The History of Psychology: Fundamental Questions

By Margaret P. Munger | Go to book overview
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It has been my pleasure to teach the history of psychology course at Davidson College for the past nine years. When confronted with the challenge of teaching history, my initial thought was that I needed to visit the library and start reading. I had enjoyed a history of western science course as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago and brought from that experience an expectation that I should read from primary sources. So I started my crash course, reading Helmholtz and James alongside a variety of history textbooks. As I started working on my syllabus, I realized that I had enjoyed reading Wilhelm Wundt and Charles Darwin more than any of the texts—the historical writings got to the core of what I wanted my students to think about more directly than did the textbooks. And so while I did choose a textbook, I also put a weighty list of readings on reserve at the library. It would be fair to say that my students were initially startled by the opening readings—Aristotle was not what they had in mind when they thought about the history of psychology. Happily, as I talked to them about listening to the questions the early philosophers were asking, along with examining the methods they were using, my students began to understand that these various ancient scholars were also looking at behavior and trying to understand what it means. By the end of the semester, when the students were reading more recent works, the connections abounded, and the point of starting with the ancients was underscored as the same issues, now sparked by more modern commentary, were discussed in class.

One approach to the history of psychology is to chronicle the fascinating stories and interconnections among various key players, watching for spheres of influence and overlap. Another approach is to highlight the critical observations and resulting theories and systems of psychological thought. A third approach is to examine what questions were being asked— questions that could not be answered by existing fields of study—starting with philosophy, but later including biology: What made it necessary for psychology to become a separate discipline? Readers and textbooks exist for the first two approaches, but not for the third. This book adopts just such an approach.

The History of Psychology: Fundamental Questions provides the words of the philosophers, theologians, and early scientists that contributed to the development of psychology. It also includes some more recent works, covering issues and ideas from cognitive psychology and neuroscience. My hope is that it is comprehensive in the range of ideas and issues covered, but limited enough to be manageable in a single-semester undergraduate course. The purpose of this book is to allow the reader the opportunity to consider the fundamental ques


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