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A History of Psychology in Western Civilization Paperback – 7 Mar 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 562 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (7 Mar. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521189306
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521189309
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 424,528 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

'Anyone who can link the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius with Abraham Maslow, Plato with Chomsky and Hume with Seligman is on to something! The approach is stunning in its creativity and accessibility.' Alex Forsythe, University of Liverpool

'This highly innovative and engaging work is an attempt to supply what [Alexander and Shelton] believe is missing … The selective treatment of authors and issues is one of the features that distinguish this book from other current texts on the history of psychology, which often sacrifice depth of understanding in an effort to achieve comprehensiveness of coverage.' William E. Smythe, PsycCRITIQUES

Book Description

Classical scholarship on psychology originates with Plato, Marcus Aurelius and St Augustine, and these thinkers can help unravel many problems in contemporary psychology. This book re-introduces scholarly psychology to readers today, and demonstrates its potential for dealing with the challenges of the twenty-first century.

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars 3 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 17 July 2015
By Gregory Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Excellent and unique book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Your Typical Textbook 10 May 2016
By Stephen Dreyfus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
On the first day of class I gave my Introductory Psychology students several printed handouts. Along with the syllabus I included a couple of pages with the unusual headings:" The Textbook as a GPS" and "The Textbook as a Conformist Politically-Correct Advocate of the Status-Quo."

The point of "The Textbook as a GPS" is that if you know where you are, where you are going, and know how to get there…not only do you not need to rely on the GPS; it is likely to lead you astray. The same is true with a textbook. I have always wondered why the more I knew about a topic in Psychology, such as addictive behavior, the less the textbook seemed correct; but the less I knew about a topic in Psychology, the more I assumed the textbook was right on target.

The point of "The Textbook as a Conformist Politically-Correct Advocate of the Status-Quo" is that some of the most important perspectives in Psychology are ignored simply because most all Psychology textbooks consistently conform to each other to maintain the status quo, regardless of whether they are right or wrong. As a result, throughout my lectures I include notes labeled “Taking on the Textbook” wherein I present arguments that contradict conclusions in the textbook.

So when I procured a copy of Bruce Alexander and Curtis Sheldon’s "A History of Psychology in Western Civilization," I was ready to “take on the textbook.” Yet I couldn’t even be sure this tome was a textbook. The topic covered was pretty much the same as the text I had as an undergraduate major in Psychology when I took History and Systems of Psychology. However, the very tone of the book went beyond that course of study. In my undergraduate course, it was assumed that before Psychology became a legitimate “science,” there were great thinkers who wrote about philosophical issues that eventually lead to the formation of Psychology. However, Alexander and Sheldon drive home the point that today, modern professional psychologists have thrown the baby out with the bath water. The ideas of Socrates and Plato, Locke and Hume, Darwin and Freud; were not precursors of Psychology, they were and still are Psychology.

Alexander and Sheldon emphasize that they are exploring scholarly Psychology rather than professional Psychology. What’s the difference? Only about thirteen centuries.

Yet virtually every Introductory Psychology textbook I have seen creates the impression that Psychology didn’t begin until 1879 when Wilhelm Wundt performed the first “real” Psychology experiment in his German laboratory. This date is even more arbitrary than assuming the history of the USA began in July 1776, as though Colonial times, the Pilgrims, Jamestown, and Columbus’ discovery of America were inconsequential; not to mention the thousands of years of occupation by native Americans on the two continents before 1492.

Beginning the history of Psychology with Wilhelm Wundt, makes about as much sense as beginning the history of America with George Washington. Why do Psychology textbooks begin with Wundt and not Darwin? Darwin’s contributions to Psychology were so immense that Alexander and Sheldon devote a long chapter to his ideas and writings. Wundt, on the other hand, is briefly mentioned on a couple of pages. Yet the ideas of Socrates and Plato, well over a thousand years ago, have affected modern psychological ideas as much as Darwin. For example, although Freud wrote the mind was divided into the id, ego, and superego; Plato wrote that Socrates divided the mind into reason (ego), spirit (super-ego), and appetite (id).

