Reflections on the Principles of Psychology: William James after a Century

By Michael G. Johnson; Tracy B. Henley | Go to book overview

Chapter 13
James on the Will

James Deese

University of Virginia

No topic has more completely disappeared from modern psychology than that of the will. It barely survived in the mainstream of psychology into the 1920s, perhaps even then only because it was one of the voices of resistance to the behavioristic revolution. McDougall treats of it at length in his famous book, Social Psychology ( 1908), but it scarcely figures in his later textbook, Outline of Psychology ( 1924). In that book there are but a scant three or four pages devoted to the topic, and this is almost the last mention of the topic in anything that could properly be designated as a textbook in psychology. True enough, the will hung on in textbooks, usually written by those in holy orders, especially designed for Catholic colleges well into the 1930s. It is still a topic of concern in certain philosophical and theological circles, and there it centers on the vexatious question of freedom of the will. But it is very hard to find any reference to the will in the psychological textbooks of the last 40 years. The will has disappeared from official psychology.

Psychological textbooks are, for all practical purposes, the invention of the 19th century. The early texts often follow the tradition established by Kant of labeling what we now call psychology by the term anthropology. Neither Kant nor those who followed in his tradition use the term anthropology in its modern sense. Rather it describes what we now call psychology. The first textbook published in America with the title of Psychology ( Rauch, 1841) carried the subtitle A study of the Human Soul Including Anthropology. The section of that book labeled Anthropology includes hints of what later in the 19th century came to be that discipline, but mainly the topics discussed in this part of Rauch's book are those to be found in the mainstream of psychology. The author, Frederick A. Rauch, an immigrant from Germany who died at much too early an age, had the

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