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The Sciences of the Soul

The Early Modern Origins of Psychology

Fernando Vidal’s trailblazing text on the origins of psychology traces the development of the discipline from its appearance in the late sixteenth century to its redefinition at the end of the seventeenth and its emergence as an institutionalized field in the eighteenth. Originally published in 2011, The Sciences of the Soul continues to be of wide importance in the history and philosophy of psychology, the history of the human sciences more generally, and in the social and intellectual history of eighteenth-century Europe.

440 pages | 3 halftones, 14 line drawings, 8 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011

History: European History

Psychology: General Psychology


“[Vidal] draws a compelling picture of psychology’s shift from philosophy and religion to science. . . . Recommended.”

B. C. Beins, Ithaca College | Choice

"Highly informative and well-documented. . . . A great book, which has the merit of reshaping completely the historical framework within which the early modern origins of psychology must be understood."

Paul J. J. M. Bakker, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands. | Journal of the History of Medicine

“[A] highly significant contribution to the early history of psychology. It will be indispensable for any further study of the origins of modern psychology.”

Jörgen L. Pind, University of Iceland | British Journal for the History of Science

“Firm scholarly conviction has it that psychology began as a scientific discipline only in the last part of the nineteenth century. Fernando Vidal thoroughly overturns that assumption in his compelling historical reconstruction of the development of psychology from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. He shows how the concept of soul, initially caught in scholastic rationalism, underwent an empirical transformation from the form of the body to the activities of the mind, a mind whose intense thought had been compared to ‘a ligature applied to all of the nerves.’ By contrast, Vidal’s work—linguistically adroit, amazingly comprehensive, and scholarly satisfying—releases the nervous fluids to invigorate the mind of the reader. No other history comes close to his exquisite accomplishment.”

Robert J. Richards, University of Chicago

The Sciences of the Soul is clearly the product of a substantial period of sustained research. It will set the framework for research in the history of psychology in the period from 1600 to 1850 for many years to come and will also entail changes in the usual discussion of the ‘origin’ of psychology as a discipline.”

Gary Hatfield, author of Perception & Cognition: Essays in the Philosophy of Psychology

“This is a very impressive book, a work of high and original scholarship. Vidal follows the history of the concept of ‘psychologia’ from the sixteenth century and argues that even without there being already a ‘discipline,’ one can talk of a sound psychological thinking from that time on. Vidal demonstrates how key ideas of eighteenth-century ‘psychology’—the concept of the esprit humain; the connections between anthropology, psychology, and moral sciences; and the notion of perfectibility—found their beginnings in the sixteenth century. The Sciences of the Soul will be the standard reference work on early modern ‘psychology’ for specialists in psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and the history of science.”

Martin Mulsow, University of Erfurt

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables 
Ad Limen

Chapter 1 The “Century of Psychology”
     Psychology as a “discipline”
     A long past but a short history?

Chapter 2 “Psychology” in the Sixteenth Century: A Project in the Making?
     The function of the neologism “psychology”
     Aristotelianism and Galenism
     Psychologia and the scientia de anima
     Rudolph Goclenius’s Psychologia

Chapter 3 From the Science of the Living Being to the Science of the Human Mind
     Psychology as the generic science of the living being
     Psychologia and empsychologia
     On whether de anima books can themselves constitute a science
     From soul-form to soul-mind
     Psychology as a metaphysics of the rational soul
     The new psychology: Christian Wolff

Chapter 4 Psychology in the Age of Enlightenment
     Psychology, anthropology and the human sciences
     A Republic of Letters
     Methodological discussions in Enlightenment psychology
         “The best way to perfect this fine Science”

Chapter 5 Historicizing Psychology
     Inventing a bibliographic tradition
     Constructing a history for psychology
     “Psychologiae historico-criticae speciminae”
     The history of the “theory of ideas”
     Philosophers write the history of psychology

Chapter 6 Psychology and the History of Humankind
     Friedrich August Carus and the “history of humanity”
     The primitives and the ancients
     Toward a total history of psychology
     The psychology of the Hebrews
     Homeric psychology

Chapter 7 Anthropology’s Place in the Encyclopedias
     Enlightenment encyclopedias
          The Syntax of the Encyclopédies
     The Paris and Yverdon Encyclopédies
     The “Systèmes figurés”
     Anthropology in the text
     The anthropological transformation of morals

Chapter 8 Human Perfectibility and the Primacy of Psychology
     Psychology in the Paris Encyclopédie
     Psychology in the Yverdon Encyclopédie
     The fields claimed for psychology
     The psycho-anthropology of perfectibility
        The union and interaction of the soul and the body

Chapter 9 Psychology, the Body and Personal Identity 
     The soul, the body and the “completeness of the nerve”
     Psycho-theology and “modern identity” 
        The body in resurrection
        The loss of the body
        The seed and the brain 
     The emergence of the cerebral subject

Appendix I The Two Editions of Goclenius’s Psychologia
Appendix II ANTHROPOLOGIE and PSYCHOLOGIE in the Paris and Yverdon Encyclopédies
Appendix III Articles from the Yverdon Encyclopédie Belonging to Psychology and Their Place in the Paris Encyclopédie


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