature of the mind as asserted by spiritualistic psychology. Both theories have in common, that they seek, not to interpret psychical experience from experience itself, but to derive it from presumptions about hypothetical processes in a metaphysical substratum.

2. From the strife that followed these attempts at metaphysical explanation, empirical psychology arose. Wherever it is consistently carried out, it strives either to arrange psychical processes under general concepts derived directly from the interconnection of these processes themselves, or to start with certain, as a rule simpler processes and then explain the more complicated as the result of the interaction of those with which it started. There may be various fundamental principles for such an empirical interpretation, and thus it becomes possible to distinguish several varieties of empirical psychology. In general, these may be classified according to two principles of division. The first has reference to the relation of inner and outer experience, and the attitude that the two empirical sciences, natural science and psychology, take toward each other. The second has reference to the facts or concepts derived from these facts, which are used for the interpretation of psychical processes. Every system of empirical psychology has its place under both of these principles of classification.

3. On the general question s to the nature of psychical experience, the two views already mentioned (§ 1) on account of their decisive significance in determining the problem of psychology, stand over against each other: psychology of the inner sense, and psychology as the science of immediate experience. The first treats psychical processes as contents of a special sphere of experience coordinate with the experience which, derived through the outer. senses is assigned as the province of the natural sciences, but though coordinate, totally different from it. The second recognises no real difference between inner and outer experience, but finds the distinction only in the different points of view from which unitary experience is considered in the two cases.

The first of these two varieties of empirical psychology is the older. It arose primarily from the effort to establish the independence of psychical observation, in opposition to the encroachments. of natural philosophy. In thus coordinating natural science and psychology, it sees the justification for the equal recognition of both spheres in their entirely different objects and modes of perceiving these objects. -This view has influenced empirical psychology in two ways. First, it favoured the opinion that psychology should employ empirical methods, but that these methods, like psychological experience, should be fundamentally different from those of natural science. Secondly, it gave rise to the necessity of showing some connection or other between these two kinds of experience, which were supposed to be different. In regard to the first demand, it was chiefly the psychology of the inner sense that developed the method of pure introspection (§ 3, 2). In attempting to solve the second question, this psychology was necessarily driven back to a metaphysical basis, because of its assumption of a difference between the physical and the psychical contents of experience. For, from the very nature of the case, it is impossible to account for the relations of inner to outer experience or for the so-called "interaction between body and mind", from the position here taken, except through metaphysical presuppositions. These presuppositions must then, in turn, effect the psychological investigation itself in such a way as to result in the importation of metaphysical hypotheses into it.

4. Essentially distinct from the psychology of the inner sense is the trend that defines psychology as the "science of immediate experience". Regarding, as it does, outer and inner experience, not as different parts of experience, but as different ways of looking at one and the same experience, it cannot admit any fundamental difference between the methods of psychology and those of natural science. It has, therefore, most of all to cultivate experimental methods which shall lead to just such an exact analysis of psychical processes which the explanatory natural sciences undertake in the case of natural phenomena, the only differences being those which arise from the diverse points of view. It holds also that the special mental sciences which have to do with concrete mental processes and creations, stand on this same basis of a scientific consideration of the immediate contents of experience and of their relations to acting subjects. It follows, then, that psychological analysis of the most general mental products, such as language, mythological ideas, and laws of custom, is to be regarded as an aid to the understanding of all the more complicated psychical processes. In its methods, then, this trend of psychology stands in close relation to other sciences: as experimental psychology, to the natural sciences; as social psychology, to the special mental sciences.

