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Niels Engelsted's and Jens Mammen's page

Danish general psychology

                            General Psychology Texts

General psychology is the theoretical discipline mapping the foundational structure of the psychological domain, shared by all the many fields of psychology. The first psychology founded by Aristotle was a general psychology. After the 17th century scientific revolution, however, nothing would be simple anymore. How, for instance, was the physicists’ concept of causality to be squared with the psychologists’ concept of intentionality? And after Darwin, how was the recognition of the human being as a unique being to be squared with the knowledge that it was also an animal? On such questions psychology was broken up in apparently unreconcilable camps, and the project searching for the common foundation of psychology was lost in the debacles. This remains the condition today. If the term general psychology is used at all, it refers to a collection or shopping list of disparate fields, not to the foundation of psychology. 

Few sciences have felt that they could proceed without a central theoretical axis to gather around, but psychology is in a privileged position. Because humans are themselves the psychological domain, they grasp it intuitively without the need of a theoretical map. This explains why psychology could be an astounding practical success without a foundational theoretical framework, and why the need for one was never felt.  

Time and again, however, historical circumstances have, temporarily placed the general psychology project on the agenda. It was alive and kicking in the early decennia of the 20th century in Germany, thanks not least to the work of Karl Bühler and William Stern. From Germany the project migrated to Russia, where pioneering and highly important work was done by Sergei Rubinstein, Lev S. Vygotsky, and Alexei N. Leontiev. When this work was imported to Germany in the 1970’s and translated, it also came to Denmark, where psychology in those years found itself at a crossroads. 
The Psychological Laboratory was founded at the University of Copenhagen in 1885 as a clone of Wilhelm Wundt’s laboratory in Leipzig. In forty years, it was dominated by a very stringent brand of positivism named The Copenhagen School of Phenomenology, when, being much too puristic and narrow, the school was toppled by a student rebellion in 1968. The doors to all the many fields and paradigms of psychology suddenly flung open, faculty and students now faced a new challenge: What to choose? Local school wars followed, because natural science psychology and humanistic science psychology could not be in the same house, of course. 

Or could they?  Some thought that neither natural science psychology, nor humanistic psychology, could be forsaken. And neither could the insights won by the phenomenological school. All belonged to the psychological domain and had to be in, but how could it theoretically hang together?  And with this question, the general psychology window opened in Denmark, where many researchers in time contributed with original ideas. 

Niels Engelsted and Jens Mammen are university psychologists from Copenhagen and Aarhus and have, together and separately, spent their working careers searching for solutions to the foundational problems of psychology.

To Niels Engelsted the basic problem has been how to anchor psychology conclusively in biology and evolution while still acknowledging and not reducing the unique character of the psychological phenomena. His solution has been to follow Aristotle’s bio-psychological sequence and distinguish between sense, intentionality, mind, and human consciousness; to each of which he has proposed a concrete theory about their origin in evolution. 

To Jens Mammen the basic problem has been the failure of the traditional natural science oriented cognitive psychology to capture the truly unique human nature. His solution, based on mathematical topology, has been to identify and describe a fundamental distinction between the sense-categorial and the choice-categorial, and thus between two real, but qualitatively different psychological competencies.

There is great affinity between the two projects. As discussed in the text Efter Studiebrevene, it is the same fundamental problem they try to solve, each from their own side: How to place the truly unique psychological features within the world described by natural science.  Which, of course, is the same as the immortal psycho-physical problem. 

The general psychology work has persisted over many years, and the results are spread across many sources. The aim of General Psychology Texts is to collect and make these sources accessible to people with an interest in the Danish general psychology tradition. The final goal is to make an annotated bibliography where the central texts can be downloaded. Until that is accomplished, the page will be under running construction. 

A great thanks to the publishers who have given their permission for the texts to be made freely accessible.

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