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Summary Article: McCosh, James (sometimes M'Cosh) from Biographical Dictionary of Psychology

Born: 1811, Ayrshire, Scotland Died: 1895, Princeton, New Jersey, USA Nat: British Ints: History of psychology, philosophical psychology Appts & awards: Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, Queen's College, Belfast, 1852-68; President, College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), 1868-88; Emeritus Professor, 1889-95


Principal publications
  • 1856 Typical Forms and Special Ends in Creation. Thomas Constable (with Dickie, George).
  • 1860 The Intuitions of the Mind Inductively Investigated. John Murray.
  • 1862 The Supernatural in Relation to the Supernatural. Macmillan.
  • 1866 An Examination of Mr J.S. Mill's Philosophy. Macmillan.
  • 1870 The Laws of Discursive Thought: Being a Text-book of Formal Logic. Macmillan Carter.
  • 1874 The Scottish Philosophy. Carter.
  • 1880 The Emotions. Macmillan (reissued 1887 with an additional chapter as Psychology: The Motive Powers, Scribner's).
  • 1883 Development: What It Can and Cannot Do. Scribner's.
  • 1883 Energy: Efficient and Final Cause. Clark, Scribner's.
  • 1886 Psychology: The Cognitive Powers. Macmillan. (Revised edn, 1894.).
  • 1890 The Religious Aspect of Evolution. Nisbet. Putnam's.
  • Further reading
  • Fay, J. W. (1939) American Psychology before William James. Rutgers University Press.
  • Hoeveler, David J. Jr (1981) James McCosh and the Scottish Intellectual Tradition from Glasgow to Princeton. Princeton University Press.
  • O'Donnell, J. M. (1985) The Origins of Behaviorism: American Psychology 1870-1920. New York University Press.
  • Richards, G. (1995) ‘To know our fellow men to do them good’: American psychology's enduring moral project. History of the Human Sciences, 8, 1-24.
  • Sloane, W. M. (1896) The Life of James McCosh. A Record Chiefly Autobiographical. Clark.
  • Wozniak, Robert H. (1982) Metaphysics and science, reason and reality: The intellectual origins of genetic epistemology. In Broughton, John M.John Freeman-Noir, D. The Cognitive-Developmental Psychology of James Mark Baldwin: Current Theory and Research in Genetic Epistemology. Ablex.

  • McCosh, like Noah Porter, has generally been considered a mental and moral philosopher of little enduring significance. In recent years it has become increasingly evident that he played a major role in facilitating the emergence of the ‘New Psychology’ in the US, even though his allegiance to the Scottish Realism approach never wavered. Prior to his 1868 emigration to the United States, to become President of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), he had already established a reputation as an opponent of John Stuart Mill's associationism with his The Intuitions of the Mind and An Examination of Mr J.S. Mill's Philosophy. His massive The Scottish Philosophy played a major historiographical role in defining what is now known as the ‘Scottish School’. Notwithstanding his philosophical and evangelical Christian commitments, McCosh maintained a keen interest in contemporary scientific developments and eventually accepted a pious version of evolutionary theory, expounded most fully in The Religious Aspect of Evolution. Two later works of special significance are The Emotions and Psychology: The Cognitive Powers. The first contains passages of an almost Jamesian kind while the latter took full cognizance of contemporary work such as Wilhelm Preyer's (especially in the revised edition), as well as reporting an attempted replication of Galton's imagery research. In the 1880s McCosh was instrumental in encouraging James Mark Baldwin's ambitions, writing the preface to Baldwin's translation of T. Ribot's Contemporary German Psychology and obtaining for him his first academic post. Wozniak has shown how deeply Baldwin's initial theoretical framework was rooted in McCosh's thought. Another of his protégés was the now less well known physiological psychologist Moses Allan Starr, who went on to study under Charcot and Helmholtz. From the early 1880s McCosh was drawing students’ attention to the work of Wundt and stressing the importance of understanding ‘physiological psychology’ (as then conceived). As a college president he earned a high reputation for innovation and presided over a major expansion of Princeton's faculty and student numbers. His pastoral concern for students also became legendary. Along with Noah Porter, McCosh was instrumental in establishing the academic foundations for the New Psychology of the late 1880s and 1890s, while his innovatory approach at the institutional level and greater willingness to stay abreast of current developments in the field contrast with Porter's temperamental conservatism in all things.

    Graham Richards
    © 1997, 2002 Routledge

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