Classical Greece

The early years of Greek culture extend through the seventh century B.C. and were marked by the Trojan War, the Ionian migration, and the Homeric Age. In the sixth century came the Hellenic period with the first major Greek philosophers, the Ionians. Then came the Hellenistic or Classical Greek period in the fourth and fifth centuries, the time when Greece rose under Pericles to its height and made great strides in art, history, drama, literature, science, and philosophy. This was the period of Socrates, Plato, and of Aristotle. It antedates Alexander's expansion to the rest of the Mediterranean world and preceded the Punic Wars of 264 B.C. Plato (347 B.C.)

During Classical Greek culture, philosophical speculation reached its height. Protagoras summarized this most aptly by saying, "Man is the measure of all things." It was Plato who formulated a human centered philosophy. It was Plato after whom much of the humanistic and the third force psychologies of the present day are patterned.

Ironically, Plato was not terribly impressed with democratic processes. It was democratic Athens, containing an excessive degree of tolerance, where each person responded to a different piper, which most irritated Plato. It was in Athens that Socrates, the most beloved philosopher of all time, was sentenced to death, only because he instilled reason and understanding into the minds of the young.

Plato admired good order, discipline, and the idea of a band of brothers living together. It was Sparta which exemplified such a well ordered city-state, and so Plato modeled his ideal society, the Republic, after Sparta. He wrote a Utopia describing an ideal state and man's relationship to that state. Such a plan has some similarity to the one outlined by Skinner in his book, Walden Two, though Skinner was no admirer of Plato.

In Plato's theory, the absolute, with two distinctions (nous and being), is supreme. Nous, or absolute "reason," is all important and is the supreme good. It is immediate apprehension, similar to what Aquinas and later the Gestaltists might call intuition or insight -- the philosophical, not the scientific, way of thinking. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

The other major philosopher of the classical Greek period was Aristotle, a student of Plato,who studied in the Lyceum in Athens. He maintained that there is matter and there is something related to matter, called form (formal, efficient, and final causes). A thing always has the possibility of becoming something else -- the possibility of moving to some other place. The process of becoming is the actualization of the potential. This is the relationship between form and matter (Fuller, 1931).

Although Aristotle was called the father of science, he is not a strict determinist. Nor is he a strict free-willist. Although "we cannot will to be directly different from what we are (Durant, 1926, p: 83)," we can at least choose those conditions or environments which will determine what we become. In Skinner's terms, although we are determined by our environments, we are free to select the contingencies which are acting upon us.

Aristotle's conception of the mind and of cognition anticipates a major controversy in the history of thought -- passive vs. active forms of mental life. Aristotle proposed that intelligence and purpose were represented in humans by two different forms of nous. First, there was a passive form of intelligence formed from memory in experience. This is the empiricist's Tabula rasa, a blank tablet (or blank mind) concept. This is the position taken by early experimental psychologists, Wundt and the associationists in the nineteenth century,and by the American behaviorists in the twentieth century. The notion that mental life is a residue from experience, formed by the environment, is the tabula rasa concept of Lockian psychology.

On the other hand, there is an active kind of nous, that which is immortal suggested by Aristotle as seen in the way humans manipulate the environment. This active kind of nous leads to insight and creative learning and is divine. This active notion of mind implies a capacity to change, rather than be changed by, the environment; to act rather than to respond. In short, this conception of nous represents another whole tradition --Leibnitz' active mind, Kant's mental categories, Scottish faculty psychology, Austrian act psychology, phenomenology, and Gestalt psychology. William James referred to that which emphasized passive mental processes, as "tough-minded"psychology, which more often supposes scientific determinism. Tender minded psychology, on the other hand, more frequently stresses free will and self determination.

