The genealogy of personality psychology – why did it become so important?

Klempe S.H.

Personality psychology in academia reached its peak point in Western psychology in the sixties and seventies. Its history normally starts with Freud and ends up with the Big Five. Yet its roots go far beyond this, and can be traced back to the early use of the term “psychology”. The early use of the term went in many different directions, but it appeared primarily among protestant scholastics in the late sixteenth century. This was related to the Christian Reformation, which highlighted the sacrament of penance, which emphasized self-examination of the true believer. Max Weber demonstrated that this led to a morality of being faithful to one’s deed. This duty, he says, explains the prosperity of the Protestants in Europe and the US in the 17th century. Michel Foucault demonstrated in the first volume of the History of Sexuality how the sacrament of penance led to a certain interest in the human nature and sexuality. Human nature was at the core of the very early use of psychology. Thus in my presentation I will focus on how these aspects were treated in early psychology by focusing on the following four topics: the term person, human nature, individual differences, and intellectual abilities. The term “person” is etymologically linked up to the term “sound”. Normally it refers to masks and their use in the ancient classical drama. Masks featured general characters; hence the individuality of the character was transmitted through the voice of the actor. Consequently, the voice provided the most sensorial form of information. Thus, a person is predominantly a psychological entity. There were, however, two layers of knowledge: the general provided by the mask, and the particular provided by the voice. General knowledge was highly appreciated, whereas knowledge based on experiences carried a lower status. This is reflected in Aristotle’s thesis On the Soul, which is about how knowledge is acquired. This thesis, therefore, is not about psychology, but about theory of knowledge. From a psychological perspective, a person has always been regarded as a sensorial entity. Theology made that philosophy focused on general knowledge. This changed radically in the renaissance. There were, however, two different and, apparently, contradictory movements that took place. One was the movement of humanism, which was skeptical to the institutionalized church, and emphasized more honesty in faith. This culminated in Protestantism. The other was the divorce between theology and philosophy that resulted in the search for a secular basis for philosophy. It was in the wake of those two tendencies, the term psychology appeared in the sixteenth century, primarily among Protestant scholastics. Both movements resulted in a common interest in human nature. The protestants because they focused so heavily on the sacrament of penance, and the secular philosophy because the subject appeared to be the only basis for philosophical knowledge. Descartes, among others, demonstrated this. Both called for a deeper understanding of human nature.


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    Для цитирования: 

    Klempe S.H. The genealogy of personality psychology – why did it become so important? // Ананьевские чтения – 2018: Психология личности: традиции и современность: материалы Междунар. науч. конф. Санкт-Петербург, 23-26 октября 2018 г. / Под общ. редакцией Н.В. Гришиной, С.Н. Костроминой. Отв. ред. И.Р. Муртазина, М.О. Аванесян – СПб.: Айсинг, 2018. – 496 с. – С. 11. – 0,09 п.л.


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