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Full Text: Anthropos, 82.1987,1/6

Anthropos 82.1987: 1-23 
Wundt and Dürkheim a’IoAA 
A Reconsideration of a Relationship 
Jan Jacob de Wolf 
1- Introduction 
2- Gisbert’s Interpretation 
3- Durkheim’s View 
4- Durkheim and Experimental Psychology 
5- Individual and Collective Representations 
6- Rejection of Wundt’s “Völkerpsychologie” 
7- Durkheim’s Review of Wundt’s “Ethik” 
8. Wundt and the Development of Durkheim’s Views 
on Morality 
9. Conclusion 
1. Introduction 
In 1879 Wilhelm Wundt opened the first psy 
chological laboratory at the University of Leip 
zig. In 1979 the centennial of this event was 
celebrated by psychologists all over the world, 
and especially in the U. S. A., as the foundation 
of experimental psychology. This occasion pro 
vided the stimulus for the publication of several 
studies which consolidated the thorough revi 
sion of the received view of Wundt’s role in the 
development of psychology, which had been 
Jan Jacob de Wolf, M. Phil., Ph. D. (1967 and 1971 
from the School of Oriental and African Studies, Lon on 
University); 1968-1970 Research Fellowship Dutch Foun 
dation for Tropical Research (Wotro); 1968-1969 anthro 
pological fieldwork among the BaBukusu in Bungoma 
District, Western Province, Kenya; associate member 
Makerere Institute of Social Research; 1971 Researc 
Officer Afrika Studiecentrum, Leiden, Netherlan s, 
1971-1973 Lecturer in Rural Sociology, Faculty of Agri 
culture, Makerere University, Uganda. Since 1974 Lectur 
er, Department of Cultural Anthropology, Utrecht Uni 
versity, Netherlands. Main publications: Differentiation 
and Integration in Western Kenya (The Hague 1977); The 
Diffusion of Age-group Organization in East Africa. 
Reconsideration (Africa 1980); Circumcision and India 
tion in Western Kenya and Eastern Uganda (Anthropos 
1983); Dini Ya Msambwa: Militant Protest or Millenanan 
Promise (Canadian Journal of African Studies 1983). 
gathering momentum during the previous de 
cade (Blumenthal 1975, 1977; Bringmann et al. 
1975; Bringmann 1977; Anderson 1975; Danzi- 
ger 1979; Leary 1979; Bringmann and Tweney 
1980; Rieber 1980). To put it briefly, Wundt’s 
psychology is reinterpreted in terms of the 
German idealist philosophical tradition, in 
which he was thoroughly immersed, while the 
purported British sources of his approach to 
psychology are being rejected as a historical 
myth (Danziger 1980a: 76, 77). 
If this revision of the standard account of 
Wundt’s psychology is substantially true - which 
I believe to be the case - then it becomes also 
necessary to reconsider attempts to use this 
distorted version to describe and explain 
Wundt’s influence in other fields than psycholo 
gy. Thus, this paper starts with a critique of 
Gisbert’s thesis that Wundt’s psychological 
system is “the key that will lay open the social 
philosophy of Durkheim, at least in so far as 
social facts are concerned” (Gisbert 1959: 360; 
cf. Lukes 1973: 90). Whereas Gisbert infers that 
Wundt’s principle of actuality implies that indi 
vidual man disappears as a reality, in fact 
Wundt stressed the role of individual motiva 
tion so much that he called his psychology 
voluntaristic (Danziger 19806: 96). 
A clarification of certain misunderstood key 
concepts of Wundt’s psychology is also useful 
for an assessment of the way in which Durk 
heim did in fact use certain of Wundt’s ideas. 
This analysis can elucidate an important passage 
in Durkheim’s book on the social division of 
labour. It appears that at this stage Durkheim 
was especially interested in Wundt’s work on 
psycho-physiology but did not accept his ideas 
on the importance of the relative autonomy of 
mental life (Wundt 1880; Durkheim 1893/ 

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