The History of Psychology: Functionalism: Development and Founding

One of the most influential philosophers of the 1860s in the USA was Herbert Spencer. He transcribed Darwin’s theory of the Survival of the Fittest to social and economical issues. He applied Darwin’s principle to the people’s way of living, as well as to the development of organizations. Firms not flexible or capable of restructuring were prone to fail economically. Thereby the economy selects “adaptive” organizations and filters the best to survive. Spencer’s theory of Synthetic Philosophy goes one step further and explains knowledge and experiences as parts of evolutionary principles of living organisms. Applying combined or synthesized knowledge and experiences to gain new knowledge can be seen as adaptation to dynamically changing circumstances.

William James (1842-1910) is obviously the real precursor of functionalism. Many succeeding supporters have read his work “The Principles of Psychology” and got their inspiration to work on this field. In his work, he sets the goal of his psychology to be the study of how the humans adapt to their environment. Additionally, the function of consciousness plays an important role in functionalism since it “guides” the living being to use its resources in order to survive. His theory also differentiates between phenomena and conditions of mental life. Phenomena are shown in immediate experience, conditions refer to the importance of the body. Besides, he addressed the problem of his so-called psychologist’s fallacy. In is a fallacy to assume that stimuli are part of the conscious even if persons are not analyzing their stimuli consciously. As a reason, he introduced the idea of streamed consciousness. Consciousness, for James, is thought to be a continuous, flowing process and any reductions made will lead to distortions. To explain meanings of ideas, he proposed to analyze their practical consequences or the organism’s physical subsequent actions. He called this approach Pragmatism. James and Lange came independently to observe the James-Lange theory of emotion that states that arousal of a physical response precedes the appearance of an emotion.

James Rowland Angell (1869-1949) brought together three major themes of the functionalist movement. First, he noted that functional psychology is concerned with the finding out the nature of mental operations rather than the mental elements. Second, the fundamental utilities of consciousness are to be investigated. Third, psychophysical relations are a further area of consideration. There is no distinction between mind and body.

Finally, Harvey Carr (1873-1954) formerly defines functionalism. Psychology is primarily concerned with the study of mental activities. Mental activities are reflected by adaptive or adjustive behavior. These psychophysical processes can be directly observed and studied. Psychology is also concerned with the study of personality. Furthermore, Carr acknowledged that psychology gathers materials from great many fields of human endeavor, and psychology is also intended in making whatever contributions it can to all allied fields of thought and endeavor (pg.172).

Robert Sessions Woodworth (1869-1962) that investigating on the stimulus-response level leaves out the most essential part which is to be analyzed: the living organism. In his concept of Dynamic Psychology, he is interested in the motivations preceding behavior and feelings.

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