This second idea of mind, the active idea of nous, was later elaborated upon by the Neo-Platonists. It emphasized absolute reason and followed the ideal Platonic mode of thinking. There were two groups of Neo-Platonists, in two widely separated periods of time. There were Alexandrian and Austinian philosophers in the fourth century A.D., and English philosophers Henry More and Ralph Cudworth in the seventeenth century. Here was Plato returning during brief periods when Aristotle held sway in academic and intellectual circles. Galen had reintroduced Aristotle to Roman and Alexandrian medicine; Aquinas brought Aristotle back in again during the Scholastic period, which continued to be the dominant point of view until after the time of Galileo. But it was in this brief interlude with Augustine and a later brief period shortly after Galileo that Platonic ideas rose to the surface in philosophies of science. We will turn later to the point of view of Augustine when dealing with the middle ages. Since Aristotelian ideas so dominated the seventeenth century, though, we will not look directly at Platonic ideas later. Let us now only note how this Neo-Platonism relates to modern science.

During the seventeenth century, the concept of motion was considered of central importance to an understanding of physical phenomena. It was natural, therefore, to generalize this concept to explain psychological phenomena. Both Descartes and Hobbes attempted to include motion in their theories. Hobbes held that all activity was in motion. Since thinking was an activity it must also be in motion. Further, anything that moves must be a "thing" or have some corporeality, some body, some substance. Therefore, according to Hobbes, mind must have substance, or surely thoughts must have substance. Thoughts were mere images and as such followed the laws of motion. The only ideas that were real were those of particular things; general ideas, like that of God, had no reality, since only names, without images.

Henry More, a contemporary of Hobbes took issue with this materialistic point of view about the mind. Hobbes was too mechanical. It was even obvious that mechanical explanations of physical objects were not adequate . According to the laws of motion, as provided by Hobbes and Descartes, objects thrown into the air should continue in motion around the earth. But they do not. Instead, they are pulled back toward the earth. Nor can mechanical laws of motion explain magnetism. Pushing an object away from another will not result in the continuation of that object along an opposite path. No, there is some mysterious force, some natural force in the universe which accounts for both the pull of the earth and the pull of magnets. Henry More called this force "the universal soul of the world," or "the spirit of nature." Now if spirit exists, then it must have extension because anything which exists has extension, "it being the very essence of whatever is, to have parts or extension in some measure or other...if a thing be at all it must be extended." A century later, the German physiologist, Mueller, was to propose that there were specific energies of nerves as the basis for spirit. Helmholtz subsequently actually measured these energies, and Fechner brought them under experimental investigation as characteristics of the mind.

Our first experimental psychology, and the foundation for statistics, assumed a real measurable spirit. Even Fechner thought he had measured spirit and had brought spirit and matter into the same psychophysical measurement. For More, then, all is not all matter, or, if matter, then spirit has matter also. More liked Descartes' notion that spirit has some residence or coordinating place, the pineal gland, and that while this was "the chief seat of the soul . . . " it is not limited there but may flow throughout the whole body. There had to be some divine sovereign intelligence with which one could combat materialism. And this more humanistic point of view, though never popular in England, opposed materialistic conceptions down to the twentieth century. These same critics, advocates of a Neo-Platonic point of view, are found among the tender minded and the oriental influenced psychologists of today who denounce American behaviorism and Russian reflexology.

The Neo-Platonists maintained that there was an absolute reason, the sum of all dynamic principles in the universe. This "reason" was a universal given underlying all human insight, natural laws, and purposiveness. It permitted an immediate act of apperception. This notion of absolute reason was first formulated by Plato, reinforced by Aristotle, and reaffirmed by Kant when he distinguished between reason and understanding.

In contrast to the more contemporary use of reason, meaning an act of reflection, this original and dominant concept of reason anticipates the major notions of phenomenology and Gestalt psychology when they referred to the immediate act of apprehending, intuitive insight, grasp of situations which did not require syllogistic reasoning or the drawing of conclusions from premises.

