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Frederic Bartlett and the idea of an historical psychology

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  • Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology


Microsoft Word - costall 051009.doc Ethnographic Studies, No 11, Autumn 2009 24 Frederic Bartlett and the Idea of an Historical Psychology Alan Costall, Portsmouth University George Humphrey has described the ‘welcome’ he received when he took up the first chair in psychology at Oxford 1946. [The] new professor ... found himself the jetsam of an acrimonious debate as to whether he should exist at all. He heard the lions on the shore sniffing round him, waiting for him to make a wrong move. (Humphrey, 1953, p. 382) The chair was established to support the new Honours School of Psychology, Philosophy and Physiology (PPP). Yet the main problem was the philosophers. And there were so many of them! As Humphrey put it, Oxford had more philosophers “to the square mile than anywhere else, perhaps with the exception of the Vatican” (1953, p. 382). R.G. Collingwood was one of the philosophers at Oxford who did not completely dismiss psychology as an impossible science. In fact, as Oxford philosophers go, Collingwood kept himself remarkably well informed about new developments in psychology, including psychoanalysis. He even chaired a committee of the sub-faculty of philosophy in 1928 encouraging the establishment of a psychological laboratory (Connelly & Costall, 2000). Nevertheless, Collingwood seemed to set prohibitive limits on what the new psychology could properly take on. According to Collingwood, it should restrict itself to the realm of sensation and the irrational, and so, in effect, exclude both history and values. However, as James Connelly and I have pointed out, Collingwood seems also to have recognized an alternative viable option for psychology (Connelly & Costall, 2000). He set out this alternative in the context of a critique in which he warned psychologists against mistaking the historically situated for human universals. Referring back to what he described as David Hume’s “‘science of human nature’ … w

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