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psychology, a critique the weight of which has been shaken only
momentarily by romantic attempts to restore the old views.

8. We have tried to exhibit psychological inquiry as distinct in
aim from the study of external nature and from metaphysical
speculation. The immediate observation of self and immediate
consciousness are the source from which both physiologist and
metaphysician draw, but by them the source is frequently over-
looked because their real interest is not this immediate observation,
but that which they think they can deduce from it. Now, supposing
that it is necessary to draw from this source, the question arises,
whether independence in respect of subject-matter involves also
independence in respect of method. This necessitates a closer
inquiry into the nature and limitation of subjective observation.^

{a) The first difiiculty presented springs from the fact that
mental states are not abiding and steady objects like those which
form the subject-matter of physical observation. As space is
the special form of material phenomena, so time is the form of
mental phenomena. What passes within us, in our thoughts and
feelings, is unstable and changing. The botanist, when he spreads
out a plant in front of him, or the chemist, when he conveys a
substance into his retort, can observe at leisure the appearance of
the objects under certain quite definite conditions. But a state of
consciousness cannot be isolated in this manner, it has no limits in

1 For nieltiod of psychology may be compared J. S. Mill, System of Logic, book vi. ,
chap. iv. ; liaiii, Logic, ii., pp. 275— ..!92; AJ. Horwicz, " MethoUologie tier Seelenlehre"
{Zeitsclnij't JilrFhiloso/'liic iitidjiliilos. K?-itik, 5o Band, 1872) ; Delboeuf, La Fsychologie
coinine Science iiaturelle, Paris, 1876; Willi. VVutidt, Logik, ii., pp. 482-501 ; J. Sully,
lllttsions, chap. viii. [For standpoint, cf. Ency. Brit. yth. ed. art. " Psychology" (Tr.)]


space ; every moment brings in, or may bring in, new elements.
In the moment when I wish to observe a state of consciousness,
that state is already past, or has blended with other elements. Now
it is certain that in one and the same instant several distinct series
of ideas may pass through our consciousness ; the self is not a unity
in the sense that it excludes different or even conflicting currents.
And it might be supposed that while the main current persists —
as, e.g., in the contemplation and admiration of a work of art — an
under-current might at the same time flow, which would stand in
the relation of observer to the first. In this way we might admire,
and at the same time study the psychology of admiration. And
certainly every one knows from personal experience states of this
kind, in which, though something quite other than self seems to
claim the whole attention, yet an inner spectator keeps up a
running commentary. States of this kind cannot be entirely
avoided by men in whom reflection has once been roused ; and
such a dual current may be of importance, particularly in an ethical
connection, when it is a question of judging and gradually sup-
pressing a pernicious current of mental life. Criticism as an
under-current then makes itself heard, as an opposing motive,
which seeks to overcome that previously dominant. But although
such dual currents may be fruitful in psychological observation
also, yet psychology must in its own interest give a caution against
them. The capital of energy at the disposal of the mental life is
in such states necessarily divided, and each individual current
weakened. If a mood is to be thoroughly experienced, the under-
current nuist be suppressed, and no heed paid to inner suggestions,
lest they should withdraw a portion of the available energy. It
must be added that the observing under-current is not indifferent,
but always more or less diverts the main current. Conscious
attention of necessity influences the state to which it is directed,
and may in consequence partly destroy or change its own object.
It substitutes art for nature.

15 ut what cannot be done at the moment of experience may be
done later. During experience, we shouUl only draw the net
with all its contents to land, or, to use the simile of the botanist,
collect the plants casually met with. What has been fully and
clearly experienced will remain in the memory, and by means of
the memory can be examined. The rhythmical alternation of self-
forgetfulness and self-consciousness makes psychological self-exami-
nation possible, and psychological talent depends on the ease and



elasticity with which it is possible to pass from one of these states
to the other — in such a way as to keep clear and distinct in the
moments of remembrance and reflection what has been immediately
experienced, but not on the other hand to allow the immediate
feelings to be disturbed by reflection. And yet the two states do
not remain wholly unaffected by one another. Unconsciously — and
therefore without detriment— the exercise of memory and reflection
will cause a stronger light or a greater emphasis to fall on those ele-
ments in the immediate experience which are of especial psycho-
logical interest. We can make ourselves mental botanists, carefully
preserving what is of interest for our psychological observation
and our psychological understanding, while quickly passing over
what has no such significance.

(i) But now, even if we succeed in overcoming this difficulty, a
new one arises — namely, that on account of the individual differ-
ences in observers, there is no guarantee that they really see one
and the same thing. Here they have not the object outside of them-
selves and among themselves, but each has it in himself!

