Date of Award

Fall 1986

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The Utilitarian-Associationist program formulated by Jeremy Bentham, James Mill and John Stuart Mill shaped the framework of British psychology throughout the nineteenth century. These thinkers believed that an associationist and hedonistic science of mind provided a sound foundation for a non-intuitionistic philosophy (including epistemology, logic and ethics) and a program of social reform. The tasks set by this program led to a focus on higher mental processes and the nature of conduct within nineteenth century British psychology.

The work of Alexander Bain is reinterpreted in the light of this tradition. Specifically, I argue that Bain's "physiological psychology" represents an attempt to grapple with problems bestowed by this tradition; and that his applied psychology represents an attempt to fulfill the social program of the earlier thinkers.

Later in the nineteenth century a reaction set in against this tradition as contradictions became apparent the epistemological and the moral aspects of the Utilitarian-Associationist program. German Idealist thought provided the tools for a critique which raised the question: "Can There be a Natural Science of Man?" Critiques of associationism, by James Ward and others, attacked the very foundations of the Utilitarian-Associationist program.

The rejection of associationism did not entail a rejection of the tasks set for the discipline by the Utilitarian-Associationist tradition. These tasks--providing a foundation for a theory of conduct and a theory of the shaping of intellect--became an increasingly important part of the new discipline's program. However, psychologists like James Ward demanded teleological accounts of these processes; accounts that captured the purposive character of human functioning. Such demands represented a challenge to psychology as well as a more general challenge to the enterprise of science.

Although this dissertation focuses upon the intellectual development of British psychology, its institutional development is not entirely neglected. Relevant societies and journals are described. Provisions made for study of the "Moral Sciences" at the University of London and Cambridge University are described. Because the Utilitarian-Associationist tradition maintained that psychology was the foundation of educational theory, Teacher's Training programs at London and Cambridge are described.