chapter  Chapter 7
19 Pages

Eighteenth century developments

WithL.S. Hearnshaw

The eighteenth century was a period of great significance in the development of psychology; it saw, on the one hand, the crystallization of the many suggestive new ideas of the seventeenth century philosophers into a separate Wissenschaft, or scientific discipline, with a recognized identifying label – psychology; and it saw, on the other hand, the beginning of protest movements against the imposition upon the study of the human mind of the methods and assumptions of the physical sciences. The guiding lights of the Age of Enlightenment, as the period is commonly termed, were the Englishmen Newton and Locke. They dominated the intellectual life not only of England, but to a great extent also of France and to a lesser extent of Germany, and the empirical approach of Locke was the major influence in the emerging discipline of psychology. Locke, however, never had the field to himself. He was challenged by Scottish philosophers of the ‘common sense’ school, by moralists and Platonists in England, and by rationalists in Germany. And all of these had a lasting influence on psychology. But perhaps even more important was the Romantic revolt, which began in the eighteenth century, against the whole ethos of the Enlightenment and the domination of reason, a revolt which involved ‘a vast transformation of ideas, language, attitudes and ways of thinking’, and which ‘for two hundred years has deeply and decisively affected European life’ 1 including, we may add, European psychology. This revolt was no doubt an outcome of the profound social changes which the eighteenth century brought about, involving the rapid decay of traditional values and ways of life, and the emergence of a new, largely secular society dominated by economic forces. Marx and Engels may have exaggerated in saying that there remained ‘no other bond between man and man than naked self-interest and callous cash payments’. 2 Traditional ties and institutions did not vanish as completely as that; but the unequal growth of wealth resulting from colonial exploitation, changes in agriculture, and industrialization, together with the lifting of the medieval taboos on usury and the development of a capitalistic bourgeoisie, led to widespread social tensions and growing feelings of alienation, which in their turn gave rise to new psychological problems and new psychological reactions. The eighteenth century witnessed the birth of the modern world in all its complexity.