Kurt Danziger

German academic

Kurt Danziger (born June 3, 1926) is a German psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Psychology at York University, Toronto, whose work has focused on the history of psychology, particularly in the 20th century. His innovative contributions to this field have received widespread international recognition.


  • Wundt initiated the first systematic psychological research programme. This achievement occurred at the same time as his elaboration of a philosophy of science which was anti-inductivist and stressed the priority of explanatory motives. Specifically psychological explanations depended on concepts of psychological causality as manifested in apperceptive or volitional processes. The major differences between the Wundtian and other models of psychological experimentation can be understood in the light of this general approach. Thus experimenters and subjects had to be enlightened collaborators and the role of introspection was more significant in an explanatory than in a purely observational context. Wundt's special requirements for the psychological experiment led him to reject other early models as exemplified by the hypnotic experiment in which the experimenter-subject relationship was closer to what was to become the norm in the twentieth century.
    • Kurt Danziger, "Wundt's psychological experiment in the light of his philosophy of science." Psychological Research 42.1-2 (1980). p. 109; Summary

"The history of introspection reconsidered." 1980Edit

Kurt Danziger, "The history of introspection reconsidered." Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 16.3 (1980): 241-262.

  • The term “introspective psychology” is misleading in that it covers a variety of diverging positions on the theory and practice of introspection. From the beginning there was a basic discrepancy between the British and the German philosophic tradition, the former relying more exclusively on introspection than the latter. Wilhelm Wundt’s advocacy and use of introspection was extremely circumscribed and essentially limited to simple judgments tied to external stimulation. During the first decade of the twentieth century some experimental psychologists, notably E. B. Titchener and the Würzburg school, greatly enlarged the scope of introspection, ushering in the brief vogue of “systematic introspection.” The latter never gained wide support in North America and was supplanted in Germany by developments that do not constitute “introspective psychology” in any precise sense.
    • p. 241
  • The basis for Wundt’s initial discussion of the problem of introspection is provided by his insistence on the distinction between “self-observation” (Selbstbeobachtung) and “internal perception” (innere Warhnemung).
    • p. 224
  • Internal perception also fails as a method for scientific psychology. In the nature of the case, it must be casual and therefore unsystematic. It excludes all deliberate investigation, because as soon as it becomes aware of itself it turns into the self-observation that is open to all the well-known and valid criticisms. It is, indeed, the basis of a psychology of consciousness, in the sense that conscious processes must be perceived to be known, but for a science it is not enough.
    • p. 245
  • The severe restrictions which Wundt placed on introspection also manifest themselves in the types of judgment that his experimental subjects were required to make. In accordance with the precept that internal perception can only become observation insofar as it is linked to controllable external stimuli, the introspective reports from his laboratory are very largely limited to judgments of size, intensity, and duration of physical stimuli, supplemented at times by judgments of their simultaneity and succession.
    • p. 247

Wilhelm Wundt in History: The Making of a Scientific Psychology, 1980Edit

Robert W. Rieber, ‎David K. Robinson. Wilhelm Wundt in History: The Making of a Scientific Psychology. 1980; 2nd ed. 2001

  • The reaction time studies conducted during the first few years of Wundt’s laboratory constitute the first historical example of a coherent research program, explicitly directed toward psychological issues and involving a number of interlocking studies.
    • p. 106

Constructing the subject: Historical origins of psychological research. 1994Edit

Kurt Danziger, Constructing the subject: Historical origins of psychological research. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