This applies, however, more or less to physical observation also.
Observation is a subjective activity ; that which every one observes
exists for him precisely as he observes it, and only by comparison
can he infer that others observe the same thing (compare, e.g., the
perception of colours). To show a thing to some one else it is
necessary to make him see it for himself, to rouse his own observing
activity. What individual diversities constantly assert themselves
here, may be seen, for example, in the fact that, when two astro-
nomical observers calculate the time occupied in the movement of
a star, there is always a difference, varying according to the ob-
serving individuals, and depending on the varying rapidity with
which an impression is received and noted. On this account
observations are usually begun by determining the " personal
equation" in relation to other observers. From this it has been
found that these individual differences are not constant, but subject
to oscillations from day to day as well as in the course of years. A
mutual check of this kind— though naturally in a much more im-
perfect form — is the only means of raising psychological observa-
tions above what is merely individual, or rather, of distinguishing be-
tween what is merely individual and wliat is of more general validity.
Discrimination between what is typical and what is not typicai
must begin even within what is individual ; if the individual wants
to apprehend his own inner nature, he must disregard many ob-


servations, because they are isolated, and owe their origin only to
single transitory situations. A purifying process of this kind every-
one involuntarily undertakes, and daily intercourse with other
individuals leads, equally involuntarily, to a distinction between
what in personal observations is general and universal, and what
is merely individual. Psychological inquiry only continues, in
both respects, what has been begun without conscious intention.
But in its critical examination it must look for a support beyond
the purely subjective method, the limitation of which already
becomes evident. Even in the thorough checking of individual
experiences, the purely subjective starting-point is deserted.
Meanwhile, before we enter more closely into the objective
psychological method, it is necessary to dwell upon the manner
in which subjective observations are elaborated.

(t) Scattered observations form a chaos, which has to be set in

order. The first piece of v.-ork is a classification, by means of

which definite groups, or kinds, of mental phenomena are formed.

The individual stales arc arranged in different classes according to

their most striking characteristics. Such a classification is not,

however, so easily made as was for a long time supposed. As

classification, in the provinces of zoology and botany, led to the

notion of eternal and unchangeable species — so that it now costs a

hard struggle to furnish proof that these species arc the fruits of

a natural course of evolution— so psychological research for a long

time thought its end had been attained when it reduced the various

inner phenomena to various " faculties" of the mind — a procedure

which conflicted strangely with the strictly spiritualistic conception

of the unity of the mind. At the same time these "faculties" were

regarded as causes of the phenomena concerned, and thus the need

for a causal explanation was satisfied in a very convenient, though

quite illusory, manner. In particular it was overlooked that in

classification attention is given only to a prominent characteristic ;

that it is not therefore actual concrete states themsehes which

are classified, but the elements out of which a closer examination

shows them to be formed. There is scarcely a single conscious

state — as will be shown later in detail — which is only idea, only

feeling, or only will. The psychological divisions may thus be

very useful for preliminary instruction ; but, if they are to have

scientific value, they must be based on a thoroughgoing analysis,

which searches out the individual elements and the laws of their

connection and interaction. This analysis, which endeavours

C 2


to go back to the constituent parts through combination of which
our mental states have arisen, may often lead to a conflict with
that which "the evidence of consciousness" seems immediately
to include. Observation gives us only matters of fact, and teaches
us nothing about the manner in which these facts have arisen.
Direct consciousness in itself does not include any psychological
theory, any more than it informs us whether it is the sun or the
earth which moves. Our thoughts and feelings are in the highest
degree complex mental products, fruits of a long, calm, and for
the most part unobserved growth. The mere observation and
description of them, therefore, are of value as a basis only.

The mental states follow one another, and call one another up.
Now, can we lay down laws and rules for this interaction, and is it
possible to show which are the elements in the different states of
consciousness that lead from the one to the other? These are
the questions with which psychological analysis is occupied. It
thus proceeds in two directions, which are closely connected ;
it looks for common features, for that which reappears in the
individual cases, and in this way lays down general empirical laws
{e.g. for the association of ideas, the relation between idea and
feeling, etc.) ; and, taking the individual states, it tries to discover
the elements out of which each is compounded. A thought, a feel-
ing, a resolve, is not an absolute unity ; closer investigation shows
it to be the fruit of a long course of development, during which it
has received contributions from many sides. Love, conscience,
and — to take a purely intellectual example — the idea of an external
object, seem quite complete and self-contained, and yet it appears
that they have their history, and that they depend on interaction
between simpler mental elements, brought to light by psychological
investigation. Analysis proceeds here from the complex to the
simple, while in the former case it proceeded from individual in-
stances to the general rule. The one form may be called general-
izing, the other elementary, analysis. But it will be seen that the
laws of succession and the mode of combination are closely con-
nected, since the most general laws must be those which hold for
the most elementary activities, for those mental functions which
reappear in all mental phenomena.