Finally, from this point of view, the question of the relation between psychical and physical objects disappears entirely. They are not different objects at all, but one and the same content of experience, looked at in one case - in that of natural sciences - after abstracting from the subject, in the other - in that of psychology - in their immediate character and complete relation f psychical and physical objects are, when viewed from this position, attempts to solve a problem that never would have existed if the case had been correctly stated. Though psychology must dispense with metaphysical supplementary hypotheses in regard to the interconnection of psychical processes, because these processes are the immediate contents of experience are the immediate contents of experience, still another method of procedure is open from the very fact that inner and outer experience are supplementary points of view. Wherever breaks appear in the interconnection of psychical processes, it is allowable to carry on the investigation according to the physical methods of considering these same processes, in order to discover whether the lacking coherency can be thus supplied. The same holds for the reverse, method of filling up the breaks in the continuity of our physiological knowledge, by means of elements derived from psychological investigation. Only on the basis of such a view, which sets the two forms of knowledge in their true relation is it possible for psychology to become in the fullest sense an empirical science. Only in this way, too, can physiology become the true supplementary science of psychology, and psychology, on the other hand, the auxiliary of physiology.

5. Under the second principle of classification mentioned above (2), that is, according to the facts or concepts with which the investigation of psychical processes starts, there are two varieties of empirical psychology to be distinguished. They are, at the same time, successive stages in the development of psychological interpretation. The first corresponds to a descriptive, the second to an explanatory stage. The attempt to present a discriminating description of the different psychical processes, gave rise to the need of an appropriate classification. Class-concepts were formed, under which the various processes were grouped; and the attempt was made to satisfy the need of an interpretation in each particular case, by subsuming the components of a given compound process under their proper class-concepts. Such concepts are, for example, sensation, knowledge, attention, memory, imagination, understanding, and will. They correspond to the general concepts of physics which are derived from the immediate apprehension of natural phenomena, such as weight, heat, sound, and light. Like those concepts of physics, these derived psychical concepts may serve for a first grouping of the facts, but they contribute nothing whatever to the explanation of these facts. Still, empirical psychology has often been guilty of confounding this description with explanation. Thus, the faculty-psychology considered these class-concepts as psychical forces or faculties, and referred psychical processes to their alternating or united activity.

6. Opposed to this method of treatment found in the descriptive faculty-psychology, is that of explanatory psychology. When consistently empirical, the latter must base its interpretations on certain facts which themselves belong to psychical experience. These facts may, however, be taken from different spheres of psychical processes, and so it comes that explanatory treatment may be further divided into two varieties, which correspond to the two factors, objects and subject, that go to make up immediate experience. When the chief emphasis is laid on the objects of immediate experience, intellectualistic psychology results. This attempts to derive all psychical processes, especially the subjective feelings, impulses, and volitions, from ideas, or intellectual processes as they may be called on account of their importance for objective knowledge. If, on the contrary, the chief emphasis is laid on the way in which immediate experience arises in the subject, a variety of explanatory psychology results which attributes to those subjective activities not referred to external objects, a position as independent as that assigned to ideas. This variety has been called voluntaristic psychology, because of the importance that must be conceded to volitional processes in comparison with other subjective processes.

Of the two varieties of psychology that result from the general attitudes on the question of the nature of inner experience (3), psychology of the inner sense commonly tends towards intellectualism. This is due to the fact that , when the inner sense is coordinated with the outer senses, the contents of psychical experience that first attract consideration are those presented as objects to this inner sense, in a manner analogous to the presentation of natural objects to the outer senses. It is assumed that the character of objects can be attributed to ideas alone of all the contents of psychical experience, because they are regarded as images of the external objects presented to the outer senses. Ideas, are, accordingly, looked upon as the only real objects of the inner sense, while all processes not referred to external objects, as, for example, the feelings, are interpreted as obscure ideas, or ideas related to one's own body, or, finally, as effects arising from combinations of the ideas.

The psychology of immediate experience (4), on the other hand, tends toward voluntarism. It is obvious that here, where the chief problem of psychology is held to be the investigation of the subjective rise of all experience, special attention will be devoted to those factors from which natural science abstracts.

