A Hundred Years of Psychology, 1833-1933

By J. C. Flugel | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER VII
HELMHOLTZ AND THE STUDY OF SENSATION

IF Fechner was many sided in his interests and activities, so, too, was Helmholtz, who was as much physicist, physiologist, and psychologist as Fechner was physicist, philosopher, psycho-physicist and æsthetician. But fundamentally the two men differed greatly, for, whereas Fechner was primarily a philosopher, with not a little of the mystic in his disposition, Helmholtz was wholeheartedly a scientist and an empiricist. Indeed his empiricism was of a kind very similar to that of the great British associationist writers, for whom he had much admiration. He was intolerant of the element of mysticism and transcendentalism in German philosophy, and, in the associationist tradition, he endeavoured all his life to explain psychological phenomena in terms of individual learning and experience rather than in those of inheritance or faculties. (He does not seem to have been aware of Spencer's attempt to combine these standpoints.) Such a view seemed to him the only one consistent with a truly scientific attitude. He was indeed a scientific giant; his output, his grasp, his originality, his power of systematic exposition, were alike prodigious. He alone, perhaps, of modern scientists has had the honour of having his chief work translated and republished (with, of course, additions) sixty years after its appearance, not merely as a "classic" of historical interest, but as the leading manual and book of reference on its subject. For that is what happened to his Handbuch der Physiologischen Optik, the three successive volumes of which first appeared in 1856, 1860 and 1866 respectively, and which was translated into English in 1924-25. In this book,

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A Hundred Years of Psychology, 1833-1933
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