Psychology as an autonomous discipline: Johannes Linschoten's dissertation

René Van Hezewijk, Henderikus Stam

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    In 1956 Johannes Linschoten – one of the members of the alleged phenomenological Utrecht School – presented his dissertation on binocular space perception. He surprised many a colleague with a work of 573 pages plus a booklet of 226 figures, written in German, containing an introductory part, an experimental part and a theoretical part (Linschoten, 1956). The introduction offered an overview of the theory that was focussed most on binocular space perception at that time (Hering’s Theory of Identity), and its follow up versions. The experimental part reported of 130 experiments. In the experimental part Linschoten not only criticized this theory, but also other candidates from other, more general, theories of perception (Wheatstone, Helmholtz, Gestalt theory). He discussed the Panum-effect in his analysis and experiments, and attraction of image points of the two retinal images involved as an explanation, as well as the role of eye movements. The theoretical part is an analysis of the role binocular depth perception plays for the organism in the localisation of significant objects in the depth of the “structured spaceness (Räumlichkeit)”. He presented a dynamic theory of binocular space perception and concluded with his answer to the question why human beings have two eyes. Although at first hand this dissertation can be viewed as an excellent combination of experimental and theoretical approach to solve a complex problem, and as the opposite of a phenomenological approach that could have been expected from this author, we argue for a different point of view. We will point out that the phenomenological approach in the Utrecht School of the fifties did not exclude experimental work at all, and will demonstrate that, more importantly, Linschoten’s aim with his dissertation was to argue that in any account of binocular depth perception a psychological explanation is inevitable. In other words: psychology is an autonomous discipline. It demonstrably involves explanatory problems that can only be solved by presupposing a psychologically active organism. Continuing our research Linschoten in psychology (Stam & Van Hezewijk, 2004; Van Hezewijk & Stam, 2006; Van Hezewijk, Stam, & Panhuysen, 2001, , 2002) we tend to believe that initially Linschoten believed that only a phenomenological approach could guarantee the autonomy of psychology as a discipline. However, Linschoten changed his views during his short life, to end with the apparent opposite view (Linschoten, 1964), that psychology should be reductive and experimental. Our argument will include references to Linschoten’s recovered master thesis (Linschoten, 1949), earlier work on space and movement perception (Linschoten, 1950, , 1952), and copies of handwritten notes for his dissertation. Linschoten, J. (1949). Ontwerp van een fenomenologische theorie der bewegingswaarneming; Deel 1: De beweging in de objectieve ruimte [Design of a phenomenological theory of movement perception; Part 1: Movement in objective space]. Unpublished Theretische scriptie voor het doctoraal examen [ Theoretical thesis for the doctoral (Master)], Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht [now Utrecht University], Utrecht. Linschoten, J. (1950). Logische en phenomenologische analyse der bewegingsverschijnselen [Logical and phenomenological analysis of the movement phenomena]. Tijdschrift voor philosophie, 12(4), 668-728. Linschoten, J. (1952). Experimentelle Untersuchung der sog. induzierten Bewegung [Experimental study of the so-called induced movement]. Psychologische Forschung, 24, 34-92. Linschoten, J. (1956). Strukturanalyse der binokulären Tiefenwahrnehmung; eine experimentelle Untersuchung [Stuctural analysis of binocular depth perception; an experimental study] (Herausgabe of Ph.D. thesis, printed with support by ZWO, The Netherlands, and with a foreword by Wolfgang Metzger). Groningen: Wolters. Linschoten, J. (1964). Idolen van de psycholoog (Idols of the psychologist) (2nd ed.). Utrecht: Bijleveld. Stam, H. J., & Van Hezewijk, R. (2004, 5-7 August 2004,). Phenomenological Psychology in Europe and North America: The case of Johannes Linschoten and the demise of the ‘Utrecht School.’ Paper presented at the CIRCULATING KNOWLEDGE; Fifth British-North American Joint Meeting of the BSHS, CSHPS, and HSS, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Van Hezewijk, R., & Stam, H. J. (2006). Idols of the Psychologist: Johannes Linschoten and The demise Of Phenomenological Psychology In The Netherlands. Journal for the History of the Behavioral Sciences, resubmitted after revision. Van Hezewijk, R., Stam, H. J., & Panhuysen, G. (2001). Existential questions: no, one, or two Utrecht Schools? Paper presented at the 20th Conference of the European Society for the History of the Human Sciences, Amsterdam, 14-18 August 2001. Van Hezewijk, R., Stam, H. J., & Panhuysen, G. (2002, 27th - 31st August 2002). The double dissociation of phenomenological and experimental methods in psychology; A case study. Paper presented at the 21st Conference of the European Society for the History of the Human Sciences, Barcelona.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2010


    • Linschoten
    • history of psychology


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