Ward, James

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Ward, James

James Ward (1843-1925), British psychologist and philosopher, was born in Hull and spent his childhood near Liverpool. Owing to a financial crisis in the family, he left school at the age of 13 and two years later was apprenticed to an architect. From architecture he turned to theology, and at 20 he entered training for the ministry of the Congregational church. A scholarship gave him the chance to go to Germany, where he again changed fields, this time from theology, at Berlin, to philosophy, at Gottingen. Lotze’s lectures at Gottingen influenced him greatly.

Returning to England in 1870, Ward preached in Cambridge for a year and then won a competitive scholarship in moral sciences to Trinity College. He was elected to a fellowship in 1875, which he held for fifty years. During this time, through his writings and through his influence upon such men as Stout, McDougall, and Bartlett, he played a vital part in the development of psychological thought in Britain.

Although Ward was essentially a philosophical psychologist, his early work was related to the physiological aspects of his subject. Thus, when he returned to Germany for a period in 1876 to work in Carl Ludwig’s laboratory in Leipzig, he published an article titled “An Attempt to Interpret Fechner’s Law” (1876). Even more directly concerned with physiology were two papers based on his work at Cambridge, “Some Notes on the Physiology of the Nervous System of the Fresh-water Crayfish” (1879) and “Ueber die Auslosung von Reflexbewegungen durch eine Summe schwacher Reize” (1880). It is necessary to keep this early work in mind when assessing Ward’s later, more philosophical contributions: it was not because he lacked the ability to conduct experiments that he became an armchair psychologist.

Ward’s most influential work was the article “Psychology” in the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1886), later revised and published as Psychological Principles in 1918. In this article he claimed that psychology is the science of experiencing, an activity in which both subject and object are always necessarily implicated. The basic components of this activity are attention and feeling. Mental contents may be either sensory or motor in character, and they occur only as ingredients in a “presentational continuum” from which they cannot be isolated. The structuring of the presentational continuum is dependent on the subject’s attention and cannot, therefore, be reduced to the laws of association that were taken for granted by most British psychologists of Ward’s time.

The novelty of Ward’s point of view in British psychology, however, has sometimes been overestimated. Locke had talked about “the acts of the mind wherein it exerts its power over its simple ideas,” and the “common-sense” school of Scottish philosophers had denied that we can start, as Hume would have us do, with impressions and ideas. Therefore, in bringing to England some features of the post-Kantian German analysis of mind, Ward did not have to ask his readers to adopt an entirely alien way of thinking. Nonetheless, the clash between his views and the prevalent associationism of Bain and Spencer was a dramatic one. From the ensuing controversy Ward emerged victorious and, for a time at least, changed the pattern of psychological thinking in Britain.

Yet the psychology of the self and its acts has proved difficult to establish on an experimental basis. Ward himself was instrumental in introducing experimental psychology at Cambridge, but in spite of his own early work, he seems to have later taken the view that psychology cannot really be taken into the laboratory. He felt, however, that a genetic approach might prove valuable. There are those who think that his intervention delayed the growth of scientific psychology in Britain for a generation. Others would claim that by demolishing the atomistic empiricism and associationism of Hume, Hartley, and the Mills, Ward prevented the growth of the more simple-minded forms of learning theory and S-R behaviorism in general, thus enabling British psychology to accommodate more readily recent theories of information processing.

James Drever

[For the historical context of Ward’s work, seephenomenology; and the biographies ofbain; hume; locke; lotze; spencer; for discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, seeattention; self concept; and the biographies ofbartlett; mcdougall; stout.]

Works by ward

1876 An Attempt to Interpret Fechner’s Law. Mind 1: 452-466.

1879 Some Notes on the Physiology of the Nervous System of the Fresh-water Crayfish (Astacus Fluviatilis). Journal of Physiology2:214-227.

1880 Ueber die Auslosung von Reflexbewegungen durch eine Summe schwacher Reize. Archiv fur Physiologie[1880]:72-91.

1886 Psychology. Volume 20, pages 37-85 in Encyclopaedia Britannica.9th ed. Edinburgh: Black.

1899 Naturalism and Agnosticism.2 vols. New York: Black.

(1911) 1920 The Realm of Ends.3d ed. Cambridge Univ. Press.

(1918) 1920 Psychological Principles.2d ed. Cambridge Univ. Press.

1922 Study of Kant.Cambridge Univ. Press.

1926 Psychology Applied to Education. Cambridge Univ. Press. → Published posthumously.

1927 Essays in Philosophy. London: Macmillan. → Published posthumously.

Supplementary bibliography

Bartlett, F. C. 1925 James Ward: 1843-1925. American Journal of Psychology 36:449-453.

Sorley, W. R. 1926 James Ward: 1843-1925. British Academy, Proceedings 12:306-316.

Ward Commemoration Number. 1926 Monist 36, no. 1. → Contains a bibliography on pages 170-176.