The History of Psychology

            The Enlightenment


Thomas Hobbes' (1588-1679) Leviathan and De Cive (McMaster University) are seminal works in political science that promote support of Monarchy with  practical reasons rather than with abstract logic.  Hobbes is, thus, a founder of the British philosophical school of Utilitarianism and a progenitor of American Pragmatism (see William James and John Dewey).  Hobbes’ support for the Monarchy resulted in his disfavor after the demise of  Charles I (1600-executed in 1649, right), but he regained popularity during the Restoration of Charles II.  Hobbes’ political theory is based, among other assumptions, upon an understanding of human beings as gaining knowledge solely through the senses.  He is, thus, usually considered to be the first of a long line of British Empiricist psychologists, whose powerful influence extends to the present day. 






Rene Descartes' (1596-1650)- Meditations on First Philosophy and Discourse on Method (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) are two major works by a man who many think of as the “Father of Modern Psychology”.  Descartes proposed an intricate physiological and mechanical explanation for animal and many human behaviors -- the reflex.  The world is a source of changes in physical energy, Descartes proposes, which are reflected in the machinery of the body as muscular actions.  Human beings, however, have souls – the “unextended substance” that connects with God but obeys no physical principle.  Descartes argued that human psychology was a matter of physical reflex and a soul that imposed action through the body (he reasoned that the pineal body of the brain was the site of that interaction because of its unique appearance). 


This “psychophysical interactionism” is the modern origin of the “mind-body problem” – How can two worlds (mind and body) that follow different principles have anything to do with each other?  Queen Christina (1626-1689) of Sweden, was Descartes’ most important patron toward the end of his career.  Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia (1630-1714) was probably the first to pose to Descartes the “mind body problem”:  how can unextended substance, the soul, have any influence at all on substance (the body)?  Descartes apparently did not live long enough to adequately answer her pertinent question. 

Another significant concept proposed by Descartes was what came to known as the “innate idea”:  some notions such as God and infinity could not have experiential origin and, thus, must be inborn.  This assertion created yet another battle:  How much of our being is the result of experience and to what degree are we the product of our  heritage?

The “nature versus nurture question”.







 Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre (1664?-1729) was a musical prodigy at the age of 13 and earned the patronage of Louis XIV (1638-1715) (portrayed by Testelin above as he founded the Academy of Sciences with Descartes directly behind the King). 







[ Jean-Philippe Rameau Image]

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) He composed “French Baroque” music and wrote extensively on music theory – how proper music is to be written, a fundamentally psychological matter.





Knheller's LockeJohn Locke's (1632-1704) An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Conduct of the Understanding  reveal this important thinker’s views on human psychology.  The underlying motive for his work was political science; he intended to develop a governmental system on the basis of psychology.  He began with Hobbes’ empiricism:  knowledge is solely the product of experience.  The means with which we are all born to gain knowledge is the same --- Aristotle’s “Tabula Rasa”, the blank slate on which sensory experience etches its passing and creates knowledge. 


Westminster AbbeyWestminster Cathedral





Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was the finest English composer of Locke’s time.  He was organist and composer in Westminster Abbey where both he and Locke are buried.  In addition to his continuingly popular church and wedding music, Purcell wrote opera and several masterpieces for Queen Mary II (1662-1694).




The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina : March 1, 1669 (Yale University Law School), largely written by Locke, was highly influenced by Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713), Lord Proprietor of the Carolina Colony. Locke was a good friend and the secretary for Cooper.  In this document can be seen both a concern for women’s rights and religious tolerance.  Locke’s political thinking and  psychological perspective were highly influential on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.  Charleston, South Carolina is situated at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers, named for the Earl.



Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677) - "The Ethics Demonstrated in Geometric Order" and "On the Improvement of the Understanding" are the chief e-texts found here (Middle Tennessee State University).  Spinoza advocated “double aspectism” as his solution to the Mind-Body problem; the mind and the body are not separate.  He believed that when we conclude that there are two dimensions of existence we are being mislead by the language that we use.  We Text Box: Rembrandt (1606-1669)
The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632)
The Hague, Mauritshuis
may regard ourselves subjectively with language of the soul, or we may use objective language of the body.  There is one world of existence and its totality is God (pantheism). 

Spinoza, who was born and lived for a good portion of his life in

Amsterdam (below), created a theory of emotion in which the good

life is the result of living in accord with the principles of nature (God).

“Passions”, unpleasant or inappropriate feelings, he regarded as “inadequate idea”.  That is, our lack of understanding of the natural laws that direct our behavior is the source of our discomfort.  The moral life should be spent deciphering the laws of nature and one’s  place in the natural design.  Ethics Demonstrated in Geometric Order 





Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz ' (1646-1716) The Monadology (University of Washington Philosophy Eserver) describes a remarkable solution to the mind-body problem in which there are multiple realms of existence and none of these interact.  The cosmos is comprised of aggregations of intellectual units, monads, which, when accumulated in large enough masses, by degree, produce consciousness – “petite perception”.  The forerunner of psychophysics argues that  the dimensions of reality do not interact but may become aware in, for example, people.  Our conclusion of “cause and effect” is a confused perception of predetermined parallel activity – much like synchronized clocks that are set by the Master clockmaker (God) but have no real influence upon each other.


