The Personalistic vs. the Naturalistic Viewpoint

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As far back as the time when man first discovered ways to communicate with one another he has attempted to understand and explain the course of historical events. In considering the historical development of scientific psychology two main views of the historical progress the field of science have emerged: personalistic theory and naturalistic theory. The personalistic theory often times called the “great man” theory holds that a chosen few individuals are unique in that they are endowed with an extraordinary inner quality giving them the ability to do extraordinary things. When applied to scientific history it is believed that this quality allows them to shape the course of that history with nothing more than their ideas. This internal power is most commonly referred to as “genius”. It is the belief that man himself is a free agent who chooses his behaviors to not only shape his own life but also the lives of those whom his behavior affect (E.G. Boring, 1950). Personalistic views are still widely held even today. More often than not when someone is asked to name who's ideas and beliefs have changed the course of history they are able to do so with no problem. Some of the more commonly known individuals include Napoleon, Hitler, Abraham Lincoln, J.F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. All have left their mark by influencing the world around them and perhaps around our world also. The focus, then, of personalistic theory is on the ideas of certain individuals deemed great by society. The naturalistic theory, on the other hand, holds that history is shaped and changed not by individuals but by the times in which those individuals lived. It is this notion that “the times” is what makes it possible for the ideas of individuals to be accepted or rejected, heard or stifled. The focus, then, of naturalistic theory is on the social conditions prevalent at the time an individual puts forth an idea or ideas that influence the flow of history. The social conditions of an era or a period of time can be defined as the intellectual, moral, economic, and cultural climate of that time. This is also known as the Zeitgeist. This concept discourages belief in the personalistic theory by reminding us that even the most eminent scholars and inventors have often been bridled by an unreceptive Zeitgeist. It supports the notion that if an individuals new ideas deviate to far from the commonly accepted beliefs and practices of the times those ideas will not be recognized or supported by the majority at that time. They may however be supported at a later time showing that the Zeitgeist is the determining factor for acceptance. A case in point dating back to 1763. At this time Whyte suggested the idea of conditioned response. Because of the spirit of the times his idea was ignored. However it was presented again in the early 1900's by Pavlov and in the spirit of these times it was accepted. Therefore, the historical development of science can be viewed as a combination of both theories because it takes both the exceptional ideas and the force of personality of great individuals as well as the accepting Zeitgeist in which these ideas are formulated to create a landmark change in history. The zeitgeist of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries was particularly significant to the development and growth of modern psychology. Having the greatest influence in Europe was the development and production of new kinds of machines, specifically clocks and automata. Automata was the term given to devices built to emulate the movements and actions of humans. One of the most elaborate is the defecating duck. It was invented in 1739 by Jacques de Vaucanson in Paris, France. The “duck” was a mechanical apparatus designed to look like a duck and to imitate the basic animal behaviors of a duck including vocalizing, eating, and then relieving itself by defecating. de Vancanson became very...
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