It will never be known with complete certainty whether the ex-
planation is exhaustive, whether we really have before us elements
which admit of no further reduction. This in itself is a thing
which holds good, not for psychology alone but for all our know-


ledge ; the ultimate fact to which we attain with regard to every
single point is ultimate only for us. We cannot even tell
whether advancing development will not lead us further, so that the
limits of human knowledge may not yet have been reached. The
point at which the individual student and the individual age stop
may be passed by later times with richer experience and clearer
principles. A noteworthy instance of a decisive change of the
fundamental psychological conception is the predominant im-
portance attributed, ever since Rousseau, to feeling as contrasted
with the other sides of mental life ; the elements of feeling having
been ranged for a long time previously partly under the psychology
of the idea, partly under that of the will. Irrespective of clearness
of observation and of analysis, the possibility that the mental life
of man undergoes slow changes cannot be excluded.

{(f) Purely subjective observation is soon seen to be much too im-
perfect a means of psychological analysis. The individual con-
stituents of states of consciousness can be clearly distinguished only
when it is possible to proceed by way of experiment. Experiment
differs from observation in this, that it does not wait for the appear-
ance of certain phenomena, but tries to produce them under
certain definite conditions which can be easily kept in view. This
not only makes it easier to isolate individual elements of a phe-
nomenon, but also, by enabling us to see how a phenomenon varies
under different circumstances, opens a way to the discovery of its
cause. It follows from the nature of things that it is chiefly the very
simplest phenomena of consciousness which can be made the object
of experimental inquiry. The emergence and mutual interaction
of sensations, the simplest cases of association of ideas, and the
time which these and similar elementary phenomena of conscious-
ness occupy, have of late years been thus experimentally in-
vestigated. Midway between psychology and physiology a new-
science — psycho-physics or experimental psychology — is coming
into existence.

In the departments in which experimental psychology is applied,
not only can the qualitative analysis (the inquiry as to the con-
stituents to which a phenomenon of consciousness owes its origin)
be more precise and sure, but the prospect of a quantitative analysis
appears to be opened, so that it may be determined in accordance
with what scale certain phenomena of consciousness increase or
decrease, and how great a time they take to arise. Psychology
approaches by these investigations to the exact sciences, from which


the non-spatial character of its subject-matter appears so widely
to separate it.

The phenomena of consciousness do not arrange themselves, like
external phenomena, in the form of space. One feeling does not
lie to the right or the left of another, nor one thought above or
below another. Different currents may move, as already noted,
sim.ultaneously in our consciousness ; but we cannot, as with
simultaneous external phenomena, determine their mutual relation
by means of mathematical construction. There is wanting to us
here a form of intuition, which— like space, the common form in
which material phenomena are presented — might serve as the basis
of such a construction. In the psychological province, therefore,
we have nothing that fully corresponds to the general laws of move-
ment, which comprise the most general principles of all exact
explanation of nature in physics.

The phenomena of consciousness have, however, one property
which affords an opening for the application of mathematics. This
is their relative strength and distinctness, or, in other words, the
degree in which they lay claim to the attention. Herbart had
already found in this property a starting-point for his attempt to
found a mathematical psychology. Afterwards Fechner tried to
find a scale for the degree of strength of sensations (and of mental
phenomena in general) by inquiring how they vary in relation to
the increase and decrease of the physical stimulus. On his own
experiments and those of others he based the rule that the increase
of a sensation depends on the relation between the increase of the
stimulus and the previously existing stimulus. To this we shall
return in dealing with sensation (VA). In order to measure the
mutual relation of sensations we require a unit, and Fechner pro-
posed as such a sensation of so small a degree of strength that it
can only just be noticed, or, as Fechner (with a phrase borrowed
from Ilerbart) expresses it, that it just rises above the threshold
of consciousness.

