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Chapter 2 Summary Chapter Personology

Chapter 2 Historical overview of psychological thinking Frequently asked question The following is a question often asked by students about the historical overview of psychological thinking and
personality theories.
Question Of what importance is the historical background for the understanding of a personality theory?
Answer This is not a course in the history of psychology, but the various personality theories should be studied against
the background of the historical context in which it developed. No theory was developed within a philosophical
or scientific vacuum. The historical and cultural context reflects the stance of the philosophical and scientific
thinking of the specific era in which the theory was developed. This historical and cultural context makes for a
better understanding of the similarities and differences between the various theories and the development of
thinking about personality.
For example, Freud's over-emphasis on the role of sexuality (pansexualism) in his theory is a reflection of the
Victorian age and prevailing views and repression of sex in that period. In the modern age with a much freer
expression of sexuality this aspect of his theory does not hold ground. The establishment of sociology and
anthropology with the rise of Marxism created a 'Zeitgeist' in which the person was not solely defined as a
biological entity due to the previous influence of Darwin's theory of evolution, but as a social being. This not
only stimulated the establishment of Social Psychology as a discipline but also the socially-oriented theories of
personality such as the social learning theories of Albert Bandura and Walter Mischel, the humanistic personoriented theories of Gordon Allport, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, the existentialist view of Victor Frankl
and the socially-orientated psycho-analytical theories of Alfred Adler, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm and Erik
Erikson. With the certain demise of institutionalised religion in certain European countries, individuals' search
for meaning and psychological wellbeing stimulated an interest in Eastern philosophy and psychology,
especially in the role of meditation as a therapeutic method. The cultural context is also of grave importance as
regards the universality and applicability of the predominantly Euro-American developed personality theories
within an Eastern and African context.
In their book, A History of Modern Psychology (2016), Schultz and Schultz provide a very insightful overview
of the historical development of psychological thinking as reflected in the systems and theories of psychology.
Philosophical assumptions and methodological approaches Although this is not a course in the philosophy of science, personality theories cannot fully be studied without
an understanding of certain basic concepts of philosophical assumptions and methodological approaches.
The selection of philosophical assumptions mainly concerns the mind-body problem (i.e., monism, materialism,
mentalism), the interaction between mind and body (i.e., dualism, parallelism, interactionism,
transactionism) and certain dynamics underlying psychological phenomena (i.e., mechanistic, determinism,
The methodological approaches focus on some of the most important methodology underlying the various
personality theories.
The genesis of psychology Psychology has a lengthy past, dating back to the Greek philosophers, but a short history as an autonomous
science following the establishment of the first psychological laboratory at the University of Leipzig in 1879.
Psychology as part of philosophy (+_ 400 BC- +_1600)
Psychology did not exist as a discipline in Antiquity, but philosophers such as Plato (427-347 BC) and
Aristotle (384-322 BC) laid down certain basic principles of the human mind and behaviour, laying the
foundations for the modern methodology of psychology.
Martyn Shullteworth (2016) gives a comprehensive overview of Plato's and Aristotle's contribution to
modern-day psychology.
Psychology as part of philosophy and the natural sciences (+_1600 - +_ 1879)
The Age of Reason and the development of:
Empiricism: Francis Bacon (1561-1628). Bacon's emphasis on empirical observation as a systematic
inductive method laid the foundation for the study of psychological processes as part of the natural sciences
– an approach further applied in Behavioural and Learning theory approaches.
Rationalism: Rene Descartes (1596-1650). Descartes, with his emphasis on subjective experience and
conscious knowledge of oneself, laid down the guidelines for psychology as an introspective (subjective)
human science – an approach further applied in the Depth psychological and Person-oriented approaches.
Psychology as a science in its own right Psychology as a natural science
Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) is the father of modern psychology. Wundt developed introspection as an
experimental method of investigation in psychology.
Wundt established Structuralism as the underlying scientific philosophical approach with the aim to
examine the constituent structural elements of human consciousness.
Structuralism provoked the split personality within psychology:
It stimulated the development of Functionalism which gave rise to Behaviourism – establishing psychology
within the domain of the natural sciences.
It stimulated the development of Gestalt psychology as a reaction against the elementalistic nature of
Structuralism – paving the way for a human science orientation within psychology.
Activity Watch Claire Dittrich's video, Wilhelm Wundt, in which she gives a short pictorial oversight of Wundt.
Definition Introspection refers to a method developed by Wundt as an independent scientific method, specifically for
psychology. This method involves self-observation under controlled conditions. Wundt distinguishes this
experimental introspection (‘Experimentelle Selbstbeobachtung’) from subjective inner observation (‘Innere
Wahrnehmung’) which, he maintains, was used in uncontrolled conditions by Descartes and Locke. The purpose
of this method was to construct a ‘chemistry of consciousness’. In other words, they tried to isolate the structural
components of consciousness.
Activity Watch Jennifer Bazar's Introduction to Introspection.
Psychology as a human science
Franz Brentano (1838-1917) opposed Wundt's psychology and experimental methodology. He defined
psychology as the study of psychological processes based on the human will (intentionality) – this can only
be studied through a descriptive qualitative methodology en not experimentally.
Brentano paved the way for the ‘Third Force’ in psychology which represents the person-oriented
approach in America and the existentialist approach in Europe, reflecting a human science orientation.
Freud and the foundation within a practical medical context
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), a medical doctor interested in human behaviour and psychopathology, was
the the founder of the theory of human behaviour known as the psychoanalytical theory. Freud's theory of
human behaviour represents the first formal theory of the structure, dynamics and development of
Psychology in the twentieth century Psychological focus and thinking in terms of defining aspects of human existence as objects of study changed
during the course of the century. Four aspects influencing the development in psychology can be identified:
The human being as an individual
The individual in relation to other people
The individual in relation to the physical environment
The individual in relation to a transcendent environment
Psychology in the twenty first century Neuroscience and neuropsychology
Critical psychology
Gender and sexuality (feminist critical psychology)
Ethnicity and race (postcolonial critical psychology)
Class (Marxist critical social psychology)
Key terms critical psychology: refers to a variety of approaches challenging mainstream psychology's assumptions and
practices in an attempt to apply psychology in a progressive way with the aim of social change
empiricism: the philosophy of science based on the assumption that observation through sensory perception is
the only source of true knowledge
epistemology: a body of knowledge based on specific assumptions about the true source of knowledge
functionalism: a scientific philosophical approach that concentrates on the functions and dynamics of
psychological functions
intentionality: psychological processes can only be understood by focusing on the will or ‘intention’ underlying
the processes
introspection: a method of self-observation under controlled conditions
rationalism: the philosophy of science based on the assumption that human reason is the only source of true
structuralism: a scientific philosophical approach that aims to examine the constituent structural elements of
References Schultz, DP and Schultz, SE (2016). A History of Modern Psychology. Boston: Cengage Learning.
Websites Shuttleworth,