From Mental Images to Social Interactions

  • David Bloor
Part of the Theoretical Traditions in the Social Sciences book series


To do justice to the contribution that society makes to our knowledge, and to understand Wittgenstein’s account of these matters, we must first surmount an obstacle. We must learn to expose the habits of mind and the techniques by which social processes are systematically misdescribed or passed over. In some accounts of knowledge they are rendered almost completely invisible. ‘There is’, said Wittgenstein, ‘a kind of general disease of thinking which always looks for (and finds) what would be called a mental state from which all our acts spring as from a reservoir.’ He gave a simple illustration. ‘Thus one says, “the fashion changes because the tastes of people change”. The taste is the mental reservoir’ (BB, p. 143). Notice how the collective phenomenon, the fashion change, is represented in psychological terms. The social event is referred back to the mental states of the individuals who participated in it, and these mental states are then cited as the cause of the change. The emptiness of this particular example is clear, but some explanations of this kind can be difficult to detect. Their common feature is the attempt to analyse characteristically social phenomena in psychological terms. For this reason the ‘disease’ to which Wittgenstein referred is usually called ‘psychologism’.1


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    The classic denunciation of psychologism is, of course, Durkheim’s principle that ‘The determining cause of a social fact should be sought among the social facts preceding it and not among the states of the individual consciousness’. (E. Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method, trans. S. Soloway and J. Mueller, New York, The Free Press, 1938; see esp. ch.5, sect. II, p. 110).Google Scholar
  2. For attacks on psychologism from the point of view of logic see G. Frege, The Foundations of Arithmetic, trans. J. Austin, Oxford, Blackwell, 1959; see esp. p. 35.Google Scholar
  3. I have commented elsewhere on the similarities between Frege and Durkheim and the interesting consequences of bringing their theories together; cf. D. Bloor, Knowledge and Social Imagery, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976, ch.5. I show here that Frege’s definition of objectivity is satisfied by social institutions.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    The theory is much older than this. In 1690 John Locke wrote that ‘words in their primary and immediate signification stand for nothing but the ideas in the mind of him that uses them’. (J. Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. A. Pringle-Pattison, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1924, bk III, ch II, p. 225.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    B. Russell, The Analysis of Mind, London, Allen & Unwin, 1921, p. 201.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    E. Titchener, Lectures on the Experimental Psychology of the Thought-Processes, New York, Macmillan, 1909, p. 16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 5.
    Ibid, p. 12.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    See the accounts in: E. Titchener, Systematic Psychology: Prolegomena, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1972, esp. pp. 194–201Google Scholar
  9. and E. Boring, A History of Experimental Psychology, New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1950, chas 17, 18, 19.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    A. Schutz, The Phenomenology of the Social World, trans. G. Walsh and F. Lehnert, London, Heinemann, 1972, p. 36Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Ibid, pp. 35–6.Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    Ibid, p. 99. Schutz italicises the last words (cf. PI, I, 274).Google Scholar
  13. 10.
    Quoted by Titchener, Lectures on the Experimental Psychology of the Thought-Processes, p. 66.Google Scholar
  14. 11.
    See E. Husserl, Ideas: General Introduction to Phenomenology, trans. W. Boyce Gibson, London, Collier-Macmillan, 1962, esp. the discussion of the’ sensile’ and the ‘intentional’, pp. 226–30.Google Scholar
  15. 12.
    Wittgenstein’s classificatory game with the mystery word ‘tove’ proceeds in exactly the same way as the experiments on concept formation conducted by the Russian psychologist L. S. Vygotsky. There is much to be gained by reading Wittgenstein in conjunction with Vygotsky. It helps to show how easily Wittgenstein’s concerns can be translated into a robust line of empirical research. See L. S. Vygotsky, Thought and Language, ed. and trans. E. Hanfmann and E. Vakar, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1962. The book first appeared in Russian in 1934.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 13.
    ‘The student of psychology... must still make his choice for the one or the other. There is no middle way between Brentano and Wundt’. E. Titchener, ‘Brentano and Wundt: Empirical and Experimental Psychology’, American Journal of Psychology, vol.32, 1921, pp. 108–20, at p. 108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 14.
    Quoted in Titchener, Lectures, p. 5.Google Scholar
  18. 15.
    For a valuable and detailed discussion of the work of the Würzburg group and their idea of a Bsl see: G. Humphrey, Thinking: An Introduction to its Experimental Psychology, New York, Wiley, 1963, chs 3, 4.Google Scholar
  19. 16.
    For the complexities of the relationship of Külpe’s work to Brentano and Wundt and Husserl see: A. Rancurello, A Study of Franz Brentano, his Psychological Standpoint and his Significance in the History of Psychology, New York, Academic Press, 1969, pp. 104–8.Google Scholar
  20. 17.
    Quoted by Russell in his Analysis of Mind, p. 224; Titchener is Russell’s source.Google Scholar
  21. 18.
    Titchener, Lectures, p. 235.Google Scholar
  22. 19.
    Bartley says, ‘If any individual thinker can be said to have influenced Wittgenstein... it must have been Karl Bühler.’He goes on to say that ‘there are... striking similarities between some of Bühler’s leading ideas and those of the later Wittgenstein’. See W. W. Bartley, Wittgenstein, London, Quartet Books, 1974, pp. 104, 107, 108. Toulmin makes the same point, though perhaps in a slightly more guarded way. He says that it would be a remarkable coincidence if Wittgenstein arrived at the ideas of the Philosophical Investigations without a knowledge of the work of Bühler and his wife. He concludes an article on Wittgenstein by saying, ‘To anyone interested in the historical origins of Wittgenstein’s later ideas, I would therefore say “Don’t overlook the Bühlers”.’See S. Toulmin, ‘Ludwig Wittgenstein’, Encounter, January 1969, pp. 58–71, at p. 71.Google Scholar
  23. 20.
    These should be contrasted with Ach’s reference to a ‘lightening-like momentary illumination’ (quoted in Humphrey, Thinking, p. 49).Google Scholar
  24. 21.
    E. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, trans. J. Swain, New York, Collier-Macmillan, 1961.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Bloor 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Bloor
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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