Article ID: CBB435508088

The Death of Consciousness? James's Case against Psychological Unobservables (2020)


Received wisdom has it that psychologists and philosophers came to mistrust consciousness for largely behaviorist reasons. But by the time John Watson had published his behaviorist manifesto in 1913, a wider revolt against consciousness was already underway. I focus on William James, an earlier influential source of unease about consciousness. James's mistrust of consciousness grew out of his critique of perceptual elementarism in psychology. This is the view that most mental states are complex, and that psychology's goal is in some sense to analyze these states into their atomic "elements." Just as we cannot (according to James) isolate any atomic, sensory elements in our occurrent mental states, so we cannot distinguish any elemental consciousness from any separate contents. His critique of elementarism depended on an argument against appeals in psychology to unconscious mentality—to unobservables. Perhaps this is ironic, but his thought is that pure consciousness is itself just as invisible to introspection as isolated, simple ideas.

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Authors & Contributors
Morgese, Giorgia
De Pascalis, Vilfredo
Schaefer, Claudia
John J. Stuhr
Batsch, Manuel
Pier Franco Nali
History of Psychology
Sudhoffs Archiv: Zeitschrift fuer Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Psychoanalysis and History
Perspectives on Science
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Journal of the History of Ideas
SUNY Press
Oxford University Press
Lawrence Erlbaum
Indiana University
Controversies and disputes
Clinical psychology
James, William
Riccò, Annibale
Wundt, Wilhelm Max
Schröter, Johann Hieronymus
Dewey, John
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
18th century
20th century, late
20th century
United States
Niger River

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