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Wilhelm Wundt and Psychology

Wilhelm Wundt and Psychology would make a great topic for a research paper. The following is an example of an introduction.

Wilhelm Wundt, a German professor, physician, and philosopher, is seen by many today as one of the founding fathers of the study of modern psychology. Noting that this field of science was different from both biology and philosophy, he was the first individual to ever use the word “psychologist” to describe themselves. As a professor, he provided some of the most profound psychologists with instruction in their field, including James McKeen Cattell and G. Stanley Hall, the first professor of psychology in the United States and the father of child psychology, respectively.


Wilhelm Wundt and Psychology

Wilhelm Wundt and Experimental Psychology

Wundt contributed to the ongoing study of psychology in several key ways.

  1. First and foremost, he is seen by many as the originator of experimental psychology. His theoretical approach to psychology, that of it being separate from both biology and philosophy, manifested in a practical approach wherein he conducted scientific experiments within the realm of psychology.
  2. Secondly, and in support of this first element, he founded the first experimental research laboratory at the University of Leipzig. Here, he was able to conduct psychological experiments to both further his understanding of the human mind and behavior as well as the study of psychology as a whole.
  3. Finally, Wundt was responsible for the creation of the first academic journal dedicated to the study of psychology, ensuring that countless other individuals would have access to various writers and professors as well as the results of the experimental research he and his colleagues conducted.

The psychological beliefs of the thinkers of the Middle Ages are built to some degree on the insights of the classical philosophers, but with this crucial difference that comes from the teachings of the Church: that the soul is immortal and immaterial, and therefore there can be little or no connection between it and the mortal and material body.  One of the most critical developments in western thought that made possible Wundt’s experimental psychology was Descartes’s argument against this view.  While Descartes argued for the distinctness of mind and body, he also insisted on applying the scientific method to the study of the mind, and believed that the interaction of mind and body must and could be explained.  In these ways, we see some similarity with Wundt, but Descartes also argued for views that were contrary to Wundt’s: that the mind could be known best through introspection and through the consequences of metaphysical truths.

The empirical philosophers who followed Descartes were important to Wundt in their arguments against the primacy of introspection and metaphysicsJohn Locke, in particular, argued that it was necessary to give an account of how our minds interact with the perceived world, and that any such account would have to be empirically based – based on observed facts.  David Hume took the empiricist philosophy to a logical extreme which cast doubt upon our ability to give any sort of causal explanation of the workings of the mind in the perceived world. In reaction to Hume’s skepticism, Immanuel Kant insisted that some knowledge is not learned but intuited, and it is in Kant’s work that Wundt perhaps found some basis for arguing that causal explanations in psychology were not exactly analogous to those in the physical sciences.


Wilhelm Wundt’s Laboratory

The very establishment of Wilhelm Wundt’s laboratory for experimental psychology Leipzig marked an important change in the discipline of psychology, and was in some sense a statement of Wundt’s philosophical position on the study of the human mind.  Wundt’s laboratory was one of psychology, not physiology, and this establishes one of his most important claims: that psychology must be a branch of study independent of physiology and philosophy.  It was also an experimental laboratory, announcing Wundt’s belief that the study of psychology should be a scientific one, subject to the same standards of rigor applied to the physical sciences.

Despite his training in physiology and what were clearly strong philosophical leanings, Wundt repeatedly stressed his claim that if progress were to be made in the study of the mind, psychology must establish itself as a branch of inquiry distinct from physiology and philosophy.  This, however, is not to say that earlier developments in philosophy and physiology were not important to Wundt’s work in psychology.  Indeed, they were crucial.

The philosophical tradition leading directly to Wundt’s experimental psychology begins in the 6th century BCE, with the Greek philosopher Thales.  In Thales we find in some sense the first philosopher and also the beginnings of science.  He was the first thinker we know of who attempted to give explanations and not merely to describe phenomena.  A century later this tradition flowered in the work of the classical Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle.  In their work we find the first true attempts to come to some understanding of the workings of the human mind.  Plato was the first to make a distinction between “reason” and “the passions,” and, to some extent, between the mind and the body.  In Aristotle we find not only the first philosopher to treat the study of the mind in a consistent and rigorous way, but also the first true philosopher-scientist; his interest in the physiology of perception made him a direct forerunner of Wundt in being both physiologist and philosopher

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