The History of Psychology

Primary Source E-Texts

Ancient Times

Hammurabi's Code of Laws -This is one of the earliest codes of law. It reveals much about the prevailing idea about the control of human behavior from 4000 years ago. The attitude of this law is equitable retribution for crime and its implied effect is the control of what people do. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" is the underlying principle of these laws. Much of the feeling if not the detail of Hammurabi's laws continues in modern culture.  How does this Code and its legacy correspond with our contemporary understanding of the influence of punishment on human behavior?   

Bhagavad-Gita - In a bewildering world of gods, some representing ultimate evil and some the highest good, humanity is given a set of moral standards to guide daily life.  Of further psychological interest is the profound consideration of the nature of knowledge and consciousness.  The painting is of Krishna, the personification of almighty God as a shepard boy playing a flute.  This apparent opposition of ideas is at the core of Hindu thought.  Must one approach absolute truth with utter seriousness?  Is feeling and humor a key to ultimate understanding?

Egyptian Book of the Dead - This work, which evolved over the early centuries of this most ancient of civilizations, portrays the Egyptian conception of the human place in the universe and what  governs behavior. The gods are disinterested if not disdainful of humans. However, "good" behavior (behavior which does not result in social disorder) results in continuation in an uncertain afterlife. (The image is of Nefertiti (Nefertiti), the queen of Amenhotep, who originated a variety of monotheism, which may have influenced the Hebrew's concept of a single, all-powerful, god.)  


The Torah (the first five books of the Bible) portrays a people as being integrally connected in nationhood as distinguished from individuality. Their god, Jehovah, is stern in his actions toward his children but is fundamentally compassionate in his goals for the their future. Although the metaphor of god as a father may have originated in Egypt, perhaps in the Hebrew captivity, the Jews uniquely promulgated the notion of one god (monotheism) and the psychological consequences: individuals who are subordinate to their clan which is dominated by the insurmountable power of their father - god.   The picture is of a part of the book of Leviticus from a 10th century Torah in the British Museum.  The greek word for these books of law is Pentateuch.

Confucius' (551-479 B.C.E.) The Sayings, The The Doctrine of the Mean and The Great Learning - This Chinese sage, while consciously avoiding systematizing his ideas, taught a reverence for social responsibility as the only moral motivator for human action. The Family and its inherent organizational structure was the model for society. 

 Lao-Tse (604 - ? B.C.E.)- The Tao and its Characteristics - Taoism (The Way) professes a oneness of people and nature; answers to fundamental question of existence and morality are to be found in the understanding and fulfillment of what naturally occurs in the world apart from the unnaturalness of human society. (The YinYang, depicted here, is the symbolic representation of the coalescence of apparent opposites, which underlie "The Way". Pain-pleasure, hate-love, sweet-sour, soft-hard -- conflicts that combine to give life value and meaning.)

Presocratic Greek Philosophy - This Encyclopedia of Philosophy site has a great deal of information on the philosophers who preceded Socrates. These thinkers emphasized explanations of the world (including people) in terms that were more or less independent of religious traditions. Thus, we see in their work the creation of "naturalistic explanation", logic and the beginnings of the conflict that that sort of reasoning has with mystical views of the world.

Hippocrates' (460-380? B.C.E.) On the Sacred Diseases, Aphorisms, On Airs, Water, and Places from the Internet Classics represent some of the thinking of "the father of medicine". This thinker and expert practitioner is important because of his naturalistic rather than mystical approach to medical practice. His deductive reasoning from physical theory to practical application included psychological disorder as well as physical disease.  The Photograph is of the Asklepeion (Asklepios was the god of medicine) on modern Kos, the birthplace of Hippocrates.  This hospital was built by the local citizens to honor Hippocrates shortly after his death.



Plato's Meno, Phaedo, Timaeus and Republic (Internet Classics, University of Oregon, Christopher Green's Classics in Psychology and the University of Virginia) present this philosopher's influential psychological position on how people come to understand what is real. Our senses misrepresent reality and bind us to a sorry existence. Our minds are inherently capable of saving and delivering us into the domain of truth, the realm of ideas. Arguably, Plato's thought is the beginning of the modern philosophy of scientific theory.

Aristotle's De Anima, The History of Animals, On Dreams , On Memory and Reminiscence, and Nicomachean Ethics (Internet Classics and York University) show this student of Plato's devotion to observation. Although Aristotle advocated the critical nature of correct reasoning in the understanding, he forcefully asserted that theory must be dominated by what is publicly demonstrable.


Epicurus' (341-270 BCE) The Principal Doctrines (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) teaches that pleasure is a natural and just motive for our activity. This is not, however, selfish pleasure of which he speaks. Virtue is the best route to the highest pleasure.


 Lucretius' (99-55?BCE) On the Nature of Things (The Internet Classics Archives) is a poem which follows Epicurus' philosophy. It depicts the material world and the conflict between the naturalist versus the artistic views that are both present in this one thinker. The photo is of the amphitheater of Pompeii which was destroyed by the volcano



Other Useful Sites:

Library of Congress Greek and Latin Classic Texts

Five Chinese Classics (translated by Charles Muller)

Ancient Egypt from A to Z (Significant Egyptian Concepts)

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

The Oriental Institute - University of Chicago

Exploring Ancient Cultures (University of Evansville)

Ancient and Lost Civilizations

Guide to Ancient China on the Web

Ancient Greece