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Graham Wallas on Dispositions, the Great Society, the Failures of Experimental Psychology, and Some Novel Connections (Part 2) February 17, 2015

Posted by Christopher Donohue in Uncategorized.
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Here I discuss Wallas more mature thought (c. 1914) and detail his account of dispositions, the discussion of which underscores his consistent commitment to a critique of the hedonic calculus. Wallas also used his understanding of human nature to position his social psychology as well as belittle (perhaps too strong a word) experimental psychology. It has not been sufficiently pointed out, and his discussion of the work of Charles Myers uncovers this, that social psychology of Wallas’ stripe was a move away from introspection and the study of consciousness as well as the laboratory. The results of the laboratory and the testing of individual subjects could be read as contrary to a inquiry which sought to explain past history and present politics through reference to pugnacity.

Wallas, I think, understood this as a real danger. In his “Great Society” of 1914, he also comes upon a fundamental realization brought about through his understanding of evolution and the instincts: if mankind had stopped evolving biologically long ago, if he was adapted to the savanna and the very small village, was society a benefit for good or for ill? The idea of human beings as adapted or maladjusted for society is essential to discussions of social selection. Furthermore, the conception of social life being in disequilibrium with the biological adaptation of the human race is one of the mainstays of bio-social anthropology.

It is thus worth positing: can the Cambridge Mind and turn of the century psychology in Britain give us an insight into contemporary debates about universals, particulars and biological reductionism in anthropology and psychology? Perhaps.

Through an attention to social psychology have we uncovered a debate over methods in early psychology? Perhaps too this is the case.

The Grote Club

Wallas understood the Great Society as the form of social organization brought about in large part by what economists then referred to as “The Great Industry”, the technological transformation of life and its social dislocations has resulted in a “general change of social scale” “without precedent in the history of the world (The Great Society, 1914, pg. 3).”  The question for him, as for many others, was whether such a change in the state of affairs, leaving behind the Malthusian England of old, was for the better or worse.   That progress would indeed be the reality was the “deeper anxiety of our times”, overshadowing even the worries of the ever-present commercial or industrial crisis (ibid, 6)  The idea of progress was easier to entertain in Herbert Spencer’s time, when England and America was under the sway of Lamarkianism.  That time had passed and the biologists have come to the conclusion…

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Graham Wallas on Instincts and the Study of Politics (Part 1) February 17, 2015

Posted by Christopher Donohue in Uncategorized.
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Here I introduce Graham Wallas who applied the study of instincts to the science of politics. Unlike many previous glosses of the rise of mass psychology as the eclipse of reason, careful reading and situation of Wallas’ within the developing field of the social sciences in Britain demonstrate that the application of human nature and biological instincts to the study of politics was an avowed attempt to render the inquiry more scientific. Here the discussion of instincts, an important element of the model Simon calls the ‘Cambridge Mind’, was not a species of anti-democratic thinking or illustrative of the ‘eclipse of reason’ in thought and philosophy, but a revision of the hedonic calculus of Bentham and others. I also discuss William James in all of this in order to underscore that the Cambridge Mind drew from a wide variety of sources, not merely in the UK.

The Grote Club

My posts on William McDougall and Simon’s on the “Cambridge Mind” underscores the emergence of a  model which sought to explain the varieties of human behavior in the civilized nations and savage climes.  This model underscored that the difference between instinct and intelligence was one of degree rather than one of kind.  Theorists who articulated this model all understood that it provided a far more robust explanation for human behavior than the hedonic calculus developed a generation earlier by utilitarians and their followers.

As importantly, writers in the emerging social science disciplines in the United States and Britain began to wrestle with a series of interlocking questions, the most important of which were: as instinctual behavior was plainly apparent in the action of everyday animals, what did this mean for the study of human nature?;  as human beings were part of the order of nature by virtue of their…

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Sutton vs. Jacob: Was John Desaguliers a Prophet of Industrialization? February 1, 2015

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
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Jacob and Stewart, Practical MatterIt’s a serious question. We come to it from my earlier look at Simon Schaffer’s “Enlightened Automata” (1999), in which he claimed that “Some historians still deny that natural philosophies ‘fed the fires of the industrial revolution.’ Others more convincingly indicate the intimate connections between the machinery of natural philosophers’ concerns and that of the new entrepreneurs and projects.” He specifically identified Geoffrey Sutton in the first camp, and Margaret Jacob and Larry Stewart in the second.

Since the 1980s Jacob and Stewart have both consistently argued that the intellectual development of the sciences, the technical development of machines, and the economic development of industry were closely intertwined phenomena, particularly in Britain where the Industrial Revolution commenced. In 2004 they jointly published Practical Matter: Newton’s Science in the Service of Industry and Empire, 1687–1851, which offered an overview of their general argument. Jacob’s new book, The First Knowledge Economy: Human Capital and the European Economy, 1750–1850 continues her multi-decadal mission.

Sutton, Science for a Polite SocietyGeoffrey Sutton’s Science for a Polite Society: Gender, Culture, and the Demonstration of Enlightenment was published in 1995, but it is based on a dissertation he finished at Princeton in 1982. By the time it came out, Sutton was already operating on the fringes of academic history, and would not (to the best of my knowledge) produce further research.

