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Ribot, Théodule Armand (1839–1916)


Théodule Armand Ribot, the French psychologist, was a professor of psychology at the Sorbonne and from 1889 was the director of the psychological laboratory at the Collège de France. A philosophical disciple of Hippolyte Taine and Herbert Spencer (whose Principles of Psychology he translated), Ribot, with Taine, initiated the study in France of a positivistic and physiologically oriented psychology. His interest in philosophy was inseparable from his interest in concrete psychological problems and persisted throughout his life. He founded and edited the Revue philosophique de la France et de l'étranger, one of the first French philosophical journals. Ribot influenced not only French positivists and physiological psychologists but even some thinkers who, like Henri Bergson, rejected his epiphenomenalism.

Ribot's work falls into three main periods, but he remained loyal throughout his life to the program expounded in the introduction to his first book, La psychologie anglaise contemporaine (Paris, 1870). He insisted that psychology must be liberated from "the yoke of metaphysics" and stressed the need for an empirical, biological approach to psychology and the limitations of an exclusive reliance on introspection. However, although he insisted on excluding metaphysics from the empirical sciences, he did not dismiss it altogether. The works of Ribot's first period were mainly expository and historical. La psychologie anglaise contemporaine surveyed English associationist psychology from David Hartley to Samuel Bailey. In La psychologie allemande contemporaine (Paris, 1879) he introduced the work of Gustav Fechner, Wilhelm Wundt, Hermann Helmholtz, and others to the French public. La philosophie de Schopenhauer (Paris, 1874) foreshadowed Ribot's later emphasis on the affective and instinctive basis of personality.

Ribot's second period, characterized by an interest in psychopathology, produced three classic works: Les maladies de la mémoire (Paris, 1881), Les maladies de la volonté ; (Paris, 1883), and Les maladies de la personnalité (Paris, 1885). Despite a wealth of clinical, empirical material, the underlying motive of these works was philosophicala positivistic distrust of such reified abstractions as "memory," "will," and "self." These abstractions had played a prominent role in French speculative psychology and in Victor Cousin's eclectic idealism. Ribot showed that the simplicity of such abstract words hides the complexity of the phenomenon named, a complexity revealed by the dissociation found in mental diseases. Ribot was among the first to study dissociations of personality, and his law of regressionthat amnesia affects the most recent and least organized impressions and reactions firstwas a lasting contribution to psychology.

In Ribot's third period, which began with his La psychologie de l'attention (Paris, 1888), his interest shifted to normal psychological phenomena, particularly to affective phenomena. The major work of this period, La psychologie des sentiments (Paris, 1896), reflects Ribot's biological approach and his epiphenomenalism. Physiological drives underlie our elementary feelings of pleasure and pain, and more complex and evolved stages of these drives underlie more complex emotions. Organic sensibility evolved prior to consciousness, and feelings prior to intellect. Ribot's last work, La vie inconsciente et les mouvements (Paris, 1914), interpreted various manifestations of subconscious activity in terms of motor activity.

See also Bergson, Henri; Fechner, Gustav Theodor; Hartley, David; Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig von; Psychology; Spencer, Herbert; Taine, Hippolyte-Adolphe; Wundt, Wilhelm.


Dugas, Laurent. La philosophie de Théodule Ribot. Paris, 1924.

Faguet, Émile. Propos littéraires, fourth series. 1903.

Krauss, S. Théodule Ribots Psychologie. Jena, 1905.

Lamarque, G. Théodule Ribot: Choix des textes et étude de l'oeuvre. Paris, 1913.

Taine, Hippolyte. Derniers Essais de critique et d'histoire, 6th ed. Paris: Hachette, 1923.

Milić Čapek (1967)

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