The Persuasive Rhetoric of a Manifesto (1870): Ribot’s Promise of an “Independent” Psychological Science

A special issue of Centaurus on “The promises of science. Historical perspectives,” guest edited by Annette Mülberger and Jaume Navarro includes an article of interest to AHP readers.

The persuasive rhetoric of a manifesto (1870): Ribot’s promise of an “independent” psychological science,” by Annette Mülberger. Abstract:

Here, I take a closer look at a manifesto in the history of psychology: the introduction to the book entitled “La psychologie anglaise contemporaine.” It was published in 1870 and written by the French psychologist and philosopher Théodule Ribot (1839–1916). First, I review the use of the label “manifesto” in the historiography of psychology. Then the aim, rhetoric, and arguments of Ribot’s text are examined, as well as the intellectual atmosphere surrounding it. Through this research, I hope to contribute to a better understanding of the aims and some immediate reactions to Ribot’s text. My analysis focuses on his understanding of psychology as “independent science.” Ribot’s manifesto contains criticism of the prevalent philosophies of his time, namely eclectic spiritualism and the positivistic schools. Within this setting, Ribot tried to present his psychology as ideologically neutral, aiming at revealing “psychological facts.” My interpretation portrays Ribot’s tone as optimistic, framed in terms of a promise and an invitation; I see his text as primarily an attempt to attract collaborators through a broadly defined scientific project. He envisaged an almost boundless field of empirical research, based on the promise of intellectual freedom and scientific progress.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.