No wonder it seems there is nothing new under the sun. But if these ideas are so important, why are they mostly ignored as being before Psychology and not part of Psychology? The answer is that paradoxically, ideas alone are not currently considered a part of “science;” even though ideas are, and always have been, the most essential aspect of Psychology.

One could argue, as most textbooks do, that ideas must be tested and proven by empirical evidence. Oh really? Show me an experiment that proves that consciousness even exists! The behaviorists were so overwhelmed by the empirical philosophy that only direct experimental observation lead to truth, that many of these true believers didn’t even accept that consciousness even existed.

It is not that Man cannot seek truth using experimental empirical observation; it is just that this is only one path to understanding knowledge of our mind and behavior. As Plato argued, Man can seek truth using reason; as Marcus Aurelius argued, Man can seek truth using introspection; as St. Augustine argued, Man can seek truth using divine revelation; as Locke argued, Man can seek truth thorough experience; and as William James argued, Man and Women seek truth based on its usefulness, since absolute truth is unknowable and based on faith, and the only knowable truth is subjective.

Before reading this book, I told my students that Philosophy was the father of Psychology and that Biology was the mother. Only my analogy assumes that Psychology partially came from Philosophy, rather that the preferable idea, illustrated so well in this book, that Psychology is, has been, and always should be a scholarly study of philosophical ideas and ideals.

This isn’t just some high-fallutin’ esoteric academic argument. There are serious consequences when we narrow the definition and study of Psychology to exclude philosophy, morality, politics, economics, social issues, and culture. We end up with wealth psychologists who counsel the super-rich not to feel guilty that they have too much money (for a significant fee, of course.) We end up with amoral scientists such as the one who “justifies” causing harm to others by saying, “There is no moral issue for me; I did the best science I could…and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature.” We end up with doctors who prescribe addictive and dangerous stimulants to children in school, in the name of the DSM diagnosis ADHD, because it is easier to drug a child to help him focus in a boring classroom than to change a failing underfunded school system.

What Bruce Alexander and Sheldon have done is truly extraordinary. The depth of their scholarly knowledge is bewildering. There are more references for each chapter than most psychology books have for the entire text. In spite of my usual penchant for wanting to “take on the textbook” and raise contradictory arguments and perspectives, the authors have already done this for me, and point out that historically Psychology is built on contradictory perspectives that still divide us today. How else can we explain the paradox that alcohol and drug treatment centers espouse the spirituality of St. Augustine in AA, to the extent one alcoholic client was told that he could never overcome his alcoholism if he remained an atheist; while his therapists, without knowing they have been unduly influenced by Hobbes and Freud, believe on faith alone that alcoholism is a medical illness beyond the subject’s free will to control?

Moreover, the authors don’t merely tell us what the great thinkers of history have thought; they extensively allow us to read these ideas in the their own words (or translations of their words.) Thus, you don’t merely read about Plato, or Darwin, or Freud; you read Plato and Darwin and Freud.

My only objection is that sometimes these ideas are so challenging, or the original words of these pillars of Psychology were written is a style that is difficult to understand today, that one reading wasn’t always enough for me to grasp the concept. Perhaps this is the price one must pay for genuine understanding. As Tom Hanks said to Geena Davis in the film "A League of their Own" after the female baseball player complained that baseball was so hard to learn, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard anyone could do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

So although sometimes this was a hard book for me to read, it was definitely worth it. I only regret I have to return it to the library. This is a book to own, and like a true classic, and read more than once. "The History of Psychology in Western Civilization" isn’t like a GPS at all, it is more like a map that guides the reader to explore more territory than he realized even existed, and forge his own path to the truth. The History of Psychology in Western Civilization is truly a great scholarly look at psychology.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book for History of Psy class! 4 Mar. 2016
By Heidi Dempsey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I have taught with this book for three semesters now and I really like it. It forces students to take a hard look at the underlying philosophy of psychology and question whether their personal beliefs and values are consistent with the fields they have chosen (e.g., if they choose behaviorism can they hold to the strong deterministic, reductionistic values espoused by that field)? I especially like the last chapter where the authors question the future of the field of psychology. The only cons to this book are that since they focus so deeply on each person chosen to represent a given perspective, they don't really mention that there are also other major thinkers within that perspective (e.g., Aristotle, Kant, etc.).
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