Sutton allowed, “Enlightened thinkers believed that the application of the methods and techniques of science theory could reform political and economic thought, just as the applied fruits of scientific physics and chemistry could improve the human condition” (5). But the focus of his book was on how natural philosophical demonstration and disputation had their primary influence in polite, rather than practical, environments in 17th and 18th-century France.

There is no necessary conflict between at least the rudiments of the Jacob-Stewart and Sutton points of view. It is perfectly possible for the sciences to have been integrated into both practical and polite cultures. And, in fact, if we follow Schaffer’s specific citation in Sutton, we find that, in this instance, we are actually dealing with a more specific disagreement concerning how best to interpret the significance of certain lectures offered by John Desaguliers (1683–1744).

However, as we will see, this disagreement is one that points to larger historiographical problems.

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Wakefield’s Nightmare, Pt. 2: Divided Opinion on the Political Economic Importance of Enlightenment Intellectual Culture January 25, 2015

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At the end of Pt. 1, I suggested that, in positing, respectively, the weakness and the strength of Enlightenment philosophers in pre-industrial 18th-century economic culture, Andre Wakefield and Simon Schaffer were reaching contrary historical conclusions using the same historiographical gambit. I would like to begin Pt. 2 by expanding on this point.

There is a prominent, if usually implicit, historiographical concept, which holds that injustice is allowed to occur because the cultures subject to that injustice are made invisible. Historiography, therefore, becomes a two-fold enterprise: it identifies forces of concealment, and restores visibility to hidden cultures. Labor culture, of course, has long been one such beneficiary of historians’ rescue efforts. Meanwhile, “science” (or some related concept) has often been considered a force of concealment, because it presents pictures that seem intellectually authoritative or “natural,” while failing to disclose its own biases. Both Wakefield and Schaffer apply this concept to the links between the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, albeit in different ways.

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Wakefield’s Nightmare, Pt. 1: The Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution Chain January 22, 2015

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
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This post discusses a new article: Andre Wakefield’s “Butterfield’s Nightmare: The History of Science as Disney History,” History and Technology (2014).

Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare (1781)

Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare (1781)

In the piece Wakefield opposes an instance of intellectualist genesis in technological and economic history, i.e., the idea that technical and economic phenomena are rooted in the realm of elite ideas. Specifically, Wakefield objects to authors who posit a “causal series” linking the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. Even more specifically, he regards this narrative as responsible for serial anachronistic readings of the concept of “oeconomy” in 18th-century philosophy (a subject I’m very interested in), and, consequently of that philosophy’s place in the development of economic and political culture.

Mokyr

Mokyr

More specifically still, Wakefield’s primary targets are the concepts of the “industrial Enlightenment,” as used by economic historian Joel Mokyr, and the “economic Enlightenment,” as used by Marcus Popplow. Wakefield also targets the work of Margaret Jacob and Larry Stewart as abetting the development of the narrative he opposes.

Unfortunately, Wakefield only spends four paragraphs (pp. 10–12) on the subject of “oeconomy,” and only a few more on Mokyr, Popplow, and the question of what varieties of “Enlightenment” we might legitimately speak. The bulk of Wakefield’s essay is divided between contemplation of the pathological and justifiable uses of anachronism in historiography, and an enjoyably sarcastic diagnosis and etiology of his opponents’ positions.

Although I sort of agree with him, I do believe Wakefield’s polemics conceal a more difficult historiographical problem than he supposes.

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Thorstein Veblen, W. J. Perry, and the Warrior Class January 9, 2015

Posted by Christopher Donohue in Uncategorized.
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Simon, in another excellent Grote Club (GC) post, widens the view of the GC into a comparative study of the often written about, but far less frequently understood, Thorstein Veblen. Much like my posts for this blog, Simon positions and draws out Veblen’s critique of modern society through a comparative analysis of the lesser-known W.J. Perry’s reconstruction of primitive social life and the makings of the modern world. Simon’s comparative method brings out both the radical nature of Veblen’s critique and its roots in his gloss on Adam Smith’s division of labor and its unintended consequences.

The Grote Club

In my last post I explained Rivers’ ‘conversion’ from evolutionary to diffusionist models of social change. Before returning to psychology – and articulating a particular thesis about Cambridge moral science in my next post – I highlight some salient features of the two models by way of a concrete comparison.

In this post I compare the historical explanations of the hegemony of a non-industrial elite class in modern society provided by, respectively, Thorstein Veblen and W.J. Perry.

Veblen (1857-1929) was a North American economist, who combined a background in philosophy with a profoundly original mind. He is hailed today as the founder of a heterodox ‘institutional school’ of economics. My discussion is derived from the first chapter of his Theory of the Leisure Class (1899).

