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Introducing The Grote Club / William McDougall on Psychology, Rationality, Childhood, and Civilization (Part 1) November 26, 2014

Posted by Christopher Donohue in Uncategorized.

The Grote Club, a new intellectual history project with Simon Cook (of Ye Machine) and John Gibbins.  From the site

John Grote, born in 1813, was Knightbridge Professor of Moral Science at the University of Cambridge from 1855 until his death in 1866. During this period he was head of the new faculty of moral science and, in so doing, set the study of psychology, logic, and the social sciences in Cambridge on a course into the modern age.

During his stewardship of the moral sciences Grote held weekly discussion meetings at his home in the village of Trumpington. After his death these meetings continued, usually held in the college rooms of one or other member of what came to be known as the ‘Grote Club’.

Today we relaunch the Grote Club as an electronic adventure in intellectual history. Our electronic discussion society is dedicated to exploring all aspects of Grote’s thought and intellectual legacy.

The legacy of Grote and his circle included a thorough revision of the moral sciences at Cambridge, leading to the transformation of the sciences of social inquiry then forming in Britain. The effects of this were most famously felt in the areas of political economy and economics, in the work of Alfred Marshall, Principles of Economics (1890), but it had a decisive effect on the development of modern anthropology and psychology in Britain—an effect only dimly understood through reference to the development of the fieldwork methodology and through various scholarly narratives concerned with the origins and propagation of elitism and mass psychology.

My role at the Grote Club website is to trace the legacy of this transformation of the moral sciences at Cambridge in its American contexts.  I am becoming increasingly convinced that the legacy of John Grote’s moral philosophy, which became embedded at Cambridge, and was felt through W. H. R. Rivers, William McDougall, Charles S. Myers, and others, allows for a fresh perspective on the American social sciences before the Second World War. More to come in this innovative effort in Anglo-America history of scientific ideas bridging the gap between the 19th and the 20th centuries.

The Grote Club

In his previous post on W.H.R. Rivers, Simon Cook described Rivers’ complex notion of the interconnection between reason and the instincts and the role of the unconscious as the ‘storehouse’ of these accumulated psychological residues.  With this discovery, much of the task of psychology had become, according to Rivers, the task of understanding the process through which human beings sort through those habits and instincts acquired through evolution which no longer suited his present environment. Man, through his social evolution, developed new ways of addressing the chaos of the world; this did not mean that the old defenses from terrors disappeared completely.  Rivers’ account of the instinct and the unconscious was an essential part of what Simon has christened the ‘Cambridge Mind’, which  from 1860 to 1920 emerged as the principle grounding for a new science of man and society.

This account of mind underscored that instincts and intelligence could…

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