The other later meaning of reason, called reasoning, comes from the Latin, "ratio," the French "raison," and the German, "Verstand." This referred to discursive thought, based on premises and hypotheses, not subject to reflection and was called "understanding" by Plato who considered it "mediate" learning or knowledge. It is the kind of knowledge discovered by scientists. Aristotle believed it was based on empirical knowledge. Philosophical thought or reason, the insightful and immediate apprehension called Nous by Plato or "intellectual" in the English language stand on the one side. Scientific thought, on the other side, was called by Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Hegel "understanding," or mediate knowledge or logical thought based on premises. British Empiricism, strongly maintaining that "mental processes" were the result of experience, held that reason could not be immediate and intuitive but must rather be similar to "understanding." In English, then, reasoning and all mental processes were empirical. Reason (insight) and reasoning (deductive thought) followed the same principles despite Kant's attempt to save British Empiricism from the solipsism evident in Hume's skepticism. There just seemed to be no enthusiastic support in British Empiricism for a faculty of the mind called reason and, with the exception of brief excursions into faculty psychology on the part of certain Scottish and early American psychologists, the empirical approach to understand the mind has dominated western thought in the English speaking world.

Roman Period
The Greek classical period passed. Several hundred years elapsed before another major period or theorist in the history of psychology emerged. The next major landmark was the medical work of Galen of Pergamon, to whom we turn shortly. But between Greek philosophy and Galen's medicine, there were advances in science and technology taking place in Egypt.

Egypt, dormant through long centuries since the emigration of the Jews, rose to prominence with the founding of the city of Alexandria, great because of the conscious planning when founded by Alexander the Great, Plato's young, smart, and courageous star pupil. Alexandria was the center of medical research and training for several hundred years. Medical knowledge, such as it was, had filtered down from Greece to Alexandria. The Alexandrians developed highly technical schools for conducting research and for disseminating information.

Erasistratus, an important forerunner to Galen, presumably started the anatomical school in Alexandria. He is credited (Singer, 1931, p.55) for differentiating between the sensory and motor nerves, the beginning of nineteenth century localization theory begun by Mueller. And he rejected the humoral theory of disease and originated the pneuma theory, one of the theories that came down to the seventeenth century almost unchanged. (Sarton, Galen, p. 34, does not credit Erasistratus as the founder of pneumatism, but rather suggests that this theory came down originally from Diogenes).

Another medical sect prominent in Alexandria was the "Empirical group," so called after its founder, Empiricles. Dedicated to observation and experimentation as a means for learning about drugs and diverse medical practices, empirical methods subsequently became synonymous with scientific methods.

Medicine and Galen

At the time of Galen there were (according to Sarton), six different medical sects, three of which were ancient ones: 1) the Hippocratic group, based on the work of Hippocrates, born in 460 B.C., advocated fresh air, diet, medicinal waters and gymnastics (Webster); 2) the Dogmatic sect; 3) the Empirical group, based on the work of Empiricles, a school of anatomy in Alexandria. Sarton also identifies three "modern" schools; 4) the Methodists -- who were atomists probably Epicureans, whom Galen disliked; 5) Pneumatism -- a school that stressed air, gases, breathing, and 6) the Eclectic or Episynthetic school which attempted to incorporate a variety of theories or methods into one whole (Wrightman, 1951).

One of Galen's major contributions was to develop a rapprochement among the various medical sects. He was able to do this partly because of extensive travel throughout the Mediterranean and partly because he possessed an unusual gift for writing. He was born in Pergamon, a town in the western section of Turkey close to Greek thought. He studied anatomy for four years, and then traveled, studying anatomy and physiology for a total of twelve years, ending up knowing all the medicine of his time. Since his father was an architect, is it any wonder that Galen was interested in the anatomical structure of humans?

Galen's extensive knowledge of anatomy was based in part upon his numerous dissections. Though he presumably never dissected the human body, he made observations of all other kinds of animals. He then made careful analogies to the human, which he backed up by observing human skeletons and observing where possible the vital organs of internal medicine. As physician for the gladiators in Rome, he was able to make observations resulting from the casualties of combat.

Sarton credits Galen as the second founder (if Erasistratus is the first), of physiology and as the master of experimental physiology. Galen approached his anatomical studies from an experimental point of view; his conclusions, therefore, possessed some force. Cole calls him the "founder of the physiology of the nervous system," and suggests that Galen is pre-eminent until the year 1811, when Charles Bell of England takes over. Galen "demonstrated that the nerves originate in the brain and cord and not in the heart, as Aristotle perversely maintained (Cole, 1944, p.45)."

Galen attempted to consolidate several theories into one. He rather ingeniously, though inaccurately, described the interaction between mind and body. His model, based upon Aristotle's classification of life, divided the living world into three parts -- plants, animals, and humans. The functions of each of these three domains became progressively more complex. Plants were characterized by growth; animals possessed growth and locomotion; humans added reason, and thus possessed all three functions.

These three functions, growth, locomotion, and reasoning were coordinated by three different pneuman (air) or spirits. Here, Galen introduces a pneumatic theory into his system. Three kinds of spirits account for three different functions among the three levels of life. The spirits and their functions are as follows -- natural spirits account for growth and nutrition, vital spirits for locomotion, and animal spirits for thought and sensation.

How did these spirits develop? Galen proposed a physiological explanation. It is not unlike subsequent attempts to relate mind and body, nor unlike the theory of the conservation of energy within a closed system. Galen holds that material substances within the body or a combination of substance with other spirits produced these spirits. The liver, where food was ingested via the intestines, produced the "natural" spirits. Blood from the liver combined with air from the lungs produced "vital" spirits in the heart. These vital spirits, then, traversed to the brain and were there converted into "animal" spirits for reasoning. This whole process is a transformation of one substance into another or one kind of energy into another kind. Later theories, such as the functions of the phrenologists, the functions of the faculties of the mind, the dynamic functions of Freudian psychology, all proposed similar ideas. It is not unremarkable to note that these subsequent theories, patterned upon Galen's medical model, were proposed by theorists with considerable medical training in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.

Galen contributed one other theoretical notion, the theory of temperaments. This doctrine, though not new to Galen, survived almost intact into nineteenth century psychiatry. The doctrine described four major character types, based upon the earlier humoral theory of four liquids in the body. The humoral theory, in turn, had been based upon the four major elements -- earth, water, air, and fire. These elements had qualities of dry, wet, cold, and hot. The humors were -- blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. And the temperaments (thought not necessarily in the same order) are: sanguine, choloric, melancholic, and phlegmatic; and as warm heart, sad, anger, and phlegmatic (Sarton, 1954, p. 52-53). Psychiatric classificatory systems today still reflect the medical model.

Galen was medically supreme for the hundred years and, perhaps, for the next 150 years, after his death. That brings us to the year 1700, during which time a number of medical advances were being made. In spite of extensive medical studies, Galen remained the authority in many fields until physiology really came into its own in the nineteenth century. The work of Bell, Magendie, Mueller, Helmholtz and the host of English and German scientists contributed materially to medical art and eventually overturned the devotion to and tradition surrounding Galen, a point to which we will turn in Unit 5.


Patristic Period and St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.). A hundred years after Galen, brings us to the Patristic period in philosophy, named after the church "paters" (fathers), the founders of the institutionalized Catholic church. During this medieval period, the foremost figure was St. Augustine, whose Confessions constitute one of the first autobiographies. He is important or our purposes because it is the first theory emphasizing motivation or will.

Augustine was the illegitimate son of a very Christian mother, who fretted over him and wanted for him the kind of satisfying Christian life which she had come to know. He, however, was filled with passionate and sensuous desires, liking nothing better than to indulge his pleasures in matters of the flesh. He decided to leave Africa, his birthplace, and to migrate to Rome to teach. Roman students, he understood, were more disciplined and showed greater respect for the rights of others; they did not come bursting in upon the master's room in robust abandonment. Augustine could not dissuade his mother from accompanying him. But, when they reached the port from which they were to set sail for Rome, he succeeded in deceiving her and, while she was resting, he set sail without her, leaving her lamenting on the shores of Carthage while he approached the gates of Rome.

A short time in Rome was quite enough, and Augustine soon left for Milan where, to his surprise, his mother finally caught up with him. There she successfully persuaded him to attend the sermons of the Bishop of Ambrose, and Augustine surprisingly found the Bishop to his liking. It was not long before this new Christian convert blossomed into that ideal for which his mother had so long prayed. But Augustine expressed some reservations about a life of total commitment to the church. It is alleged that he prayed, "Give me chastity; but not yet."

We are not surprised to note that Augustine's philosophy contained a dominating assumption that human nature is "too weak and sinful." The only saving grace for mankind was to conceive of oneself as "nothing but wills." Here is a full fledged motivation psychology. Conation (motivation), the second level of Plato's tripartite mind, becomes the central part of Augustine's theory. Plato, proposing a hierarchy of emotion, motivation, and reason, had suggested that humans are controlled by reason alone, that the highest development in humans occurs when the mind controls those matters of the heart and guts. Augustine had turned this around to suggest that it is the will, not the mind, that controls both the emotions of the guts and the reasoning of the mind. Faith underlay everything, even reason. Man simply had to take a step of faith, as a first premise.

This psychology of will made one psychological function dominant over others and opened the way for a psychology of individual differences. As such, Augustine becomes an early faculty psychologist, claiming that psychological functions are independent of and yet vary among each other in strength. Later, during the Great Awakening in American religious life, Jonathan Edwards in 1734 calls again for a psychology of will, for the primacy of the will over reason -- an attempt to bolster a meaningless, colorless, and ascetic religious life. And Americans generally were quick to assume, in accordance with the Protestant ethic, that effort and interest and energy were the primary prerequisites for success in this and the next world. By the end of the nineteenth century, Darwinian theory had highlighted differences existing among persons; some differences led to survival and others to extinction. The issue as to whether the differences were inherited from one generation to another or whether determined by the environment has never been resolved to this very day.

For Augustine, God was co eternal with the universe. The grand plan of God and the laws of nature were the same. In the seventeenth century man sought God through nature's laws (Easton). In the nineteenth century, man sought man through nature's laws; understanding humans came in the same way as understanding nature. But the emphasis upon functional differences among persons and the opportunity for individual determination (whether aided by genes or environment), continues from then to a present day Augustinian point of view.

The Catholic church and institutionalized Christianity in the middle ages underlay the cultural, educational, political, and social life of Europe. The long periods of church dominance restrained the development of science and technology. From the eighth to the sixteenth century, controversy waged between intellectualism and intuitionism (Webster); between the philosophies of Aristotle and of Augustine.

During these eight centuries, fine points of reason were debated. Disputes arose between the intellectualism of Aristotle and the intuitionism of Augustine. Does knowledge come through immediate comprehension or through reason and debate? Rationalism or intuitionism, Aristotle or Augustine, are dualisms reflected in subsequent generations, (e.g., Coleridge vs. Rogers). The rationalists vs. humanists controversy continues unabated to the present day. Thomas Aquinas attempted during these middle years to resolve the controversy for the Catholic church and subsequently became one of the leading persons in philosophy. It is to Aquinas whom we now turn.

Scholastic Period and Thomas Aquinas (1225-74). Aquinas was able to bridge two points of view, to join Aristotelian philosophy to Catholic dogma. For this successful marriage he earned for himself the undying support of Catholic theologians and a sainthood. Aquinas maintained, along with Aristotle, that knowledge was obtained only through experience and through the senses. Does this completely eliminate the mental or the rational side of man? Not at all. It is through the senses that we experience individual phenomena and events, such as a red hat or a red glove. To these experiences, then, reasoning brings the capacity for abstracting out some common generalization. The rational faculties, thus, provide a higher control of the sensitive side of humans.

We have seen that from early to modern eras, man has attempted to explain both the world and himself, and the relationship between the two. Our interest in psychology prompts several major questions: c) What is mind and is it different from matter? 2) If mind is different from matter, how do material images, sensations get transposed into mental ideas? 3) If matter and/or mind have substance, reality, permanence, then how does change come about? How do people's minds, bodies, personalities change,on the one hand, and yet retain some continuity and semblance of recognition, on the other hand? 4) humans control and determine their destinies? Or are they pre-programmed or determined by forces beyond their control?

