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PsychologyReview - Psychology
Pythagoras to Present
by John C. Malone
MIT Press, 2009
Review by Kamuran Gödelek
Feb 2nd 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 5)

What is real? Do we live in a three-dimensional world that Isaac Newton envisioned? Does time flow like a river? Why is the sky blue? Are human beings aggressive because of their heredity? Do we see with our eyes or through our eyes? Are we born with complete knowledge that is gradually awakened during our lifetime? Is artificial intelligence really intelligent? Do we have free will? How should we deal with depression? How should we raise and educate children? How should we deal with crime? Is what we call the "mind" is just another word for "brain"? These are all psychological questions that evoke certain ideas about the nature of mind, the sources of knowledge and belief, the nature of the self, ethics and the best way to lead our lives and the question of free will that have preoccupied thinkers since ancient times. In this book, John Malone examines these ideas through the writings of the thinkers from antiquity to the present day and argues for their importance not just a precursors of modern views but also as ideas that are frequently better than current ones. In the preface Malone aptly states that "we miss out if we don't realize that a lot of good advice comes from the writings of the best thinkers of the past. Pythagoras, Thales, Plato, Protagoras, Aristotle, Diogenes and Epictetus all offered tried and tested advice on the leading of our lives and treatment of psychopathology. But so did Berkeley, Hume, John Stuart Mill, Herbart, Wundt, James, Freud, Skinner and Bem" (p. viii).

Malone, in the opening chapter titled History, Psychology and Science he gives the outline of what to expect in this book, such that this is a history of ideas, starting with early Greek thought and ending with the contrasting psychologies of twentieth century , not exactly of people. Malone also lists several main themes and questions that are important to psychology, as opposed the those of interest only to philosophy or to history, which he claims run through the past 2500 years. He subsequently arranges the book around following main themes, which he states as his biases: the nature of mind, statics and dynamics, the nature of knowledge/belief, the question of the nature of the self, the question of ethics and the nature of will. 

The first chapter titled Science and Psychology in Ancient Greece is devoted to the naturalistic and mystic strains of early Greek thought and then Malone moves on to Platonism and the world of forms, in the second chapter titled Statics and Dynamics in Ancient Greece, where he considers parallels between the thought of Plato and Freud's views and also between Aristotle's views and Ayn Rand's characters in her novels. In the following chapter titled From Aristotle to the Enlightenment he discusses "Ancient self-help therapies" including Epicureanism and the relevance of medieval thought to the birth and rise of Enlightenment. Chapter five is devoted to Enlightenment in which he first establishes the link between Aristotelianism and the Enlightenment and then continues to investigate the psychological insights of Enlightenment thinkers including Francis Bacon, Galileo, Hobbes and Descartes. He ends the chapter with a message from LaMettrie asking whether the mind is necessary and reducing the person to a human-machine. To this claim Malone remarks aptly that "however this machine is not dead mechanişsm of Descartes or of Plato. It is a machine with feeling, closer to the vision of Aristotle and Aquinas" (p. 149).

The following three chapters are devoted to the investigations of Locke's, Hume's and Kant's theories of experience and Darwin's evolutionary thinking. In the ninth and tenth chapters he charts the rise of modern psychology and the beginning of "biological psychology". After examining the views of researchers such as Spurzheim and Combe, to whom he refers as phrenology's modern ghosts, Malone considers the substantial developments in what we now call "cognitive neuroscience" that occurred in the nineteenth century. He claims that the science of the nineteenth-century, especially in physiology, had a profound effect on the development of psychology later in the century as "beginning of the 1960's, the psychological categories used by brain researchers began to leave the realm of common sense faculties and motives" (p. 303). Thus, the next chapter is rightly titled as The New Psychology: Wundt, Würzburg and Müller, where he followed the routes of modern experimental psychology of twentieth century through the works of these researchers.

Next five chapters are devoted to exploration of different aspects of twentieth century psychological thought. He first considers the views of Titchener and Freud as examples of early twientieth-century psychology. He, then moves on to examining the functionalism and pragmatism in the views of Peirce and James. He devotes one chapter to the discussion of twentieth century applied psychology and the rise of behaviorism by examining the works of Thorndike and Watson. Following this, he examines the Gestalt psychology and evaluates the contributions of Kurt Lewin in industrial psychology.  He then turns his attention to investigating the implications of new behaviorism of Pavlov, Guthrie and Hull on the rise of cognitive psychology in the twentieth century.

In the last chapter Malone considers whether the late twentieth century psychology is really fragmented as it seems to be between radical behaviorism and cognitive psychology. After examining the contemporary cognitive psychologists and behaviorists he proposes that radical behaviorism and cognitive psychology blend in the field of modern social psychology. The underlying idea behind this rigorous work on the history of psychology seems to show that even though most behaviorists and most cognitive psychologists are not aware of it, all of this research and this method of interpretation in contemporary social psychology is really behavioral, and that the roots of the unification of behaviorism and cognitive psychology can be found in the writings of Aristotle, Francis Bacon and Hume.

This is an amazing history book where Malone has put together a comprehensive overview of psychology from Ancient Greeks to the present that is unmatched. Malone's history offers breadth and depth, an engaging style and rigorous scholarship, demonstrating vividly the relevance of the great historical psychological thinkers. I can recommend this easily readable, understandable and yet very authoritative book for anyone who is interested in the history of psychology. But, this book is especially of interest for academicians and the students of psychology and philosophy who wants to have a better understanding of the nature of psychological thought and its relevance to philosophical insights from early Greeks to our day. I believe it will make an excellent textbook and a source book for scholars.

 

© 2010 Kamuran Gödelek

 

 

Kamuran Gödelek, Çağ University, School of Arts and Sciences, Yenice, Mersin Turkey


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