1st Edition

Laying the Foundations of Independent Psychology The Formation of Modern Psychology Volume 1

By Csaba Pléh Copyright 2024
    516 Pages 66 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    516 Pages 66 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Part of a two-volume series, this book offers a multicentric perspective on the history of psychology, situating its development in relation to developments made in other social sciences and philosophical disciplines.

    This first volume, Laying the Foundations of Independent Psychology, provides a detailed exploration of the origins and development of European psychology. The book examines psychology’s beginnings as an independent discipline in the late 19th century through to the emergence of the dominant new schools of behaviorism, Gestalt psychology and psychoanalysis in the early 1900s. This volume also offers a broad overview of the early impact of Darwinism, not only on the psychological study of individual differences and on American functionalism, but also on the early evolutionary treatments of cognition in William James, James Baldwin, Ernst Mach and even Sigmund Freud. Taking this wider perspective, the book shows that European psychology was continuously present and active, placing these European developments in their own context in their own time.

    An invaluable introductory text for undergraduate students of the history of psychology, the book will also appeal to postgraduates, academics and those interested in psychology or the history of science, as well as graduate students of psychology, biology, sociology and anthropology with a theoretical interest.


    1. History of Psychology and Psychological Theory

    Part I. At The Dawn of Autonomy: A Topic in Search of a Discipline

    2. Descartes and The Scientific Method

    3. Cognition and Association: The Development of The Psychological Agenda in The Enlightenment Period

    4. Early Neuroscience as a Precursor to Modern Psychology: Reflexes and Localization

    Part II. From Birth to Divisions

    5. On the Threshold of Psychology: The Birth of the Idea of Measurement of the Mind

    6. Wilhelm Wundt: The Program Setter and Codifier

    7. The Evolutionist Alternative for a Modern Psychology: Development, Adaptation and Individual Differences

    8. Functionalism and Structuralism in America: The First Open Debate 

    9. The Distribution and Division of New Psychology in Europe

    10. Critics and Alternatives to Experimental Psychology at the Turn of the 20th Century: Platonist, Irrationalist and Human Science Alternatives

    Part III. The Age of Great Schools

    11. The Behaviorist Revolution: Psychology Loses its Mind

    12. Wholes and Meaning: Gestalt Psychology

    13. The Underwater Part of the Iceberg: Sigmund Freud and the "Discovery" of the Unconscious


    Csaba Pléh is a Hungarian psychologist and linguist, a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and of the Academia Europeae, and a visiting researcher at the Central European University, Department of Cognitive Science, Budapest.


    "Csaba Pléh’s books are an extremely impressive and unusually wide-ranging study of the history of psychology. It discusses the birth and subsequent development of psychology embedded in the cultural history and the history of ideas, where history of philosophy is often intertwined with the history of experimentation and sometimes even the history of other scientific disciplines. Another ground-breaking feature of the book is the width of the ground it covers, not only in terms of different approaches and historical details, but also geographical regions, devoting significant discussions to psychological schools and approaches that most other histories of psychology treat as mere footnotes to the dominantly Anglo-American tradition. Pléh’s books should be the go-to volumes on the history of psychology not just for psychologists and philosophers but for anyone who is interested in the intellectual developments of the 19th and 20th centuries".

    Bence Nanay, Professor of Philosophy and BOF Research Professor, University of Antwerp, Belgium.

    "This brilliant two-volume work condenses Dr. Pleh’s 30-year exploration of the ideas and movements in psychology. It is a treasure chest for everyone interested in the history of ideas and for instructors who plan to use it as a teaching resource, with lively introductions to all the major (and many minor) figures, not just in the English-speaking world, but in France, Germany, Italy, and Eastern Europe as well. Highly recommended!"

    Zsuzsa Kaldy, Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston, USA.

    "A fascinating story of how we think about ourselves. Csaba Pléh's two-volume history of psychology covers four centuries of intellectual history from early modern forerunners to the latest theories of the human mind, brain and behavior. The scholar of psychology will find in-depth discussions of historical controversies, mainstream ideas, and little-known undercurrents. The casual reader can discover the origins of key notions in psychology that have come down to our times, enjoy the portraits of thinkers who have shaped our views and find insightful illustrations of influential models. An absolute must read for anyone interested in psychology."

    Judit Gervain, Professor, University of Padua, Italy and Senior Research Scientist, CNRS, Paris, France.

    "Csaba Pleh has achieved a remarkable survey, perhaps the most comprehensive and thorough overview of the modern history of psychology produced to date. The work is truly multi-dimensional, describing the relevant facts, acceptable methods, basic laws, and relevant explanations presented in psychology over more than two centuries, while at the same time avoiding unfounded claims of linear progress and taking changing social and political contexts into account."

    Mitchell G. Ash, Professor Emeritus of Modern History with Emphasis in History of Science, University of Vienna, Austria.

    "With these fascinating books, Csaba Pléh has produced the most thorough-going and nuanced history of psychology to-date. We are brought on a remarkable journey through over two centuries of intellectual debate, seen from multiple centers and with particular attention to various European developments. Moreover, his approach is deeply reflective upon basic epistemological issues that psychology has continued to struggle with. In contrast to a linear progress narrative, we are confronted with a diversity of approaches and debates over the nature and practice of psychology as a science."

    Brady Wagoner, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

    "Pléh’s work crystallizes decades of work in the history of the field and it is informed by a lifetime’s experience as a practicing researcher (most notably in cognitive science and psycholinguistics) and teaching generations of students from around the world.

    The first volume kicks off with a chapter in the Early Modern period, and, highlighting the increasing autonomy of psychology as a discipline, ends in the first decades of the 20th century. The second volume focuses on the last hundred years, on the various trends, divisions and the schisms of the coevolving yet often rival or exclusive approaches. The two volumes have several virtues, they are rich in historical detail as well as philosophical acumen. The author’s sustained interest in the development of the approaches discussed is noteworthy, something that a practicing scientist can appreciate. Yet as a historian, he is more interested in comparing and contrasting approaches than heralding any, and his interest in not just the history but also the historiography of the various French, German, Russian etc. contexts is refreshing.

    With many thought-provoking details and observations the book is of interest to anyone interested in psychology – and graduate students will most likely see the new achievements of their discipline in a different light after reading the book."

    Gábor Á. Zemplén, Professor, Department of Marketing and Argumentation, Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Economics, Budapest, Hungary.

    "This is a book on massive scale, with hugely ambitious scope...Csaba Pléh, an eminent Hungarian cognitive scientist, with very wide interests, has an attractively generous agenda, though it may be that the book is most valuable as a resource for teachers of psychology students and for researchers looking for background to their specialism.

    The text, though broadly historical, follows conceptual or scientific themes rather than the detail of historical narrative. There is a lively recognition of the way the intellectual, the personal and the social merge in the life of science. Committed to understanding mental cognition as a biological function, Pléh gives particular emphasis to Darwinism and psychological functionalism."

    Roger Smith, Reader emeritus in History of Science, Lancaster University, UK; Independent scholar.