Post Kantian Philosophical Psychology, Herbart,Schopenhauer, Fechner and the History of Psychology(R S Peters and Brett)

Views: 180

“Kant rightly declared that the mind must be regarded as a structure regulated by principles which are ultimately its own activities. Before Kants time the psychologist was not unlike a physiologist who tried to explain digestion, without any reference to the organism, as a process by which various foods introduced into the stomach analysed themselves and distributed themselves conscientiously to their appropriate places in the organism. It was Kant who first saw that such a procedure was wrong and that we must start from the mind to explain the ideas, not from ideas to explain the mind”(Brett)

“Psychologists have, in most cases recognized this merit in Kant, and all the modern work founded on the conception of the unity of consciousness is indebted to Kant. But for the rest Kant belongs to the logicians rather than the psychologists, and his theory is more important for discussions of validity than for the study of the mental structure.”(Brett’s History of Psychology)

The Copernican Revolution of Kant further means that the receptive faculty of the mind which receives sensations has no meaning apart from the formative activity of the higher spontaneous thinking centres. Brett goes on to point out that perhaps Kant failed to take into account the fact that a sensation which is related to another sensation might modify that sensation: “after a great heat a moderate warmth seems chilly, and so through all the senses: there is a kind of self arrangement which is not the work of the mind”

Brett accuses Kant of being the propagator of the view that  the higher regions of the mind or thinking processes alone organize conscious life but quickly admits that the Categories of the understanding, according to Kant, are the “indispensable preliminary activities of consciousness”.  These categories obviously play the role that forms do in Aristotelian hylomorphism and Brett poses the question many critics of Aristotelian hylomorphism have posed over the centuries: the question of the importance of Psychology. Martin Heidegger in his work on Kant, suggested that Kant missed an opportunity to found his critical work on the psychological idea of the imagination and one should remember the following:  that the above  criticism of the importance of the psychological predates Heidegger.

Herbart was one of the first post Kantians to attempt to restore the idea of the soul to the world of phenomena: the soul for Herbart was “a multitude of independent  ideas and activities”(Brett). Herbart’s point of departure is mathematics and the natural sciences  and his aim, according to Brett is to “reduce consciousness to simple elements and their combinations” This attempt to restore the idea of the soul, ultimately leads to the position of  abandoning the idea of the soul altogether although this was not the case with respect to Herbart’s reflections. The most interesting feature of Herbart’s account is his emphasis on the soul being the agent manifest in all its activities and not the place where events just “happen”. Brett claims that it is with Herbart that Psychology becomes empirical. I am not sure that this is an entirely appropriate analysis. As long as the agent is not defined as an object seen from the perspective of the third person there would seem to be a retention of some of the spirit of  Kant’s position. The abandonment of reasoning for the empirical scientific method, however, was certainly not in accordance with the Kantian Copernican revolution. Indeed Brett’s description of Herbart’s account of the relation between consciousness and its ideas cannot fail to remind one of what is later to come in the name of phenomenology:

“Phenomena are in perpetual flux: in other words, the most obvious thing about consciousness is its perpetual tendency to change: even though we try to retain one presentation, it slowly dwindles in our grasp. This general fact gives Herbart his starting point. By an idea we mean the outstanding point, the summit or peak on the surface of an ever heaving-consciousness. If we imagine a light shining on a sea of rising and falling waves, the analogy may assist us to grasp Herbart’s conception of “arches” and “summits”. Every single idea travels, as it were, on the path of a semi-circle, from a point below the level of consciousness upward to its zenith: it then goes down again and gives place to another. This process continually goes on: it is the business of psychology to find its laws.”(Brett)

The problem with Herbart’s active conception of the soul is that “the only active quality ascribed to the soul is the tendency to preserve itself”. And with this thought, Herbart’s reflections move away from phenomenology and back to the basics of science: consciousness and the expenditure of energy of the organism. This energy regulation principle, already present by implication in Aristotle’s reflections on the soul was to be later used in Freud’s Scientific Project.  Freud, of course, abandoned this attempt to reduce the qualitative to the quantitative in his later theorizing.

Herbart interestingly also claimed:

“to have provided a psychology especially applicable to education.It was the interest in mental growth and in the union of right thinking with the right feeling that led Herbart to understand how closely the qualities of character  depend on the complete fusion of knowing and feeling in one indivisible state of mind, evolving into the kind of clearness which is only attainable through self-expressing actions.”

The essential feature of mental growth is characterized in terms of apperception. or the Kantian “I think” or the “I will” but the “I” of consciousness is still characterized in terms of scientific Psychology. He applied these ideas to ethics but neglected the Kantian concepts of reason and freedom believing along with Plato that the temper of the community determines the temperament and character of the individual.

Schopenhauer is the post Kantian who  converts the self into the will and defines it in terms the Psychologist will find difficult to accept:

“As some had declared the “Thing-in-itself” to be the organism, Schopenhauer declares it to be the vitality resident in the organism”. His view is thus biological, where it is not merely metaphysical: when he proclaims his own originality he is justified if we think only of modern tendencies, but in everything  but its language and its excesses this view is a restatement of Aristotle’s doctrine of the fundamental conation, persisting through all the scale of organic life, variously combined with and modified by corresponding degrees of conscious realization”(Brett)

Schopenhauer restored the will to modern thought but the whole trend of his analysis Brett argues is  toward “the fundamental  impulses of animal nature”, although there are moments in his account when Schopenhauer stands where Kant stood. Herbarts influence was to prevail over Schopenhauer’s forlorn attempt to restore Kantian Psychology.

Fechner’s interest turned more to physics and aesthetics than mathematics and he actually wrote some valuable works on electricity. But there are also elements of mysticism in Fechner:

“lying in bed on the morning of the 22nd of October 1850, he saw the vision of a unified world of thought, spirit and matter linked together by the mystery of numbers. So it was, perhaps, that Pythagoras saw the quality of sound transformed into measurement!”

And yet there is something of the spirit of the age in Fechner’s vision. He tries to unite the psychical and the physical and with him Brett argues:

“The centre of controversy shifts to the question, How much of the inner life actually enters into this sphere of measurement and quantity.”(Brett)

By the time this question was raised, Kant’s voice has been lost and there is only a very faint echo of the answer to this question “Hardly anything at all” This is not to deny that mental states do not have physical equivalents but the key question becomes “Are the limits of our knowledge of this relation confined to correlation?”  But correlation between what and what? How can there be a correlation between a principle and that which it is a principle of? This post takes us to the psychology of the 20th century which will be the subject of the next thread.