Human Arenas: Reappraising Wundt

AHP readers may be interested in a special series of articles on Wilhelm Wundt in the March 2021 issue of Human Arenas. Full details below.

“Remembering Wilhelm Wundt and the Second Leipzig School of Psychology,” Rainer Diriwächter. Abstract:

It has been 100 years since Wilhelm Wundt, our founding father of modern psychology, has passed away. In this present contribution to the journal Human Arenas special topic section marking this centennial milestone, I will be re-visiting some of the theoretical highlights coming out of the first and second Leipzig School of Psychology. Particular focus is given to Wundt’s examination of human consciousness, his emotional-will theory, creative synthesis, and especially the new direction implemented by his successors after his retirement in 1917. That is, the shift from a focus on elementary processes resulting in a creative synthesis to the developmental holistic outlook of Genetic Ganzheitspsychologie that takes holistic complexes and their transformations as the starting point for psychological examinations.

“The Importance of Leibniz for Wundt,” Sven Hroar Klempe. Abstract:

Late in his life, Wundt published a book on Leibniz, 200 years after Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz died in 1716. In this book, he states a long-lasting interest in Leibniz. He grasped the opportunity to summarize this interest as a part of the memorial in 1916. A closer reading of this book, however, is not just a celebration speech of Leibniz. It is a highly personal confession of the importance of Leibniz’s intellectual activities as a forerunner to some fundamentals for Wundt’s experimental and folk psychology. Yet, by drawing the line back to Leibniz, Wundt also indirectly sketches and includes those intermediate scholars that contributed with continuing the historical line between them. In this paper, Wundt’s reading of Leibniz is examined. One of the striking aspects of his reading is that he is not so interested in Leibniz’s philosophy, as he is of his mathematical thinking. Leibniz’s discovery of differential calculus, the aspect of dynamics in physics and his critic of the mechanistic understanding of causality are probably some of the most important changes that paved the way for modernity and the modern thinking. Wundt makes an indirect connection between those discoveries and the forthcoming psychology. However, Leibniz did not apply the term “psychology”, but Wundt did not hesitate to regard aspects of Leibniz’s authorship as contributions to psychology. The use of the term related to Leibniz is justified by the fact that the one who systematized Leibniz’s philosophy was his student Christian Wolff. This was also the same person to be the first one in the history to include and apply the term psychology as a core aspect of philosophy. The reaction Kant had on this is well known. Thus, this paper will concentrate on the link between Wundt and Leibniz to shed some light on the upcoming use of the term psychology on its way to achieve the status as an experimental science at the end of the nineteenth century.

“How Psychology Repressed Its Founding Father Wilhelm Wundt,” Gordana Jovanovi?. Abstract:

The aim of this paper is to shed light on the misrepresented and repressed agenda of Wundt’s psychology—and to pay an overdue tribute to Wundt. Wundt will be analyzed within the history of psychology, i.e., how his views on psychology are represented in textbooks on the history of psychology (Boring, Fancher, Heidbreder, Woodworth and Sheehan) in comparison with his views as expressed in his published works. In the next step, the first attempts to question the traditional historiographic accounts of Wundt will be examined (Blumenthal, Danziger, Greenwood, Woodward). The textual analysis will be embedded in a broader cultural context in order to understand sources of different forms of epistemic injustices committed against Wundt (repression of his ideas, misrecognition, partial reception, even conversion into the opposite of his own views). At the end, some general hermeneutic questions on conditions of understanding and misunderstandings of human subjects and their symbolic products will be addressed, accompanied by a moral appeal to contribute to an academic culture of a just remembrance.

“Debating Experimental Psychology’s Frontiers: Re-discovering Wilhelm Wundt’s Contribution to Contemporary Psychological Research,” Natalie Rodax & Gerhard Benetka. Abstract:

Can the contemporary academic discipline of psychology, strongly relying on experiment as ideal way of psychological research, learn from Wilhelm Wundt’s strictly limited methodical understanding of the psychological experiment? Addressing this question, I firstly draw on Wundt’s early proposal of his research programme of experimental self-observation and then proceed with his methodical argument against the Würzburg school’s application of introspection on complex psychological phenomena. Centrally, Wundt aimed at showing the unprofessionalism of the Würzburg school’s introspective approach. Holzkamp’s early analysis suggested that this strong focus on showing the “wrongness” of introspective methods will in the long-term block addressing the more important underlying question regarding psychology’s research object(s)—what can and should be accessed by introspection? Against the backdrop of cultural theoretical approaches, this seems confirmed for today’s academic landscape of psychology: These approaches namely point to the fact that is exactly the relation between the researcher, the research subject and the research object that is still undetermined in answering this question. Beyond Wundt’s methodical approach that strongly limited the experiment’s scope to the objectifiable “simple” mental phenomena—and with it reducing the introspective encounter of the researcher and the research subject to a minimum—today, experimental, quantitative approaches encompass a much broader field of application, frequently working with self-reporting questionnaires that do not address the topic of introspection at all anymore. I therefore point to the fact that Wundt’s objection against the Würzburg’s school’s research practice is more topical than ever: The question of a person’s relatedness with the (cultural) world seems to also demand that researcher understand psychological data that were quantified by questionnaire also as dialogical and not per se as a purely objectified third-person perspective on complex psychological phenomena.

“A Case for a Philosophical History of Psychology: An Interview with Saulo de Freitas Araujo at the Centenary of the Death of Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920),” Catriel Fierro & Saulo de Freitas Araujo. Abstract:

On the occasion of the centenary of Wilhelm Wundt’s death (1832–1920), we had a conversation with Saulo de Freitas Araujo on the works and influence of the German author. After a brief introduction, the conversation begins with a reflection on the aims and objectives of Araujo’s work on the history and philosophy of Wundt’s psychology. A philosophical approach to the history of science and of psychology is then described. After considering the social and intellectual context of the revival of Wundt scholarship during the 1970s, Wundt’s philosophical and psychological project is discussed. The conversation ends with general reflections on Wundt’s legacy to recent and contemporary psychology.

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.