History and Systems of Psychology PSY502
The third British Associationist was David Hume who was born in 1711 AD and died in 1776 AD.
He was a philosopher and a historian. Educated at Edinburgh, Scotland he lived in France, where he
finished his first philosophical work, A Treatise of Human Nature.
David Hume followed the Lockean viewpoint in saying that senses and observation are the true
sources of knowledge and knowledge cannot be gained by looking into the mind. On the other hand Hume
denied the existence of material world. The world is what the senses perceive it to be. For example, Hume
was of the view that when a person sees a table lying in a room, the table exists because his sense of vision
can detect it, but if the person goes away from the room the table does not exist anymore for him.
Therefore, the existence of a material world is just a perception of the senses.
According to Hume, human mind tends to establish a cause and effect relationship. This means
that if one event follows another, the first event is considered to be the cause and the second event is the
effect. In other words, the apparent sequence of events in the external world is in fact the sequence of
perceptions in the mind. From this statement Hume argued that our expectation that the future will be like
the past has no basis in reason; it is purely a matter of belief. For example when we expect the sun to rise
every morning, it is a belief based on the past experience.
Hume believed that the purpose of knowledge is to facilitate life. This is known as the Utilitarian
approach according to which knowledge must serve life and it must have a purpose. Later James adopted a
similar approach in purporting the idea of Pragmatism which means that everything has to have a practical
application and reason.
Hume also distinguished between violent passions and calm passions. Violent passions for example
are love and hate while calm passions are aesthetic and moral feelings.
One of the greatest revolutions in the history of mankind is the French Revolution that took place
in France in 1789. Throughout the 18th century, resentment increased in France against the nobles and the
clergy, who lived lives of idleness and luxury. They paid no taxes at all while the peasants had to pay taxes to
the church, to their local lord as well as the government. By the late 1780s the cost of the wars against
England had left France bankrupt but except for the peasants still no one paid taxes. The result was a
violent revolt against the government marking the end of monarchy and feudalism in France. It was one of
the most important events in the history of mankind because it changed the outlook of man. It set an
example for Europe and the rest of the world to follow. It had its impact on all the future developments of
mankind, and ultimately the development of all disciplines including philosophy/psychology.
One of the important philosopher/psychologist of the era was Denis Diderot. He was French,
born in 1713 AD and died in 1784 AD. Following the prevailing materialist point of view proposing that
matter is dynamic and the movement of particles creates sensations and feelings in a body. It was similar to
the viewpoint given by Thomas Hobbes. He postulated that thought and memory are the functions of the
brain and man and animals possess memory. He was a follower of the Aristotelian tradition, believing that
knowledge is gathered by observation.
Diderot said that knowledge and power come from observation and experimentation. He further
proclaimed that the purpose of knowledge was not just to know the truth but it was to increase the power
History and Systems of Psychology PSY502
of man. Knowledge gave man the ability to understand things better and develop the power to judge things.
It is only through observation and experimentation that man's thoughts and his conditions can be changed.
Innate or inborn thoughts could not change the living conditions of man. By experimenting man can
discover new techniques to make his life easy and comfortable. Therefore, his conditions could become
better. This was later proved in the industrial revolution when research and development resulted in
discoveries such as the steam engine which changed the history of man.
Another important thinker/philosopher/psychologist of the period was Auguste Comte, a French
philosopher. He was born in 1789 AD, died in 1875 AD. He was educated in Paris and is considered as the
founder of the school of philosophy known as positivism Comte is also considered as the first Sociologist.
He made the first contributions to what we now call the subject of Sociology laying its foundations.
Sociology is the study of large groups of people. He sees the intellectual development of man covered by
what is called the Law of the Three Stages--first, in which events were largely attributed to supernatural
forces; second, in which natural phenomena are thought to result from ideas; and third, in which
phenomena are explained by observation, hypotheses, and experimentation.
One of the important ideas of Comte was that, that there is no difference in the chemical elements
of trees, animals and man. This implied that the laws that govern trees and animals are also applicable to
man; animals and trees need certain elements from the nature to survive. Similarly man also needs certain
essential elements from the nature. In other words, man is also an organism that may be controlled and
manipulated like trees or animals.
Unlike David Hume who gave the idea of cause and effect relationship, Comte taught that we
should not be too concerned about cause and effect relationships. He purported that we should gather
information and then try to formulate connections between different pieces of information or facts
gathered. He also said that scientists should avoid moral or ideological judgments which make their study
biased. They should focus and concentrate only on gathering facts and collecting information. Collection of
information is the only method by which we can understand, control and predict events.
Comte proposed that man's mind passed through three stages of growth and development:
This was when man explained and understood events by referring to the super natural, gods and spirits.
This meant that some supernatural forces or powers make things happen. This was the most primitive
stage of development. As the bases of phenomenon were not found, a general explanation of
attributing them to the supernatural was used.
This stage was when man explained events in mechanical terms. It was when man realized that nature
and man have their own mechanical laws, which are responsible for events. The discovery of the laws
being the basis of man and natural phenomenon was the stage when man inclined towards empiricism
and gaining of knowledge by observation and through the senses.
The third stage was the recent stage. It was when man understood and explained events in a
deterministic way. Determinism is to explain events in terms of a cause and effect relationship. This
meant that when two events occur, one after the other, the first event would be the cause of the second
event. This cause and effect relationship was also given by David Hume.
Comte was primarily a social reformer. His goal was a society in which individuals and nations
could live in harmony and comfort. His system for achieving such a society is presented in his book, "the
Course of Positive Philosophy." In this work Comte analyzes the relation of social evolution and the stages
of science. It is in this book that he gave the three stages of development of man's mind.
History and Systems of Psychology PSY502
The sciences themselves are classified on the basis of increasing complexity and decreasing
generality of application in the ascending order: mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and
sociology. Each science depends at least in part on the science preceding it; hence all contribute to
"sociology" a term that Comte himself originated. These are the major contributions of Auguste Comte.
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