John Locke and Wilhelm Wundt Essay

The following paper will discuss philosophers and scientists who created the foundation for modern psychological thought and treatments. I will discuss John Locke who was an Oxford scholar, medical researcher and physician, political operative, economist and ideologue for a revolutionary movement, as well as being one of the great philosophers of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. And then I will discuss Wilhelm Wundt who is thought of as one of the founding fathers of psychology. Wundt is credited for founding psychology, or in other words he made psychology a true science.

John Locke was considered one of the most influential philosophers in post-renaissance Europe, which was about the mid 1600s. Locke has been recognized for several important documents that have influenced the beginnings of modern psychology. One of his most important works written in 1690 was entitled, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding(“An Essay Concerning… ”). The work was considered a foundational text in Western philosophy and brought up the model of how people developed. The essay also asked the question of how and why people become individuals.

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In the essay, Locke proposes that we are all born with certain knowledge and principles that helps us to become part of society. The theory known as Tabula Rasa meaning a blank or clean slate om which experience would write(Schultz & Schultz, 2008). He states that it is through experience, of the world around us, this is how one forms ideas. He further states that human knowledge is gathered in two distinct ways through sensation and reflection. These are further broken down into primary and secondary qualities of senses.

With the basic idea he suggested that out of the 2 sources of human knowledge one starts out with simple ideas that are used to form complex ideas, which are formed through communication between individuals. The fundamental principles of Locke’s philosophy is what we know is always properly understood as the relation between ideas. Locke argued that all of our ideas—simple or complex—are ultimately derived from experience. Lock was concerned primarily with cognitive functioning, that is, the ways in which the mind acquires its knowledge(Schultz & Schultz, 2008).

In tacking this issue, he rejected the existence of innate ideas, as proposed by Descartes, and argues that humans are born without any knowledge whatsoever (Schultz & Schultz, 2008). The consequence of this empiricist approach is that the knowledge of which we are capable is severely limited in its scope and certainty. Our knowledge of material substances, for example, depends heavily on the secondary qualities by reference to which we name them, while their real inner natures derive from the primary qualities of their insensible parts.

It is clear to see that Locke’s ideas on the idea of how individuals develop is the starting point to many theorists in modern psychology and specifically developmental psychology. He was poised with the question of what is the ultimate significance of life and how does one develop the tools to proceed through life. His ultimate suggestion was that we are all born with the building blocks to become who we are. An in turn, as we go through life and experience what it has to offer, we form the necessary tools to survive and become individuals.

Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt was a German physiologist and Psychologist who made Psychology a field of its own. He was the first person in history to be called a “psychologist,” as well as the first person to teach a course in Physiological Psychology at Heidelberg in 1867. Wundt established psychology as a unique branch of science with its own questions and methods. “Wundt set out purposely to establish a new science. As founder he took it as his right to redefine the first paradigm in Psychology, Structuralism.   (Hevern, 2003)  Wundt is a problematic figure at many levels; he established the first laboratory in Psychology, even though his research was ignored for a majority of the last century, he attracted some of the most important students of early psychology in which many of his students rejected his ideas, and most importantly he spent a majority of his life working intensively on a culturally sensitive approach to psychology and almost having complete rejection of his approach while he was alive. (Hevern, 2003)

In the winter of 1867, Wundt lectured on physiological psychology, which five years later he used the course title when writing his book he proclaimed to be a “new domain of science. ”. Out of his lectures came another significant book, Principles of Physiological Psychology (Schultz & Schultz, 2008). The books reviews were positive saying that Wundt had “defined the scope and tasks of physiological psychology to come, and that his book would be influential in directing the work of many younger psychologists who shared the same objective.   Wundt continued to write and ended up with several important volumes based on his new science, his first called Contributions Towards A Theory Of Sense Perception, which created a vision of psychology as a field of its own containing three general subdivisions. In the first division of his book, psychology would follow the principles of the physical sciences and be conducted as an experimental science. The main focus of this psychology would involve mental processes, which were important to experimental observation, and manipulation such as reaction time to stimuli.

The second edition, Wundt pictured psychology paired with the tradition of the social sciences. This involved the higher or more complex mental processes. These could no be brought under direct control in the laboratory. Example of these metal processes he is referring to would be religion, social practices, and language. This study of psychology required other methods of investigation such as historical records and naturalistic observation in the field. This was termed the comparative historical approach.

The final form of psychology Wundt called scientific metaphysics. This form of psychology would be used to integrate the empirical work in the lab with other scientific findings. (Boring, 310-335)              After Wundt worked in Helmholtz lab in Heidelberg, he became a tutor in physiology, which he eventually stopped doing in 1875 because of his move to his “final academic home” in Leipzig. (Hevern, 2003)  Here he took up a chair in philosophy at the University.

While at Leipzig, the university allowed Wundt to use one of their rooms to store his instruments and equipment that he used for demonstrations in his lectures. In 1879, he began using the room to conduct experiments that did not have anything to do with his lectures at the time. This day in 1879 has come to be regarded as the day the first experimental laboratory in psychology was founded. It did not become an official laboratory until 1885 when the university recognized it in the schools catalog.

It had been done, Wundt redefined the first paradigm in psychology, structuralism. “In the beginning of the Wundtian laboratory, experimental psychology was no more nor less than the results that the laboratory yielded …For all this, there is mere evidence that the historical weight of Wundtian psychology has, because of its priority, been more influential than the mere mass of its discovered facts would require. ” (Boring, 340). As seen Wundt’s ideas regarding his new science were not widely accepted. There was not much positive talk about his discoveries. (Hevern, 2003)

Continuing his research due to his belief that “the mind is a creative, dynamic, and volitional force…must understood through an analysis of its activity-its processes,”(Hevern, 2003) Wundt published ten volumes entitled Volkerpsychologie, translated as “folk psychology. ” Wundt stated the folk psychology “traces the lawful development through cultural participation, or higher human mental processes. ” (Hevern, 2003)  Within these volumes written by Wundt, he shared a belief with other theorists that the movement of human societies follows historical stages.

The description of these stages, according to Wundt, was very similar to the forms and complexity of language and its development. His classification of historical development identified four stages: the age of primitive man, the Totemic age, The Age of Gods and Heroes, and The Present Age. To get the information to create these stages which serve to portray developmental stages seen across diverse human cultures and to provide and understanding of the cultural influences put upon individuals within different national communities, Wundt gathered data from social scientists. Once again Wundt’s ideas seen in Volkerpsychologie were ignored.

In 1915 Wundt retired from his academic chair at Leipzig, but continued writing in hopes to be accepted until his death in 1920 at the age of eighty-eight. (Hevern, 2003) Overall, Locke rejected any concept of innate ideas, forcefully arguing that all ideas are derived from experience. Locke described how knowledge would be written on the mind, which could be represented as a blank slate. Thus, according to Locke and others, all knowledge is learned. Although not experimental in nature, their work dealt with many of the basic questions in human perception, learning, and thinking, by investigating the sensory mechanisms.

On the other hand, Wundt’s initial goal of psychology was to understand the nature of human consciousness. To understand this, Wundt used the method of introspection, in which a person experiences something and then describes the personal nature of the experience. This technique can be used quite rigorously when stimulus presentation are controlled, so that introspective accounts can be compared across many experiences. Researchers were to report their experiences in terms of specific sensations and feelings, which were then developed into the basic building blocks of the conscious mind.

The main goal of Wundt’s psychology was to first discover these building blocks, and then discover how they combined to form the more complex elements of mental processes. Although these two men had completely different views,they were both on two completely different paths, they were both going to end up at the same place – they both wanted to know how the mind functions and why it happens the way it does. They both left an impact on psychology today and all with different contributions.


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