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
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.