Leibniz was renowned in his own time as a mathematician and philosopher.  His principal patron was Sophie Charlotte (1668-1705), Queen of Prussia, a brilliant thinker in her own right.  The most important representative of German art of this time and locale was Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1759) whose music influenced all western music from his era to the present.  


George Berkeley (1685- 1753) - "A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge", "Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous", "The Analyst", a brief biography, and

other Berkeley links are included here (MacMaster University)In these works, this great Irish thinker presented a psychology of mentalistic monism as the solution to the mind-body problem.  His rebellion against the materialism of the day (represented by the genius of Sir Isaac Newton 1642-1727, (right).  All we can truly know, he asserted, is our own perception; he is, thus, one of the British Empirical school.

Berkeley’s New Theory of Vision  (York University) is a treatise on how we come to know the world through our senses.  In infancy, we develop that knowledge by learning the correspondences among all of our senses; in more modern language, we learn to correlate the information from all of our senses to create knowledge. 

Il caro SassoneGeorge Friderick Handel (1685-1776, left), although born in Germany developed his fame in England during Berkeley’s time (note all of the birth dates of 1685).  His patron in Germany  (Hanover) was the man  who ultimately became George I (1680-1745, right) the chief political figure of Newton, Berkeley’s, and Handel’s time.

MettrieJulien de la Mettrie's (1709-1751) Man a Machine (1748) wrote this unabashed essay in which he argued that humans followed the same mechanical principles that machines do.  His solution to the “Mind-Body” problem is, thus, the simplest; to de la Mettrie, there is only the physical body to understand.





Alexandre-François Desportes (1661-1743) (Self Portrait as a Huntsman, Louvre left), and the composer, François Couperin (1668-1733 right) were contemporary countrymen of de la Mettrie.






Image of HumeDavid Hume (1711-1776) - Much about Hume is found at this site (McMaster University) including "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding" in which he amplifies Locke’s empirical views of humanity.  In so doing, Hume created an ethical system that relied on practical experience within human affairs as opposed to a metaphysical or theological  belief. 

George III, the King against whom the American Colonies successfully rebelled, was one of the most important political figures during Hume’s life, Samuel Johnson was the

most influential literary man (he was the first to write an English dictionary), and Sir Joshua Reynolds was the leading English painter of the day.

Samuel Johnson (1708-1784) by Sir Joshua Reynolds


George III , King of England and his family

From the Royal Collection



Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) - Among other materials and e-texts are found "A Critique of Pure Reason", "A Critique of Practical Reason", "A Critique of Judgment".  Kant relates that the empirical skepticism of David Hume caused him to write his philosophy.  His is an empiricism that is directed by the “a priori categories”, cognitive principles which exist before experience and conform all of our knowledge.  These “faculties” of the mind underlay most of psychological thought to the present. 


Konigsberg Castle with Kant’s home

in the foreground on the left

Kant lived and taught in Konigsberg (right) Germany at the same time that the eminent composer Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809) wrote his influential music in various locations in Europe.



Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809) (Guttenbrunn)






 Voltaire's (1694-1778) Candide (The University of Adelaide) and Philosophical Dictionary (Hanover College) are totally different kinds of work that represent this thinker’s broad skills.  Although he wrote no psychology, per se, his profound influence needs to be mentioned.  His comedy, Candide, is a reaction against the extreme determinism of Leibniz and the Dictionary is a compendium of the state of enlightenment philosophy. 

Wedgewood  statue of Voltaire


Jean Jacques Rousseau's (1712-1778) Confessions (The University of Adelaide) Emile (Columbia University) and The Social Contract (The Constitution Society) are his most relevant works for the history of psychology.  He was a romantic spirit who preached the evils of society and the value of nature.  In Emile he describes what he considers to be the finest education of a child - nature and the inherent  knowledge of the child – provide the all that is necessary.  Rousseau’s disdain for society was one of the intellectual forces in the French Revolution which brought down the monarchy (Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) Queen of France (left).

A portrait of BeaumarchaisMozartThe most important musician of this period was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)left.  Although Mozart was Austrian, his work was accomplished all over Europe (as a child, he performed for the French monarchs and met Marie Antoinette. The French writer Pierre-Augustin Caron Pierre-Augustin Caron (known as Beaumarchais, 1732-1799, right) wrote a play, The Marriage of Figaro, which made so much sport of the aristocracy that it was banned in many places.  Mozart wrote one of the finest stage works of all time on Beaumarchais’ libretto.

H. Chr. Kolbe, Goethe-Museum in WeimarJohann Wolfgang von Goethe's (1749-1832) Faust is a drama which warns of the extent to which the quest for intellectual power can lead to the undoing of humankind.  This perennial romantic distrust of intellect and advocacy of feeling sets the stage on which modern science will grow in the nineteenth century.   

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827 right), an acquaintance and soul mate of Goethe, ushered in the Romantic era in his powerful musical compositions. 


The most influential political power of Goethe’s time was Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821).  Europe unified to fight Napoleon and that unification resulted in the spread of modern science.  The painting on the left is of “Napoleon in his Study” by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), the most famous painter of the Revolution. 




C.M. von WeberImage of HegelGeorg Friedrick Hegel (1770-1831) This site includes "The Science of Logic" and various pieces of annotated scholarship. 




Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)



wollstonecraft.jpg (3477 bytes)Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman