McDougall, William (1871–1938)

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William McDougall, a British-American proponent of hormic psychology, was born in Chadderton, England, the second son of a chemical manufacturer. He was educated at schools in England and Germany, and at Manchester and Cambridge universities, where he received first-class honors in biology. In 1897 he qualified in medicine at St. Thomas's Hospital, London. While working there with Charles Scott Sherrington, he read William James's Principles of Psychology, and returned to Cambridge to study psychology on a fellowship from St. John's College. He joined the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition (1899) to Torres Straits, collaborating with W. H. R. Rivers in sensory researches and with Charles Hose in anthropological studies, which resulted in The Pagan Tribes of Borneo (London, 1912). He worked at Göttingen with G. E. Müller and subsequently joined the psychology department of University College, London, under James Sully, where he published researches supporting Thomas Young's theory of color vision against those of H. L. F. von Helmholtz and Ewald Hering (Mind 10 [1901]: 5297, 210245, 347382). In London, and in Oxford from 1904 as Wilde reader in mental philosophy, McDougall worked on reflexes, inhibition, and psychophysical relationships. In Physiological Psychology (London, 1905) he combined James's view of instinctive action and emotion as objective and subjective aspects of the excitement of inherited perceptual dispositions with Sherrington's theory of the nervous system as integrator of reflex and instinctive-impulsive actions. McDougall explained subjectivity and purposiveness through R. H. Lotze's "psychoneural parallelism," postulating psychic currents induced in etherlike soul-stuff by neural activity.

McDougall first outlined his hormic psychology in An Introduction to Social Psychology (London, 1908). He derived human behavior from instincts, which are innate psychophysical dispositions with specific cognitive, affective, and conative aspects (for example, perception of danger, fear, flight). In adult humans, instincts operate indirectly through socially acquired patterns, the sentiments, in which object(s) and instinct(s) have become enduringly associated. Sentiments increasingly remote from innate instincts are exemplified, for instance, by parental love, family feeling, patriotism. In the growth of character the developing sentiments become hierarchically ranged round a master sentiment (or ruling passion) whose nucleus in a stable character is the self-regarding sentiment.

In Body and Mind (London, 1911), subtitled A History and Defense of Animism, McDougall reviewed psychophysical theories. To explain heredity and evolution, memory and learning, the "body-memory" of growth and repair, and parapsychological evidences of personal survival, he now discarded Lotzean parallelism, and declared himself, unfashionably, a dualist, interactionist, vitalist, animist, and Lamarckian.

In World War I McDougall enlisted as a French army ambulance driver but was drafted into the Royal Army Medical Corps. His command of a British shellshock unit provided the limited clinical material for his Abnormal Psychology (see below). In 1920 he became professor of psychology at Harvard, and in 1927 professor of psychology at Duke University. His American period was one of immense literary productivity. The Group Mind (New York, 1920) essayed to complete McDougall's social psychology by applying the hormic theory to "national mind and character." It was a work of subjective sociopolitical criticism rather than of objective scientific psychology, and resembled his many books of polemic and propaganda on national and international policy, from Is America Safe for Democracy? (New York, 1921) to World Chaos (London and New York, 1931). In these he advocated racial eugenics, a subsidized intellectual aristocracy, and a world air police, to defend the finest (explicitly North EuropeanAmerican) type of civilization.

In An Outline of Psychology (New York and London, 1923), An Outline of Abnormal Psychology (New York and London, 1926), and Character and the Conduct of Life (New York and London, 1927), McDougall elaborated his theory of personality built from sentiments that are powered by instincts, themselves channels of biological purposive energy (horme). The self-regarding sentiment governs conduct according to guidelines formed through identifications with admired persons or abstract ideals. Within the self-regarding sentiment, moral sentiments (conscience) control crude instinctive impulses, and thus, in McDougall's view, individual free will is truly exercised. The ordered hierarchy of sentiments completes the integration of personality. In Abnormal Psychology, McDougall reproached both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung for neglecting the integration of personalityat that time Freud's "superego" and Jung's "self" were not yet formulated.

McDougall's theory still had to explain the occurrence of autonomous complexes apparently outside the hierarchy, and of dissociated activities and "multiple" personalities. Rejecting Freud's determinism, McDougall considered these unconscious mental functions purposive and goal-seeking. He then combined his personality theory with a revised view of body-mind relationships in an elaborate monadic theory based upon that of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Every personality is integrated as a converging hierarchy of monads, each "potentially a thinking striving self, endowed with true memory." A supreme monad "which each of us calls 'myself'" exercises control by telepathic communication through the hierarchy. Failure of integration allows pathological conflicts, automatisms in sleep or hypnosis, or even revolt of a subordinate monad as a dissociated personality.

McDougall left open the question whether monads might be perceptible through the senses, and he considered the monadic theory to be consistent with either a monistic or a dualistic psychophysical theory. To reconcile a presumably purposive mind with an apparently causally determined body, he suggested that there might be two types of monad, one goal-seeking and the other cause-following, that were somehow interconnected, or one single series of monads with two aspects, causalistic and finalistic. Thus McDougall reconciled his theory both with causal-mechanistic schemes of neurophysiological levels (Sherrington) and with more purposive views, neurological (Henry Head, Studies in Neurology, London, 1920) and psychological (hormism). However, he too hastily equated biological purpose (horme) with individual goal-seeking will, and acquired self-control with the capacity for choice and responsibility in conduct.

Once a noted experimental physiologist, McDougall later based hormic psychology increasingly upon his purposivist metaphysical beliefs, little upon verifiable observation or experiment. His great experimental work at Duke was designed to test Chevalier de Lamarck's hypothesis of evolution by inheritance of acquired characteristics. Eventually, after ten years and twenty-three animal generations, McDougall reported an apparently inherited facilitation of learning in laboratory rats. Subsequent workers have not confirmed his results.

A lucid and persuasive writer, McDougall wielded great if temporary influence, and guided many English-reading students toward dynamic, biological, and social psychology. His weaknesses were his fondness for intellectual and verbal solutions to empirical problems, and his temptation to premature systematization. Admiration tinges the epigram that, had the Creator but paused to consult William McDougall, there had been no need of redemption.

See also Darwinism; Freud, Sigmund; Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig von; James, William; Jung, Carl Gustav; Lamarck, Chevalier de; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Lotze, Rudolf Hermann; Macrocosm and Microcosm; Panpsychism; Psychology; Racism; Vitalism.


additional works by mcdougall

Psychology, the Study of Behavior. London: Williams and Norgate, 1912.

Ethics and Some Modern World Problems. New York and London, 1924.

The Battle of Behaviourism. London: Kegan Paul, 1928. Written with J. B. Watson.

Modern Materialism and Emergent Evolution. New York: Van Nostrand, 1929.

Psycho-analysis and Social Psychology. London: Methuen, 1936.

works on mcdougall

Greenwood, Major, and May Smith. "William McDougall." In Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, Vol. III, 3962. London, 19391941. Contains a complete bibliography.

Nicole, J. Ernest. Psychopathology. London, 1930; 3rd ed., 1942. Chs. 15, 16, 21.

Woodworth, R. S. Contemporary Schools of Psychology. New York: Ronald Press, 1931. Ch. 6.

J. D. Uytman (1967)

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McDougall, William (1871–1938)

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