7. -Intellectualistic psychology has in the course of its development separated into two trends. In one, the logical processes of judgment and reasoning are regarded as the typical. forms of all psychoses; in the other, certain combinations of successive memory-ideas distinguished by their frequency, the so-called associations of ideas, are accepted as such. The logical theory is most closely related to the popular method of psychological interpretation and is, therefore, the older. It still finds some acceptance, however, even in modern times. The association-theory arose from the philosophical empiricism of the last century. The two theories stand to a certain extent in antithesis, since the first attempts to reduce the totality of psychical processes to higher, while the latter seeks to reduce it to lower and, as it is assumed, simpler forms of intellectual activity. Both are one-sided, and not only fail to explain affective and volitional processes on the basis of the assumption with which they start, but are not able to give a complete interpretation even of the intellectual processes.

8. The union of psychology of the inner sense with the intellectualistic view has led to a peculiar assumption that has been in many cases fatal to psychological theory. We may define this assumption briefly as the erroneous attribution of the nature, of, things to ideas. Not only was an analogy assumed between the objects of the so-called inner sense an those of the outer senses, but the former were regarded as the images of the latter; and so it came that the attributes which natural science ascribes to external objects, were transferred to the immediate objects of the "inner sense", the ideas. The assumption was then made that ideas are themselves things, just as much as the external objects to which we refer them; that they disappear from consciousness and come back into it; that they may, indeed, be more or less intensely and clearly perceived, according as the inner sense is stimulated through the outer senses or not, and according to the degree of attention concentrated upon them, but that on the whole they remain unchanged in qualitative character.

9. In all these respects voluntaristic psychology is opposed to intellectualism. While the latter assumes an inner sense and specific objects of inner experience, voluntarism is closely related to the view that inner experience is identical with immediate experience. According to this doctrine, the content of psychological experience does not consist of a sum of objects, but of all that which makes up the process of experience in general, that is, of all the experiences of the subject in their immediate character, unmodified by abstraction or reflection. It follows of necessity that the contents of psychological experience should be regarded as an interconnection of processes.

This concept of process excludes the attribution of an objective and more or less permanent character to the contents of psychical experience. psychical facts are occurrences, not objects; they take place, like all occurrences in time and are never the same at a given point in time as they were the preceding moment. In this sense volitions are typical for all psychical processes. Voluntaristic psychology does not by any means assert that volition is the only real form of psychosis, but merely that, with its closely related feelings and emotions, it is just as essential a component of .psychological experience as sensations and ideas. It holds, further, that all other psychical processes are to be thought of after the analogy of volitions, they too being a series of continuous changes in time, not a sum of permanent objects, as intellectualism generally assumes in consequence of its erroneous attribution to ideas of those properties which we attribute to external objects. The recognition of the immediate reality of psychological experience, excludes the possibility of the attempt to derive any particular components of psychical phenomena from others specifically different. The analogous attempts of metaphysical psychology to reduce all psychological experience to the heterogeneous, imaginary processes of a hypothetical substratum, are for the same reason inconsistent with the real problem of psychology. While it concerns itself, however, with immediate experience, psychology assumes from first that all psychical contents contain objective as well subjective factors. These are to be distinguished only through deliberate abstraction, and can never appear as really separate processes. In fact, immediate experience shows that there are no ideas which do not arouse in us feelings and impulses of different intensities, and, on the other hand, that a feeling or volition is impossible which does not refer to some ideated object.

10. The governing principles of the psychological position maintained in the following chapters may be summed up in three general statements.

1) Inner, or psychological, experience is not a special sphere of. experience apart from others, but is immediate experience in its totality.

2) This immediate experience is not made up of unchanging contents, but of an interconnection of processes; not of objects, but of occurrences , of universal human experiences and their relations in accordance with certain laws.

3) Each, of these processes contains an objective content and a subjective process, thus including the general conditions both of all knowledge and of all practical human activity.

Corresponding to these three general principles, we have a threefold attitude of psychology to the other sciences.

