Progress in Modern Psychology: The Legacy of American Functionalism

By D. Alfred Owens; Mark Wagner | Go to book overview

Preface
An old friend was fond of echoing E. G. Boring's query: "Is a sophistication about psychology that is blind to historical antecedents any sophistication at all?" (see Whitely, chap. 16). We think not, yet it seems that few scholars have time to learn about the history of psychology these days, when there is barely enough time to keep up with a limited corner of the literature. As Buxton ( 1985) reminds us, the current problems of psychology are very old, and many of the old views and arguments remain illuminating. Despite uncertainties of fact and varieties of interpretation, a historical background is necessary to place current progress and controversy in proper perspective. This background seems particularly timely as the American Psychological Association celebrates its centennial in 1992.We hereby respond to our friend's rhetorical question with a collection of readings, a limited cross section of contemporary psychology illustrating a part of the legacy of American functionalism. The collection is far from exhaustive, and it is not committed to deep historical or philosophical analysis. Rather, the volume can be viewed as a sort of case study of the history and efforts of a group of students, who are bound by common affiliations to a functional point of view and a greatly admired professor. As with most case studies, the subject can be seen from many aspects. We hope that the following three points are most evident:
• First, scientific psychology has been committed to diverse modes of investigation from the start, and efforts to restrict the legitimate range of questions or methods are generally counterproductive. In this regard, the viewpoint of American functionalism has consistently advocated a broad approach grounded on the principles of evolutionary biology.

-xi-

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