Please note that in writing on Veblen I am entering what for me is virgin territory, and I call upon those who know his writings better…

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A Tale of Two Syllabi: The Grad School Origins of Ether Wave Propaganda December 27, 2014

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
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Chris Donohue and I recently responded to some questions posed by the animateurs of the Carnet Zilsel blog (part 1, part 2). Subjects included the origins of Ether Wave Propaganda, the virtues of “heuristic” blogging, the relations between STS and the history of science, and the forms that historiographical discussions do and do not take. And, on January 1, this blog will have existed for seven years, which occasions some reflection.

Also, having finished work on my book, I’ve been bringing order to my file cabinet, and came across some old grad school syllabi. In the Carnet Zilsel interview I described the origins of EWP as a reaction to the tendency of the professional literature to “fragmentation.” However, the methodological reflection that has characterized this blog, particularly up to 2012, is certainly also of a piece with the kinds of discussions that we had in grad school, in my case in the Harvard History of Science department.

I’d like to explore this continuity with a discussion of two syllabi of particular interest:

History of Science 200: Methods of Research in the History of Science, taught by Everett Mendelsohn in the fall of 2002, and required for all first-year students.

History of Science 255: Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, taught by Steven Shapin in the spring of 2004

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William McDougall on Psychology, Rationality, Childhood and Civilization (Part II) December 27, 2014

Posted by Christopher Donohue in Uncategorized.
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Another Grote Club post- this time connecting the Cambridge Mind with ideas that should be very familiar to readers of Etherwave- differential fertility and the specter of the decline of the upper classes in Britain and the United States. In the post, I outline through a close reading of the work of William McDougall how a narrow debate about the distinctions between instinct and intelligence quickly shifted into a inquiry into the course and fate of ancient and modern civilizations.

The Grote Club

In my previous post for The Grote Club, I outlined McDougall’s account of instincts and intelligence among both humans and animals.  McDougall’s characterization of the power of instincts in everyday life as well as the guiding role of intelligence underscored that far from being distinct faculties,  instincts and intelligence was one of degree rather than one of kind.  This contention was held by held by many who studied in Cambridge and who accompanied W.H.R. Rivers and McDougall on the Torres Straits Expedition of 1898, including Charles S. Myers, one of the key figures in the development of  applied and industrial psychology, who in 1910, proclaimed the “presence of intelligence throughout instinct.”

How else, Myers questioned, could instincts become more and more perfected and sharpened in their application through time? The modification of instincts through the counsel of experience counted greatly against the received notion of them as “fixed innate activities”…

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Meetings of People: Rivers & Diffusionism December 12, 2014

Posted by Christopher Donohue in Uncategorized.
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Another stellar Grote Club post by Simon Cook—this time on psychologist and anthropologist W. H. R. Rivers and his ‘conversion to diffusionism’, explained through the decisive influence of the writings of H. M. Chadwick and those of the archaeologist William Ridgeway. Simon rightly contends that in order to explain anthropology at Cambridge c. 1910s we have to cast aside our anachronistic notions of anthropology as a modern discipline in order to admit the contributions of Chadwick and Ridgeway, whom by modern definitions of anthropology are not anthropologists at all.

The Grote Club

W.H.R. Rivers was a key figure in the development of both psychology and anthropology in early twentieth-century Cambridge. Consequently, much of what is distinctive in the development of one discipline in this period relates directly to the other. Nevertheless, the pivotal event in Rivers’ anthropological career – his ‘conversion to diffusionism’ around 1911 – was not directly related to his psychological research.

Rivers announced his conversion in his 1911 Presidential Address to the Anthropology Section of the British Association. He explained that in writing up the results of  his 1908 expedition to Melanesia he had come to see that “the change I had traced was not a spontaneous evolution, but one which had taken place under the influence of the blending of peoples”. Quite why Rivers came to see social change in this new way has mystified modern scholars.

In this post I explain Rivers’ 1911 ‘conversion’. The explanation is extrapolated from several published articles (details…

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John Grote: Victorian Philosophy in the Modern World December 4, 2014

Posted by Christopher Donohue in Uncategorized.
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An excellent post by John Gibbins, author of John Grote, Cambridge University and the Development of Victorian Thought (Imprint Academic, 2007). John is the foremost expert on this significant Victorian figure. Here he explains the man behind the Grote Club, the inspiration behind this new venture in intellectual history, and provocatively connects Grote’s ideas to significant international currents in the history of ideas.  In future posts for the Grote Club blog, I will be exploring Grote’s influence in 20th century American and British social science circles.

The Grote Club

Simon Cook and Chris Donohue have brought an audience to, and focus upon, the Grote Cub for good reason: it played a crucial role in developing the emerging social sciences in Cambridge, Britain and America in particular. Here I wish to focus on, and explore, the man who founded, grounded and expounded the Club’s ethos and practices – Professor John Grote (1813-1866). In future blog posts we will explore several crucial elements of his life and corpus: the family and networks that grounded him; the unique methods he learned from the Cambridge Network; the intense analysis of his experience of Being in the term ‘personalism’ he coined; the recognition that as thinking was conducted in language, that conversation was core to knowing the world; a brilliant critique of Mill’s dominating utilitarian thinking, and his own unique ethical and political theories. Latter we can explore some of the many Montaignian insights…

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