  • Historical studies of the sciences tend to adopt one of two rather divergent points of view. One of these typically looks at historical developments in a discipline from the inside. It is apt to take for granted many of the presuppositions that are currently popular among members of the discipline and hence tends to view the past in terms of gradual progress toward a better present. The second point of view does not adopt its framework of issues and presuppositions from the field that is the object of study but tends nowadays to rely heavily on questions and concepts derived from studies in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science. A history written from the insider's point of view always conveys a strong sense of being "our" history. That is not the case with the second type of history, whose tone is apt to be less celebratory and more critical.
In the case of the older sciences, histories of the second type have for many years been the province of specialists in the history, philosophy, or sociology of science. This is not, or perhaps not yet, the case for psychology, whose history has to a large extent been left to psychologists to pursue. Accordingly, insiders' histories have continued to have a prominence they have long lost in the older sciences. Nevertheless, much recent work in the history of psychology has broken with this tradition.
  • p. vii; Preface.
  • What exactly constitutes a field like scientific psychology? Is it constituted by its most innovative and influential contributors; by the scientific findings that it has produced; by the theories it has elaborated; by its concepts, techniques, or professional associations? Obviously, all this and more goes into the making of a field, but most of us would probably see some of these components as playing a more essential role than others. Even if we refuse to commit ourselves explicitly we are likely to imply that certain components define the field more effectively than others by the way we organize our knowledge.
    • p. 1; Introduction
  • Investigative practice therefore constitutes an area of considerable anxiety within the discipline of psychology. Concern with questions of methodological orthodoxy often takes the place of concern about theoretical orthodoxy when research or its results are discussed and evaluated. These preoccupations with the purity of method frequently deteriorate to a kind of method fetishism or "methodolatry." From this point of view there may be something distinctly subversive about the suggestion that the sphere of methodology is not a realm of pure reason but an area of human social activity governed by mundane circumstances like any other social activity. Nevertheless, the consequences of this suggestion should be explored, for not to do so exposes one to all the risks entailed by a naive and self-deluded style of scientific practice.
    • p. 5-6
  • Wundt sought to achieve was a rejuvenation of philosophical inquiry by new means, not the constitution of a completely new discipline.
    • p. 39
  • For applied psychology, whether American or German, it never had the slightest appeal, as is shown by the figures for the relevant journals, Zeitschrift fiir angewandte Psychologie, Journal of Applied Psychology, and Journal of Educational Psychology. Applied psychology had committed itself to knowledge goals that were unlikely to be advanced by the kind of investigative practice associated with Wundt's laboratory. What it was after was knowledge that could be quickly utilized by agencies of social control so as to make their work more efficient and more rationally defensible.
    • 66
  • Psychological research on populations had a tendency to replace the social categories that defined populations in real life with populations defined in terms of nonsocial categories. American psychology aimed to be a socially relevant science, but not a social science. Its approach was to be that of a natural science, although its ultimate field of application was to be found among members of real societies.
    • p. 88

"Does the history of psychology have a future?." 1994Edit

Kurt Danziger, "Does the history of psychology have a future?." Theory & Psychology 4.4 (1994): 467-484.

  • History is not the arena in which natural scientists look for the truth; quite the contrary, they believe it cannot be found there but rather in the laboratory. From their point of view history will at best yield up stale truths that have been superseded.
    • p. 469
  • Here we are more likely to come across fields that are structured in an agonistic manner, fields which are characterized by deep divisions between alternative schools of thought rather than by the achievement of a general working consensus.
    • p. 471
  • For such fields deep historical studies can have considerable contemporary relevance and hence fall within the boundaries of the field itself. Weber and Durkheim are still studied by sociologists, just as Adam Smith and Ricardo are still studied by economists, whereas Galilean and Newtonian studies are not part of physics but of an altogether different discipline, the history of science.
    • p. 472
  • The great majority of experimental psychologists relate to the tradition of their field in much the same way as physicists. Their look at the past might take the form of a review of the literature in a specific research area, and perhaps they would go so far as to take time off for celebrating a few icons on appropriate ceremonial occasions, but there is no room in their world for a reflective or critical history. They would gladly leave anything like that to the professional historians without any sense of having surrendered something that might have the slightest relevance to their own research interests. In the U.S. this attitude may be more widespread than elsewhere, and it is certainly accompanied by a growing tendency for the history of psychology to be taken up by historians rather than psychologists, but of course, the same attitudes are to be found wherever there are psychological laboratories.
    • p. 472
  • Newtonian studies are not part of physics but belong to an altogether different discipline, the history of science.
    • p. 472
  • In the case of psychology, of course, it is not only the concepts and methods of the discipline that undergo constant historical change, but the very subject matter itself. Human subjectivity, the reality behind the objects of psychological investigation, is itself strongly implicated in the historical process, both as agent and as product.
    • p. 475
  • Where the insider's engagement with the discipline's concepts and practices is combined with the moral distance maintained by the outsider one has reason to look for the emergence of a historiography that is both critical and effective.
    • p. 479

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