Date of Award

Spring 2004

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

William R Woodward


The concept of "the will" dominated American moral psychology for nearly three centuries. To possess a will was, among other things, to be made in the image of God and to have moral responsibility. College textbooks, as tools of moral inculcation, conveyed this moral psychology from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century. A significant shift occurred in college psychology textbooks during the 1930s: the topic of will was being removed as a chapter heading---never to return. By the end of the decade, American psychology had lost its will.

What explains this "loss of will" in American psychology? From a perspective internal to the discipline of psychology, one might argue that the shifting emphasis toward non-mentalistic, behavioral explanation (i.e., "behaviorism") may have been to blame (or credit). Yet, a broader historical case can be made that long-standing intellectual trends or "impulses" in American colleges may have also played a significant role. This dissertation examines these trends as manifested in four leading textbooks, each arguably the best representative of its era: William Ames's (1629) Marrow of Theology, Jonathan Edwards' (1754) Freedom of the Will, Thomas C. Upham's (1869) Mental Philosophy , and William James's (1890) Principles of Psychology. This analysis suggests that the concept of will was already in serious trouble well before the twentieth century.

One of the trends that may have eventuated in the loss of will was the nonsectarian impulse that came to characterize American higher education beginning in the eighteenth century. Put baldly, sectarian formulations of the Christian story supported a robust psychology of will while nonsectarian formulations appear to have undergirded less robust moral psychologies.

Another factor is what I call the "Arminian impulse" in American moral psychology. A radical shift took place in this textbook discourse during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a shift from a Calvinistic psychology of will which embraced universal causation to an "Arminian" psychology of will which rejected it. This process of Arminianization was intended to strengthen and elevate the concept of will. Ironically, however, the effect was to fatally weaken the concept, at least in mainstream American psychology.