Fechner is certainly justified in holding that this degree of
sensation is constant, when the attention is constant. But he
himself allows that it is different in each of the different departments
or modalities of sense (sight, hearing, etc.). It appears also to
vary for the different species (qualities) of sensation within the
same department (since the power of perceiving a difference in
illumination is different with red and with blue light), as also
for the different parts of the same sense-organ (the central


and peripheral parts of the retina). Even if Fechner's view can
be maintained in face of the criticism raised against it, it yet
affords no general unit applicable to the whole of conscious life,
not even one which is valid for all the most elementary phenomena
of consciousness. It does not open up the road to a general
psychical arithmetic. We cannot expect that we shall ever be
able to establish formuhx; for the calculation of the activity of
conscience or of the poetic imagination. But the investigations of
experimental psychology do not on that account lose their im-
portance. The results attained are not merely of interest for the
apprehension and understanding of the phenomena to which they
directly relate ; but, in consequence of the inner connection
between the simpler and the more complex phenomena of
consciousness, experimental psychology, even if it should always
be limited to certain elementary departments, will be able —
through the light thrown on these elementary departments— to
give valuable hints for the investigation of the higher life of

{e) The strictly psychological standpoint is confined to the
phenomena of conscious life. We have emphasized this so
strongly in order to avoid ambiguity and misunderstanding. We
know directly just so much of the mental life as we know of the
phenomena of consciousness. But consciousness is not a closed
world ; new phenomena are always emerging which, from that
strictly psychological standpoint, we cannot deduce from anything
earlier. P^very new sensation seems to come into being out of
nothing. We may be able to trace its changes and effects in con-
sciousness, but can give no answer to the question how it comes

In addition to this, there are other reasons why we seek for
means of supplying the defects of the strictly psychological stand-
point. A comparison of our own observations with those of others
is necessary, as already shown, that the one-sidedness due to
individual peculiarities may be avoided, and, further, that we may
make sure how far all the elements co-operating in the given
psychological phenomenon have been really taken into account.
Finally, for concrete psychological knowledge it is not enough to
know the general laws of the connection of the phenomena of
consciousness; in practice there appears such a diversity, such
a jumble of possibilities, that we cannot deduce from the general
psychological law the direction which the conscious life will take.


For every single individual and in every single situation the result
depends on the natural temperament, on the conditions of life, and
on the special experiences.

The strictly psychological standpoint must, therefore, be supple-
mented by physiological and historical (sociological) inquiries, or,
as we may say (employing an expression introduced by Herbert
Spencer), subjective psychology must be supplemented by objective.
With reference to what has been brought out previously, it must be
borne in mind that in the last resort objective psychology always
rests on an inference by analogy, subjective psychology alone sees
the phenomena themselves face to face. What we as objective
psychologists think we discover of mental life outside our own con-
sciousness, we reproduce in ourselves by means of a sympathy
closely connected with analogy. But these analogies may afford
indispensable correctives for our subjective observation.

Objective psychology cofnprises physiological and sociological
psychology. The former is based on the close connection of mental
life with organic life in general. Every explanation that physiology
is able to give of the functions of organic life, may be of service,
from any side whatsoever, to psychological knowledge. What has
now to be especially emphasized is the way in which conscious
mental life melts gradually into unconscious organic life. Physiology
examines just those unconscious functions which precede the
mental activities and form their constant basis. At the boundary
line between the conscious and the unconscious, where subjec-
tive observation casts but faint light, physiology is able by its
physical method to establish definite relations. At all points there
is a close interaction between the conscious and the unconscious ;
it is not only the infant that awakes to consciousness out of the
night of unconsciousness ; sleep is every day a relative renewal of
this night ; in instinct, in impulse, and in habit we have forms in
which the unconscious takes the conscious into its service, and the
conscious life in its turn reacts on the unconscious by generating
new habits and impulses. The physiological study of these
elementary mental phenomena throws light also on the more highly
developed mental life. Discussion will therefore turn on the ques-
tion how far and with what alterations the teaching of the phy-
siology of the nerves and of the senses about elementary mental
life may be applied to the higher mental life ; in connection with
which question it must never be forgotten that even the phy-
siological experimenter and observer, in his exposition of the


elementary manifestations of mind, argues back to elementary con-
sciousness from that which is fully developed. The true physiologist
is not, in his study of the nerves and senses, interested in the states
of consciousness as such, but in the physical processes with which
they are associated. To the physiolo<,Mst psychological experiences
are only symptoms from which he infers physiological facts. He
starts from the assumption that for every psychological experience
there is a corresponding physiological process, which it is important
to find out, and to explain in accordance with the general principles
of natural science. For the present it is the more elementary
phenomena of consciousness which best admit of this explanation,
but a principle is in this way established which physiological
psychology is fully justified in employing as the basis of the
investigation of the higher mental phenomena also.

When we consider that mental life, as we know it, develops
only under definite physical and chemical conditions and through
a series of stages, the lower and higher of which shed a light re-
ciprocally on one another, it is clear that psychology must be
regarded — in spite of the independence reserved to it at starting — •
as a branch of general biology. Biology must put forward a
conception of life applicable to all its stages, from the organic

Online LibraryHarald HøffdingOutlines of psychology → online text (page 3 of 41)