1) As the science of immediate experience, it is supplementary to the natural sciences, which, in; consequence of their abstraction from the subject, have to do only with the objective, mediate contents of experience. Any particular fact can, strictly speaking, be understood in its full significance only after it has been subjected to the analyses of both natural science and psychology. In this sense, then, physics and physiology are auxiliary to psychology, and the latter is, in turn, supplementary to the natural sciences.

2) As the science of the universal forms of immediate human, experience and their combination in accordance with certain laws, it is the foundation of the mental sciences. The subject-matter of these sciences is in all cases the activities proceeding from immediate human experiences, and their effects. Since psychology has for its problem the investigation of the forms and laws of these activities, it is at once the most general mental science, and the foundation for all the others, such as philology, history, political economy, jurisprudence, etc.

3) Since psychology pays equal attention to both the subjective and objective conditions which underlie not only theoretical knowledge, but practical activity as well, and since it seeks to determine their interrelation, it is the empirical discipline whose results are most immediately useful in the investigation of the general problems of the theory of knowledge and ethics, the two foundations of philosophy. Thus, psychology is in relation to natural science the supplementary, in relation to the mental sciences the fundamental, and in relation to philosophy the propaedeutic empirical science.

10a. The view that it is not a difference in the objects of experience, but in the way of treating experience, that distinguishes psychology from natural science, has come to be recognised more and more in modern psychology. Still, a clear comprehension of the essential character of this position in regard to the scientific problems of psychology, is prevented by the persistence of older tendencies derived from metaphysics and natural philosophy. Instead of starting from the fact that the natural sciences are possible only after abstracting from the subjective factors of experience, the more general problem of treating the contents of all experience in the most general way, is sometimes assigned to natural science. In such a case psychology is, of course, no longer coordinate with the natural sciences, but subordinate to them. Its problem is no longer to remove the abstraction employed by the natural sciences, and in this way to gain with them a complete view of experience, but it has to use the concept "subject" furnished by the natural sciences, and to give an account of the influence of this subject on the contents of experience. Instead of recognising that an adequate definition of "subject" is possible only as a result of psychological investigations (§ 1, 3 a), a finished concept formed exclusively by the natural sciences is here foisted upon psychology. Now, for the natural sciences the subject is identical with the body. Psychology is accordingly defined as the science which has to determine the dependence of immediate experience on the body. This position, which may be designated as "psycho-physical materialism", is epistemologically untenable and psychologically unproductive. Natural science, which purposely abstracts from the subjective component of all experience, is least of all in a position to give a final definition of the subject. A psychology that starts with such a purely physiological definition depends, therefore, not on experience, but, just like the older materialistic psychology, on a metaphysical presupposition. The position is psychologically unproductive because, from the very first, it turns over the causal interpretation of psychical processes to physiology . But physiology has not yet furnished such an interpretation, and never will be able to do so, because of the difference between the manner of regarding phenomena in natural science and in psychology. It is obvious, too, that such a form of psychology, which has been turned into hypothetical brain-mechanics, can never be of any service as a basis for the mental sciences.

The strictly empirical trend of psychology, defined in the principles formulated above, is opposed to these attempts to renew metaphysical doctrines. In calling it "voluntaristic", we are not to overlook the fact that, in itself, this psychological voluntarism has absolutely no connection with any metaphysical doctrine of will. Indeed, it stands in opposition to Schopenhauer's one-sided metaphysical voluntarism, which derived all being from a transcendental original will, and to the metaphysical systems of a Spinoza or a Herbart, which arose from intellectualism. In its relation to metaphysics, the characteristic of psychological voluntarism in the sense above defined, is its exclusion of all metaphysics from psychology. In its relations to other forms of psychology, it refuses to accept any of the attempts to reduce volitions to mere ideas, and at the same time emphasises the typical character of volition for all psychological, experience. Volitional acts are universally recognised as occurrences, made up of a series of continual changes in quality and intensity. They are typical in the sense that this characteristic of being occurrences is held to be true for all the contents of psychical experience.

Further Reading: Biography | Helmholtz | Schopenhauer | Brentano | Dilthey | Husserl | Nietzche