The Contemporary Library of Psychology has been planned to meet what is felt to be a need alike of the student and of the large and growing public who take a keen and intelligent interest in the subject. In common with all other sciences, Psychology is continually enlarging its boundaries by the discovery of fresh facts, the construction of hypotheses to explain them, and the verification of the hypotheses in experimental conditions. Unlike those of the other sciences, however, the claim of which to acceptance has long been established, its principal achievements are of comparatively recent origin. No doubt many of its problems are as old as philosophy itself; but their ancient solutions were of a highly speculative character, and it is only since the application of scientific method to the data of mental life that it has been possible for Psychology to take its place within the ranks of the empirical and experimental sciences.
Its scientific progress, however, has since then been astonishingly rapid; so rapid, indeed, that it has not failed to be accompanied by certain dangers incidental to speedy growth from infancy to adolescence. There have been the dangers, not always successfully avoided, of non-observation and of mal-observation, of hasty generalisation from insufficient data, of immature and faulty method, of imperfect experimental technique, and the like.
Even now, when all these have in large measure been overcome, and an incomparable method devised by which psychological data may be treated mathematically, there are still numbers of divergent schools each claiming to be the sole genuine representative of the science. This is in the main, if not entirely, due to the fact that workers have laboured more or less independently in separate and even isolated areas within the psychological domain. Some have specialised in the abnormalities of mind, and from their clinical observations have derived a general theory which they then extended to cover mentality as a whole. In this general theory the emphasis is upon the emotional character of mental life, and especially upon the dynamic nature of the Unconscious. Others, interested in animal and human behaviour rather than in the mental processes themselves, have found consciousness a superfluity for purposes of explanation, and have stressed a few native reaction-patterns as the basis upon which all behaviour is built up. Others, again, have occupied themselves with mental processes as these are actually observed to occur, and have devised experimental means for their investigation. And so on.
A consequence of this divergence of interest, especially when the several views to which it leads are expounded in text-books and manuals, and above all in summary expositions intended for more popular consumption, is that the reader is apt to form a one-sided and entirely misleading conception of Psychology. He may become an ardent psycho-analyst, a keen behaviourist, a formalist, a purist, or what not, as the case may be. But, while there is no doubt much truth in all these systems, which in point of fact considerably supplement one another, there is still in most of them a great deal that is of the nature of assumption and over-generalisation. The literature, moreover, of late years has grown to such an enormous extent that it is almost impossible for any one person to master it, and so to gain for himself a comprehensive and accurate perspective of contemporary Psychology in so far as this science is definitely and systematically established.
The plan of The Contemporary Library of Psychology has been drawn up with a view to presenting such a perspective in a popular way, but at the same time without any loss of scientific accuracy. Each volume to be included in it will deal with a special and definite topic which is capable of independent treatment as a single chapter of Psychology. Though this plan inevitably entails a certain amount of overlapping, since no one volume will take for granted what has been set forth in another, and certain principles are of necessity common to all, overlapping will be restricted to a minimum. The Series will, it is hoped, embrace all the major topics of the science, including those of Comparative, Ab-Normal and Applied Psychology. In this way each volume will be complete in itself; while the Library as a whole will cover the entire field of Psychology.
With this aim in view, it is confidently hoped that it will prove to be of real service both to the student and to the general reader.
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