Wundt contested: The first crisis declaration in psychology

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When reflecting on the history and the present situation of their field, psychologists have often seen their discipline as being in a critical state. The first author to warn of a crisis was, in 1897, the now scarcely known philosopher Rudolf Willy. He saw a crisis in psychology resulting, firstly, from a profuse branching out of psychology. Adopting a radical empiriocriticist point of view, he, secondly, made the metaphysical stance of scholars like Wilhelm Wundt responsible for the crisis. Meanwhile, the priest Constantin Gutberlet responded to the claim of crisis arguing, on the contrary, that the crisis resulted from research that was empirical only.Throughout the discipline psychologists felt troubled by a widespread sense of fragmentation in the field. I will argue that this is due to psychology's early social success and popularization in modern society. Moreover the paper shows that the first declaration of crisis emerged at a time when a discussion of fundamentals was already underway between Wundt and the empiriocriticist Richard Avenarius. The present historical research reveals the depth of the confrontation between Wundt and Willy, entailing a clash of two worldviews that embrace psychological, epistemological, and political aspects. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-444
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C :Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2012


  • Avenarius
  • Empiriocriticism
  • Gutberlet
  • Monism
  • Stern
  • Willy


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