New HHS: Brain Sciences in the Lycée, Linguistics in Imperial Germany, & Much More

Larry McGrath

The February 2015 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are articles on educational reformers’ promotion of brain sciences in Third Republic France, shifting attention in linguistics to “living” language in Imperial Germany, the cultural psychology of Giambattista Vico, and much more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Confronting the brain in the classroom: Lycée policy and pedagogy in France, 1874–1902,” by Larry McGrath. The abstract reads,

During the influx of neurological research into France from across Europe that took place rapidly in the late 19th century, the philosophy course in lycées (the French equivalent of high schools) was mobilized by education reformers as a means of promulgating the emergent brain sciences and simultaneously steering their cultural resonance. I contend that these linked prongs of philosophy’s public mission under the Third Republic reconciled contradictory pressures to advance the nation’s scientific prowess following its defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 without dropping France’s distinct tradition of 19th-century spiritualism, which extended from Maine de Biran’s philosophical psychology to Victor Cousin’s official eclectic spiritualism. Between 1874 and 1902, the French Ministry of Public Instruction transformed philosophy into a national project designed to guide the reception of experimental psychology generally and neurology in particular. This article features original archival research on philosophy textbooks and students’ course notes that illuminate the cultural and intellectual impact of these sciences in the fin de siècle from inside the classroom. I argue that the scientific turn in the psychology section of the lycée philosophy course reflected and brought about a distinct philosophical movement that I call ‘scientific spiritualism’. While historians have analysed philosophy instruction as a mechanism used by the Third Republic to secularize students, this article sheds new light on lycée philosophy professors’ campaign to promote scientific spiritualism as a means to advance incipient brain research and pare its reductionist implications.

“Avestan studies in Imperial Germany: Sciences of text and sound,” by Judith R. H. Kaplan. The abstract reads,

This article sheds new light on late-19th-century debates about the organization of knowledge through its emphasis on German orientalism and comparative linguistics. Centering on Friedrich Carl Andreas’ (1846–1930) controversial reconstruction of the Avestan language and its sacred literary corpus, I highlight a shift from the history of texts to an engagement with ‘living’ language in the decades around 1900. Andreas is shown to have inherited aspects of two schools, which collectively defined the landscape of 19th-century philological research – one traditional and the other comparative. The long-standing struggle between these schools demonstrates that ‘the humanities’ were no monolithic foil to the rise of natural sciences during the second half of the 19th century. Instead, I argue that alternative conceptual frameworks were cultivated within German philology – concepts that were taken up in broader disciplinary debates, though they were not narrowly the products of them.

“Giambattista Vico and the principles of cultural psychology: A programmatic retrospective,” by Luca Tateo. The abstract reads,

The Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico developed a theoretical framework for the study of human sciences that exerted a strong influence on psychology and other human sciences. He backed the notion of the unity of knowledge about human mind and culture, including history, linguistics, philosophy, philology, epistemology, psychology, and for the first time proposed a method for their study that he ambitiously called ‘new science’. The article presents an overview of Vico’s thought and discusses some of the main axioms of his theoretical system. His critique of Cartesianism and the alternative epistemology he outlined are put forward as a thoughtful tool for reflection on contemporary psychological science. Finally, this retrospective look at Vico’s ideas provides useful insights for a programmatic view of cultural psychology.

“The illusion of autonomy: Locating humanism in existential-psychoanalytic social theory,” by Sam Han. The abstract reads,

This article assesses a realm of psychoanalytic social theory that is relatively under-discussed – existential psychoanalysis – in order to gain further insight into the relationship of psychoanalytic ideas to humanism. I offer a reading of certain influential thinkers in this tradition, namely Jean-Paul Sartre, Ludwig Binswanger and Medard Boss, presenting conceptual clarifications while highlighting a cluster of important aspects of their respective repertoires relevant to humanism. I do so with the intention of teasing out how contributing voices to existential psychoanalysis negotiate humanism’s foundational ideas, specifically the notion of ‘the individual subject’, with the bed-rocks of psychoanalytic thought, namely the unconscious. Finally, I conclude with critical commentary on the existential-psychoanalytic project drawn from what is often thought of as the anti-humanist tradition, with specific attention paid to Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault.

“Citizens at work: Evolutionism, functionalism, progressivism and industrial psychology in the writings of Arland D. Weeks,” by Enrique Lafuente, José Carlos Loredo, and Jorge Castro. The abstract reads,

The work of the American educator and academic Arland D. Weeks (1871–1936) constitutes an interesting effort to contribute to the reform of society on the basis of an adequate knowledge of the human mind. He was a political progressivist, and his writings are representative of the prevailing pragmatist, functionalist ‘spirit of the times’. Deeply concerned with the making of good citizens, he approached the field of work with a critical eye, making specific recommendations and proposals for improving the efficiency and fostering the personal development of the individual worker. The aim of this article is to analyse such proposals in the light both of their psychological bases and of the ideological and social environment to which they were addressed.

“Adapting, defending and transforming ourselves: Conceptualizations of self practices in the social science literature,” by Nedim Karakayali. The abstract reads,

Self practices – mental and bodily activities through which individuals try to give a shape to their existence – have been a topic of interest in the social science literature for over a century now. These studies bring into focus that such activities play important roles in our relationship to our social environment. But beyond this general insight we still do not have a framework for elucidating what kind of roles/uses have been attributed to self practices by social theorists historically. Through an analysis of the works of 5 major contributors to the literature (Durkheim, Mauss, Simmel, Giddens and Foucault), the article highlights three distinct conceptualizations, which draw attention to the adaptive, defensive and transformative uses of self practices. Adaptive uses allow individuals to adjust their conduct to collective norms; defensive uses serve the maintenance and protection of self-identity despite de-individualizing pressures; and transformative self practices target the development of alternative ways of living. It is further suggested that the framework developed in the article can provide important clues about the different ‘practical’ solutions offered by social theorists to the problems that modern individuals face in constituting themselves as autonomous subjects.

“Travels without a donkey: The adventures of Bruno Latour,” by Charles Turner. The abstract reads,

The writings of Bruno Latour have invigorated empirical inquiry in the social sciences and in the process helped to redefine their character. In recent years the philosophy of social science that made this inquiry possible has been deployed to a different end, namely that of rethinking the character of politics. Here I suggest that in the pursuit of this goal, inflated claims are made about that philosophy, and some basic theoretical tools are asked to do a job for which they may not be best equipped.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.