We turn next to the period of modern history -- modern because humans began, after almost a millennium and a half, to become self conscious and concerned about their own nature. It began with the Renaissance, sometime between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was prompted by the rediscovery of Greek literature and the emancipation of serfdom from control by ecclesiastical courts. Humans became the center of the stage once again. It is the seventeenth century and the remarkable advances there in science and philosophy which, despite political turmoil, laid the groundwork for modern psychology, and to which we now turn.



Now test yourself without looking at the reading.
Check those answers which are correct (one or more).

1. The classical Greek period came:
a. Before the Ionians
b. After the Ionians
c. At the same time as the Ionians

2. The supreme good in Plato's theory was:
a. Philosophical reasoning
b. Scientific reasoning
c. Logical reasoning
d. Common reasoning

3. The tender minded psychology of James and the activity intelligence of Aristotle both emphasize:
a. Environmental determinism
b. Self determination
c. Scientific determinism
d. Free will

4. Following the Greek period, advances in technology and science took place in:
a. Rome
b. Alexandria
c. Athens
d. Cario

5. The four major character types were accounted for by Galen in his theory of:
a. Temperaments
b. Sensation
c. Functions
d. Ideas

6. Augustine's psychology was based upon:
a. Perception
b. Reason
c. Sensation
d. Will

7. Aristotle is considered the father of science because he believed in:
a. non determinism
b. empiricism
c. apriori principles
d. active vs. passive mind.

8. The tabula rasa refers to the fact that:
a. knowledge is innate
b. we are born ignorant
c. experience is the basis for learning
d. all persons start out equal.

Check the answers 5 or more correct GO TO UNIT TEST.
Less than 5 - Complete Exercise on next page.



1. The philosophers who characterized the classical Greek period were: ____________________ and _________________________.

2. Plato was disenchanted with political life in Athens, and modeled his ideal state after ____________________.

3. There have been two concepts of reasoning in the history of thought. One involves scientific reasoning; the other is:
a. inductive
b. deductive
c. intuitive
d. none of the above

4. Galen proposed three kinds of spirits which accounted for the different functions of life. Animal spirits accounted for:

a. Growth and nutrition
b. Locomotion
c. Thought
d. Sensation

5. The functions of the three domains of life included: Growth, Locomotion and ____________.

6. Prior to the beginning of the modern era, controversy waged around two major points of view: Intellectualism and _____________________.

7. Empiricism is the philosophical foundation for science because empiricism maintains knowledge comes from experience (or sensations). Those who believe that knowledge comes from meditation or intuition are not_______________.

8. Aristotle first introduced the idea of the "tabula rasa" and thus was one of the first __________________.

6. Intuitionism 2. Sparta 5. Reasoning

1. Plato, Aristotle 4. C, D 3. C

7. empiricists 8. empiricists




1. The ideal state in which all things were well ordered and planned, a state similar to that outlined by Skinner in his Walden Two, was originally proposed by the Greek philosopher: _______________________________________.

2. Aristotle tends to be a:
a. Strict determinist
b. A free willist
c. Both a determinist and a free willist
d. Neither one

3. Erasistratus was a theorist prominent in:
a. Athens
b. Rome
c. Carthage
d. Alexandria

4. Galen possessed extensive knowledge of anatomy because he:
a. Studied with some of the best scholars of the times
b. Had an inherited sense of physiology
c. Did dissections
d. Was intuitive

5. The Patristic period was so named after:
a. The church fathers
b. Patriotism
c. Augustine
d. Aquinas

6. Tabula rasa means:
a. a red tablet
b. a blank tablet
c. an innate mind
d. an active mind

7. Aristotle is considered to be the father of:
a. science
b. psychology
c. empiricism
d. biology

Check answers

Contents Unit 2


4 or more correct GO TAKE UNIT 2 TEST There are 20 questions again. And it's timed for 15 minutes. This time, you will be presented with only one question at a time and must then move on to the next item. You cannot see all the items and y ou cannot go back and change answers. Good luck .

February 15, 2006